Tonight, Tonight

by The Smashing Pumpkins • Lesson #350 • Feb 6, 2021

Video lesson

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Editor’s notes

Hey there friends! Here’s a new guitar lesson showing you how to play an acoustic version of “Tonight, Tonight” by the Smashing Pumpkins, from their 1995 classic album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. This is an amazing song on its own (the full-band version is an incredible bundle of energy), but even with an acoustic guitar you can do quite a bit to capture the magic of this song. And let me tell you: while it takes some practice to get over the hump, this one is quite fun to play. Ultimately, there’s just 4 guitar parts this song uses – and for each I’ll explain how to play it, as well as show some easier & modified versions in order to keep things accessible, should you have trouble with “the way Billy Corgan plays it”. One last note: I’ll be in standard tuning to keep things simple (tune down 1/2 step to play along with the Smashing Pumpkins). Thanks for all of the requests for this one, it was a pleasure to finally learn!

Video timestamps:

  • 0:00 Playthrough & lesson summary
  • 3:01 The 4 guitar riffs, at a glance
  • 6:19 Riff #1: G and E-minor
  • 10:18 Riff #2: C-D-Em-G (picked)
  • 13:33 Riff #3: G-D/F#-Em-Am-C
  • 16:13 Riff #4: C-G/B-D
  • 17:38 My secret stash intro tab
  • 20:41 Full playthrough, with all tabs

Lyrics with chords

Tune down 1/2 step to play along with Smashing Pumpkins. Note, my video is in standard tuning.

See my licensed song sheet for the lyrics and chords

Tune down 1/2 step to play along with Smashing Pumpkins

To play this song along with the Smashing Pumpkins version, you’ll need to tune all strings on your guitar down by a half-step. That is, E-A-D-G-B-E becomes Eb-Ab-Db-Gb-Bb-Eb. My video is in standard tuning, to keep things simple. You can play the song in whatever tuning you want (and even add a capo), using the chords I show you – but you’ll only be able to play along with the Smashing Pumpkins if you’re in their exact tuning (no capo, all strings down 1/2 step).

If you disregard tuning down 1/2 step, this song is in the key of G.

The 4 main guitar parts, at a glance

Big picture, here’s the four guitar sequences this song uses. These sequences are mixed and matched in the actual song (see page 1 of my PDF for the specific order of things), but I recommend getting comfortable with all these here first. See the rest of this PDF for additional notes on the chords below, including a few alternative way to voice some of the chord shapes.

1) The G-Em strummy riff (intro, verse #2)

  "And you know you're never sure, but you're sure you could be right..."
e ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––   ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––      
B (0)––––––––––––––(3)––––––––––––––   (0)––––––––––––––(3)––––––––––––––      
G –0––––––––––––––––0–––––––––––––––   –0––––––––––––––––0–––––––––––––––      
D –0––––––––––––––––0–––––––––––––––   –2––––––––––––––––2–––––––––––––––
A –2––––––––––––––––3–––––––––––––––   –2––––––––––––––––3–––––––––––––––      
E –3––––––––––––––––3–––––––––––––––   –0––––––––––––––––0–––––––––––––––      
   G                G**                 Em               Em**
   1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +  1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +     1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +  1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

2) The C*-D*-Em*-G* picking riff (intro, verse #1, ending)

  "Time, is never time at all, you can never ever leave..."
e ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––   –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
B –––0–––––0––––––––––0–––––0–––––––   –––0–––––0–––––––––0––––––0––––––––
G –––––0–––––0–––0––––––0–––––0–––0–   –––––0–––––0–––0–––––0––––––0–––0––
D ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––   –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
A –3–––––3–––––3––––5–––––5–––––5–––   –7–––––7–––––7–––10––––10––––10––––
E ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––   –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
   C*               D*                  Em*              G*
   1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +  1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +     1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +  1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

3) The G-D/F#-Em-Am-C pre-chorus riff

  "Believe! ... That life can change, that you're not stuck in vain..."
e –––––––––0––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
B –3–––––––3––––––––0––––––––––––––––1––––––––––––––––1–––––––––––––––––
G –0–––––––2––––––––0––––––––––––––––2––––––––––––––––0–––––––––––––––––
D –0–––––––0––––––––2––––––––––––––––2––––––––––––––––2–––––––––––––––––
A –2–––––––0––––––––2––––––––––––––––0––––––––––––––––3–––––––––––––––––
E –3–––––––2––––––––0–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
   G       D/F#     Em               Am               C
   1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +  1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +  1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +  1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

