The song “House of the Rising Sun” is one of the most popular songs among
If you’re starting out on the guitar, or even if you already have some experience but haven’t learned this song yet, you should definitely try it out, since it is frequently called out in jam sessions among friends or at local venues.
This guide is going to teach you this song’s chords, how to play them on the guitar, and a couple of different ways that you can approach it when playing it with your friends.
Bottom line up front: You should be familiar with the following chords on guitar: A minor, C Major, D Major, F Major and E Major. Be prepared to play either with a pick or with your fingers if you want to cover as much ground as possible with different techniques.
Aside from learning this song, you should also try to incorporate the resources presented in this guide to other songs you already know.
Song Overview – Time Signature and Harmony
One of the interesting features of this song is that it is written in 6/8 time, instead of the more commonly used 4/4. There are still tons of examples of songs in other time signatures, but 4/4 tends to be used more frequently.
6/8 is an example of what we call compound time. It means that each bar is divided into 6 beats, and each eighth note lasts for one beat. It sounds similar to 3/4 in a way, but in this case, you feel the pulse in 2 groups of 3 eight notes.
Because of this, you count it like “ONE, two, three, FOUR, five, six”, in which the capitalized numbers are felt as strong beats, and the others as weaker beats.
Harmony – What are the Chords in House of the Rising Sun?
The song we are looking at is in the key of A minor. This means that the chords that appear in the chord progression have a certain function and sound which is relative to the key center of A minor.
This song uses the following chords:
- A minor
- C Major
- D Major
- F Major
- E Major
Playing these chords on the guitar is relatively easy, as most of them are within the group of chords that
In any case, this chord can also be simplified so that you don’t have to have such a hard time learning this song. If you can play it both ways, feel free to use the one you think sounds better, or you can alternate between them while playing.
The following chord diagrams illustrate the shapes you should be familiarized with in order to play the song House of the Rising Sun:
F Major has been represented by its simplified fingering, in which you are supposed to mute the guitar’s 6th and 5th strings. Doing so makes it so that you’re playing the root note (F) on the 4th string instead of its lower octave on the 6th string’s first fret.
If you know how to play the E7 chord on the guitar, you can also play that one instead of the E Major chord shape shown in the last diagram, since it leads perfectly into the A minor chord that comes after it.
If you listen closely to the recording by The Animals, you can hear the organ playing 7th chords, while the guitar tends to stick to triads throughout the song.
If you haven’t learned how to play it yet, it is actually pretty simple – take the E Major shape you already know, and place your pinky finger on the third fret of your B (second) string. This is a D, which is E’s minor seventh, the note you need to build an E7 chord.
Here are a few other details you should consider when playing the chords on this song’s chord progression:
- Make sure to mute the 6th string while playing A minor;
- When playing D Major, it is alright not to mute the 5th string, but you definitely need to mute the 6th string;
- Mute the 6th string while playing C Major;
- If you don’t want to play F Major as a barre chord, other than the shape illustrated in the diagram above, you can also add the C on the 3rd fret of the 5th fret. Just make sure you don’t play the open 6th string by accident.
How to Play House of the Rising Sun – Strumming Patterns and Other Approaches
When you learn the chords to a song, you can then choose to play them in different ways, depending on what kind of feeling you want it to have, or maybe on specific beats that you want to accentuate.
With House of the Rising Sun, there are endless examples of different ways that you can approach its chords, and each of them will have a distinct sound and feel.
On the guitar, you can choose to play with a pick, which will have a totally different sound than playing with a fingerpicking style, for example. You can also combine them and take advantage of these contrasting tones to adjust your playing.
Different song sections might call for a gentler, softer touch, and others need a strong, present guitar.
This section will get you started with a few examples of how you can play the chords in House of the Rising Sun’s verse section, which is what is played during most of the song.
Pattern Number 1
The first pattern that we will be looking into is by far the easiest to play. If you recall the song being in 6/8 time (6 beats per measure), this one consists of strumming each chord two times per measure – first on the “one”, and then on the “four”.
Below, you’ll find a guitar tab that explains this concept with a small fraction of the chord progression of House of the Rising Sun.
This is a great pattern to use while you are still memorizing the chord progression, since it doesn’t require much concentration to play, leaving you more comfortable to think about the chords you are playing.
You can play this pattern either with a pick or strumming with your fingers, but using a pick gives you a stronger attack, a more present tone, and overall should sound more consistent than if you use your fingers to strum, especially if you’re using an acoustic guitar with steel strings – nylon string guitars are more forgiving on the fingers.
