The Definitive Guide To Learning How To Play My Girl On Guitar

This classic Motown tune is a must-learn for any aspiring guitarist. Jump in, and let’s learn how to play My Girl on guitar!

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In this free lesson, you will learn…

  • How to play this classic tune at any skill level
  • How to hear a key change
  • How to play a key change
  • How to make your own ‘cover-style’ version of this song

Everything You Need To Learn How to Play My Girl on Guitar

Today we’re looking under the hood of The Temptations’ 1965 classic Motown hit, “My Girl.”

This song was written by Smokey Robinson and Ronald White after Smokey saw The Temptations perform in a Motown revue.

  • Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams had been the principal lead singers in The Temptations, but David Ruffin sang lead on their version of “Under the Boardwalk.”
  • That gave Smokey the idea to write a song with a melody that showcased Ruffin’s voice and range.
  • There are so many iconic and influential aspects of this song that it has been placed in the Library of Congress and on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.


“My Girl” has everything you want in a song. Sure, there’s the backing vocals and the choreography, but there’s plenty for you to make a lovely solo guitar arrangement and add it to your repertoire.

  • We’ll show you everything from the instantly recognizable guitar riff to the middle break and the exciting key change.
  • No matter how long you’ve been playing the guitar, you’ll be able to figure out how to play My Girl on guitar.
  • The song is even built in such a way that it’s easy to learn and memorize without having to carry the music around with you. Let’s get started!


How To Play My Girl On Guitar: The Introduction

The introduction is practically all you need in order to know how to play My Girl on guitar.

Its unique but easy guitar riff was created in the studio by Funk Brothers guitarist Robert White.

Following a simple two-measure bass lead-in, the guitar riff, which carries over into the verse, is made of one of the fundamental building blocks of lead guitar playing: the pentatonic scale.

You don’t have to know this in order to play the song, but the pentatonic scale is just the first, second, third, fifth, and sixth notes of the major scale.

The riff itself is nothing more than the C major pentatonic scale. Here is the tab for you that includes the bass lead-in so you can do the whole thing on guitar.


How To Play My Girl On Guitar: The Verses

Let’s start putting the rest of this song together by using a reference video.

The choreography is optional:

The verse in the song takes us from “I’ve got sunshine” to “the month of May.” The first thing you’ll notice in that verse is that there are no chords happening in there!

The introductory guitar riff carries over into the verse, and it switches back and forth between the C major pentatonic scale and the F major pentatonic scale. To play that, have a look at the tabs below:


It’s around this time, if you’re playing along at home, that you might notice the particular difficulty commonly experienced when you try to play a melody on the guitar and sing a different melody.

There’s no rule that says that you have to play the riff while you’re singing the song.

  • Once you’ve done it in the introduction, everybody’s picking up what you’re putting down.
  • You can switch to alternating between the C chord and the F chord if it makes it easier for you.
  • If you find those chords to be a little too much, it’s a beautiful and easy substitution to use the respective major seventh chords.

C (x32010)

(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!)

F (xx3211)

or Cmaj7 (x32000)

Fmaj7 (xx3210)


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How To Play My Girl On Guitar: The Chorus

The next section in learning how to play My Girl on guitar is what we’ll call the chorus. It starts with “I guess” and ends with “My Girl.”

This section is an easy little chord progression:

|C Dm7, F G|

|C Dm7, F G|

Cmaj7   Cmaj7 Dm7  G

C (x32010)

Dm7 (xx0211)

F (xx3211)

Cmaj7 (x32000)

G (320003)


If you’re playing along and find that those chord changes in the first two lines come at you a little too quickly, check out the similarity between the Dm7 and the F chord shape.

All you need to do to get from Dm7 to F is add your third finger to the D string third fret!

We love little chord-changing hacks like this. How many can you find?


How To Play My Girl On Guitar: Song Structure

After you’ve gotten through the intro, the verse, and the chorus, it’s time to repeat the verse (“I’ve got so much honey…”) and the chorus.

Let’s listen to how the song breaks down into components. So far, we’ve got the intro, the first verse and chorus, and the second verse and chorus.

  • From here, you’ll repeat the intro as it’s written out in the tablature above.
  • Then there’s a bridge, in this case, a little instrumental break, where the violins take over.
  • This instrumental break is leading up to a key change, so don’t be taken by surprise!

Here are the My Girl chords for the break.

C  F C  F

Dm7  G Em  A

C (x32010)

F (xx3211)

Dm7 (xx0211)

G (320003)

Em (022000)

A (x02220)

Do you hear how that A chord seems to be leading somewhere completely different?

  • The A chord is signalling the key change. This is a big moment!
  • From here on out, we’re no longer using chords in the key of C because the song has modulated (changed keys) to D!

Key changes are common, and really help to shake up the dynamic of a piece of music.

They’re also a great songwriting tool, and help keep us on our toes when learning new songs.


Pro-Tip: Learning about the structure of a song – the component parts like intro, verse, chorus, bridge – and the order of those components can really help you to memorize a song.

