Riptide Chords – How To Play Vance Joy’s Hit Song

Vance Joy’s Riptide chords are easy to play & even easier to memorize – let’s jam!

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In this free lesson you will learn…

  • How to play Vance Joy’s ‘Riptide’
  • Reduced versions of chords for beginners
  • How to memorize the rhythm to this song
  • A breakdown of each section of the song

Vance Joy’s Riptide Chords Were Made For Strumming!

Some songs are better than others at teaching us the skills we need to get good at maintaining rhythm on the guitar.

As much as we love Rush and deeply mourn the recent passing of their brilliant drummer and lyricist, Neil Peart, their progressive rock catalog just doesn’t have a lot in it for those of us who are working on the strumming basics.

Safe travels, Neil, and thanks for the music. RIP.

The most fundamental and intuitive way to learn to strum, or to refine your strumming skills, is by learning the rhythms of songs that are “in four,” meaning the groove of the song can be divided into measures of four beats each.


Although progressive rock doesn’t have much to offer us as developing rhythm guitarists because of the changing and uncommon meters, popular music has plenty for us to work with.

Vance Joy’s Riptide is just about perfect in this regard.

  • It’s got just four easy chords, it’s in four-four time, and there are a few different rhythms that we can try.
  • In this lesson, we’ll go over the basic stepping-stone shapes for the Riptide chords so that you absolute beginners on the guitar can work with this song.
  • We’ll also give you the full chord shapes.
  • Riptide is not just a catchy and fun song to play and sing – it’s also a great exercise in strumming for beginning and intermediate players.


Riptide Chords: The Background

Vance Joy has an interesting story.

For example, that’s not his birth name. He got it from the novel Bliss by Peter Carey, in which one of the characters is named Vance Joy.

Many songwriters will tell you that a career in music is so precarious that if they could, they would have chosen something else.

This is not true in Joy’s case.

  • He grew up and went to school in Melbourne, Australia, getting a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Laws.
  • He went on to play semi-professional football for a few years before embarking on his music career in earnest. A real renaissance man!
  • Riptide was a single from his first EP, released in 2013.


Riptide was written in segments at different times, which is a very common songwriting practice.

  • Joy wrote the chords and first couple of lyrics in 2008, and there it lay for four years.
  • In preparing his first EP in 2012, he was writing a song that reminded him of his old snippet, and he put them together and made Riptide happen.
  • Riptide hit the charts in April 2013 and became a worldwide hit.
  • Joy has put out two albums since, and Riptide appears on his debut album, 2014’s Dream Your Life Away.

The song has an incredibly happy and hooky chorus. With just four Riptide chords to learn, you’re ready to dig in and learn to play it no matter how long you’ve been playing the guitar!


Riptide Chords: An Easy Progression To Memorize

Apart from being a lovely song to sing, Riptide is simple and satisfying to play on guitar.

The Riptide chords go around in a cycle, and there are only three of them for most of the song.

The melody changes between the verse and the chorus, so it may not be obvious that the same three chords are cycling in both parts of the song.

The Riptide chords follow this progression, with each chord symbol standing for one four-beat measure:

Am  G C  C

You may or may not already be familiar with those common open chord shapes, and if not, you’ll be able to sort it out very quickly with the guides below.


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Riptide Chords: For Absolute Beginners

Even if this is your first day touching a guitar, you can absolutely play Riptide by the end of this lesson. Each of the Riptide chords has a couple of “stepping-stone” configurations you can use to string the progression together and get through the song.

Let’s take a look at the first chord, A minor. Here are a couple of ways that you can play an approximation of A minor using just two fingers:

Am (x02010)

(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!)

Am (x02200)

Try both of them. The first option is a little bit more “minor-sounding” than the second, but either of them work in the song, and they will get you on your way to playing the full A minor chord.

The second of the Riptide chords, G major, has a couple of very attractive options.

G (320000)

G (xx0003)

The last of the Riptide chords, C major, also has several stepping-stone options for you to experiment with.

C (x32000)

C (xxx010)

The second option is simpler, but hitting extra strings can make it sound a little too similar to whichever Am chord option you’ve selected.

Find the easiest combination of stepping-stone shapes for your Riptide chords and practice changing between them with just one strum each.

It’s a good way to practice chord changes without complicating matters by trying to maintain a rhythm.

Here’s our favorite combination of stepping-stone Riptide chords.

Am (x02010)

G (xx0001)

C (x32000)

Once you’ve worked with your chord shapes, you’re ready to add some rhythm and make your very own arrangement. This song is fun!


Riptide Chords: For Advancing Beginners

The Riptide chords are a perfect start for tackling full open chord shapes.

These shapes are not much more complicated than the stepping-stone shapes you may already be familiar with.

The three main Riptide chords – Am, G, and C – appear together all the time.

  • In practicing this song, you’re also making it easier to learn other songs in the key of G major and C major going forward.
  • The key of a song is the melodic and harmonic (chord) home base of the song.
  • Riptide is in the key of C major, meaning that every other chord in the song leads either away from the C major chord (like Am) or back to the C chord (like G).


