1979

by The Smashing Pumpkins • Lesson #285 • Feb 18, 2020

Video lesson

My video showing you how to play it like Smashing Pumpkins (lesson #285):

My cover version, which uses a strummier “easy” arrangement (lesson #287):

PDFs chord sheets for both versions are available via the link below.

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Editor’s notes

Here’s a guitar lesson showing you how to play an acoustic version of 1979 by The Smashing Pumpkins (played in standard tuning). In this tutorial, I’ll break down the two main riffs used in great details, tabs included, before showing additional advice for utilizing a variety chord voicings & strumming patterns. Put it all together, and you’ll know what you need to pull this song off in a few different ways.

Timestamps of what I teach:

  • 0:00 Lesson overview
  • 2:05 Intro & Verse Riff
  • • Starting with the bass notes (2:05)
  • • Adding octaves & muted strings (6:24)
  • • Adding open strings & the bend (8:44)
  • 15:38 Chorus Riff
  • 20:58 Bridge
  • 22:12 Misc. Chord Voicings
  • 24:13 Misc. Strumming Tips

Tuning notes

Tune down 1/2 step (Eb Ab Db Gb Bb Eb) to play along with the band version, if you use the chords I show you in this lesson. My lesson is in standard tuning, which I decided to do just to keep things accessible and straightforward.

Lyrics with chords

See my sheet music for the lyrics, with chords overlayed on top of them.

Learning the intro & verse riff

Keep it simple at first – don’t expect yourself to immediately be able to capture the subtle nuance of the droning 6th string, the bend you do in the 3rd measure of the intro/verse, etc. Instead, take it step by step.

First, start with the bass notes. Get comfortable playing this over and over. When you can do this fluently, move on to the next step.

See my sheet music for the tab.

Second, add the muted octaves (first half) and the droning 5th string (second half). Keep the strumming simple! Also, note that I’m not doing the bend yet on the first note of the second half (which later on we’ll add on 6th fret of the 4th string).

See my sheet music for the tab.

Then, after many reps and when you’re comfortable enough to spice it up, take it all the way (adding the bend, adding the occasionally droning open 6th string , etc).

See my sheet music for the tab.

Learning the chorus riff

This one is a bit more straightforward, in that it’s using techniques already established in the first riff. Here’s how I like to play it:

See my sheet music for the tab.

However, here are a few variations and notes to keep in mind…

Strumming Asus2 in the second half

The second half of this riff uses the “A-riff” which is found in the intro & verse sections… but you can replace this with an Asus2 chord (x022000), strummed, if you want to simplify things. This is also nice just to mix things up, so you’re not repeating the A-riff too much.

See my sheet music for the tab.

Modifying the “/Eb” chord

The second chord I have as “/Eb” (spoken as “over E-flat”), which could alternatively be described as E-maj-7 (E-major-7). Different lessons for this song show this chord played in different ways. I use the approach above because I think it sounds great and is easy to play. Alternatively, here’s other ways to do that same voicing. Pick your poison.

See my sheet music for the tab.

Learning the bridge chords

Here’s how I like to play the bridge chord voicings. The cool part about this approach, is you keep your left ring and left pinky fingers on the 4th and 3rd strings (respectively) for all three chords.

See my sheet music for the tab.

Chord reference chart

Okay, there are a lot of ways to play the chords you hear in this song. Sometimes, a single chord may played 2-3 different ways – depending on the skill level, and sound, and strumming style you want to go for. You can reference videos of Billy playing this live, or see Rivers Cuomo’s cover version, and so on – my suggestion is watch a bunch, take your pick, and understand you’re 100% empowered to play these chords however you like.

Here are the chords, grouped by chord name.

See my sheet music for the tab.

Strumming

To strum like Billy plays, you’ll want to do steady down-strums on the 8th notes as shown below. The trick here is to pay close attention to your dynamics and swells and crescendos. Don’t play the same exact volume the whole time! That gets boring. Instead, find ways to build things up, quiet things down, and emphasize certain strums. One approach could be to accent the quarter notes slightly (1-2-3-4), and on the 8th notes in between be a little bit more quiet.

See my sheet music for the strumming diagram.

Another approach, if you want something more strummy in a traditional sense, is to use a pattern like this. Note that many of my tabs in this lesson sort of follow this implied rhythm. Which itself is very loosely inspired by the drum track on this song.

See my sheet music for the strumming diagram.

Other videos

Here’s the official video from Smashing Pumpkins.

Billy’s solo acoustic performance on Howard Stern:

Rivers Cuomo solo acoustic version:

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