With a very cool intro and an interesting chord progression, ‘Hey Joe’ by Jimi Hendrix is a classic song that is instantly recognisable by almost any audience.
Interestingly ‘Hey Joe’ is Jimi’s cover version as he didn’t write the song himself. Billy Roberts registered the song for copyright in 1962, but the original author is unclear as some other artists claimed the ownership. You can read more about the song’s history here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hey_Joe
Although it is simple, the song’s chord progression (C, G, D, A, E) is harmonically quite sophisticated as it is based on the musical concept called the circle of 5ths, making it quite tricky to define the tonal centre of the song.
In this tutorial, I will show you two versions of ‘Hey Joe’, one suitable for the more advanced guitarists and one simplified version which is great for beginners. Please note that the original song was recorded in Eb (the guitar tuned down one step), but since most guitarists prefer standard tuning and find it tricky (or not convenient) to tune down the guitar, I have recorded the lesson in standard tuning.
The Song Can Be Divided Into Three Sections:
The best way to approach this song is to work on each part separately before trying to connect all of these elements into the whole song. If you are a beginner guitarist, you can go to the simplified open chord section and focus on the rhythm part of ‘Hey Joe’. I cover a lot of great practising strategies in my online guitar lessons, so please do have a look at my online courses here: Online Guitar Lessons. Let’s get into it!
A Few Tips On How To Practice "Hey Joe" | Advanced
The intro to ‘Hey Joe’ is based on the E minor pentatonic scale, played in the second and first (open) position and incorporates some open strings. Using open strings together with the fretted notes creates an excellent harmonic effect and a nice continuum between the notes.
The tricky part here is to make sure that your first bar slides (they could also be hammer-ons) are not muting the open E string – make sure that you position your first finger in a vertical way to the fretboard, so there is enough room for the open E string to ring.
Similarly, in the second bar, we will play double stops on the strings five and four against the open ringing sixth string, so that is another spot where you will have to pay extra attention to the clarity of the notes. Please make sure you watch the video above for the full explanation.
You may check the tutorial for ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ as I have shared some finger placement ideas that can be quite useful in ‘Hey Joe’, here is the link: How To Play Brown Eyed Girl
Jimi Hendrix was famous for his unique approach to chords and the way he performed them – it was many times a freestyle improvisation based on triads and inversions, but in this tutorial, I have decided to simplify it and use for the more advanced version the barre chords exclusively. The idea here is to give you a general outline of the song with an accurate intro part, as this is the element associated with the song’s sound.
Rhythm-wise I just strum each chord twice, leaving plenty of space for the bass and drum. I mute the chords while transitioning from one chord to the next one. That way, the sound kind of ‘breathes’ better and has more clarity. This technique also creates more of a percussive sound from the guitar chords – which works great with the single coil guitars and guitar amp set to a light crunch.
There is also one more section, a kind of bridge consisting of chromatic lines. It is actually an excellent warm-up exercise, so you may want to add it to your practice routine as an independent exercise. I have attached the tabulature diagram below, so please have a look.
A Few Tips On How To Practice "Hey Joe" | Beginner
‘Hey Joe’ is also a great song for the beginner guitarist as it features commonly used open chords such as C, G, D, A and E. It is a nice workout between these shapes and can be easily practised over the song.
A great starting point would be to strum each chord once, focusing in between on what is coming next – remember, always think ahead about the upcoming chord. That way, your chord transitions will be smoother and less tense.
Once you are confident with that, you can add the second down strum and work on the general flow of the song. Please watch the video for the full explanation.
‘Hey Joe’ by Jimi Hendrix has to be one of the most requested songs from my one-to-one lessons (Guitar Lessons In South West London), and my students always feel like they have achieved a big goal when they can play it for their friends and family. What do you think about this song? Will you add it to your repertoire?
Darius | Guitar Couch Lessons