Today I want to share with you how to play “ A Horse With No Name” by America in 5 different levels.
We’ll start with an easier version that uses just two chord shapes and a simple strumming pattern. From there we’ll expand on the rhythm through 5 different levels and take the song from beginner to pro.
Also, if you’re newer to guitar and are looking for a good song to begin with, this one is one I would recommend.
That will be the first part of the lesson (the 5 levels).
After this, I’ll share with you a more advanced version using the alternate tunings and doubled guitar parts as well.
So grab your guitar and let’s get started with this Horse With No Name guitar lesson!
The song "A Horse With No Name" was written by Dewey Bunnell of the American rock band America. It was the band's first and most successful single, released in late 1971 in Europe and early 1972 in the United States.
The song topped the charts in Canada, Finland, and the United States, and it was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America.
This fun tune is about the singer's journey through the desert, and it features a distinctive whistling melody and a relaxed, laid-back vibe.
"A Horse With No Name" was recorded at Advision Studios in London, England. The song was produced by Glyn Johns, who had previously worked with The Beatles and Led Zeppelin. Johns's production helped to create the song's distinctive sound, which features a prominent use of acoustic guitars and a lush, layered arrangement.
The song has received numerous accolades over the years, including:
"A Horse With No Name" is one of America's most popular and lasting songs. It is a classic of the American rock songwriting tradition, and it continues to be enjoyed by fans around the world.
To play the basic progression for “A Horse With No Name” you’ll only need 2 chords. Those chords are Em and D6add9/F#. The second chord sounds complicated but don’t worry it’s a lot easier than it sounds. Let’s start with the Em chord. For this shape, we’ll play all 6 strings and I use my middle and ring fingers on the 5th and 4th strings (2nd fret) like this:
From there we’ll make a simple change where each finger goes in contrary motion. So from Em move your middle finger up (towards the sky) and your ring finger down (towards the ground) one string.
This slight change of each finger should now land you on the D6add9/F# chord like this:
First practice that simple motion of playing the Em and then switching to the D6add9/F#. And then back from D6add9/F# to Em.
This will help you develop the muscle memory in your fretting hand to become automatic. This is what you want because next, we are going to add in some rhythm from the strum hand.
So let’s next take a look at the…
Again the more you’ve practiced the fretting hand shapes, the easier it will be to make those moves on autopilot and now focus on your other hand, the strum hand for rhythm.
Let’s begin with Level 1 which is just a whole note strum. A whole note is a musical note that lasts for four beats. It is the longest note value in common use, and it is represented by an empty oval notehead without a stem.
Since each chord lasts one bar in the context of the progression. Here we will strum Em and count 4 beats, and then strum D6add9/F# and count 4 beats like this:
1 2 3 4
1 2 3 4
Make sure that each chord changes right on the downbeat.
From there let’s step up the rhythm to Level 2. For Level 2 we’ll use a quarter note rhythm. A quarter note lasts for one beat. It is the most common note value in music, and it is represented by a filled-in oval note head with a straight, flagless stem. The stem usually points upwards if it is below the middle line of the staff, and downwards if it is on or above the middle line. An upward stem is placed on the right side of the notehead, a downward stem is placed on the left.
For this rhythm, we will strum on every beat with a downstrum.
D d d d
1 2 3 4 etc…
Level 3 uses a technique I call a bass-note strum. This is essentially where you pluck a bass note and then strum in between. It creates the sound of two guitars or a bass guitar player and a rhythm guitar player. This type of strumming pattern is great to have in your back pocket for accompanying a singer or yourself.
Here the bass notes are played as quarter notes on beats 1 and 3 while the strumming is done using eighth notes on beats 2 and 4.
Next, let’s check out Level 4. This rhythm pattern is one of the most important strumming patterns to know. It’s so useful and can be played in countless songs. We’ll use a combination of quarter and eighth notes together. As well as a tie. We’ll begin by strumming down on beat 1 with a quarter note. Then play all eighth notes alternating back and forth with the strum hand until the end of the measure. The only caveat is don’t strum on beat 3. Here you’re strum hand is going to go down on “air” and then come back up and continue until the end of the measure.
Here it is written another way
D d u u d u
1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +
(Repeat for each chord)
Here is a quick YouTube short demonstrating this strumming pattern:
Level 5 is the hardest, but it’s the one that sounds most like the groove of the song. Here we’ll use something I call a back-beat strum. This is where you break up the strings and strum on the lower strings and the higher strings on separate beats to “break up” the sound.
It’s very similar to the bass-note strum however this time we can be a little loose with the bass notes. I like to think of it as splitting the guitar strings up into two parts bass strings and treble strings.
In Level 5 we have a different strumming pattern for each measure. So for Em, we’ll play one pattern and then D6add/F# has a different strumming pattern. This is harder but it really recreates the groove of the song.
To wrap it up, "A Horse With No Name" by America can be played in many ways. Learning the chords, strumming patterns, and some of the history behind the song will give you more insight into playing it. Whether you're a beginner or a seasoned guitarist, there's something in this lesson for everyone.
And remember, working on your rhythm is crucial to becoming the best guitarist you can be. Even Ringo Starr said, "Rhythm is the heartbeat of music."
So keep practicing and for another great rhythm lesson check out this fun Blues Rhythm guitar lesson next!