Hallelujah Chords: The Ultimate Guide

Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” has been performed and covered by just about everyone – Let’s learn the Hallelujah chords for ourselves!

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In this free lesson you will learn…

  • The beginner & intermediate ways to play this song
  • How Leonard Cohen teaches you how to play the chords in the lyrics
  • Tips for getting creative with your own arrangement
  • The theory behind this classic ballad

Hallelujah Chords & The Genius Of Leonard Cohen

Prepare to open the floodgates, musicians! 

There’s one song that everybody’s heard. It’s been used in television shows and movies, and it’s performed all the time by musicians of almost every style.

  • For all the fame and enduring popularity the song has achieved, however, the songwriter is a bit of an open secret.
  • The song is “Hallelujah,” and the songwriter is Leonard Cohen, one of Canada’s great worldwide exports.
  • By the time we finish learning Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah chords today, you’ll want to explore the rest of his amazing song catalog.

Let’s dive in!

Hallelujah-Chords

“Hallelujah” has been described as a secular hymn, a spiritual struggle, and a song about disappointing other people.

Genius songs like this one allow for wide interpretation, and today we’re going to help you develop the skills you need to create your own.

Hallelujah is a song for, by, and about the musical soul.

  • You may never even have heard Cohen’s version of his own song because it’s been so famously covered by other artists. We’ll fix that.
  • We’ll give you the chords you’ll need, and we’ll help you to strum or pick the Hallelujah chords.

First, let’s get to know a few things about the songwriter and the song.

Hallelujah-Chords

Hallelujah Chords: The Songwriter

The most famous version of this song wasn’t made by the songwriter himself, but by Jeff Buckley. If it’s not already familiar to you, give it a listen here.

Leonard Cohen just passed away a few years ago. He was no rock superstar; in fact, before he was a songwriter, he was a poet.

His first success as a songwriter came from “Suzanne,” a poem set to music that Cohen apologetically sang to Judy Collins one night in the 1960s.

Hallelujah-Chords

Even his most well-known song, Hallelujah, has been pressed into service.

It appeared in the movie Shrek, countless episodes of the TV show American Idol, and recordings by John Cale, k.d. lang, and Rufus Wainwright.

  • This smash-hit didn’t just spill out of Cohen fully formed.
  • He wrote 80 draft verses for it, literally banging his head on the floor of the Royalton Hotel in New York.
  • We won’t get into all 80 verses here, but Cohen used several different versions of the song in the studio recording and live performances.

The progression of Hallelujah chords remains the same, regardless of the version you’re playing.

Check out the original studio recording below for reference:

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Hallelujah Chords: Two Keys

Cohen’s recording of Hallelujah is in the key of C major, showcasing his low baritone voice. You don’t have to have a voice in that range to sing this song in C major, if you sing it up an octave.

We’ll get to the Hallelujah chords in the key of C, but first, let’s take a look at it in the key of G major.

This key allows those of you just beginning to play the guitar to learn this song with easy chord shapes. Here’s what you’ll need.

G (320003)

(If you don't understand the above image please read our article "How To Read Guitar Chordboxes In 60 Seconds". It will make everything clear!)

Em (022000)

C (x32010) 

D (xx0232)

B7 (x21202)

 

Here are some stepping-stone versions of the Hallelujah chords that you can play a little more easily while you get used to the full open chords.

G (320000)

Em (022000)

C (x32000)

D (xx0230)

B7 (x21200)

Pro Tip: You can change the key of the song to C major (or any other key that suits you) just by using a capo.

You don’t have to learn any new chords for this.

To get from G to C, count up the chromatic scale for the number of half-steps. Each half-step is a fret. The relevant part of the chromatic scale goes G, G#, A, A#, B, C, which is five half-steps.

Place the capo at the fifth fret and play your Hallelujah chords. Now you’re in the key of C!

If you’d like to play the song in the key of C without a capo, you will need to use these chords. They’re only slightly more challenging than the chords in the key of G:

C (x32010)

Am (x02210)

F (xx3211),

G (320003)

E7 (020100)

When you transpose a song (change the key), you’re keeping the relationships between the chords the same while using a different key and its major scale as a home base or starting point.

The easiest way to understand this is through the Nashville numbering system, which assigns a number to each note in the scale.

If G is I, then Em is vi, C is IV, D is V, and B7 is III.

If C is I, then Am is vi, F is IV, G is V, and E7 is III.

The numbers and relationships stay the same, so the song stays the same.

Hallelujah-Chords

Pro-Tip: How do you know what key you’re in, anyway?

  • The key is the note and chord that serves as the home base for the song.
  • The Hallelujah chords begin there, but it’s easiest to tell at the end, when the song lands after the last Hallelujah of the verse.
  • If you can hear the song land, you can hear what key you’re in!

classical-guitar-music

Hallelujah Chords: Fun With Theory!

One of the best things about learning the Hallelujah chords is that Cohen snuck a music theory lesson into the lyrics of the first verse.

The first two lines talk about a secret chord, and there isn’t a secret chord in this song, so don’t let him trick you.

Let’s stick with the key of G for now, just to keep things simple.

Here’s the progression for the first part of the verse:

G  Em G  Em

C  D G  D

If we number those chords, it’s I, vi, I, vi, IV, V, I, V.

Hallelujah-Chords

Those numbers are the big clue to what Cohen does next lyrically:

  • “It goes like this, the fourth,  the fifth, the minor fall, the major lift.”
  • When he sings “the fourth,” he’s playing a IV chord, and when he sings “the fifth,” he’s playing a V chord.
  • He plays a minor chord at “the minor fall” and a major chord at “the major lift.”

