In this free guitar lesson, I show you how to play the chords to “Lean On Me” by Bill Withers. I focus on the song’s introduction. You play the same chord voicings played by the pianos on the recording. This requires a bit of fancy finger work that is best suited for guitar players who are beyond the beginning stage.
Lean On Me Guitar Tab
Lean On Me Key
“Lean On Me Key” is in the key of C and uses notes and chords from the C scale. Think about the harmonized major scale I teach in my book and video course, Fretboard Theory.
The music moves up and down the harmonized scale, almost like an exercises. In fact, Bill Withers said the song came to him while he was running his fingers up and down the piano. If you’re familiar with piano, you know that it’s easy to move horizontally on the white keys while playing triads. It takes more effort to do the same thing on guitar.
Since “Lean On Me Key” is performed on piano, the chord voicings are a bit different than what you typically play on guitar. This requires you to stack notes a little differently.
Lean On Me Chords
I start with a regular open position C chord. Instead of strumming the strings with a pick, I use my fingers instead. My thumb plucks string 5. My index, middle, and ring fingers pluck strings 4, 3, and 2. I pluck all the strings in a bunch to sound the notes together like a piano player.
The next chord is Dm/F. It’s based on an open position Dm, but with the chord’s minor 3rd, F in the bass position. I pluck this chord using my finger only. No thumb needed.
Next you simply slide your fingers up two frets to play an Em/G chord. From here you continue to climb up the scale and land on F, which I play using a typical F chord fingering. When I get to this F chord, the fingers on my picking hand all shift over a string. My thumb plays the root F on string 4, and my finges play strings 3, 2, and 1.
Moving on, at this point in the original recording, you hear an electric piano play an F6 to an F. After this, the main piano returns to F in the first position and plays the opening chords backward. After the piano returns to C, you hear the electric piano play another fill using the chords F/C and C.
Next, you climb up the scale from C to Em, then move to the V chord, G. The G is played first as G6, and then as G9. G6 contains the same notes as Em/G. The only difference is the addition of the low G on string 6. For this chord shape, the thumb on my picking hand moves over to string 6, but my other fingers stay put. G9 contains the same notes as Dm/F, also with a low G. You might also play these chords by fretting the low G with your thumb.
The first half of the intro leads into the second half with a fill. The second half of the intro is mostly the same, but with a few changes. The first difference in this second half is, you don’t play the electric piano fills. The next difference is in measure 7. You play a C/G instead of an Em/G.
Finally, the G chord at the end is played simply as a G7. The G7 chord is followed by a few notes that lead you back to C.
Lean On Me Rhythm
The rhythm used to play these chord changes is fairly easy. It’s based mostly on eighth notes. But there is syncopation, so pay attention to when you play on and off the beats.