Toggle Menu

Lean on Me - a lesson in changing chords

Guitar Lesson by Kirk Lorange

Read the Reviews

The video with un-blurred virtual fretboard can be downloaded from a link at the top of the TAB

Order the TAB - Notation - Video here

Lean on Me - The Lesson explained

This great Bill Withers tune is a music lesson in itself, a lesson about the related chords of the key. Like Chariots of Fire, Bill stuck strictly to the members of the family of chords from the key of C, and he used them in the most obvious way possible, namely running up and down the first four in sequence: 1-2-3-4-3-2-1. In the key of C, that means:

C - Dm - Em - F and then back down through Em - Dm - C. It could sound pretty boring and overly simple if not for the soulful feel and the nice anticipations in the timing. By that I mean that (looking at the first two measures) the F chord really belongs to measure 2, but it is 'anticipated' by playing it on the '4&' beat of bar 1.


OK. I'll break the bars down into 8th beats:

| 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & | 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & | ... so if you verbally count "one and two and three and four and one and two and three and four and" you'll be hearing eight beats. Eight beats per measure.

That F chord is played on the last eighth beat of bar 1 ... the '&' beat that I've colored red ... and it rings on into measure 2, rings through the downbeat of measure 2, and the effect is that the tune keeps getting pushed along by these anticipated beats. Try yourself to play the F on the downbeat of measure 2 and you'll hear that the tune loses it's momentum, it's vibe, it's soul, it's 'gospel-ness'. It's amazing what a difference an eighth of a beat makes.

So Bill used this device throughout the tune and that's the main thing (to my ear, anyway) that prevents this tune form sounding like a nursery rhyme. In the tab, you see it as all those 'ties', those curved lines connecting the notes from one measure to the next.

Bill also used a variety of V chords. The V chord ('five chord') of the key of C is G, and it's usually played as a G7th. When I started picking this apart to arrange it for guitar I noticed that there were indeed G7s, but there were also extended versions of G7, namely G11 and G13. You will also see a G6 in amongst them. Interesting stuff if that kind of stuff interests you. It does me.

I did my best to turn that little breakdown bit in the middle (measures 25 to 32) into something you can play on a guitar. I think it works.

Apart from that, I can't think of much else to report. This is a good tune to use if you need to practice changing chords -- changing 'grips' -- quickly. There are lots of them in this and it took my fingers a while to get comfortable with it all and to keep the flow going. I probably should have given it a bit more time myself before hitting record but there you go. You can do better. As always have fun. If it stops being fun, give it a break and play something else that is fun.