There is no doubt that Bob Dylan is a true genius and his 1973 ‘Knocking On Heavens Door’ is proof of it. This song has been covered by many artists in radically different genres, from Eric Clapton through to Neil Young, Dolly Parton, Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, and even Guns N’ Roses, plus many more!
Bob Dylan’s biographer Clinton Heylin described ‘Knocking On Heavens Door’ as ‘an exercise in splendid simplicity”.
Did you know that in 2016 Bob Dylan received a Nobel Prize in … literature. Dylan being himself informed the Swedish Academy that due to pre-existing commitments, he wouldn’t be able to collect the prize. A few months later he attended a private ceremony in Stockholm where he was presented with the award. You can read more about it here: https://www.theguardian…
This song is a great beginner tune and will help you improve the transitions between the chords G and D, as you need to go from a large stretched G chord spanning all six strings to the little D shape based around four strings.
In the video I teach a cross between different versions of this song rather than the strict Bob Dylan one, let’s dive into it!
The best starting point for any song is to analyse the weak points, what are the chords that cause you some troubles? As mentioned earlier, usually it would be going from G to D, but you might also have some difficulties transitioning between C to G as we need to radically change the shapes on the fretboard. The first step will be to work in isolation on these trouble spots.
Let’s take our G and C chords to start with. What you want to do is include them in your daily practice routine. The goal at the early stages of learning the song is to focus on the chords and changes between them, rather than trying to play the full song from start to finish. So you may work on it like this:
After a few days, you may be able to implement the chords G and C into the full progression. The chord progression is very straightforward, both verse and chorus start from the chord G, followed by the D. On the verse you are going to alternate the third chord – on the first round it will be Am on the second part of the verse C. So you are going to play G / D / Am / Am and then G / D / C / C, and you will repeat this combination G / D / Am / Am and again G / D / C / C.
On the chorus, we will stick to the progression G / D / C / C, and we will loop it.
I would suggest that you play these chords as a simple down strumming at first, so the focus is on the chord transition. You can count the rhythm like this: chord G – one, two, chord D – one, two, chord A minor – one, two, three, four. What it means is that you will hit the chord G on ‘one’ and let it ring on ‘two’, then you’ll repeat the same for the D chord. Then you’ll finish with the A minor chord – you’ll hit it on ‘one’ and let it ring through ‘two three and four’.
This long break on the A minor chord ( also the C on the second round) will give you plenty of time to think about the upcoming chord G. Try to think ahead about what is coming next so your chord transitions are smoother.
After a while, when you feel comfortable with the chord structure, you can spice up it with more complex strumming or even an arpeggio, as I explain in the video! This song will sound equally as good strummed with the guitar pick or your fingers, but for the arpeggiated part, I personally would choose the guitar pick.
”Knocking On Heavens Door’ is a really great song that is worth adding to your ‘learned songs library’. Let me know below, how you got on. What is your most tricky chord transition, is it changing from G to D, C to G or maybe something else?
Darius | Guitar Couch Lessons