Canadian born singer-songwriter The Weeknd scored a massive worldwide hit when he released “Blinding Lights” back in November 2019. Produced by The Weeknd along with Oscar Holter and the legendary Max Martin, the song has been a huge success, peaking at number 1 in almost every country it was released in. With a distinctive keyboard driven melody and The Weeknd’s signature vocal delivery, the song is instantly catchy and it’s easy to why it has achieved the heights it has. In today’s online guitar lesson, we will learn how to play the chords and melody on both electric and acoustic guitar, as well as analysing the tune from a music theory perspective.
“Blinding Lights” Chords
“Blinding Lights” is a simple chord progression consisting of the same four chords played all the way through the song. All four chords in this tune are barre chords, and they are Fm, Cm, Eb and Bb. If you are unfamiliar with these chord shapes then check them out in the diagrams I have provided below:
Now that you’re familiar with the chord shapes, let’s take a look at the order and the rhythm. Since there isn’t much of a discernible guitar part on the original recording, it’s up to you to figure out the strumming pattern. However, you have a repeating sequence of 2 bars of Fm, 2 bars of Cm, 2 bars of Eb and 2 bars of Bb all the way through the song, as illustrated in the chart below:
Now that we’ve got the chords down, it’s time to take a look at the main hook to the song, which is the synth melody that can be heard at the start, and after each chorus. Although this isn’t a guitar part, it can still be played on the guitar. The melody is derived from the Cm pentatonic scale, and I found it easiest to play it in positions 3 & 4 on the guitar. If you are unfamiliar with these scales, then please refer to the diagrams below:
With the scale shapes under your fingers, let’s now take a look at the melody. I have included the tab for it below:
Blinding Lights – Acoustic Chords & Tab
I thought I would include my suggestions for those of you looking to do an acoustic cover of “Blinding Lights” in this guitar lesson. Although you could just play the same chords and melody written above, I personally find it tiresome to play barre chords on acoustic at times all the way through a song. Therefore, I don’t see anything wrong with playing open chords with a capo on the 3rd fret of the guitar. This means that you can still play the song in the original key, but it will be slightly easier to fret the chords throughout the duration of this tune. Let’s have a look at the chord diagrams for the capo’d version of this song. I have included the placement of the capo on the 3rd fret in the diagrams below to make it easier to read:
With the open chord shapes learned, it’s now time to put them order. Below is the chart for the chord progression above, similar to the chart provided for the barre chords earlier in the lesson:
You can also transpose the melody an octave lower and play it on acoustic with a capo. Perhaps this could be played in conjunction with the chords in one guitar part. I’ll leave you to figure that out for now, but here is the melody to “Blinding Lights” on acoustic guitar for your reference:
“Blinding Lights” is a simple yet highly effective pop song. The chords and melody transcribed above are entirely diatonic to the key of Eb major, or its relative minor of C minor. Here are the notes of the Eb major scale for your reference:
This means that, from the scale we can deduce that Fm is chord II, Cm is chord VI, Eb is chord I and Bb is chord 5, giving us a II VI I V in the key of Eb.
The reason the melody is so strong is that it makes great use of chord tones and colour tones. We begin with the Fm chord, so logically the melody starts on the root note of F. It then moves to the b7, which is Eb, before going back to the root, then up to the 9th, which is G. It then hits the 5th, C before landing on the Eb which is the b7. These extra chord tones imply an Fm9 sound, which sounds really interesting to the ear.
Bars 3 & 4 contain exactly the same sequence of notes, but because they are played against a Cm chord, they imply a different set of intervals. The F that the melody starts on now functions as an 11th against the Cm, helping to create a slight bit of tension. The rest of the notes, Eb G & C, are all present in the chord, which helps to create a sense of relief. The Eb is the b3rd, the G is the 5th and the C is the root.
We now have a different sequence in bars 5 & 6 against the Eb major chord. Here, we start on the 5th of the Eb chord, which is Bb, before descending to the 3rd, which is G. We then go to the 9th, which is F before finally settling on the root note, Eb. The 9th here adds some real harmonic interest and implies and Ebadd9 chord. The whole melody then ends on F, which is the 5th of the Bb major chord, the last chord in the sequence.
A fun song to learn with the opportunity to really put your own style on it, “Blinding Lights” has been one of my most requested songs to teach recently, and I hope you enjoy learning to play it as much as I have enjoyed teaching it. Have fun, and I’ll see you next time.