A well crafted and well written pop ballad, Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect” is an ideal guitar song for both beginners and intermediate guitar players to learn. Those just starting out on guitar will appreciate the manageable tempo and use of basic open chords throughout, whilst those advancing on the instrument will find the swung 12/8 guitar part useful to add to their expanding repertoire of material. In today’s guitar lesson, I will show you the chords, harmonic analysis, structure and tab for how to play “Perfect” by Ed Sheeran.
Released in 2017 from his hugely successful “Divide” album, “Perfect” was written by Ed Sheeran, and produced by both Sheeran and Will Hicks. The single was re-released later in the year as a duet with Beyonce, which is perhaps the better known version of the song. In today’s lesson, we will focus on the original version that appears on the “Divide” album, and we will start by looking at the chords that make up this song.
“Perfect” is actually played with a capo on the first fret, giving it an unusual key of Ab major. However, Ed Sheeran is playing the basic open chords shapes outlined below, so all you have to do is move each shape up one fret in relation to the capo:
Let’s now take a look at the chord chart for the song, as it is important to know what order we will be playing the chords. As you will see with the rest of the material for this lesson, I have written the chart out in the key of G Major, as these are the shapes you will be playing in relation to the capo, even though the chords will be sounding out in the key of Ab Major. Funnily enough, there are live performances by Sheeran of this tune in the key of G Major, so it is clear that this was his thinking with “Perfect.”
As you can see from the chart above, “Perfect” is written and performed with a swung 12/8 feel. The best way to count a 12/8 time signature is to count all the eighth notes in the bar, like this “1 2 3 2 2 3 3 2 3 4 2 3″ This will become easier once we look at the guitar part later on in the lesson.
Harmonically, “Perfect” is a fairly simple pop song. That is by no means a bad thing, as a lot of the time, keeping it simple is the best choice when writing radio friendly music. “Perfect” remains diatonic throughout, which means that it sticks to the key signature, and contains no sharps or flats. The main chord progression is G, Em, C & D, which is a I VI IV V in the key of G. The I VI IV V chord progression is actually one of the most common chord progressions in music, and can be found in a whole list of different songs – just Google “50’s chord progression” if you’re interested in finding out more.
Notice how there are subtle variations in the chord progression in each section. The pre chorus first goes back to a G in the 4th bar before going to the D, before playing the standard verse progression from bar 5 of the pre chorus until the chorus. Speaking of the chorus, it is the same four chords mentioned above, but in the slightly different order of Em, C, G & D, which is a VI, IV, I, V in the key of G. You may prefer to see this section as having modulated to the key of E Minor, which is the relative minor of G Major, in which case the chords would be numbered I, VI, III, VII.
The link section of “Perfect” is probably the most interesting harmonic part of the song, as it contains a D/F# chord. This is simply a normal D Major chord with the 3rd, F#, in the bass instead of the root note, D. Sheeran has chosen to voice the D Major in this way because it gives the bass a flowing, descending movement down the G Major scale, playing G, F#, E, D, C and then back to D. This is a very common device in not just pop music, but in all kinds of music, even more advanced styles such as classical and jazz.
“Perfect”follows a fairly standard pop structure as outlined below:
- Pre Chorus
- Instrumental Link
- Pre Chorus
- Guitar solo (once around the verse chord progression)
- Outro (once more through the chorus progression)
- Ending (same chord progression as the Instrumental link section, ending on a G chord.
The Guitar Part
Here is a tab, or transcription of the main guitar part heard in the verse of this song. I have included it because it is a good part to learn in order to practice playing in 12/8 time. This part should be performed with a swung, slightly “lazy” feel, rather than totally straight and robotic. It sounds like the part was fingerpicked on the original recording, however it could be performed with either fingerstyle or with a plectrum. Remember that this part was performed with a capo on the 1st fret of the guitar, and that the notes on this tab are in relation to the capo.
Again, if you are struggling with the triplet feel of this song, then try counting the eighth notes as each group of three, like this “”1 2 3 2 2 3 3 2 3 4 2 3″
“Perfect” by Ed Sheeran is a great guitar song to learn, it charted highly when it was released and is known by many people. It contains an interesting guitar part throughout the verse, and if you are unfamiliar with the D/F# chord that crops up in this tune, now is the time to learn it, as it appears in many more of Ed Sheeran’s songs, as well as other music in general. I hope you enjoy learning this piece and, as ever, I will see you next time.