I Walk the Line

by Johnny Cash • Lesson #6 • Nov 17, 2013

Editor’s Notes

In this lesson I’ll teach you how to play the Johnny Cash classic I Walk The Line, which was originally released in 1956. My tutorial is based on a solo acoustic guitar approach, which lets you capture the sound of the recorded album version all by yourself. I have two videos… a newer one (lesson #262) which focuses entirely on the intro riff, in addition to an older one (lesson #6) where I briefly explain how to play the entire song. My print-friendly song sheet includes tabs/notes/lyrics/chords to account for both of these video lessons.

Intro Tutorial (Lesson #262)


  • 0:00 Lesson overview
  • 2:19 Variation 1: bass notes only
  • 13:26 Variation 2: adding simple chord strums
  • 21:27 Variation 3: adding muted “boom-chicka” strumming
  • 25:18 Farewell

Full Song Tutorial (Lesson #6)

Print-Friendly Song Sheet 5 pages

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Notes and tabs

Capo 1st Fret, Standard Tuning

To play this song along with the Johnny Cash album recording, put a capo on the 1st fret. If playing along doesn’t matter to you, you can play it without a capo (using the chords shown here) just fine.

Guitar Chords Used

Here are the chords you’ll need to play this song. These are all quite common open chords, with the B7 being the most rare of the bunch. Don’t let the B7 scare you off! It is a useful chord to have in your repertoire.

      A   D   E   B7   G

Basic strum pattern

The key to this song, as well as most of Johnny Cash’s tunes with his characteristic boom-chicka-boom-chicka sound, is understanding the strumming pattern. Specifically, how the alternating bassline is employed with each chord played. The basic idea is to (1) strum the chord’s bassnote once, (2) play a down-up strum of the chord, (3) play a lower/higher bassnote of the same chord, (4) play a down-up strum of the chord.

Here’s how you would do this with the A chord. Note, this shows a bassnote that alternates between the 5th string and the 6th string.

D-|---2---|------2-2-----2-2-----2-2-----2-2-----2-2-----2-2--- etc

For some chords, you may want to move the bassnote up instead of down. Take B7 for example: here, I alternate between the 5th and 4th string for the bassnote.

D-|---1---|-----------1---------------1---------------1-------- etc

You can employ this technique for every chord using this basic approach.

Intro Tab

Here is the tab to the intro of this song. If your goal is to memorize this and play it note-for-note, I strongly recommend learning the bassline separately from the chord strumming. Once you have one mastered, move to the other. Doing both at the same time may be tricky.

See PDF for tab.

Transition Between Verses

Here are the tabs for the transition between each verse, where the song in fact changes key. After you walk up/down to the new chord, stay on that chord as long as you like. This is where Johnny Cash will do the “Hmmmmmm…” vocal, which helps establish the new key in which he is about to play.

From E up to A:

D-|---2---------------|-----2-2-----2-2-----2-2-----2-2-----2-2-----2-2-- etc
      E                  A

From A up to D:

D-|---2---------------|--0---------------0---------------0--------------- etc
      A                  D

From D down to A:

D-|---0------0--------|-----2-2-----2-2-----2-2-----2-2-----2-2-----2-2-- etc
      D                  A

From A down to E:

D-|---2---------------|-----2-2-----2-2-----2-2-----2-2-----2-2-----2-2-- etc
      A                  E

Chord progressions

See PDF for chord progression diagram.

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