Dan Zanes

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Rock Island Line

Chords and Alternating Bass

Dan Zanes Lesson >

Rock Island Line > Chords and Alternating Bass

Greetings Fellow Guitar Nuts! We're opening the door to some adventures here with The Rock Island Line. What started out as a theme song composed for a railroad in the early 1900s became one of the most performed folk tunes of the 20th century thanks to The King of The 12 String guitar, Lead Belly. This brings us to the key of E and because it's another I-IV-V7 tune, we'll be playing the A and B7 chords too. In this lesson we'll get familiar with the verse and chorus changes and start finding a groove. Like so many songs it can be played with a number of different feels and we'll settle into a comfortable (and exciting) swing for this. This is social music we're talking about here and The Rock Island Line is not only a great sing along but it gets people dancing! The English skiffle pioneer Lonnie Donegan had a hit with this song in the 50's and set off the skiffle craze which led to the so-called English Invasion. As George Harrison once said "No Lead Belly, No skiffle. No skiffle, no Beatles." Here's the song that is the foundation piece for an entire movement. I hope you love playing it as much as I do!!





Topics and/or subjects covered in this lesson:

Print Print Chords & Tab

Loop 0:54 Run-Through of Rock Island Line


Download the Sheet Music PDF


Loop 0:54 Leadbelly and What You Will Learn

Loop 2:42 Breakdown of Chorus Chords and Bass Notes

Loop 16:28 Practice Loop of Chorus Chords and Bass Notes

Loop 17:26 Verse Breakdown

Loop 22:15 Practice Loop of Rock Island Line





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April Jul 28, 2022

Hey Dan, That was a fantastic lesson! Thank you. I am community music-making and I love your version of this song so I came to find it. I am thrilled to have you as a guitar teacher.

Michael Taylor
Michael Taylor May 10, 2017

Thanks for the lesson!   heard about this site from you after a great show in Toronto - whole family have been huge fans for a long time - getting the hang of the bass line - looking forward to adding some great embelishments!



-Mike T



Dan Zanes
Dan Zanes May 15, 2017

greetings michael!

first of all thank you very much for coming to the show! i'm glad to know that it brought you to the junction.

keep me filled in and up to date as you get rolling with this song. i hope that you have a family band in your future, i'm trying to put as many all-ages type songs as possible up here.

thank you again and good luck with this!


Richard Wagner
Richard Wagner Apr 18, 2017

hi dan,

great song - glad to know this marvel now .
I appreciate your lectures very much.
Myself  dabbling around with guitar and uke for quite some time now, I learn and re-learn each lesson a lot.

And of course am trying to find my voice ;-)

cheers richard

one small suggestion - it would be great if the lyrics could added somewhere, too - perhaps thats possible.

Dan Zanes
Dan Zanes Apr 18, 2017

hello richard!

thank you for your comments, it's great to hear from you!

i'm glad that these lessons are working for you and especially that you're finding your voice. it take s a little time (at least it did for me!) but the pay off is so huge. just to get comfortable with singing and playing means a life time of pleasure and fun with friends and neighbors.

the lyrics are there with the music but i think you're suggesting that there's a way to display them separately too. great idea! i'll pass that along....

thanks for reaching out and stay tuned for more!

yr pal, dan

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