4) The C-G/B-Am chorus riff

 "Tonight---------------"
e ––––––––––––––––––––––––0–––––––––
B –1–––––––0––––––––3–––––––––3–––––
G –0–––––––0––––––––2–––––––––––––––
D –2–––––––0––––––––0–––––––––––––––
A –3–––––––2––––––––0–––––––––––––––
E ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
   C       G/B      D
   1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +  1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +  

Riff: G** - Em**

Finally, there’s these modifications to the G and E-minor chords which are used in the second verse, as well as optionally during the intro (should you not want to play the melody tab I show earlier in this document). The main idea here is to add the C note to the G and E-minor chords. Once again, you have a few options.

Thickest-4-strings version:

e ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––          e ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––      
B ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––          B ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––      
G –0––––––––––––––––0–––––––––––––––          G –0––––––––––––––––0–––––––––––––––      
D –0––––––––––––––––0––––––––––––––– x2, then D –2––––––––––––––––2––––––––––––––– x2
A –2––––––––––––––––3–––––––––––––––          A –2––––––––––––––––3–––––––––––––––      
E –3––––––––––––––––3–––––––––––––––          E –0––––––––––––––––0–––––––––––––––      
   1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +  1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +              1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +  1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +      
   G                G**                          E                Em**

Full strum version:

e –3––––––––––––––––3–––––––––––––––          e –0––––––––––––––––0–––––––––––––––      
B –0––––––––––––––––1–––––––––––––––          B –0––––––––––––––––1–––––––––––––––      
G –0––––––––––––––––0–––––––––––––––          G –0––––––––––––––––0–––––––––––––––      
D –0––––––––––––––––0––––––––––––––– x2, then D –2––––––––––––––––2––––––––––––––– x2
A –2––––––––––––––––2–––––––––––––––          A –2––––––––––––––––2–––––––––––––––      
E –3––––––––––––––––3–––––––––––––––          E –0––––––––––––––––0–––––––––––––––      
   1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +  1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +              1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +  1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +      
   G                G**                          E                Em**

Riff: C* - D* - Em* - G*

Maybe the most distinctive riff of this song uses just three strings, with a single picking pattern applied to 4 different shapes (where only one left-hand note changes per shape). This makes it easy to memorize, but hard to get the hang of! Here’s the full tab. See my video lesson for specific advice on how to learn this. If there’s any advice I’d give, it’s as follows:

  • Notice how the bass notes happen on the same rhythmic pulses that also occur in the “all down-strums” strumming pattern (i.e. the “1” and “2+” and “4” counts).
  • While it’s tougher to play, the ideal way to pick this is to always pick in the direction of the next note. See my strumming notation below the tabs for the specifics here. If this is too difficult, you can alternatively use all down-strums.

    e –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– B –––0–––––0––––––––––0–––––0––––––– –––0–––––0–––––––––0––––––0–––––––– G –––––0–––––0–––0––––––0–––––0–––0– –––––0–––––0–––0–––––0––––––0–––0–– D –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– x3, => ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– x1 A –3–––––3–––––3––––5–––––5–––––5––– –7–––––7–––––7–––10––––10––––10–––– E –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– C* D* Em* G* 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

Riff: G - D/F# - Em

Another of the big riffs is the walkdown from G to D/F# to Em. This first happens at the end of the “Believe in me… believe!” lyric that ushers in the strum-heavy pre-chorus. There are several ways you could play this, pick your poison from the options below! It’s all about picking the voicing that meet your skill level and general preference.

