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How to Play Folsom Prison Blues(Guitar Lesson)

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This is a great song by the late Great Johnny Cash. A member of my YouTube Community Requested this song. Even though I have heard the song. I had never really listened to it. Ever Since really listening and breaking it down. I descided to do a complete guitar lesson on How to Play Folsom Prison Blues.

In This Guitar Lesson How to Play Folsom Prison Blues I will cover these items:

  • How to Play Folsom Prison Blues Chords
  • Learn Folsom Prison Blues Rhythm Pattern
  • Solo with the song
  • Folsom Prison Blues Tab
  • Folsom Prison Blues Lyrics
  • Bonus Video

My goal is that by the end of this guitar lesson on Folsom Prison Blues is that you will be well armed with the knowledge to play this great song on your guitar. Of course you will need to practice it a little bit too. So if your ready get your guitar, and let’s learn Folsom Prison Blues by Johnny Cash.


Folsom Prison Blues Guitar Chords

One great thing about playing this song is the chords are really easy first position chords. I have seen Johnny Cash Play this song in the key of E. But one of the most popular versions of the song the Capo is on the first fret. If you need to know about how to use a capo here is a great link What’s the use of a Capo.

With the Capo on the first fret. We are going to use familiar open chords. The E Major Chord, A Major Chord, and the B7 guitar chord. If you are not familiar with how to position your fingers to make these chords. No problem! I’ve got you covered. Here is what the three chords look like:

E Open Chord

On this chord the E string is the 6th string. It is played open. Then your first finger is on the first fret of the third string. Your second finger is on the fifth string, at the second fret. Finally your third finger is also at the second fret, on the fourth string. On the E chord you can strum all the strings. The second and first string are open strings.

The Rest of the Chords

Remember every thing is relative to the capo. Which is on the first fret. So every thing is moved up a fret. Next chord is the A chord. Here’s the finger position for the A Major open chord:

The A Major all your fingers are at the second fret.

  • First finger is at the fourth string
  • second finger is at the third string
  • Third finger is at the second string
  • The 5th string and the high E string are open strings.

The last chord we have to contend with is the B7 chord. That’s why this is a great beginner song. Because of the fact of only having 3 chords in it. Here is the finger position of the B7 Chord:

Final chord is the B7. Which this is the turnaround chord. You find this chord all the time in blues songs. The finger position is this:

  • First finger is on the fourth string, at the first fret
  • Second finger is on the fifth string, at the second fret
  • Third finger is on the the third string, at the second fret
  • You can add the pinkie finger to the first string. At the second fret.

Now a couple of things we want to remember every thing is relative to the Capo. The chord diagrams are here to help show you where to put your fingers for the various chords.

Think of the Capo as the nut of the guitar. So everything is scooted up a fret. If you don’t have a Capo check the variety and styles of Capo’s here from Amazon.

Now that we know the chords that we need to play. Lets look at what order they are played in. Which is the chord progression. Then also how the rhythm is played to capture that great sound.

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How to Play Folsom Prison Blues on Guitar

The Chord progression is E A E B7 E E. In between the two verse is a solo. E A E B7 E E Solo, Outro. There are a lot of little notes that give this song it’s edge. So dig in and let’s discover what else makes this song so great.

At the very beginning of the song there is an intro. You’ve probably heard that Iconic sound before. Here is the Tab to make it a lot easier to play the intro.

We will go over the intro in a minute. Get the tab so that it will make more sense.

I want to explain how to play the chords to get that nice rhythm. Starting with that E chord. It is a pick strum pattern. I call it alternate bass line picking.

So what you want to do is; After you get your fingers in position. Pick the E string. Which is the 6th string. Then you strum the chord. Easy enough right?

After that you pick the A string. Which is the 5th string, and then strum the E chord. Like this:

  1. Pick the E string, and then Strum. (6th string)
  2. Then Pick the A string and strum. (5th string)

You do that 15 times, or 4 measure. Then it Changes to the A chord. There are some notes that walk you over to the A chord. But first lets learn how the Rhythm goes. Then I will show you the little intricate details.

Just like the E we are going to pick then strum. First get your fingers in the open A chord position. Here is how you pick the A chord:

Picking and Grinning!

  1. Pick the A string, (5th string). Then strum the A chord.
  2. Pick the E string, (6th string). Play the A chord again.

The A is played for two measure. So you pick and strum eight times. Then the chord progression goes back to the E. Where you pick, and strum the E chord. Just like I previously mentioned. The E is played for two measure of 8 beats. After that the progression goes to the B7.

Where on the B7 you are going to pick and strum. Get your fingers in position to play the B7. First off you pick the B which is on the 5th string. So you pick the 5th string. Then strum the B7.

One thing I need to add, and that is you are not going to play the complete B7 chord. Meaning your pinkie. Don’t play the first string. Just Play your first three fingers. See the chord diagram for help. Here’s how to play the B7:

  1. Pick the 5th string, strum the B7.
  2. Put your second finger on the E string, at the second fret. Pick the E string and strum.