The full open chord shapes for the Riptide chords are listed below.

Be conscious of how close together they all are. With practice, this will make it easy for you to switch between these chords with ease!

Am (x02210)

G (320003)

C (x32010)

If you’re finding the G and C chords a little tricky to make or to change back and forth, you are not alone! They are not the easiest chord shapes, particularly C.

But we are here for nothing if not to help. Try this practice technique and we promise it will get easier faster.

  • Make the G chord with your second, third, and fourth fingers so that your third finger is on low E and your second finger is on A. Your fourth finger will balance on the high E.
  • Then try to change to C by jumping your third and second fingers over one string each.


Pro-Tip: Try to make your third finger – the ring finger – the leader in making the G and C chords.

  • Placing your third finger on the appropriate string first positions your other fingers more or less above the strings they’re meant to be on.
  • It takes only a little focused practice on this skill to quickly improve your G and C chords, as well as changing between them!


Riptide Chords: The Bridge

For the bridge, the Riptide chords are almost exactly the same as the ones in the verse and chorus.

A bridge in a song is sometimes called “the middle eight” because it’s a section, usually eight measures long, that breaks up the repetition between the verse and the chorus.

  • In this song, the bridge really isn’t very different at all.
  • If you can play the chords for the main progression, you’ll add just one chord for the bridge.

The progression of Riptide chords for the bridge goes like this:

Am  Am G  G

C  C Fmaj7  Fmaj7

Am  Am G  G

C  C Fmaj7 (hold)

Am  G C (hold)

Am  G C (hold)


The Fmaj7 chord is lovely, changing the sequence of Riptide chords just enough for you to feel a slightly different movement through the progression.

Best of all, the Fmaj7 chord is so closely related to the C chord shape that you may have accidentally played Fmaj7 while looking for C!

Here’s your new best friend, the Fmaj7:

Fmaj7 (xx3210)

To get from C to Fmaj7, you can keep your first finger where it is, on the B string first fret, and just move your second and third fingers over one string apiece.

Pro-Tip: There are many shortcuts to moving through chords with ease.

  • Be aware of the crossover between chords!
  • C major and F major7 share some similarities that make moving between them much easier once you’ve mastered them both.


Riptide Chords: The Rhythm

When we first start learning any song, it’s a good idea to use whole-note strums to get accustomed to the basic rhythm.

That means you’ll play the Riptide chords while counting 1 – 2 – 3 – 4, and only hitting the chord when you say “1”. 1 is called the downbeat.

You might count and strum like this: “Am – 2 – 3 – 4, G – 2 – 3 – 4, C – 2 – 3 – 4, C – 2 – 3 – 4.”

Once you’re comfortable with that, you can keep the beat by using quarter-note strums, which is where you strum on every count.

With a steady rhythm, strum Am – Am – Am – Am, G – G – G – G, C – C – C – C, C – C – C – C.


If you can maintain the steady quarter-note strum while changing chords at least 80 percent of the time, you’re ready to add one or more strumming patterns to your Riptide chords.

There are only two hard-and-fast rules for strumming patterns: keep the steady down-up hand motion going and be sure to keep track of the count so you don’t drop or add counts.

Joy uses the simplest pattern in parts of the song, a constant eighth-note strum. It goes like this:

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

The next two suggestions are nearly identical and can be interchanged:

Down, down, down-up, down-up

Down, down, -up, down-up

If you feel like stepping things up a bit, you can try the calypso strum:

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


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Riptide Chords: The Instrumental Break

Between the second chorus and the bridge, there’s a nice four-measure instrumental break.

The break is completely optional, but it’s an effective departure from the repeated Riptide chords before going into the bridge.

Instrumental breaks give us an opportunity to wrap our heads around riffs and progressions without the overlaying vocal track, so always take advatnage where you can.

You can play along using the C major chord shape.

Riptide Chords: Putting It All Together

If you’ve tried to play the Riptide chords along with the recording, you may have noticed that it doesn’t sound the same. Joy is using a capo on the first fret.

Put your capo on the first fret to sing and play along with Joy. If you’re not so experienced with a capo, there are only two things that you need to know:

  1. When we say “on” the first fret, we really mean between the nut and the first fret, but closer to the first fret.
  2. Make sure the capo is parallel to the fret. A crooked capo can trick your ear into thinking that your guitar is out of tune when it isn’t.

Joy’s arrangement of Riptide makes optimal use of that catchy chorus, which is an ideal feature if you find yourself in a jamming and singalong situation.

Here is a summary of the song structure. Because the Riptide chords are a cycle, it’s easy to mix and restructure verses and choruses if you like.

Intro x2

Verse x4

Yodeling x2

Chorus x4




Instrumental Break


Quiet Chorus

Louder Chorus

Another Chorus

Click here for a full chart of Riptide chords and lyrics.

Get Thee To A Jam Session!

Riptide is just too much fun to keep to yourself.

Take this song and whatever else you’ve learned to your local open mic or jam session and share it with the people.

You will improve at playing and singing faster in a group than you will by yourself!

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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