Lyrical tricks like this can really help you to feel like you’re on the inside of a song! Cohen refers to an awful lot in this song.

The Hallelujah chords for this section, the rest of the verse, go like this:

G  |C D|  Em C

D  B7 Em  Em

Numerically, that’s I, IV-V, vi, IV, V, III, vi, vi.

Hallelujah-Chords

If you’re fascinated by inside jokes and obscure references, read this Rolling Stone article in which several people take a deep dive into this song for you.

Meanwhile, the rest of the song is pretty simple. It’s just one verse that repeats with no chorus.

  • What it does have is a refrain.
  • Something is called a refrain if it repeats but is shorter than a chorus.
  • The refrain in this song is “Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah.”

Here are the Hallelujah chords for this section:

C  C Em  Em

C  C |G  D| G

Converted to the numbering system, the chords are IV, IV, vi, vi, IV, IV, I-V, I.

How-to-play-hallelujah-on-guitar

Download our lead guitar cheat-sheet to make things easier

It can be disorientating for guitarists to understand which scales work with which keys.

With this in mind, we created a cheat-sheet; a key and scale-finder that you can use again and again.

Hallelujah Chords: Putting It All Together

We’ve separated the Hallelujah chords into three parts to make it easier to break apart and learn.

There’s a rather inelegant term, “chunking,” which is the practice of breaking up songs into pieces as small as they need to be for you to learn them effectively.

The idea is that some percentage of a song is going to be pretty easy for you, and some percentage will be challenging.

You don’t need to practice the easy parts over and over, so practicing by trying to play an entire song over and over isn’t the most efficient way to improve.

hallelujah-guitar-lesson

Obviously, chunking isn’t the only practice technique that helps you improve.

  • The ability to get through the whole song without stopping and while maintaining a steady rhythm is also something that needs to be practiced.
  • Below is a one-stop summary of the structure of these Hallelujah chords.
  • Sometimes people start this song with an introduction.
  • You can go back and forth between G and D, or between G and Em, until you’re ready to sing.

Hallelujah-Chords

Play through this block of Hallelujah chords in their entirety, and that’s one entire verse:

G  Em G  Em

C  D G  D

G  |C D|  Em C

D  B7 Em  Em

C  C Em  Em

C  C G  D G

You can repeat whatever you’ve chosen as your intro to break between verses as well.

At the last refrain, you can cycle through C and Em and sing “Hallelujah” as many times as you need to before ending.

easy-way-to-play-hallelujah

Hallelujah Chords: The Rhythm

Hallelujah has a meter (which is how you count measures and keep the beat) that might be a little unusual if you’re just starting out on guitar.

For each measure you play (like that first G), you feel two beats.

  • If you just strum the G twice and then move on to the Em, that seems a little less than satisfying.
  • Adding the upward strum just makes it worse!
  • This happens because those two pulses you feel are divided into three, not two.

This is sometimes called 6/8 time. If you were counting out the measure, you’d count one of two ways:

One two three Four five six, or

One and a Two and a

This is one of many little musical tidbits that makes these Hallelujah chords so great to learn.

easy-way-to-play-hallelujah-on-guitar

To strum with a six-beat measure takes a little finessing, but with a little practice and strumming wrist control, you’ll be able to keep a nice rhythm going for these Hallelujah chords.

  • Slow songs are a little tricky to keep moving.
  • There’s a balance to be struck that keeps the song well-paced without letting it grind to a halt.

The main thing to remember is the two pulses you feel. Accenting those two pulses per measure is the best way to keep track of the beat while you’re doing a busy strumming pattern.

Try one of these patterns below, and make sure to accent the bolded strums.

You’ll have six downward strums per measure through these Hallelujah chords:.

Down, down, down-up, Down, down, down-up

Down, down-up, down, Down, down-up, down

easy-chords-for-hallelujah

You can also avoid this strumming issue altogether by arpeggiating the Hallelujah chords, playing them one note at a time.

  • Arpeggiating the chords is a way to work around the pitfall of making the song sound too busy and overpowering the lyrics.
  • You can do this with a flatpick or with your fingers.
  • A flatpick makes it a little bit more challenging to navigate between the strings.
  • For beginners however, it adds the benefit of being able to occasionally strum when you really want to accent something.
  • You can switch back and forth between picking and strumming a little bit more easily with a pick than with fingers, at least until you get some fingerpicking experience.

Try this pattern!

Guitar-chords-hallelujah

Get Creative With Your Own Arrangement!

Once you’ve got the rhythm down, all you need to do is take your Hallelujah chords, choose your verses, and make your own arrangement!

In addition to the studio version of Hallelujah, check out this live version from London.

For an original take, the amazing a cappella group Pentatonix has this arrangement of Hallelujah that will blow your mind..

Click here for a full chart of the Hallelujah chords and lyrics.

National-Guitar-Academy

Get Inspired By Other Takes On This Classic Song

Leonard Cohen has left a legacy in the musicians who cover his music, and we’ve got three innovative versions of these Hallelujah chords for you below. 

Check them out and get inspired to create your own take on this beautiful ballad!

  • Boyce Avenue’s Alejandro Manzano pays beautiful tribute to Cohen here
  • Nick Pitera sings Hallelujah in three octaves here
  • Shaun Hopper performs every verse of Hallelujah live here

Hallelujah-Chords

For Much More Of Leonard Cohen’s Music…

We hope you found learning the Hallelujah chords, lyrics, and story as fascinating as we did. 

Leonard Cohen was a wealth of interesting and beautiful songs, and the world was a better place with him in it.

Join the community of people keeping his music alive, and check out this useful Little Black Songbook.

Recommended Resources

If you’ve enjoyed this lesson, we have other places for you to go next! Continue on your path with these lessons:

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