  • Learning the song in pieces makes your life easier – and once you’ve learned each part of the song, all you have to do is learn the order in which those parts appear.
  • Structure is everything in music and should never be overlooked.
  • The more you understand how a song works, the easier it becomes to play!
  • It’s a very reliable method for learning how to play My Girl on guitar, as well as any other song you’re dying to know!


How To Play My Girl On Guitar: A Lead Part For The Bridge

As we’ve said, the bridge of this song is where the violins take over, and there’s not much for The Temptations to do except sing, “Hey hey hey” every once in a while.

The violin part isn’t very difficult to manage on the guitar if you feel like throwing a little lead into the mix at that point.

There are two parts to the lead and the first repeats. If you listen to the bridge, you’ll hear it.

The first part of the lead goes something like this. Play it twice and sing the “hey hey hey” in-between; that should take you to the end of the second measure of F.


The second part of the lead is the part that winds up to the key change, so it’s a little bit different.

Of course, you can improvise over those changes any way you like to get yourself to that A chord at the end of the bridge.

Here’s an approximation of what the strings are doing in the rest of the bridge, if you’d like a jumping-off point, or just want to play something that’s written down.



How To Play My Girl On Guitar: The Final Verse & Chorus

The modulation in the third verse is glorious, and sets up Ruffin’s floating vocals beautifully. That’s one of the purposes of performing a key change: to add some extra lift and joy to a song.

Before we get to the final verse, it’s worth pointing out (especially for the beginners among us) that the modulation and this whole extra set of chords is optional when it comes to your personal arrangement.

  • You could go directly from the second chorus to the third verse, with or without the reiterated introduction.
  • Plenty of people do it, and nobody is punished for it.
  • Having said that, let’s figure out the last bit of how to play My Girl on guitar with the new key signature in the final verse.


Now, if you’re committed to the modulation, the chords in the final verse move up one whole step because the key change from C to D moves everything that happens in the song – the chords, the melody, the guitar riff, everything – up to one whole step.

That means instead of switching between C and F in the verse, you’ll be switching between D and G.

D (xx0232)

G (320003)

The guitar riff, in case you’re interested, moves up a whole step (two frets).

You can play the D and G pentatonic scale riffs like this, with D in the first bar and G in the second:


The chords in the final chorus have also moved up a whole step, so the progression is like this:

|D Em|G A|

|D Em|G A|

Dmaj7  Dmaj7 Em7  A

D (xx0232)

Em (022000)

G (320003)

A (x02220)

Dmaj7 (xx0222)

Em7 (022030)


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How To Play My Girl On Guitar: The Vamp

You’ll notice that “My Girl” has no hard ending.

It’s one of those songs that fade out, as though it isn’t so much ending as going away.

Songs that fade out pose particular problems for us guitarists who like to play songs live and sometimes even in front of other people.

We have to figure out an ending because the artist did not do us the favor.


In “My Girl,” the vamp at the end simply continues the last four measures of the chorus:

Dmaj7  Dmaj7 Em7  A

One reasonable way to end this song is to go through that four-measure cycle as many times as you like and then simply stop the next time you get to the Dmaj7.

  • Because the song is now in the key of D, ending on the Dmaj7 will resolve the song and make it sound like it’s over.
  • The A chord won’t do that for you. That’s not its job in the key of D.

Pro Tip: If you’re confused, a vamp is simply a section that repeats over and over until otherwise instructed.

These sections are typically fairly short and repetitive in length, making them easy to keep playing for long durations.


How To Play My Girl On Guitar: Learn From Other Artists

The Temptations obviously have the definitive hit version of “My Girl,” and there’s plenty of arrangement material that you can pull out of their version to make the song your own.

It’s always worth poking around to see what other people have done with such a famous and timeless song.

  • This version by Otis Redding is pretty faithful to The Temptations, but there’s something about the quality of his voice and the substitution of horns for strings that add a little grit to it.
  • What’s really lovely and interesting about Renée Dominique’s version is that she’s replaced a lot of the major chords with major seventh chords.
  • Here’s a version that is just gorgeous all-around by MPrynt.
  • One of our personal favourite covers of “My Girl” is by Terrence Cunningham.

Great pieces of songwriting like “My Girl” can withstand a lot of interpretation.

  • When learning how to play My Girl on guitar, make it yours by changing the tempo as some of these cover artists did.
  • You can also change the style. This is a classic Motown vibe, but you can adapt the song to any style that works for you.

You can reharmonize the song, keeping the melody the same and adding new chords underneath to shift how the song moves; or you can keep to the original version that everyone loves! The choice is entirely yours!

How To Play My Girl On Guitar For Others

Once you’ve got all the parts of “My Girl” memorized, it’s a wonderful song to teach to others because it’s simple and everyone already knows most of the words.

Take this lovely tune out to your next jam session and teach someone new how to play My Girl on guitar!

Take it to the next open mic you run across to fine-tune your arrangement.

This is a timeless crowd-pleaser. Have fun with it!

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