Knockin' on Heaven's Door

by Bob Dylan • Lesson #88 • Jul 29, 2017

Video lesson

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Editor’s notes

This lesson shows you an easy way to play “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” by Bob Dylan. This is an absolutely classic song that only uses 4 chords (G, D, C, and A minor). I’ll teach you these chords, explain the strumming pattern, how to play the chords in the right order, and finally show you some flourish & fills you can add.

Video timestamps:

  • 0:00 Playthrough & Lesson Overview
  • 1:18 Chords needed
  • 3:50 Strumming pattern
  • 5:20 Chord progressions
  • 6:50 Adding flourish & fills

Lyrics w/ chords

INTRO
    G     D     Am    Am
    G     D     C     C         
                    ....play twice

VERSE
    G                 D                Am
    ...Mama, take this badge off of me
    G           D             C
    ...I can't use it anymore
    G                   D                 Am
    ...It's gettin' dark, too dark to see
    G             D                       C
    ...I feel I'm knockin' on heaven's door

CHORUS
    G                D                      Am
    ...Knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door
    G                D                      C
    ...Knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door
    G                D                      Am
    ...Knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door
    G                D                      C
    ...Knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door

VERSE #2
    G             D                 Am
    ...Mama put my guns in the ground
    G          D                 C
    ...I can't shoot them anymore
    G                 D                  Am
    ...That cold black cloud is comin' down
    G               D                    C
    ...I feel I'm knockin' on heaven's door

CHORUS
    G                D                      Am
    ...Knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door
    G                D                      C
    ...Knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door
    G                D                      Am
    ...Knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door
    G                D                      C
    ...Knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door

    [repeat chorus as desired, end]

Chords needed

The entire song uses these four chords. There are plenty of ways you could embellish and modify these chords, such as turning the A-minor to a Am7 (x02010) – which is what it sounds like Bob Dylan does. Obviously feel free to do that if you wish.

E ––––3–––––0–––––0–––––2–––––      –––0–––  –––3–––  –––3–––
B ––––0–––––1–––––1–––––3–––––      –––1–––  –––1–––  –––1–––
G ––––0–––––2–––––0–––––2–––––      –––0–––  –––0–––  –––0–––
D ––––0–––––2–––––2–––––0–––––      –––2–––  –––2–––  –––2–––
A ––––2–––––0–––––3–––––––––––      –––0–––  –––0–––  –––3–––
E ––––3–––––––––––––––––––––––      –––––––  –––––––  –––––––
      G     Am    C     D             Am7      Am7       C   

As I note in my video lesson, if you’re having trouble with the chord transitions, realize that for some of the transitions you’re keeping fingers on the same note. This makes changing much easier, since it is one less finger to move. For example:

E ––––3–––––2––––
B ––––3–––––3––––   <-- left ring finger plays 3rd fret for both chords
G ––––0–––––2––––
D ––––0–––––0––––
A ––––2––––––––––
E ––––3––––––––––
      G     D   

Chord progression

Repeat this for the entire song. Intro, verse, and chorus – they all use this basic progression. Remember, 4 counts per measure.

G               D               Am              Am
1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +
G               D               C               C
1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

Strumming pattern

The ideal strumming pattern you should strive to play is:

1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +
D       D   D U

If you’re having trouble with this, start simple. Begin with a single downstrum on the “1” count of each 4-count measure:

1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +
D       

When you can do that, add another down strum to the 3 count:

1   2   3   4  
D       D

After that, add yet another down strum on the 4 count:

1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +
D       D   D

And finally, when you can do what’s above reliably well enough, add a single upstrum on the “4 and” count:

1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +
D       D   D U

Repeat this pattern for the entire song. Though of course, should you wish, you could get creative and use any strumming pattern you like.

The Triple UpStrum

One final variation of the strumming pattern, to be used as you please – is as follows. The idea here is to play the same accented note (3rd fret of high-E string) for all three of the up-strums. I’ll often use this on the 4th measure and 8th measure, using normal strumming patterns for the other measures.

G                 D                 Am                Am7
1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +   1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +   1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +   1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +
D       D   D U   D       D   D U   D       D   D U   D   D U   U   U

and/or:

G                 D                 C                 C
1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +   1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +   1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +   1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +
D       D   D U   D       D   D U   D       D   D U   D   D U   U   U

Flourish and fills

Here’s a few simple ways to spice up the simple chord progression used in this song.

Walk down from C to G

At the end of every chorus, I often like to “walk down” from C to G, meaning I’ll play each individual bass note that connects to C to G. This sounds quite nice. Quite simply, you just need to play this. See my video lesson for reference.

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

Using your pinky on the high E-string

In the Bob Dylan version, as well as my video lesson, you can hear times when there’s the high-E string ringing nicely – it’s because of an added pinky on either the C or the Am chord. Listen along for context, but quite simply, here’s how you play it:

E –––3–––––3––––    <-- add your left pinky on this 3rd fret note
B –––1–––––1––––
G –––0–––––2––––
D –––2–––––2––––
A –––3–––––0––––
E ––––––––––––––
     C     Am

These are just two of many possible ways you can spice up the song, but I hope this helps get you started.

Good luck!

I hope this helps, and as always let me know if you have any questions.

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