Guitar lesson for

Mary Jane's Last Dance

by Tom Petty  •  Lesson #85

Video lesson

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Editor’s notes

In this lesson, I’ll show you how to play an acoustic version of Mary Jane’s Last Dance by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. I’ll show you the chords needed, explain the intro riff, the hammer-ons, strumming pattern, and some cool riffs & flourish runs you can do to spice things up. This is an approachable song that can be rewarding even for advanced guitarists, so check it out and have fun!

Video timestamps:

A quick note about tuning…

If you want to play along with Tom Petty’s recorded version, you’ll need to tweak your tuner to use ~453hz instead of 440hz (which is the default). But, make sure you keep your guitar in standard tuning (meaning, the strings are E-A-D-G-B-E, from thick to thin). Here’s a video (and some additional notes) where I show how to do this (note, my video lesson above has me in “pitch standard” of 440hz):

Lyrics w/ chords

If you want a print-friendly version of this, with chords written above all the lyrics (in the final verses), get my PDF!

Quick note about guitar tuning

Head’s up, the album version of this song isn’t quite in perfect concert pitch of A4 = 440hz. Instead, it’s tuned to roughly A4 = 453hz, which is slightly sharp. This is likely because the recording was sped up in post-production (raising the pitch), or perhaps they simply all tuned their instruments a bit sharp for some reason. I’m noting this because playing along with Petty’s version (if you’re in standard tuning) won’t sound quite right. My video lesson is in standard tuning, with A4 = 440hz (the normal concert pitch that tuners default to).

Quick note about key

While you might initially guess this song is in the key of A-minor, it’s actually using notes from the A dorian scale, which are A-B-C-D-E-F#-G. In case its helpful, notice these are the same notes used in the G major scale – and you’re simply using “A” as your home note instead of a “G”. The chorus, however, which has that switch to an A-major chord, uses notes from the E dorian scale (E-F#-G-A-B-C#-D)… which are the same notes as A-dorian but adds the C# note (which is the single note making the A-minor chord become an A-major, instead).

How to play the chords

Here are the chords you’ll need to be able to play to pull off this song. Not a lot! And fortunately, no barre chords.

E –––0–––––3–––––2–––––0–––––0–––
B –––1–––––0–––––3–––––0–––––2–––
G –––2–––––0–––––2–––––0–––––2–––
D –––2–––––0–––––0–––––2–––––2–––
A –––0–––––2–––––––––––2–––––0–––
E –––––––––3–––––––––––0–––––––––
     Am    G     D     Em    A

Chord progressions

The tempo for Mary Jane’s last dance is 170 beats per minute (bpm), with four counts per each chord. If this seems fast, then cut it in half (85 bpm) – and know the metronome clicks will happen on the “1” and “3” counts only.

For the intro, verse, and interludes – you’ll want to repeat this progression.

See my sheet music for the chord progression diagram.

For the chorus, you’ll change it up to use this. Note how you’re doing much less chord switching here – instead, you stay on each chord for quite a long time.

See my sheet music for the chord progression diagram.

Strumming

Want a basic strumming pattern? Try this. This is what I use for the verse. This uses four equal counts for each chord. You could play the intro with this also, if you wanted…

See my sheet music for my strumming diagram.

To step things up a notch: I use this fancier strumming for the intro riff.

See my sheet music for my strumming diagram.

Intro & verse riff hammer-ons

A big part of getting close to the Tom Petty guitar sound is using hammer-ons when you play some of the chords – most notably during the intro to the song. There are probably many subtleties and variations I could write tabs for – but I’ll begin with these two simple versions.

For the A-minor, use your regular left-hand finger positions – put wait until after you strum the chord before bringing down your ring and middle fingers. When you bring your fingers down onto the strings, do it with force and speed. If done right, this will make a new sound, as if you’ve plucked the notes with your pick. See my video for context.

See my sheet music for the tab.

Same deal with the D-major chord – hammer on the high-E string with your left hand’s middle finger. You could hammer-on all three notes if you wanted to – it’s up to you.

See my sheet music for the tab.

The full tab I play roughly looks like this:

See my sheet music for the tab.

If this seems difficult, that’s fine! It’s like that for everyone at first. Keep practicing, session after session. You’ll slowly get better with time. Seriously.

Verse harmonica imitation

It is possible, should you wish, to imitate the notes that the harmonica plays in the album version (between verses). You’ll do it using the tab below. The key here is accenting the highest note (i.e., the note on the thinnest string) for each chord you strum. Also notice how you’re never strumming the high-E string – that would ruin the melodic effect. Watch my video lesson for context.

See my sheet music for the tab.

Chorus flourish

Here’s how to spice up the E-minor, which is totally optional. I play this by using my pinky and ring finger on the high-E string. These notes map to the vocal melody of the song

See my sheet music for the tab.

Next, is the A-major. You can spice this up by using simple Asus4 chords (done by adding your pinky down on the 3rd fret of the B string). Play this freely, using whatever strum timing you like.

See my sheet music for the tab.

Finally, my favorite way to spice up the A-major is as follows. This one is much more tricky – but it creates a very nice ascending sound. The trick here, is to realize that there are only two chord shapes you’re using – even though the frets change on each chord. If you get your left hand’s fingers to memorize the two simple shapes, the only thing left to do is memorizing the anchor fret for each position. See my video for context!

See my sheet music for the tab.

Lead guitar lick, simplified

Finally, here’s a “simple” way to play the distinctive lead lick you hear during some of the instrumental verses. By “simple” I am keeping this to one string at a time, as opposed to playing 2-3 strings at once (which it sounds like you hear on the album version).

See my sheet music for the tab.

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