In this free guitar lesson, I have another installment of How Does This Song Work? featuring “Down Under” by Men at Work. This reggae-inspired song features great rhythm guitar tracks that make use of CAGED system chord shapes, sixteenth note strumming, and hybrid picking technique.
Be we dive in, let me explain my guitar tone. I’m using a Stratocaster-style guitar with the pickup selector switch in position 2 which engages the bridge and middle single-coil pickups. I’m using a Marshall Plexi amp sound that’s set right at the edge of breakup. I add reverb, chorus, and a short, single delay. I also have a compressor at the beginning of my signal chain that acts like a boost and helps to even out the sound.
Down Under Intro Guitar Chords
Part one from the top of the song is in the key of B minor using the chords Bm, A, then Bm, G, and A. You can think of these chords as IV V vi from the relative major, D, or bVI bVII i in the B minor scale. You play only on strings 1-3 using portions of standard “E form” barre chords. These are first inversion chords with the 3rds in the bass. You initially switch from the Bm chord up to a second inversion of the A chord. You can think of this chord shape as coming out of either the “D form” or “C form.”
For the strum pattern, you play on the upbeats in reggae fashion. The best way to get started with this is to strum sixteenth notes, and sound the chords using the downstrokes that fall on the “and’ parts of the beats. You can release your pressure on the chord and scratch the strings in between. Next, play an upstroke after the first downstroke you sound, then every other after that.
When you get to the G and A chords at the end of the progression, you arpeggiate the chords instead of strumming them. Simply pick strings 3 2 1. I like to pick down, down, up. Another option is to hybrid pick by picking the 3rd string with your pick then using your middle and ring fingers after that.
Next is the verse. The verse is based on the same chord changes as the intro, but you play in a different position using different chord shapes. You use Bm on the 5th string 2nd fret along with an open A and G chord.
Those are the basic chords, but to make this part sound more distinct, You palm mute and alternate pick the root and 5th on the Bm chord, follow it with an A power chord, back to picking on the Bm, followed by 3-string portions of the G and A chords.
For these chords, I pick the roots with my pic, and then strings 3 and 2 with my middle and ring fingers.
I use the version of the G chord that includes D on the 2nd string 3rd fret. Since I only play 3 strings with each chord, I only fret the needed notes on those strings. And sometimes I use my pinky on the 2nd string.
I also hybrid pick the A power chord that comes earlier. Only the Bm is palm muted. I lift my palm on everything else.
The second time through these chord changes, you arpeggiate the G and A chords at the end.
You then alternate between plucking and arpeggiating.
I should point out here that there are multiple tracks in the music and there’s a keyboard part that mimics the guitar parts, so don’t be surprised if you hear other things. I’m showing you what I hear as the main guitar part.
Next, in the chorus, you modulate to the relative major, D. This progression is I V vi IV V in D. I’m hearing D played as a power chord with the 5th, A, on top of the chord. Same thing with A holding the notes A and E on top, which creates a portion of the “G form.” This is followed by a regular Bm, and then G and A arpeggiated like you do in the verse.
It also sounds like the guitar player raked his pick backward on the first chords. But I didn’t hear it played like that every time.
From here you replay all the same parts starting with the intro and followed by a second verse and chorus.
Interlude/Flute Solo Section
Next is an Interlude/Flute Solo Section. You play this just like the intro except you add in a melodic figure that harmonizes with the flute. This line is straight out of the B minor scale and begins on B. After two passes through this section, you play the chorus again instrumentally.
From here you finish the song with another verse and chorus. One thing I skipped in the choruses is a second guitar that plays the chords on the upbeats using the same kind of strumming as you use in the intro section. You follow the chord changes D A Bm G A using partial “E form” barre chords on strings 1-4. For the D, I just strum strings 2, 3, and 4.
And, finally, one more thing to point out, there’s an overdubbed guitar at about the 1 minute mark that plays descending 6ths. If you think about playing the harmonized D major scale in 6ths forward and backward, start on the second degree and play backward until you reach the second fret. And there’s more hybrid picking here using the pick and your middle finger.
Well, there you have it. Now you know how to play the main guitar parts in “Down Under” by Men at Work. This song is a great example of how using different chord shapes, strumming patterns, and picking techniques can make each song section sound distinct.
If you have trouble playing any of these parts, you could always change them to something that is similar but more comfortable for you to play. I know that when I view live versions of this song, the band simplifies some of the parts.