Your Ultimate Guide To Playing Prince’s Purple Rain Chords

Purple Rain is one of the most famous songs of all time – let’s learn the chords and how to play it!

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In this free lesson you will learn…

  • 4 key chords that you will use everywhere
  • How to transpose chords using a capo
  • The benefit of a capo for beginner guitarists
  • How the song is structured

Ready To Learn Prince’s Classic Purple Rain Chords?

Before we get started, we just need to say one thing:

Prince is a legend, and a criminally-underrated guitarist.

That’s all. We’re just really big fans.

Now that we’ve gotten that off our collective chests, it’s time to dive into today’s lesson of deconstructing one of the greatest rock songs ever written:

“Purple Rain”

Although this song is orchestrated in a huge way, the Purple Rain chords themselves are super-simple.

Today, we’re going to give you a little history on this classic song and then teach you how to play along to it.

Excited? Honestly, so are we – this song is a blast to play, and it’s super easy to follow.

Let’s jump into a little history, shall we?

purple-rain-chords

“Purple Rain” by Prince was the third single off of the 1984 album “Purple Rain” by Prince which coincidentally just happened to be the soundtrack to the 1984 film “Purple Rain” by…

Wait for it…

Prince.

If you think we’re kidding, trust us – we’re not.

There was a Purple Rain movie.

That’s just how big of a deal Prince was, and rightfully so.

purple-rain-chords

The Purple Rain chords themselves would have you think that this is just another four-chord song, but this is so much more than that.

Prince did an incredible job of using the guitar as a rhythmic tool that would support a wide array of other instruments in the mix, including his voice.

If you want the whole experience of how this song feels to play, make sure you practice to the song itself. Click here to listen to it.

Without further ado, let’s get into learning Prince’s Purple Rain chords and how to execute them with confidence.

purple-rain-chords

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Purple Rain Chords I – The Capo Position

This song is played with a capo at the third fret, so the chord shapes we will be discussing will be relative to the capo’s position.

For example, the first chord in this song is a Bb major chord, but because of the capo’s position we can use a G major chord shape to play it.

This concept is relative to the CAGED chord system. If you’re unfamiliar with what we’re talking about and want a little more clarity before you continue, click here for a lesson.

To summarize, the chord shapes we list for learning the Purple Rain chords will be in accordance with the position of your capo, so make sure it’s locked in at the third fret!

purple-rain-chords

As a review for our beginner friends, make sure your guitar is tuned as follows before you pop your capo on:

Low to High:

E // A // D // G // B // E

Once you’ve tuned up and stuck your capo on the third fret of your guitar, you’re ready to dive into the Purple Rain chords head-first. Let’s go!

purple-rain-chords

Purple Rain Chords II – The G Major Shape (Bb Major)

As we said above, the chord shapes we’re talking about are relative to your capo.

The first two Purple Rain chords we are actually playing are Bb major and G minor, however we are going to play them using the G major and E minor shapes we may already know.

When we use a capo, our “open position notes” change.

Technically speaking, your open position with a capo at the third fret consists of the following notes:

G // C // F // Bb // D // G

This may seem a little weird at first, but take this as an opportunity to learn the positions of some new notes and commit them to memory – you’ll be glad you did!

G MAJOR

purple-rain-guitar-tutorial

(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!)

To start at the beginning, let’s bust out that Bb major chord using the G shape.

Begin with your middle finger on the 6th fret, and build your G shape around that with your pinky on the high E string and your ring finger on the B string. Your index should take the fifth fret on the A string.

We’re going to want to focus on the open strings especially here, as they won’t ring out properly without the right hand positioning. This goes for all four of our Purple Rain chords.

Play around with your hand by rotating your wrist slightly in either direction and playing all six strings of the chord. We want all the strings to ring clearly

You can also play each individual string to “check” the sound of each string for unintentional muting.

purple-rain-chords

Pro Tip: Playing the individual notes of a chord is an amazing way to check and make sure you’re playing it properly. It’s also a great way to sound a chord out in a new and exciting way.

This is called an arpeggio, and it can be done with any chord. Give it a shot!

When you’re ready for the next segment of the Purple Rain chords, move on to the E minor shape.

Purple Rain Chords III – The E Minor Shape (G Minor)

Want to know the best part about using a capo?

Not having to worry about barre chords!

Typically a G minor chord is played with your whole index finger as a barre, but by using a capo at the third fret and playing an E minor chord shape we can accomplish the same chord.

E MINOR

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Convenient, right? That’s the beauty of the capo, especially for beginner guitarists who aren’t yet ready to tackle barre chords (and that’s okay!)

Use your index finger at the fifth fret on your A string, and your middle finger at the same fret on the D string. Strum all six strings and let them all ring out.

Once again, try playing an arpeggio to sound out each string and make sure that they’re all resonating the way they should be.

Pro Tip: Make it a habit to check your Purple Rain chords using arpeggios and you’ll be that much more conscious of muting strings unnecessarily/accidentally.

Once you’ve gotten the E minor shape under your hands for our G minor chord, practice both chords together before moving forward.

G MAJOR

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E MINOR

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Purple Rain Chords IV – The D Major Shape (F Major)

Hopefully at this point, the chord shapes being moved around is starting to make sense.

It can be a lot of notes to digest at first, but using a capo is a great way to help us memorize notes in different positions.

