The song “Stand by Me” was originally written by Ben E. King, alongside Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. It was released in April 1961. It is one of the most popular songs of its time, and there have been countless versions recorded by other famous artists over the years.
This is a great song for you to learn and play with your friends, since it is not difficult to master. Besides being recognizable and having a simple structure, you can play it using simple chords that you probably have already learned on the guitar.
In summary, the Stand by Me guitar chords you should definitely be familiar with for this song are A Major, F# minor, D Major and E Major. You can get by easily with some simple chord diagrams that will be shown later.
This guide is going to show you how to play these chords on the guitar, give you a few examples of how you can strum or pick them to bring variety into the song, and other important concepts to understand music more clearly.
Song Overview – Time Signature and Harmony
There is not much to say about the time signature of this song. It is in 4/4 or “common time”, which is one of the most frequently used time signatures in music. You have most likely learned several songs in this time signature before.
In 4/4, each measure has 4 beats, divided into 4 quarter notes.
Harmony – What are the Chords in Ben E. King’s Song Stand By Me?
The song we are looking at has been recorded in the key of A Major. Other artists might change it to better suit their voice or style, but the original one by Ben E. King was performed in A Major.
This means that the remaining chords relate to its key center (A), and have their tonal functions inside the chord progression. This is what gives a song a sense of movement, tension and release.
There are only 4 chords in the entire song, which are played in the same sequence throughout its different sections.
The chords used in Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me” are the following:
- A Major
- F# minor
- D Major
- E Major
The diagrams you will find below illustrate how you can play these chords using simple voicings on your guitar.
As you can see, every shape is an open chord (has open strings ringing) except for F# minor, which is represented as a barre chord.
If barring an entire fret with your finger is still challenging to you at this point, you can also play a simplified version of this chord which does not include the bass note in the 6th string.
However, if you are able to play F# as shown in the diagram above, you will be including more harmonic information into your playing.
Just for good measure, here are a few additional considerations that you should keep in mind while playing these chords (in this song or in any other song that features them):
- When playing the A Major chord, mute the 6th open string (E). Even though E is part of the A Major chord, we want the lowest note in the chord to be the root.
- When playing F# minor using a barre shape, make sure that you are getting sound from all the strings. If your G string is not being heard, then this chord can’t be heard clearly as minor.
- When playing the D Major chord, make sure that you mute the 6th open string. While ideally you should also mute the 5th string (A), you can still hear the chord properly if it isn’t completely muted.
Stand by Me Chord Progression Analysis
By taking a closer look at the chords that make up a song’s chord progression and determining the relation that they have with their key center, we can really understand what is going on in a song.
Furthermore, this knowledge is immensely precious since you can apply it in countless different scenarios. You can transpose this song to another key, you can use pieces of its harmony or even the entire progression to write another song, and much more.
We start by looking at the chords of the song, and relating them to its key. Since this song is in A Major, we will be using the A Major scale to establish this relationship.
The A Major scale is comprised of the following notes
- I – A (Root/Tonic)
- II – B (Major Second)
- III – C# (Major Third)
- IV – D (Perfect Fourth)
- V – E (Perfect Fifth)
- VI – F# (Major Sixth)
- VII – G# (Major Seventh)
The chords in the song are A Major, F# minor, D Major and E Major, so we can quickly understand that this chord sequence is what we call a “I, VI, IV, V” progression.
- A Major (I chord, tonic)
- F# minor (VI chord, subdominant)
- D Major (IV chord, subdominant)
- E Major (V chord, dominant)
The names tonic, subdominant and dominant refer to the harmonic functions of these chords.
In harmony, Roman numerals are often used to represent intervals between notes. It is super convenient because if you know that a certain song’s chord progression is “I, VI, IV, V”, you can instantly transpose it to any key, as long as the intervals between those chords are maintained.
For example, if you wanted to quickly teach an experienced musician how to play this song, you could simply say “it is a I, VI, IV, V chord progression in the key of A”, and that would be all the information they would need to understand it.
You should get used to representing chord progressions like this, especially if you want to put together a show with other musicians. Songs are easily taught and a chord chart made using this system makes sense in literally any key.
Additional Songs that Feature the Same Harmony as Stand by Me
As we have just discussed, a “I, VI, IV, V” progression is something that is very common in music. There are literally hundreds of songs that feature the same harmonic movement, and this is because these chords interact with each other in a way that establishes the key of the song, then creates movement away from that key center, and finally, sets up the necessary tension to resolve back into the tonic.
Understanding this kind of harmonic role of each chord in a key is an amazing advantage when writing music, since you can know what feeling a certain chord might convey before even trying it out.
Here are a few examples of other songs that contain the same chord progression as Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me”:
- Roy Orbison – Oh, Pretty Woman
- Van Halen – Can’t Stop Loving You
- Elton John – Crocodile Rock
- Leona Lewis – Bleeding Love
- King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard – God is in the Rhythm
- The Beatles – Happiness is a Warm Gun
- The Beach Boys – I’m Waiting for the Day
- Warren Smith – Red Cadillac and a Black Moustache
- Electric Light Orchestra – Telephone Line
- Frank Zappa – Bobby Brown
As you can see, the same chord progression can adapt to various different music genres, be approached from all kinds of angles, and the possibilities for writing a melody on top of it are immense.
