Guitar lesson for

Hurt

by Johnny Cash  •  Lesson #90

Video lesson

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Editor’s notes

In this lesson, I’m excited to show you how to play “Hurt” as performed by Johnny Cash. Originally a Nine Inch Nails song from 1994, the 2003 Johnny Cash version is an absolute masterpiece and it’s quite approachable. You only need 3-4 chords, and the distinctive intro riff especially is quite easy to learn. I’ll show you the chords needed, tabs for the riffs, and how to strum the chorus. Enjoy!

Lyrics w/ chords

See sheet music for lyrics w/ all chords written above them.

Intro & verse chords

To play the intro and verse riff, you’ll need to know these fundamental chords:

e-|---0----0----2----
B-|---1----1----3----
G-|---2----0----2----
D-|---2----2----0----
A-|---0----3---------
E-|------------------
      Am   C    D

Intro & verse riff

Once you know the chords, follow this tab in order to play the riff. The great news: your chord hand doesn’t need to add any notes aside from the core chord shape. The magic is simply in how you pick the strings: you’ll play the bottom two strings of each chord individually, and then strum the remaining strings all at once.

See the notes in parentheses? They are optional and by no means required to pull this off.

E |––––––––0–––––––––––––––––|––––––––0–––––––––––2––––––|
B |––––––––1–––––––––––––––––|––––––––1–––––––––––3––––––|
G |––––––––2–––––––––––––––––|––––––––0––––––––2––––(2)––|
D |–––––2––––––––––––––––––––|–––––2––––––––0––––––––––––|
A |––0–––––––––––––––––––––––|––3–––––––(3)––––––––––––––|
E |––––––––––––––––––––––––––|–––––––––––––––––––––––––––|
     Am                         C           D
     1  +  2  +  3  +  4  +     1  +  2  +  3  +  4  +   

If you want, you can get a bit creative and play the D as a Dsus2 instead (or, maybe only do this sometimes). It sounds like this is what you hear for the album version by Johnny Cash, at least some of the time. To do this, simply leave the high E string open.

E |––––––––0–––––––––––––––––|––––––––0–––––––––––0––––––|
B |––––––––1–––––––––––––––––|––––––––1–––––––––––3––––––|
G |––––––––2–––––––––––––––––|––––––––0––––––––2––––(2)––|
D |–––––2––––––––––––––––––––|–––––2––––––––0––––––––––––|
A |––0–––––––––––––––––––––––|––3–––––––(3)––––––––––––––|
E |––––––––––––––––––––––––––|–––––––––––––––––––––––––––|
     1  +  2  +  3  +  4  +     1  +  2  +  3  +  4  +   
     Am                         C           Dsus2

Chorus chord progression

For the chorus, you’ll use these two very similar progressions. Note the final chord is all that changes.

"What have I become, my sweetest friend..."
G . . . Am . . . F . . . C . . .   x2

"You can have it all, my empire of dirt..."
G . . . Am . . . F . . . G . . .   x2

To play the chords needed here, use this tab:

e-|---3----0----0----1----
B-|---0----1----1----1----
G-|---0----2----0----2----
D-|---0----2----2----3----
A-|---2----0----3----3----
E-|---3--------------1----
      G    Am   C    F

If the F is giving you a hard time, you can play an abbreviated version. Here’s some ways I recommend making it easier to play:

Alternate chord voicings for the chorus

In the second half of each chorus, I like to play the chords as follows. The key distinction here is that I have my pinky on the high E-string, 3rd fret, for each chord I play. This mimics the sustaining piano note you hear in the Cash version of the song.

e-|---3----3----3----3----
B-|---0----1----1----1----
G-|---0----2----0----2----
D-|---0----2----2----3----
A-|---2----0----3---------
E-|---3-------------------
      G    Am   C    F

Try it out! It also makes the F way easier to play, in my opinion.

Chorus strumming pattern

Quite simply, do all down-strums on each quarter note (4 down strums per measure) – and put the emphasis on the 1 and 3 counts.

1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +
D   D   D   D
>       >

Good luck!

Let me know if you have questions. I hope this was helpful. Be sure to check out my other Johnny Cash lessons, I have a bunch!

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