Play the B7 for two measure then back to the E chord.

So now that you know the Bass line picking. I would practice playing these three chords, and picking and strumming like this. Until your comfortable with it. Then you can work on the rest of the song. Which brings me to the notes played that connect the chords together.

Connecting the Chords to Walk up or Walk Down

From the E chord it goes to the A. This song has a pretty fast tempo. So you may want to slow it down to play the notes in between or leave them out until you get the hang of the song.

The good thing about when your playing the song. You get to play it as fast or slow as you want to make it your own version of the song.

The notes that are played that I call connecting the chords help make the song. From the E to the A, you can walk up to the A chord. By playing these notes: on the 6th string, open 6th string. Then frets 2 and 3. Then play the open A string, and strum the A chord.

This leads you right into the A chord. Where after you strum then you pick the E string. Where you pick and strum the A. Like was previously mentioned.

To get from the A to the E chord. Which is the next chord in the progression. You are playing the A chord. You go from picking the A string open to playing the 3rd fret of the 6th string. Then the open E string (6 string). Right into the E chord.


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The Turnaround Chord

From the E chord you go into the B7. That is just a move of the finger positioning to the B7. There is no walk up to that chord. But from the B7 to the E chord has a walk down.

The way it is played is: Pick the 2nd fret of the 5th string. The 3rd fret of the E string, (6th string). Then an open E string. Then the song goes to the E chord for two beats. After that there is a solo.

Related Article: What guitars are good for the blues.

How to Play Folsom Prison Blues Solo

If you are like most people you want to be able to sit, and play a song from start to finish. If you want to learn how to play guitar and sing at the same time check out that lesson.

The way I show you how to play the solo. Is for a beginner guitar player. So that you can go from strumming, into the solo and back again. Without skipping a beat. Don’t forget to get the Tab to help you with the solo.

First off you are going to start out at the 9th fret of the second string. You want to Hammer on to the 10th fret. If you need help with Tab take a look at what is guitar tab. A complete explanation of what the different Symbols, and definitions are.

After you Hammer on at the 10th fret of the B string. Then play the 8th fret of the first string. Next pick the 11th fret of the first string two times. After that go back to the 8th fret. At the first string.

More Solo…

Be sure to use alternate picking when playing. This will help as the song is in a fast tempo.

What it looks like when put together is this:

  • 2nd string frets; 9 H 10
  • 1st string frets; 8 11 11 8

It does that picking two times, but on the second go around don’t pick the last 8. Then you play the same notes one more time. Move down to the 5th fret 1st string. Play the 6th fret of the 2nd string. So it looks like this all together.

  • 2nd string frets 9 H 10
  • 1st string frets 8 11 11 8
  • 2nd string frets 9 H 10
  • 1st string frets 8 11 11
  • 2nd string frets 9 H 10
  • 1st string frets 8 11 11 8
  • 2nd string frets 9 H 10
  • 1st string frets 8 5
  • 2nd string fret 6, with some vibrato.

Next you play the first string. At the 8th fret, and then the first string 6th fret. You toggle back and fourth between the two frets 4 times. When you play the 8th fret give it a little bend. The song quickly goes back to the E chord.

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Getting back to the E Chord

To get back to the E chord. Here is a little Tip: Play that open E string. The 6th string. That gives you plenty of time to get back to make the E chord. So just hit that bass note, and let it ring out. Then you can get back on the E chord with ease.

Also when you play the E right after the solo. You are full out strumming for a measure. What you want to do is just pick the E string and strum down two times. instead of alternating between the E and A strings.

In between each verse there is the solo. It can be played the same way. Now that we have covered most of the song we just need to cover the Outro. Which is played the same as the intro. The same notes, and they are:

First Make the E shape chord. Next you want to start by picking.

Alternate pick the A string up and down 3 times. Then Pick the D string in the same manner. Then go back to the A string. Pick the A string one time.

Then reaching with your third finger. All the way up to the 6th string. Place it on the third fret. Play that note, at the third fret. Then play the open E string. It goes right into the strumming. The singing starts after two measures. Which starts on E.

When you could instead of playing that third fret of the E string. Get the same note by bending the second fret of the E string. It’s up to you!

When your playing the Outro. After playing that little riff then strum the E chord 3 down strums. Will get you out of the song.

If you like this guitar lesson you might like these also: Guitar Lessons.


Folsom Prison Tab

This is a great song to learn to play on your guitar. There are three easy, yet fun chords to play. There is some picking and grinning going on. Where to strum, where to pick, where to play the solo.

Then how to play the opening riff. How to play the outro. There are also little notes that connect all the chords together in the song. Walk ups and walk downs, if you like. All these little pieces when put together in the right order. Make up this great iconic song by Johnny Cash.

Get the free downloadable Folsom Prison Tab to make learning this song easier.


Related Questions

How to Play Folsom Prison Blues Video

After reviewing the aforementioned lesson it would not be complete if I didn’t add this guitar lesson from my YouTube Channel. It is the complete how to play Folsom Prison Blues guitar lesson.

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