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Music Theory

Mastering the Chords for Folsom Prison Blues

Photograph of the blog post author, Sebastian Wolf

Sebastian Wolf


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Chords for Folsom Prison Blues

If you’re a beginner guitarist eager to immerse yourself in the captivating world of Johnny Cash, there’s no better starting point than mastering the chords for “Folsom Prison Blues”, his legendary hit. This iconic song showcases a harmonious blend of simplicity and melody, perfect for refining your musical skills. 

In this guide, we’ll embark on a captivating journey delving deep into the intricate chord progression of this classic tune. We’ll provide easy-to-follow instructions on how to play each chord and offer valuable insights and techniques to help you capture the essence of Cash’s signature sound. Get ready to unlock the secrets behind this beloved composition and elevate your guitar-playing prowess to new heights!

About Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash, often hailed as “The Man in Black,” is an iconic figure in American country music history. Born on February 26, 1932, in Kingsland, Arkansas, Cash’s extraordinary career spanned over four remarkable decades. 

His deep and resonant baritone voice, characterised by its profound depth and gravity, captivated the hearts of millions around the globe. With his distinctive blend of rock, folk, and gospel elements, Cash created a unique sound that transcended genres and resonated with a diverse audience.

Beyond his musical prowess, many revere Cash’s songs for their powerful storytelling. His hits delve into themes of love, heartbreak, redemption, and the complexities of the human condition. Furthermore, his raw and emotive performances, often featuring only his guitar and vocals, became legendary, leaving audiences spellbound.

Moreover, Cash’s legacy extends to aspiring guitarists, as his songs offer a perfect starting point for beginners looking to hone their skills. With their rich narratives and melodic simplicity, Cash’s compositions provide a gateway for budding musicians to build their repertoire and explore the expressive world of guitar playing.

Even today, Cash’s music continues to hold timeless appeal, resonating with listeners across generations. His contributions to the country music genre and his cultural impact remain unparalleled, cementing his status as an enduring icon.

The Story Behind Folsom Prison Blues

One of Johnny Cash’s most iconic songs, “Folsom Prison Blues”, holds a special place in the hearts of fans worldwide. Written in 1953, Cash took inspiration for the song from his time serving in the United States Air Force and his love for traditional cowboy ballads.

However, it wasn’t until 1968 that “Folsom Prison Blues” gained widespread popularity when Cash performed it live at the infamous Folsom State Prison in California. The electrifying performance, recorded and released as a live album, solidified the song’s place in music history.

But beyond its catchy tune and foot-stomping rhythm lies a deeper meaning. “Folsom Prison Blues” tells the story of an imprisoned man who bitterly regrets his past actions and yearns for freedom. Through his poignant lyrics, Cash highlights the harsh realities of prison life and the complex emotions of a desperate man.

The Chords Used in Folsom Prison Blues

Country Music Guitar Chords

“Folsom Prison Blues” is a classic song that primarily utilises three basic chords: E, A, and B7. These chords, played in a distinctive strumming pattern, form the solid backbone of the song’s verse and chorus structure. The rustic and raw sound of the chords perfectly captures the essence of the song’s theme and adds to its timeless appeal. In addition to these chords, the song occasionally incorporates an A7 chord, adding a subtle touch of variation and depth to the overall musical arrangement. 

Combining these chords and their arrangement creates a captivating musical experience that has resonated with audiences for decades.

E Major Chord

To play the E major chord, begin by positioning your index finger on the first fret of the third string, your middle finger on the second fret of the fifth string, and finally, your ring finger on the second fret of the fourth string. Strumming all the strings together, your reward will be a beautifully rich and full sound that characterises the E chord. Give it a try, and let the harmonious resonance fill the air with musical delight!

A Major Chord

Next in our tour of the chords for “Folsom Prison Blues” is the A major chord. To play the chord, start by placing your index, middle, and ring fingers on the second frets of the fourth, third, and second strings. Ensure you position fingers just behind the metal frets for clear and crisp notes. As you strum the strings, begin from the fifth string and gently glide your pick downwards, producing a beautiful and resonant sound. 

Remember to maintain a relaxed hand and wrist posture for smooth and effortless playing. Happy strumming!

B7 Chord

Playing the B7 chord requires a bit more finger gymnastics. Start by placing your index finger on the first fret of the fourth string, then position your middle finger on the second fret of the fifth string. Next, place your ring finger on the second fret of the third string. Finally, position your pinky finger on the second fret of the first string. 

Remember to strum from the fifth string down, and with practice, you’ll master this chord effortlessly.

A7 Chord

The A7 chord is a slight variation of the A chord. To find the chord, lift your ring finger off the second string, creating an open string sound. This alteration adds a touch of complexity and depth to the overall harmony. Accordingly, it’s a popular choice for musicians seeking to add a subtle yet distinctive flavour to their compositions.

Chord Progression

The chord progression for “Folsom Prison Blues” is relatively straightforward. The song follows a classic E-E-A-E progression in the verses, creating a sense of familiarity and groove. As the song transitions into the chorus, a delightful switch to a B7-E-A-E progression adds a touch of variation and excitement. 

This simple yet effective pattern repeats consistently throughout the song. As a result, it’s an ideal choice for beginners who want to practice chord transitions and get a feel for the essence of blues music. So, grab your guitar, tap into your inner Cash, and let the rhythm of “Folsom Prison Blues” take you on a musical journey!


E | E | E | E | 

E | E | E | E | 

A | A | E | E | 

B7 | B7 | E | E |


A | A | E | E | 

B7 | B7 | E | E |

Final Thoughts About the Chords for Folsom Prison Blues

How To Play Folsom Prison Blues

Mastering the chords for “Folsom Prison Blues” doesn’t only allow you to play this iconic tune. It also provides a solid foundation for learning other songs in the country and blues genres. By delving into this classic track’s intricate finger placement and rhythm patterns, you’ll develop a deeper understanding of the distinctive guitar techniques that define the soulful melodies of country and blues music. 

So, grab your guitar, get those fingers strumming, and embark on a musical journey filled with rich harmonies and heartfelt lyrics! Happy strumming!


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