Learn the guitar chords for “American Pie” by Don McClean

Fifty years ago, in 1972, “American Pie” reached the top of the Billboard charts. The song became an instant classic with new and veteran guitarists flocking to learn the chords. This is still true today. With that in mind, here’s a rundown of “American Pie” pairings.

The chords of “American Pie” are in the key of G major except for the A7 chord which occurs in the chorus. Most chords are in standard position. But sometimes it plays a D/F# (pronounced D over F#) instead of a D chord, which puts an F# in the bass (the bass, 6th string), which descends nicely from the G chord to the Em chord. If you’re looking for a simpler alternative to D/F#, you can replace it with a D chord.

When it plays D7 and A7 it does so to create harmonic tension which would then resolve to G and D respectively. This sounds great, but if you prefer an easier alternative you can play D instead of D7 and A instead. instead of A7.

“American Pie” is a very long song that lasts over 8 minutes with a non-traditional form of 6 verses and 6 choruses. To keep it interesting, Mclean varies the strumming pattern and even the tempo (how fast/slow the rhythm is). For example, in the first verse, he uses long, slow strums. On the first chorus he has increased the tempo and his strumming pattern is much more stable in an eighth note count. To lock, think of it as a top-down strumming that matches each syllable of “chevy to pick” – down, up, down, up, etc.

Other than that, just be careful recording for when there are occasional long scratches in the verses.

(Verse 1)

GD/F# Em7

a very long time ago

Am C Em D

I still remember how this music made me smile

GD/F#

And I knew if I

Em7

had my chance

Am C Em CD

That I could make these people dance and maybe they’d be happy for a while

Em Am Em Am

But February made me shiver, with every paper I delivered

CG/B Am CD

Bad news on the doorstep, couldn’t take another step

GD/F# Em Am7 D

I don’t remember if I cried when I read about his widowed wife

GD/F#Em

Something touched me deep inside

C D7 G

The day the music died

(Chorus)

GCGD

So goodbye Miss American Pie

GCGD

I drove my Chevy to the swab but the swab was dry

GCGD

And those good old boys drank whiskey and rye

Em A7 Em D7

Singing it’ll be the day I die, it’ll be the day I die

(Verse 2)

G Am

did you write the book of love

C Am Em D

And do you have faith in God from above, if the Bible tells you so?

GD/F#Em

Do you believe in rock and roll

Am7 C Em A7 D

Can music save your mortal soul and can you teach me to dance real slow?

Em D Em D

Well I know you’re in love with him ’cause I saw you dancing at the gym

CG/B Am C D7

You both took your shoes off, man I love that beat and blues

GD/F# Em Am C

I was a lonely teenager with a pink carnation and a van

GD/F# Em C D7 GCGD

But I knew I was out of luck the day the music died, I started to sing

(Chorus)

GCGD

So goodbye Miss American Pie

GCGD

I drove my Chevy to the swab but the swab was dry

GCGD

And those good old boys drank whiskey and rye

Em A7 Em D7

Singing it’ll be the day I die, it’ll be the day I die

(Verse 3)

G Am

Now for ten years we’ve been alone

C Am Em D

And the moss grows on a rolling stone but it wasn’t like that before

GD/F#Em

When the jester sang for the king and queen

Am7 C Em A7 D

in a coat he borrowed from James Dean in a voice that came from you and me

Em D Em D

Oh, and while the king looked down, the jester stole his thorny crown

CG/B A7 C D7

The courtroom has been adjourned, no verdict has been delivered

GD/F# Em Am C

And while Lennin read a book about Marx, the quartet practiced in the park

GD/F# Em C D7 GCGD

And we sang dirges in the dark the day the music died, we sang

(Chorus)

GCGD

So goodbye Miss American Pie

GCGD

I drove my Chevy to the swab but the swab was dry

GCGD

And those good old boys drank whiskey and rye

Em A7 Em D7

Singing it’ll be the day I die, it’ll be the day I die

(Verse 4)

G Am

Helter skelter in a sweltering summer

C Am Em D

the birds flew with a fallout shelter, eight miles high and falling fast

GD/F#Em

He landed foul on the grass

Am7 C Em A7 D

the players attempted a forward pass, with the jester on the sidelines in a cast

Em D Em D

Now the halftime tune was a sweet scent, while the sergeants played a marching tune

CG/B A7 C D7

We all got up to dance, but we never got the chance

GD/F# Em Am C

Because the players tried to take the field, the marching band refused to give in

GD/F# Em C D7 GCGD

Do you remember what was revealed the day the music died, we started to sing

(Chorus)

GCGD

So goodbye Miss American Pie

GCGD

I drove my Chevy to the swab but the swab was dry

GCGD

And those good old boys drank whiskey and rye

Em A7 Em D7

Singing it’ll be the day I die, it’ll be the day I die

(Verse 5)

G Am

And we were all in the same place

C Am Em D

a generation lost in space, which no longer has time to start over

GD/F# Em Am7 C

So come on Jack, be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack Flash sat on a candlestick because

Em A7 D

fire is the devil’s only friend

Em D Em D

And as I watched him on stage, my hands were clenched into fists of rage

CG/B A7 C D7

No angel born in hell could break Satan’s spell

GD/F# Em Am C

And as the flames rose high in the night to light up the sacrificial rite

GD/F# Em C D7 GCGD

I saw Satan laughing with joy the day the music died, he was singing

(Chorus)

GCGD

So goodbye Miss American Pie

GCGD

I drove my Chevy to the swab but the swab was dry

GCGD

And those good old boys drank whiskey and rye

Em A7 Em D7

Singing it’ll be the day I die, it’ll be the day I die

(Verse 6)

GD/F#Em

I met a girl who sang the blues

Am C Em D

And I asked her for good news, but she just smiled and turned away

GD/F#Em

I went down to the holy store

Am C Em C

Where I had heard the music years before, but the man over there said the music

D

would not play

Em Am Em Am

But in the streets the children cried, the lovers cried and the poets dreamed

CG/B Am CD

But not a word was spoken, the church bells were all broken

GD/F# Em Am7 C D7

And the three men I admire the most, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit

GD/F# Em C D7 G

They took the last train to the coast the day the music died down,

And they were singing

(Chorus)

GCGD

So goodbye Miss American Pie

GCGD

I drove my Chevy to the swab but the swab was dry

GCGD

And those good old boys drank whiskey and rye

Em A7 Em D7

Singing it’ll be the day I die, it’ll be the day I die

Photo by Olly Curtis/Total Guitar Magazine/Future via Getty Images

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