Toggle Menu

The Entertainer - A Fingerstyle Guitar Lesson.

Guitar Lesson by Kirk Lorange
Difficulty Rating: Intermediate- Advanced


The Entertainer - the lesson explained.

Here's my arrangement of The Entertainer in the key of D. I did a lesson on this a long time ago, a version in the key of G, and it was more of an interpretation of The Entertainer than an arrangement. For that reason I called it Old Time Rag. This version is pretty much the piece written by Scott Joplin.

My arrangement is in Dropped-D tuning. The late, great Chet Atkins did a version in Dropped-D too, and there are definite similarities between the two arrangements, brought on mainly by the tuning, but they are different. I kept it simpler than his, the second section is a lot different and I also wrote my own little ending.

So, first things first: Lower that thick E string by a whole tone to D. The best way is with an electronic tuner, of course, but it's not hard to do by ear: just keep twanging the D string while you lower the E string until you hear those frequencies mesh together smoothly. If you hear and pulsating, you're not quite there. Once you have the 6th and 4th strings tuned, you might want to check the other strings' tuning. The release of tension on the neck often throws the other strings out a bit and if there's one thing that's going to make things sound a bit off, it's an out of tune guitar.

This version has an Intro, a Verse section, a section we'll call the Bridge (why not?) and an Outro.

The Intro:

It's the original Joplin intro, a melodic phrase played three times over, each time an octave lower than the previous. It starts way up on the 14th fret of the E string, ends down on an open A string, then does a little arpeggio over an A7 chord. That sets us up for the ...


This is the most memorable part of the tune, the theme, so to speak. It's a great melody played over a pretty standard chord I-IV-V progression. It's not all that tricky to get the fingers around, especially if you're familiar with Dropped-D chord shapes. When it gets to the E7 at bar 12 you'll need to concentrate on what those ring and pinkie fingers are doing, but overall it all flows together nicely with some open-string chords coming into play which gives your left hand a chance to rest. I notice in the Chet's video that he doesn't play these as open-stringers, he plays them as fretted chords. Not sure why. You'll hear me do a pretty radical rall (short for 'rallentando', Italian for 'slow down') at bar 13 ... you don't have to ... this section ends in a very ear catching 'repeating melody over descending bass line' section. You'll notice I use a barre for the G chord (actually a Gmaj7) but you can just use fingers if you prefer. You'll also notice a little pull-off at the end of bar 19. Adds a little spice to the sound, but no real need for it.


This is where I simplified things. I notice in this section that even the great Chet Atkins gets a tad out of time and slightly (dare I say it?) messy. I kept it to a two-part harmony line, and to make it even more negotiable kept it all on the same two strings. It's still not the easiest part to play, it requires a fair amount of concentration to keep all those little double stops in the right order. There's a momentary Gm chord in there, a tiny detail but one that adds a whole lot in my opinion.

Watch out at bars 28-29, over that E6th bit. That's a barre I'm doing at the 7th fret, allowing that B note to come into play in the melody line, which is followed by a G# on the second string and the an E note on the open E, immediately followed by a fretted A chord. Getting that open-string-note inserted smoothly in there is the trick, lots of fun to play once you get it. There's another little fretted-note/open-string-note bit at bar 33.

This section ends with a fairly tricky bit made up of open shapes and barre shapes. You'll need to be strict with the pinkie if you're anything like me. My pinkie tends to fly way off the fingerboard when it's not being used, something I've tried avoid for the last 40 years. I can't train it to stay low, period. I live with it.

The Outro

I kind of stumbled onto this ending by mistake. I started playing that descending bass line part from the end of the verse, but did so using the C as the first bass note, not the D. So I kept going down past the A and tried the G# (which is at the 6th fret when you're in Dropped D)... sounded neat ... and then went back to the A to lead me into the final D chord.

So there you have it. I didn't repeat any of the sections to keep the lesson compact, but the structure should really be Verse-Verse-Bridge-Verse. There is in fact a third section to The Entertainer, a less memorable part, that I didn't include and nor did Chet. I figure if Chet dismissed it, I could too.

Have fun!


Most of my lessons, including this one, are now free. Please consider making a donation so I can keep these free lessons coming. -- To donate, simply click the green donate button below and you will be taken to a PayPal page where you can enter the amount you would like to donate. No amount is too small ... or big!

A big thanks in advance, Kirk Lorange