Clay Pigeons

by John Prine • Lesson #294 • Apr 8, 2020

Video lesson

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Editor’s notes

Hey friends, here’s a brand new guitar lesson & attached PDF chord sheet for “Clay Pigeons” as covered by John Prine (originally written by Blaze Foley). In this lesson I’ll start off by showing you a no capo, “easy strum” version of the song – using only the common G C D chords. In the second half of the lesson, we’ll put a capo on the 3rd fret and learn the exact fingerstyle Travis picking tab that John Prine plays on his 2005 album “Fair and Square”. As always, I’ll break everything down step by step. Here’s a list of what I teach in this tutorial, along with timestamps if you want to jump ahead:

Easy-strum version (no capo)

  • 2:02 Basic chord shapes
  • 2:36 Verse & chorus progressions
  • 5:25 Strumming patterns

Travis Picking (fingerstyle, capo 3)

  • 9:06 Chord shapes for Travis picking
  • 12:34 Right thumb technique
  • 14:08 Fingerpicking the intro
  • 21:03 Fingerpicking the verses
  • 24:14 Farewell

I recorded this on Monday, and John Prine passed away the following evening while I was doing the editing :( Obviously, horrible news. It’s my hope that this lesson helps you enjoy his music & share it with others via guitar.

Lyrics with chords

Add capo 3rd fret to play along with John Prine.

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

Intro tab

My suggestion for learning this, especially if you’re new to Travis picking: first, focus on just the right thumb, which will be playing alternating bass notes on the 6th and 4th strings. Only after you’re comfortable with this, add the right index (and possibly right middle) fingers, which will be playing the notes on the thinnest 3 strings.

See my sheet music for the full intro tab.

How to play the chords

If you’re just strumming, you can use these typical voicings. However, if your aim is to play fingerstyle in the fashion of John Prine, see the chords I show further below.

E –––3––––0––––2–––
B –––0––––1––––3–––
G –––0––––0––––2–––
D –––0––––2––––0–––
A –––2––––3––––––––
E –––3–––––––––––––
     G    C    D

To play fingerstyle, the first two chords you’ll want to learn are the G and C (technically, the C is a “C/G” - but we’ll refer to it as a C for simplicity going forward). The great part about these two chords, is that your left ring finger stays in the exact same position for both chords. The only “transition” you do is putting your left middle & index fingers down for the C, and then lifting them up again for the G.

E ––––––                        E ––––––    
B ––0–––                        B ––1–––  <= Left index finger
G ––0–––                        G ––0–––    
D ––0–––                        D ––2–––  <= Left middle finger
A ––––––                        A ––––––    
E ––3–––  <= Left ring finger   E ––3–––  <= Left ring finger
    G                               C     

Next, let’s add this D chord (technically, it’s a D/F# – but again, let’s keep it simple and refer to it as D). This one is trickier, because you’ll need do a bit more finger re-positioning than you will when playing the C & G. First learn this chord by itself, then practice going from the G or C to this chord, and back again. If this chord totally stumps you, ignore it and follow the rest of the lesson only using the G and C chords.

E ––––––
B ––1–––  <= Left index finger
G ––2–––  <= Left ring finger
D ––0–––
A ––0–––
E ––2–––  <= Left middle finger
    D

Fingerpicking the verse

During the verse, you’ll want to keep up the Travis picking but slightly dial down the flourish. Here’s the tab I like to use. This may not be 100% what John Prine plays, but it’s close enough. Again, the main idea is to keep your right thumb chuggin’ along like an engine, whilst adding occasional notes with your right index and/or middle fingers – just to flesh things out a bit, and make sure things don’t sound too empty & minimal. Feel free to improvise, or otherwise deviate away from these tabs! These are just simple suggested starting points.

See my sheet music for the verse tab.

Strumming pattern

If you want to strum instead of playing fingerstyle, here’s a few tabs I recommend trying out. Use what works for you! For both these patterns, I tend to play only the bass note (of whatever chord is being played) on the “1” count of that measure.

Pattern #1:       1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +
                  D   D U   U D U       "Down, down up, up down up"

Pattern #2:       1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +
                  D   D   D U D U       "Down, down, down up down up"

Chord progressions

Just for context, here’s the chord progressions used in the intro, verse, and chorus of this song.

Intro:     | G      | G      | C      | C      |
           | G      | G      | D      | D      |
           | G      | G      | C      | C      |
           | G      | D      | G      | G      |

Verse:     "I'm going down to the Greyhound station..."
           | G      | G      | C      | C      |
           | G      | G      | D      | D      |
                                       ...repeat

Chorus:    "And get back in the game, and start playing again..."
           | G      | C      | G      | D      |

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