The Chord Progression
The chord progression for “I Shall Be Released” is quite different than most songs. It doesn’t use the IV or V chord at all. The progression of I, ii, iii, ii, I is repeated throughout the song. The song in the key of A, so the chord progression sounds as A, Bm, C#m, Bm, A.
To play it just like the original recording you’ll play in the key of G with a capo on the 2nd fret. The use of the capo transposes it so that it sounds in the key of A.
The Basic Strumming Pattern
The basic strum pattern idea is a simple one that only uses quarter notes. On beats 1 and 3, you’ll only sound the root note while on beats 2 and 4 you’ll strum out the rest of the chord. If you use a pick to play it you can use all downstrokes.
One final thing that you should be aware of is that the song is in 2/2 time. This time signature is not used very often, so you may not be aware how to play it.
In 2/2, there are 2 half notes per measure, which means it’s just like 4/4. It’s sometimes referred to as ‘cut time’ meaning that it’s faster, so the beats are counted by the half note instead of the quarter note.
Instead of counting 1, &, 2, &, 3, &, 4, & like in 4/4 time, you can count the quarter notes as 1, &, 2, &. On ‘one’ and ‘two’ you’ll play the root note, on ‘&’ you’ll strum out the rest of the chords.
You can either fingerpick it or play it with a pick.
In the video below I’ll play it for you using fingerpicking. Notice that I use my thumb to play all the low notes:
In the next video, I’ll play it for you using a pick:
Adding An Alternating Bass
An alternating bass works well with the song if you wish to use one. No alternating bass is used in the original recording, so it’s purely voluntary.
In this video I’ll play it using the alternate bass while fingerpicking:
G Am They say everything can be replaced Bm Am G Yet every distance is not near G Am So I remember every face Bm Am G Of every man who put me here.
G Am I see my light come shining Bm Am G From the west unto the east. G Any day now, Am Any day now, Bm Am G I shall be released
A Bm They say every man needs protection. C#m Bm A E7 They say every man must fall. A Bm Yet I swear I see my reflection, C#m Bm A E7 Somewhere so high above the wall.
A Bm Well yonder stands a man in this lonely crowd, C#m Bm A E7 A man who swears he not to blame. A Bm All day long I hear him cry shouting loud, C#m Bm A E7 Calling out that he's been framed.