The next shape we have in our series of Purple Rain chords is a D major shape, but because of the capo the chord we are actually playing here is F major.

Didn’t think you’d tackle an F major chord so soon? No worries – no barre chords required here.

Contrary to the regular six-string F shape shape that you might have already seen, this one only uses the top four strings.

D MAJOR

The bottom-most part of this chord is the open D string, and we build upward from there.

Start by placing your index finger at the G string, fifth fret (second fret relative to your capo).

You can add in your ring finger at the sixth fret on the B string, and top it off with your middle finger at the fifth fret on the high E string.

Strum from the D string to the high E string and you’ve got yourself an F major chord as the third of your Purple Rain chords!

Once you’ve gotten this under your fingers, it’s a good idea to practice all three of the Purple Rain chords you’ve learned so far. Let’s review them and practice by strumming each chord for a count of “1 – 2 – 3 – 4.”

G MAJOR

 

E MINOR

D MAJOR

Purple Rain Chords V – The C Major Shape (Eb Major)

Prince had a lot of exposure to jazz music, which no doubt imparted itself on a lot of his playing and songwriting style.

With this, it seems only natural that Prince was drawn to flat keys such as Bb major.

Flat keys are favoured often in jazz music due to horn instruments often being tuned to a flat key instead of C.

For example, a trumpet is a Bb instrument, meaning the note that reads as a “C” to a guitarist is actually a Bb below for a trumpet player. Interesting, right?

With this in mind, the last of the Purple Rain chords to conquer is the Eb major chord, using a C major shape with the capo in mind.

C MAJOR

We can start with our ring finger at the sixth fret on the A string for our root Eb note, and build the chord backwards from that.

Add your middle finger on the fifth fret of the D string, and leave the G string open,

Finally, you can add your index finger at the fourth fret on your B string and leave the high E string open to resonate along with the G string.

Strum through all five strings of the chord starting from the A string, and be sure to check all of your strings as we’ve already made a habit of by this point.

Now that we’ve got the last chord mastered, let’s practice playing all four Purple Rain chords back to back and explore effective ways to transition from one chord to the next.

G MAJOR

E MINOR

D MAJOR

C MAJOR

Pro Tip: Look for common notes between chords to make it easier to transition from one chord to the next.

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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.

Purple Rain Chords VI – Chord Transitions

Now that we’ve spent some time learning and mastering the chords we need to play the tune, we need to focus on our chord transitions to make everything sound and feel tight.

We focus on the transitions before we focus on the strumming pattern.

This is so that when it comes time to strum through these chords, we know for sure where our fingers are headed with each passing chord.

As we know, we start with our G major shape on the sixth fret. We can strum through this whole chord and begin holding it for a count of eight to begin with. Do this for all four Purple Rain chords as practice.

We want to keep our strumming to a minimum and draw our chords out as best we can. Prince strums as he moves into the next chord.

“1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 6 – 7 – 8”

G MAJOR

E MINOR

Try This: A ‘walkdown’ is when we use the lowest string to ‘walk’ toward our next chord by playing a note between the chord we’re on and the chord we’re headed to.

To get from our G shape to the E minor shape, we’re going to use the fifth fret on the low E string to ‘walk’ between the sixth fret and the open third fret.

Your low E string movement from the G major shape to the E minor shape should look like this:

E – 3 – 2 – 0

Note: Walkdowns work when there is a note in between two chords in the lowest string. If you hit a fret that’s out of key, it won’t sound quite as good. Your ears are an asset – be mindful for what sounds right, especially now that you’ve gotten these Purple Rain chords under hand.

purple-rain-guitar-lesson

Walkdowns are a great way to put some motion between our first two Purple Rain chords.

To transition from the E minor shape to the D shape, we’re going to have to move our whole hand up to the top-most string set.

Take some time to practice the transition back and forth between these two Purple Rain chords.

To move finally from the D shape to the C shape, lead with your ring finger from the sixth fret of the B string to the sixth fret of the A string, and once again build your C shape backwards from there.

Once you’ve made it to the end, cycle back to the beginning from your C shape to your G shape by leading with your middle finger from the D string to the low E string.

G MAJOR

E MINOR

D MAJOR

C MAJOR

Putting It All Together

Finally, all we have to worry about to play through these Purple Rain chords is the progressions, which we’ve got laid out for you below with lyrics.

We’ve notated the chords by their shapes, not by their actual chords. This just makes them easier to read through.

You’ll find that all of these chords are held for a count of 8 beats each.

Intro

G – Em – D – C

 

Verse:

G – Em – D – C

G – Em – D – G

 

Chorus:

                                  C

Purple rain, purple rain

                                  G                  Em

Purple rain, purple rain

                                  D

Purple rain, purple rain

                                                                           G

I only want to see you bathing in the purple rain

 

Verse #2:

G – Em – D – C

G – Em – D – G

 

Outro

G – Em – D – C

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How To Master The Purple Rain Chords

If you’re really after perfection when it comes to this song, practice to a metronome as well as the song itself.

Although there are only four of them, getting the Purple Rain chords tight in the pocket along with the song itself is really what we’re after.

R.I.P. Prince – Thank you for everything you gave us.

Recommended Resources

If you enjoyed this lesson on how to master Prince’s Purple Rain chords, we’ve got more song lessons for you below:

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