Learn some of these songs or simply listen to them for inspiration to come up with new musical ideas!
How to Play Ben E. King’s Song Stand By Me – Guitar Chords, Strumming Patterns and Other Approaches
Simply memorizing the chords to a song and knowing a couple of voicings to play them on the guitar is not enough to really play it like you should, even more if you’re playing it with other musicians.
You can take a simple chord progression and play it using a range of different techniques. You could vary the voicings you use to accentuate certain notes, play them using different rhythmic patterns, among other ways.
On the guitar, you can also choose between playing with a pick or using a fingerpicking technique. These two yield totally different results and you should weigh that in when deciding the approach you’re taking.
This section is going to provide you with a few different examples of patterns and approaches that you can use when playing the song Stand by Me.
Bear in mind that this could also be applied to other chord progressions, and you can use these as a starting point to create your own patterns and musical ideas.
Pattern Number 1
The first pattern that we will be taking a look at is very similar to what you hear on the original recording by Ben E. King.
On each chord, you strum it once, letting it ring for just half a beat, and mute it. On the 2nd beat of the measure, you play it again, but this time you should leave it ringing for two whole beats, giving you just enough to mute the strings again before getting ready to play the next chord in the progression.
The tab below represents the chord progression that you hear throughout the whole song. Pay attention to the fact that every chord is played for two whole measures, except for D and E, which you should play for one measure each.
Using a pick for this pattern could prove to be an advantage, since your attack can be more defined and sharper. You can still play this with your fingers, it all depends on your taste.
While playing this kind of pattern, guitarists can also play percussive strums on the strings by muting them with the left hand and just strumming through all of the strings, or by hitting them with your right hand to create a sound that fits right into where the snare drum would be.
Using a technique such as this one is a sure way to make your playing more interesting, captivating, and it even helps everyone (yourself included) stay in the song’s rhythm. Most fingerstyle guitarists use something like this, but you can also apply the same concept to an electric guitar without any issues.
Pattern Number 2
The second pattern featured on this guide is meant for the guitarists who might be struggling a little to play the first pattern on time consistently.
This one consists of playing each chord just once per measure, lasting for 4 beats each. Doing this can help you focus more on the chord changes by taking your mind off of the rhythmic pattern for a bit.
Alternatively, you can also develop this pattern by playing each chord twice on each measure instead of just once. Increasing the harmonic rhythm is a good method of giving the song a bit more energy and building up for the section that comes next.
If you are having trouble keeping time, maybe playing along with a metronome can be helpful for you. Once you have a clear idea of where you are at all times, playing different rhythmic patterns will start coming much more naturally to you.
Pattern Number 3
The final pattern on the guide consists of arpeggiating the chords of the song on each measure.
For this one, a fingerstyle technique is recommended since you have a much larger degree of control over the individual strings, instead of having to travel back and forth with a pick.
Your thumb should be occupied with playing the bass notes, between the 6th and the 4th strings. The index, middle and ring fingers should stay around the 1st and 3rd strings, but pay attention to some chord changes that might require you to slightly adjust the position of your right hand.
FAQs – Frequently Asked Questions about Stand By Me Guitar Chords
Question: What is the Key of the Song Stand By Me, by Ben E. King?
Answer: This song was originally recorded and performed by Ben E. King in the key of A Major. Versions performed by other artists might be in a different key to accommodate for a different vocal range, or to better suit the band’s style.
Question: What is the Chord Progression of the Song Stand By Me?
Answer: The chord progression of Stand by Me can be quickly described as a I, VI, IV, V progression in the key of A Major.
This means that its chords are:
- A Major, first degree/tonic
- F# minor, sixth degree
- D Major, fourth degree
- E Major, fifth degree
Question: What are Other Popular Versions of the Song Stand by Me?
Answer: Stand by Me is one of the songs that inspired hundreds of musicians to perform and record their own version of it. Among the best known version, there are the ones from Otis Redding, John Lennon, Florence & The Machine, Tracy Chapman, and many more.
Question: What is the time signature of the song Stand By Me?
Answer: The song “Stand by Me” by Ben E. King is in the 4/4 time signature. This is the most common time signature in Western music in general, and it means that you have 4 beats per measure, in which quarter notes are given the value of one beat.
Closing Considerations About Stand By Me Guitar Chords
Stand by Me is a great song to learn for many different reasons. It is a popular, frequently called tune during jam sessions, and it takes only a few minutes to memorize since the chords and the structure are not complex at all.
Understanding this song’s harmony also gives you tools to work better with other songs that feature similar chord progressions, sometimes even the same.
Try to play it using different patterns and techniques in order to make the most out of the information you have learned! Just make sure to keep in time as best as you can while you practice and when you play it with other musicians.