I'm new to guitar, and as an early project I've been trying to learn the classic Good Riddance by Green Day. Have a look at this tab, which matches most/all tabs I've found for this song:


Watching this tutorial video gives identical tablature-- he's playing these same notes here.

But weirdly, this doesn't exactly sound like the actual song, which seems to be more strumming than plucking (except the 3rd fretted B string, which is audibly played above the other notes.)

Watching this video, it sounds more like how Billy Joe Armstrong actually plays it....but he's not plucking individual notes here like in the tablature.

I'm trying to reconcile these things. Why do most/all tabs I can find for this song show this arpeggiated plucking sequence if what's really being played is a strumming pattern? I don't really trust my ear, either. Maybe he is plucking and it just sounds like strumming to me? I can't figure out what's really going on here.

Could it be that he's strumming starting from the notes in the tab? i.e. the first downstroke starts on the 3rd-fretted low E, but the next downstroke starts on the open G, followed by an upstroke starting on the 3rd-fretted B, etc?

I've found this applies to other songs I've looked at too, but I'm using Good Riddance as a primary example.

Coming from piano, where the sheets for a famous song are generally well-established, widely available, identical to the actual song, and perfectly reliable, not knowing what notes to play is a weird problem to have.

It's just weird that everyone recommends this down-down-up-up-down-up strumming pattern if what's being played is a plucking pattern. I'm sorry, I just don't know what to make of this.

  • The man in the video looks like he's strumming with a pick. Who's to say that, while he's strumming, he isn't precisely hitting all those notes in the tab exactly on schedule?
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Aug 23, 2019 at 7:03
  • I guess I'm not totally sure what you mean, sorry! Commented Aug 23, 2019 at 7:09
  • As far as I can tell, people can strum and hit precise guitar strings at the same time.
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Aug 23, 2019 at 7:13

4 Answers 4


It's actually quite simple I think. That fingerstyle arrangement is NOT what Schwarz is playing & his version sounds authentic to the recording. He's basically strumming but also picking out & emphasising 2 notes for each chord - sounds difficult but it ain't . The chords are G (320033) , Cadd9 (X32033) and D (XX0232) - they all have that D note on the 2nd (B) string in common and he's hitting that - now there are 2 ways to this I think - play that D note twice OR play it once AND the note on the 3rd string in place of the 2nd D. Or mix it up a bit - it will still sound great & very difficult to distinguish apart. The only other chord is Em (022000) and a C (X32010) - I'm sure Marty explains it all - I've only watched the playthrough. I know it's a long explanation but I hope it helps . Forget the fingerstyle arrangement if you want to play the original.


A 100% accurate representation of the original or the cover versions that you linked to would be incredibly fiddly and time consuming to do in tab, or even standard notation. I find tab pretty hopeless at the best of times, in that unlike standard notation you do have to use it to a greater or lesser extent in conjunction with your ear to figure it out. Your saying you don't trust your ear, but I'm afraid that if you are using tab your going to have to.

Anyway, why don't you trust your ear? You're wise enough to hear that there are polyphonic parts here, in contravention of what the tab instructs. The 'strum' is more just a downstroke across the bottom 3 or 4 strings on the strong beats ( 1 and 3) for the most part, holding your left hand in the chord positions shown on the videos will ensure that this is in tune with what you are playing. You are going to have to combine a heavy downstroke with some clean alternate string picking for the melody on the top 4 strings, which can be hard at first, but that's how it is being done.


Could it be that he's strumming starting from the notes in the tab?

I think you're thinking along the right lines. He's doing two 'partial' chord strums across a few strings on the first two downstrokes of each bar, and then subsequent strokes pick out the other notes shown in the tab. Something like this:


   G                           Cadd9         D

(When I used to play this, I found muting the thirds in the G chords a little gave me a sound that to my ears matched the recording better, giving that distinctive 'starkness' - but maybe that's over-complicating it!)

Coming from piano, where the sheets for a famous song are generally well-established, widely available, identical to the actual song, and perfectly reliable, not knowing what notes to play is a weird problem to have.

Yes, incomplete or plain wrong tabs and transcriptions are everywhere! Often even the 'official' transcriptions may be simplified for beginners (or simplified by someone doing a rushed job). To be honest, I also find this to be the case with transcriptions of pop and rock music for other instruments too.

Part of learning rock guitar is learning to trust your ear and work things out from the recorded song. This is no bad thing; music is sound, after all!

  • 4
    I think another way of putting what I said is that with classical piano (or maybe classical music in general), the sheet music IS the canonical definition of a song, and any recording is an interpretation of that. And it seems with rock/pop (or most modern music in general), the album recording is the canonical definition of the song and any sheet music is an interpretation of that. It's like the complete reverse. Commented Aug 23, 2019 at 16:15
  • Great adjustment to the tab, by the way! I'm going to try it out that way when I'm home tonight. Commented Aug 23, 2019 at 16:16
  • @temporary_user_name Yes, I agree with you about the 'direction of interpretation' thing. Good luck with the practice! Commented Aug 23, 2019 at 16:33

Assume that user-contributed tab describes the way one person likes to play that song. It isn't necessarily an attempt to capture what was played on a particular recording.

Also, they're often done without much care, by someone without especially good listening skills.

And the result often gets copied elsewhere, so it's normal to see the same thing on multiple sites even if it's obviously wrong.

They can also be accurate, but you just never know. You have to trust your ears first. I always start by listening.

Online tab and chord charts can still be useful in a few cases. I'll check them when I'm really stumped on something--sometimes they'll have an idea I didn't think of. I still trust my ear to judge the final result, though.

Also, if I need to play something I've never heard on short notice, they can be better than nothing.

Professionally published stuff is more reliable. But don't assume it's a transcription unless it explicitly says that. Usually it's one musician's idea of how a guitarist of average skill would want to cover that song.

Part of the reason for that is just that a transcription would often be more complicated than you'd expect. A simple-sounding guitar part might turn out to be two separate parts superimposed when you listen carefully. A recording can be the result of a lot of complicated work that nobody at the time thought to document, and a really accurate transcription might involve a lot of guesswork with a hard-to-read result.

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