Heart Of Gold is a great song to learn on the harmonica, as it’s pretty simple but contains some nice ideas. In this lesson, you’ll learn to play the licks that form the intro as well as the two solos. Below on this page, you’ll find the song tabs, the play-along video, and the backing track – and to make your practice session more comfortable in the beginning, the slow versions of the videos are also available.
The harmonica key used for this lesson is C, even if Neil Young used a G harmonica when performing Heart of Gold live. If you don’t own a C instrument, you can use one of a different tonality, in which case, you’ll play without the videos, just reading the tabs. If you want to buy a C harmonica, you can find a good one here.
Among the song lessons I wanted to create for my harmonica school students, those performances that involve playing the harmonica on a rack particularly interest me, because as some of you know, I’m also a rack harmonica player – one of the very few in my country who raised the bar for simultaneous harmonica and guitar playing.
So, let’s make a start. Heart Of Gold, as I said, is in G key and played in first position. Do you know why most rack players of the past used to play in first position? The answer lies in the fact that those artists weren’t professional harmonica players – most of them added the harmonica part into their songs, while the major sections were created by the singing and guitar accompaniment. It’s natural that if you’re new to the harmonica and want to add it to your performance, the first thing that comes to mind is to pick a harmonica of the same key of your song. Learning about playing in different positions is something that requires a little more effort.
Before analyzing the melodies, let’s take a look at the song chords. Here are the intro chords, and the same ones are repeated in the solo sections:
Am F G C
Am F G C
Am F G C
Am Am G C
Wait a minute! I know what you’re thinking now: I said that Heart Of Gold, in this lesson, is in C major; but the song starts with an A minor chord? Yes! Many people erroneously believe that you can find the key of a song by looking at the first chord. However, that’s a big mistake! The A minor chord is the sixth-degree chord built when you harmonize the C major scale – nothing strange about it. What’s important in this song is the harmony movement – the F, G, and C chord sequence – which creates a perfect movement from the fourth degree to the fifth, ending with the resolution on first-degree chord C. Every musician who knows a bit of musical theory recognizes these things, and even if you’re a beginner, I want you to get the most you can from my lessons – that’s my teaching philosophy.
Back to the topic at hand, it’s time to analyze the song’s licks, starting from the intro. Here are the notes:
E G, F E D, C G
E G, C A G E
G G G, C C C, E E E, D C D E C
And the tabs:
5+ 6+, 5 5+ 4, 4+ 3+
5+ 6+, 7+ 6 6+ 5+
3+ 3+ 3+, 4+ 4+ 4+,
5+ 5+ 5+, 4 4+ 4 5+ 3+
Did you notice that the first lick ends on G, hole 3 blow? Exactly when the harmonica goes back to the root chord C. In the context of how we build music, this is a great way to play ‘on the chords’, where the melody note is also contained in the underlying chord. In fact, G is the fifth degree of the C major chord.
In the second lick, the first part is repeated but the end is on the note E, hole 5 blow. This is a typical way to build musical periods, where you simply modify the end of a sentence.
The third lick is interesting, as it introduces a rhythmic element, repeating the notes in triplets, until we meet again the root note C. Most of the time, a musical period ends on the key home note.
The first harmonica solo of Heart of Gold sees a different approach. Here are the notes:
E, F E G, F E D E D C G
E G C, A G A, G E
C E, D C A A G A G, E, D C
And the tabs:
5+, 5 5+ 6+, 5 5+ 4 5+ 4 4+ 3+
5+ 6+ 7+, 6 6+ 6 6+ 5+
4+ 5+, 4 4+ ^6 6 6+ 6 6+ 5+, 4 4+
First, let’s clarify that the ‘^’ symbol means you’ll play a dip bend on hole 6 draw. In this first solo, Neil played more notes, increasing their speed to create a larger movement. He also inserted a really cool combination in the last lick, where he plays the three holes ^6, 6 and 6+ quickly. The last two notes add a sense of ‘prosecution’.
Now let’s analyze the last solo. Here are the notes:
C, E E C, A G C, E F F E F E G
G G G , C C C, E E E, F G C G E
D C, G G F E D E G
And the tabs:
4+, 5+ 5+ 7+,
6 6+ 7+, 5+ 5 5 5+ 5 5+ 3+
3+ 3+ 3+, 4+ 4+ 4+,
5+ 5+ 5+, 5 6+ 7+ 6+ 5+
4 4+, 6+ 6+, 5 5+ 4, 4+ 3+
This time, in the first part of the solo, the note C on hole 7 blow is repeated to underline the sentence, then again the rhythmical note combination on holes 3 to 5, and again the high note C. The last lick recalls the song’s trademark lick that everybody knows.
A brief note about the song’s execution: Heart of Gold is one of those songs that we like for its simplicity, and in a certain way, for its imperfections. Most of the time, these are the elements that help transmit emotions to the listener. In playing the licks, Neil Young almost never hits the clear single notes, but the double notes we listen to within the song sound beautiful, owing to the fact that when you play in first position and work on the low harmonica holes, from 1 to 6, whenever you blow more than one note at the same time, you get a nice-sounding chord. The same goes for when you play aspirated notes. We take advantage of how the harmonica is built.
Are you wondering if you could play Heart of Gold in another position? I suggest sticking to first position, because this is how you play on the center area of the harmonica, and as we’ve seen before, you can play double note combinations while staying perfectly in tune with the song. In second position, the song is easy to play because in the licks, the major seventh-degree note B is not present, so you wouldn’t need the F sharp note, an overblow on hole 5; however, you would be bound to play clear single notes, because the note layout on the harmonica wouldn’t be in your favor.
Now, let’s practice Heart Of Gold using the videos below. I play each section twice, so follow the onscreen tabs and enjoy!
That ends our lesson on how to play this beautiful piece on the harmonica. I invite you to share it with your friends, and to take a look at my harmonica school, where you can find many courses for every player. I’ll now leave you with some more information about the song we just studied. See you!
Heart of Gold is a song written and performed by the Canadian musician Neil Young, included on his 1972 album Harvest and also released as a single.
This was the only single by Young to reach the top of the charts in the United States. In Canada, the track peaked at number one on the charts on April 8, 1972, when Young had also reached number one with the album. Heart of Gold also came first in Canada for two weeks, fourth in Norway, sixth in Germany, eighth in the Netherlands, and tenth in the United Kingdom.
In 2004, The Rolling Stone magazine ranked the song at number 297 on their list of the 500 best songs of all time, and in 2005, Heart of Gold ranked third on the list of the best Canadian songs of all time, during CBC Radio One’s 50 Tracks: The Canadian Version broadcast.