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“Burning Down The House” by Talking Heads

Riff Rundown

Difficulty: Easy – Intermediate

Composer – David Byrne

Where to find this song – Stop Making Sense track #4

Release Date – August 1984

David Byrne was born on May 14,1952, Dumbarton, Scotland, but was raised in Baltimore, Maryland. He was briefly a student of the Rhode Island School of Design. He abandoned his training in visual and conceptual arts in favor of rock. After relocating to New York’s Lower East Side, Byrne formed Talking Heads in 1974.

Intro Riff

How To Play It

Part 1

When playing the opening part to the song, allow your fingers to relax and attempt to float along the fret board while playing. We start the song off on the “D” string. Begin the song by playing the open note string ( the “zero” note ) twice. After playing that, you will go to the third fret on the same string. The best bet is to use your index finger on all of these parts in this phrase ( play this song much like when you play the bass using only one note and one fret at a time). A “pull” on guitar is when you are slightly bending the string just enough to accent the note being played. In this case, what you will want to do is accent that third fret and immediately pull off lightly back to the open position on the “A” string. That will give you the sound you are looking for. Most of this lesson is performed that way. After you have done that, you will want to do the same with the fifth fret, but play the open note twice after you have let off of the fifth fret. If you look at the tab below you will notice that you are going to be playing this particular phrase until the end of the second phrase, so get comfortable with it. Rinse, lather, and repeat. Remember to allow your fingers to flow, much like in the style of Dave Matthews and David Gray. If you notice, almost all of their songs are based around a very flowing sense of arrangement in their progressions. Same here, with just a bit of a style difference.

Part 2


Ok, now that you have gotten the first part down. ( You do have it right?) You will want to play what you just played before up until after the second time in the second phrase. ( Remember, two times for second phrase) After that, you are going to want to move to the “G” string and play the fifth fret using your index finger, then directly onto the third fret on the same string using your ring finger. Simply move now back down to the “D” string and play the same thing you just played. ( fifth fret on “D” string directly onto the third fret of the same string.) That is it for this lesson. Keep practicing this riff over and over and you will find that it gets much more comfortable as you play along.

Riff Resources

Complete Transcription To “Burning Down The House” (PDF)

Complete Transcription To “Burning Down the House” (Power Tab)