The house of the rising sun – Harmonica Lesson With Tabs

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The house of the rising sun on harmonica - Full lesson with tabs

The House of the Rising Sun was performed by The Animals in 1964. I wasn’t even born when this song hit first place on the most important British music charts, but I loved it since the first time I listened to it. In this lesson, I’m going to teach you how to play this beautiful piece, analyzing the harmony and the licks and having you practice with my play-along videos. In studying with me today, you’ll also learn an original version of the song composed by me with the purpose of showing how you can improvise on this kind of composition.

As you already know if you’ve been following my lessons so far, together with the tabs, you’ll also find the video with the original version played by me and the backing track. Both videos come with slow versions as well.

To play The House of the Rising Sun, you’ll use a C harmonica and will perform in third position, due to the fact that the song is played in a minor tone. Using a C harmonica in third position makes you play in the D minor key. Here are the set notes you’ll be using: D, E, F, G, A, and C. Notice that all these notes are available on the C harmonica, and you’ll find them all starting on hole 4 blow up to hole 8; the whole song is playable on these 4 harmonica holes. There’s one note missing in this set – the natural B. This note in a minor key doesn’t really play well, and you won’t use it.

If you’re a beginner, the original version of The House of the Rising Sun will be quite easy to learn. However, by the end of this lesson, you’ll find something to suits even intermediate and upper-intermediate harmonica players. I like to add some value to everyone with the things I teach, whether it’s through my real lessons in person, in my online harmonica school course creations, or here on my website pages.

Let’s start by taking a look at the song chord progression. Here are the chords:

Dm, F, G, A#, Dm, F, A, A

Dm, F, G, A#, Dm, A, Dm, Dm

The chord progression starts with the root chord D minor, and the first section ends on the A chord. This is the fifth degree chord built by the harmonization of the song, and it resolves on the root chord. This kind of resolution, in musical theory, is the most important, and you’ll find it in most songs out there. At the same time, notice that very often, a song ends with the key root chord, and The House of the Rising Sun is no exception.

As you see, this tune is played in triplets – a typical way of making music in the 60s and 70s, where the music panorama was invaded by ballads of every type. This classic rhythmic feeling, at the time, was noticeable in songs of every musical genre.

Let’s go back now to the practical stuff and analyze the original song licks. Here are the notes, with the transcription referring to the sung part:

D D, E F, A G D, D

D, D C, A ^A, D D

D, E F, A G D, D ^D, D

^D D, D Db, Db D

And here are the tabs:

4 4, 5+ 5, 6 6+ 4, 8

8, 8 7+, 6 ^6, 8 8

8, 5+ 5, 6, 6+ 4, ^4 4, ^4

4, 4 4’, 4’ 4

The melodies start on the song key root note D, which is developed with an octave jump to the same note on hole 8 draw. This is another typical feature you’ll find in many songs to make some similar licks in a sequence by transposing them up or down; the octave jump in particular is very effective with the singing here. The first verse ends on the root note, as if to conclude the ‘storytelling.'

Notice that in the second lick, the dip bending is on hole 6 draw and the same goes for the third lick on hole 4 draw. Dip bending adds a nice sense of ‘color’ to the notes. If you can’t bend on harmonica yet, just play the notes without the dip.

The whole song is built around these musical sentences, and the singer does some variation in every verse. However, for the purpose of this lesson, I won’t analyze these, as I don’t really think this would add anything to what you’re learning.

Once you’ve learned how to play the original version of The House of the Rising Sun, you can move on to my improvised version. You’ll likely find it challenging, but if you study and manage to play it as you listen in the lesson video, you’ll be able to throw away your beginner harmonica player label and exchange it for at least an intermediate one. Here are the improvisation tabs:

4 4, 4 5+ 5 6+ 5 ,6 6+ 6

5 sh45, 48

48, 48 47+, 6

^6 7+ 6 6+, ^6 6+ 6 6+

^6, 8 8

48, 45+ 56, 6

6+, 5 4 5 6+ 4, 4 4+ 3’’

14+ 14, 3’’ 2 2’’ 2 2’’ 1 1+


This version of the song requires you to be able to play a shake in the first lick and split notes like octaves in both the lover and higher harmonica holes. Dip bending is also performed in many spots during the improvisation, and you’ll play some pretty fast note sequences. Double notes are also present in the last part, and the song ends with some bending on holes 3 and 2 aspirated. Try to learn this version of The House of the Rising Sun and play it at your next jam – I’m quite sure your friends will be surprised!

Following the tab pictures, you can download them if you need.

The house of the rising sun on harmonicaa tabs - Original version
The house of the rising sun on harmonicaa tabs - Improvisation

That concludes this lesson. In the following section, you’ll find the videos to practice with. Notice that I played, as usual, both versions of the song twice, so just read the tabs and play along. I invite you to share this page with your friends, and I leave you with some additional information about the song itself if you’re interested. See you around, happy playing!

The House of the Rising Sun, sometimes called Rising Sun Blues, is a traditional song that tells of a life gone wrong in New Orleans; many versions also urge a brother or parents and children to avoid the same fate. The most successful commercial version, recorded in 1964 by the British rock band The Animals, was an English hit that reached the top of the British, American, and French charts. This version is often credited with being the "first folk-rock hit" from traditional folk music.

Like all traditional music, the original author of The House of the Rising Sun is unknown. According to many musicologists, the song is based on the tradition of broadside ballad, and thematically has a certain resemblance to the ballad of the sixteenth century entitled The Unfortunate Rake. According to Alan Lomax, author of the 1941 compilation of Our Singing Country songs, Rising Sun was used as the name of a house of tolerance in two traditional English songs, and was also a name used for English pubs. Someone once told me that the melody was taken from a traditional English ballad, probably Matty Groves from the 17th century, but a comparison by Bertrand Bronson did not show any clear relationship between the two songs. The song would then go from England to New Orleans via white performers from the South. Vance Randolph proposed the alternative of a French origin, wherein the "rising sun" referred to the decorative use of radial insignia dating back to the time of Louis XIV. The song would eventually pass through the new continent through the French colonization of the Americas.

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