Basic version:                                Cadd9 & Em7 version:

e –3–––––––2––––––––0–––––––––––––––          e ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––      
B –0–––––––3––––––––0–––––––––––––––          B –3–––––––3––––––––3–––––––––––––––      
G –0–––––––2––––––––0–––––––––––––––          G –0–––––––2––––––––0–––––––––––––––      
D –0–––––––0––––––––2–––––––––––––––    or    D –0–––––––0––––––––2–––––––––––––––      
A –2–––––––0––––––––2–––––––––––––––          A –2–––––––0––––––––2–––––––––––––––      
E –3–––––––2––––––––0–––––––––––––––          E –3–––––––2––––––––0–––––––––––––––      
   1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +  1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +              1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +  1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +      
   G       D/F#     Em                           G       D/F#     Em                   

G/F# version, with isolated bass notes:

e –––––3–––––––3––––––––0–––––––––––
B –––––0–––––––0––––––––0–––––––––––
G –––––0–––––––0––––––––0–––––––––––
D –––––0–––––––0––––––––2–––––––––––
A –––––2–––––––x––––––––2–––––––––––
E –3–––––––2––––––––0–––0–––––––––––
   1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +  1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +
   G       D/F#     Em               

Riff: C - G/B - D

The other big walk-down is the C-G/B-D transition, which is heard over the many “Tonight, to-night!” lyrics. Again, you have many options here – which I show below. Pick the one that works for you. It’s optional, but you can add the open E string in the final measure (on both “+” counts following the 2 and 3 beats).

Basic version:                                Cadd9 & D/A version:

e –––––––––––––––––(2)––––––––––––––          e ––––––––––––––––––––––––0–––––––––      
B –1–––––––0––––––––3–––––––––––––––          B –3–––––––3––––––––3–––––––––3–––––      
G –0–––––––0––––––––2–––––––––––––––          G –0–––––––0––––––––2–––––––––––––––      
D –2–––––––0––––––––0–––––––––––––––    or    D –2–––––––0––––––––0–––––––––––––––      
A –3–––––––2––––––––––––––––––––––––          A –3–––––––2––––––––0–––––––––––––––      
E ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––          E ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––      
   1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +  1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +              1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +  1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +      
   C       G/B      D                            C       G/B      D

Intro melody tab

Here’s how I like to play the intro to this song (G for 4 measures, Em for 4 measures, then optionally repeat). In the album version there’s strings playing the melody – which I like to emulate on my guitar, as shown below. The melody notes are shown in the tab… you can add any amount of strumming you want to fill things out. See my video lesson for reference! If you want to play it like Billy does acoustic, you can instead alternate between one measure each of G & G** (2x), and Em & Em** (2x).

e –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
B –3––––––––––––––––3–––––0–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––0–––––3––––
G –0––––––––––––––––––––––––––––2––––0––––––––––––––––2––––––––––––––––
D –0–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––0–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
A –2–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––2–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
E –3–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––3–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
   1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +  1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +  1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +  1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +
   G                                 G

e –0–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
B –0––––––––––––––––3–––––0–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––0–––––3––––
G –0––––––––––––––––––––––––––––2––––0––––––––––––––––2––––––––––––––––  Optional: repeat the
D –2–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––2–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––  prior 8 measures. Then,
A –2–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––2–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––  continue to the next part.
E –0–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––0–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
   1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +  1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +  1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +  1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +
   Em                                Em

e ––––––––––––––––––––––––0–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––0––––––––––
B –1–––––––0––––––––3–––––––––––3––––1–––––––0––––––––3–––––––––––3––––
G –0–––––––0––––––––2––––––––––––––––0–––––––0––––––––2––––––––––––––––
D –2–––––––0––––––––0––––––––––––––––2–––––––0––––––––0––––––––––––––––
A –3–––––––2––––––––0––––––––––––––––3–––––––2––––––––0––––––––––––––––
E –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
   1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +  1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +  1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +  1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +
   C       G/B      D                C       G/B      D

e ––––––––––––––––––––––––0––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
B –1–––––––0––––––––3–––––––––––3––––0––––––––––––––––0––––––––––––––––
G –0–––––––0––––––––2––––––––––––––––0––––––––––––––––0––––––––––––––––
D –2–––––––0––––––––0––––––––––––––––0––––––––––––––––0––––––––––––––––
A –3–––––––2––––––––0––––––––––––––––2––––––––––––––––2––––––––––––––––
E –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––3––––––––––––––––3––––––––––––––––
   1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +  1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +  1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +  1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +
   C       G/B      D                G

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