Pattern Number 2
The second pattern that you can use to play this song has a faster rhythm, because it strums the chords more often than the previous pattern. This one consists of strumming the chord on every beat of each measure.
Even though you are playing on every beat, you should still try to emphasize the “one” and the “four” just like in the previous example.
Doing this will help you play the song more naturally, and once you are more used to the pattern itself, you will start “grooving” and feeling the song’s tempo much better.
You can try to play with the dynamics, accentuations and embellishments that you place on each beat of each measure and come up with creative ways to carry the song without becoming repetitive.
This one also works great with a pick, and since you’re strumming quicker than in the previous pattern, its advantages are even more noticeable than before.
Using a pick can also boost your dynamics very noticeably, as you can strum very lightly on just a few strings, or you can strum more aggressively to get a snappier sound from the guitar.
Pattern Number 3
This next approach is fundamentally different from the previous examples due to the fact that it is supposed to be played with a fingerstyle technique. This means that you are not strumming the strings with a pick, you will be using your right hand’s fingers to pick individual strings instead.
A fingerstyle approach can open endless doors for exploration. Once you are proficient with this technique, you have what can almost be described as 5 individual picks that you can use to create patterns and musical ideas that would be impossible to play using only a pick.
In this example, you should use your right hand’s thumb to pluck the bass notes, which will be located on the 4th, 5th and 6th strings.
Fingers 1, 2 and 3 (index, middle and ring) should play the 3 thinnest strings of the guitar.
Check the corresponding tab below to get a clearer idea of how to play this song using a fingerstyle technique:
Notice that the bass note changes strings sometimes. You need to shift your thumb to the string where your bass note is located. For this song, you should play these notes on the following strings:
- Am – 5th string, open
- C Major – 5th string, 3rd fret
- D Major – 4th string, open
- F Major – 4th string, 3rd fret / 6th string, 1st fret
- E Major – 6th string, open
This kind of pattern can be applied to pretty much any chord progression you want to. You might have played something similar to this already when you were learning a different song too. Being able to memorize different patterns will also help you come up with more ideas for your compositions later on!
Pattern Number 4
This pattern corresponds to the same one that you hear the guitar playing on the original recording by The Animals. You can describe it as a rake across the strings in which you play a strumming motion in a specific time that fits into the rhythm of the song.
You should definitely try to learn it if you are a fan of this version and you would like to get as close as possible to their interpretation of the song.
In this case, there is also the option of playing this pattern with a pick or with your fingers. It is up to you, depending on which one feels more comfortable to you, or whether you prefer the sound of one over the other in the setting you are playing.
The most important aspect is undoubtedly to be as precise with the rhythm as possible – every note should fall on its corresponding beat as much as you can.
With this pattern, there is a large degree of freedom in regards to how you can play each chord to fit your playing style better, or simply to extract different textures from the same set of chords.
For example, when you get to the E Major chord, you can strum every string on the downstrokes, but you can also play the bass note and then play only on the 3 thinnest strings, instead of playing all of the guitar’s 6 strings.
You should experiment as much as you can, as this will help you develop a better sense of what are the options you have available in other songs, and how to translate the sounds in your head into something you can play on your instrument.
FAQs – Frequently Asked Questions About House of the Rising Sun
Question: In What Key is the Song House of the Rising Sun in?
Answer: The song “House of the Rising Sun” is generally played in the key of A minor, such as in its most well-known version, recorded by The Animals in 1964.
Question: What is the Time Signature of House of the Rising Sun?
Answer: House of the Rising Sun is a song that was written using 6/8 time, a compound time that gives it a “two feel” where there are 6 eighth notes per measure.
Question: What are the Chords in House of the Rising Sun?
Answer: You can play the song House of the Rising Sun if you know 5 simple chords that you have probably already learned how to play on the guitar.
These chords are:
7 A minor
• C Major
• D Major
• F Major
• E Major
Question: In What Tuning do the Animals Play House of the Rising Sun?
Answer: In the original recording from 1964, The Animals were playing in standard tuning.
Closing Considerations about House of the Rising Sun Guitar Chords
This song is a great addition to any guitarist’s repertoire, and even if you think you might not play it very often in the future, you can still take advantage of some of the patterns that you can “steal” for yourself and use on other tunes that are also written in 6/8 time.
The cadences used in its chord progression are also commonly found in other examples of music, which means you can also use them as building blocks for your own musical ideas.
When learning new strumming patterns, try to be as precise as possible with time, in order to keep the song sounding tight, without having any rhythmic imbalance throughout the song’s form.
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