Heart of Gold by Neil Young is a fun song to play! We’re going to do this song without a capo, and using four simple open chords. There is an optional chord that starts on the opening lick and appears a few more times in the song, but we’ll go into that later
The first chord in Heart of Gold is an E minor, where I’m fingering it with my second and third finger. We then move on to a folk style C chord, then a folk style D (try to avoid the sixth string on this D chord).
For the G chord, I’m using a three finger G with the pinky, which helps me switch in a clean and easy fashion to the C chord. The same with the E minor, as those fingerings are close and the fingers don’t need to move as much when changing chords. However, feel free to use whatever fingering of the chord you’re most comfortable with.
Putting the Chords Together
Let’s try to play the chords in the order in which they appear in the song. First off is the Em, where I have my middle finger on the fifth string second fret and my ring finger on the fourth string second fret. We then move on to a folk style C chord, where the index goes on the second string first fret, the middle finger on the fourth string second fret and the ring finger on the fifth string third fret.
For the D chord, the index finger goes on the third string second fret, middle finger on the first string second fret and the ring finger on the second string third fret.
Finally, for the G chord, we have the pinky version which helps transition to the C chord in a smooth way. Again, feel free to use the fingering that is most comfortable to you.
Try moving from one song to the other without strumming. Then do it again but strumming just once and the beginning. The next step is to put the chords together with the words as you play them. Make sure you start slow and strum just once at the beginning of each bar.
Let’s Learn the Outro
The verses have the same melody and chord progression but with different words. The part where the song changes a bit is the outro. It features simple open chords that we already used, but in a different order.
The outro is very similar to the opening riff, which I’ll show you in a little bit. The progression is Em, Em, D, Em. We then repeat that twice before going to G, C, C, G.
In Heart of Gold, Neil Young is constantly emphasizing a constant down rhythm strum pattern. There are some variations in volume and an occasional up strum, which is typical for strum patterns.
Let’s practice the strum pattern by starting on the Em chord and doing 4 down-strums on it. That will complete a full measure of Em. We then move on to C, D, and G. Each strum represents one beat on a 4/4 time signature (which features four beats per measure).
Variations on this simple strum pattern occur mostly at the end of a phrase when he sings “I’m getting old”. So on the last bar of C, instead of playing the C chord four times, play it three and on the fourth beat switch to G. Try to focus on doing down-strums for the entire strum pattern, with the occasional up-strum.
The lick that opens the song also happens two or three times on the verses. You can do the intro without the extra notes, and then repeat. The chord that I’m using for the intro is Em7. Just add your pinky to a regular Em chord. Place it on the second string third fret. So play the Em7, then go to a D and back to a regular Em chord.
The intro starts with the bass note and then 8 downstrums on the Em7. For the full lick, start with the open fifth string then hammer-on the second fret. Then hit the open fourth string and hammer on with the middle finger on the second fret. Finally, hit the sixth E string to then start the downstrums.
Keep in mind that playing this lick complete with the notes is optional. If you want that challenge, take the time to work on it and slowly incorporate it into your performance. I’ve made a play-along video that can be a valuable practice tool for the entire song.
Heart Of Gold by Neil Young is a great song to practice several elements. You can focus on the down-strumming and try to make it consistent and with good sound, and you can even get a bit of a challenge by attempting to play the complete intro lick.
As always, take it slow at first and have fun.