Tom Petty Breakdown Chords – How To Play This Classic by Tom Petty

The Tom Petty Breakdown chords are easy to play and a great lesson in ear training – let’s explore!

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In this free lesson you will learn…

  • How to play “Breakdown” by Tom Petty
  • Four unique chord shapes
  • Tips for hearing chords easier
  • How to navigate the Major 7 Sus 2 chord with ease
  • An easy approach to the F Major 7 chord

Let’s Learn To Play The Tom Petty Breakdown Chords

Tom Petty was a professional when it came to playing guitar, singing and writing hit songs that would take him and his band all over the globe.

The proof is in his lengthy discography of toe-tapping tunes that make you want to dance with someone you love.

Petty was a master of taking just a few chords and putting them together for a masterful groove that anyone and everyone would want to learn how to play.

That’s exactly what we’re going to do in today’s lesson, where we explore the Tom Petty Breakdown chords in full.

Tom-Petty-Breakdown-chords

This song is a great example of simplicity in songwriting, with only three chord progressions to learn and four chords altogether.

Tom Petty’s songs are by no means technical to learn, but they do prove that simplicity makes for very catchy tunes.

We’re going to look at a bit of history behind this tune, study the Tom Petty Breakdown chords and learn a new chord type in the process.

Ready to get into it?

Grab your guitar and let’s jump in.

Tom-Petty-Breakdown-chords

A Brief History Of The Song

“Breakdown” became a Top 40 hit in the US and Canada when it was released in 1976.

This tune can be heard on Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ self-titled debut album.

This album propelled The Heartbreakers forward at an alarming rate, earning the ears (and hearts) of listeners in no time.

It wouldn’t be long after this that The Heartbreakers and the Tom Petty Breakdown chords would be all over the airwaves in the homes of millions of listeners.

The best part? They’d stay there, indefinitely.

Next, let’s start taking a look up-close at the Tom Petty Breakdown chords to see what we’re working with.

Tom-Petty-Breakdown-chords

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Taking A Closer Look At The Tom Petty Breakdown Chords

We’re only dealing with four chords in this tune, but we’re going to need to pay close attention to their placement to really hit the nail on the head.

Like many tunes by this band, the Tom Petty Breakdown chords are simple and minimal for the most part.

Petty did a great job of keeping his songwriting simple to allow for a huge sound on the part of the band.

Here are the four chords you’ll need for this classic tune:

A Minor // G Major // Fmaj7 // Fmaj7sus2

Let’s crack open these Tom Petty Breakdown chords below for a better understanding.

Tom-Petty-Breakdown-chords

The A minor chord is familiar to us all.

We’re going to use our index finger on the first fret of the B string while keeping the high E string open.

From there, we’ll stack our middle and ring fingers at the second fret of the G and D strings, and strum from the open A string below. Leave the low E string out of the equation for this one.

The G major chord is much the same – familiar and easy-to-play.

Start with your middle finger on the low E string at the third fret and stack the index finger above on the second fret of the A string.

Leave the D and G strings open and stack your ring and pinky fingers at the third fret of the B and high E strings.

A MINOR

Learn the 12 EASIEST beginner chords with our famous FREE guide

  Stop struggling. Start making music.

  Learn 12 beginner-friendly versions of every chord.

  This is our most popular guide and it will improve your chord ability quickly.

Pro Tip: In the next section, we’re going to explore major 7 chords and the colour that they bring to the table.

You might find that the Fmaj7sus2 chord looks like another one of the Tom Petty Breakdown chords you may have already played, so keep an eye out!

G MAJOR

Tom Petty Breakdown Chords I: Learning About Major 7 Chords

Major 7 chords are a bit of a departure from our standard major chords, so let’s talk about them before we learn the next two Tom Petty Breakdown chords in this song.

Where major chords have three notes, major 7 chords have four.

This extra note is known as the “major 7th interval.”

Due to the note being so close to the root note of the scale (in this case, F), we don’t typically want to play these notes close to each other as they can cause dissonance.

We’ll see how this note is spaced apart from the root in the chord box below.

You’ll find the root note on the D string, and the major 7 note (E) on the high E string.

F MAJOR 7

The Fmaj7 and Fmaj7sus2 chords are where things get interesting.

We could play these Tom Petty Breakdown chords as barre chords, but we actually don’t have to!

Here’s why:

Both of these chords contain four notes, so we only technically need to play these notes once in order to complete the chord – that means we only need four strings.

For the Fmaj7 chord: put your ring finger at the third fret of the D string, your middle at the second fret of the G string and your index finger at the first fret of the B string. Leave the high E string open and strum from the D string.

Scroll down to crack into sus2 chords and find out how to play the final piece of these Tom Petty Breakdown chords.

Tom Petty Breakdown Chords II: Learning About Sus Chords

Suspended chords do exactly what they say they do – they suspend a specific note in a chord to create tension.

Suspended chords are created by swapping the 3rd interval in a major chord for either the 2nd interval (sus2) or the 4th interval (sus4) of the major scale.

These chords have a great place amongst the Tom Petty Breakdown chords because they break up the static sounds of the other more neutral-sounding chords of the song.

Let’s look at how to play the Fmaj7sus2 chord below.

FMAJ7SUS2

For the Fmaj7sus2 chord, simply remove your middle finger from the previous chord and play the G string open, then listen to what the chord does to the Fmaj7 sound.

You’ll notice a bit of tension that’s been created from moving your middle finger – this is what suspended chords do.

Static, unmoving chords are great, but the Tom Petty Breakdown chords definitely need some push-and-pull to round out the sound of the song.

These chord types give us the tension we need to “release” back to the Fmaj7 chord itself, providing a nice “breath” in the chord progression.

So now that we’ve mastered the four Tom Petty Breakdown chords we need, let’s look at the progressions and how we’ll use them in context.

Tom Petty Breakdown Chords III: The Progressions

This song does a great job of making us focus on just a few chords and really work out how to transition between them efficiently.

The first thing that your ears will pick up on is the movement between A minor and G major.

You’re going to be playing these two chords through the intro and verse up until “I get the feeling you won’t,” where we see the next two Tom Petty Breakdown chords introduced.

Pro Tip: Listen for the back and forth movement between the A minor and G major chords as well as between the F major 7 and Fmaj7sus2 chords.

Understanding this movement principle is all you need to make these Tom Petty Breakdown chords work for you.

Breakdown-guitar-chords

At the end of the verse when we switch to the two F chords, make sure to simply remove your middle finger from the Fmaj7 chord to create the Fmaj7sus2 chord.

This will allow for a smooth transition between both chords, allowing you to hit the changes easily along with the song recording.

At its core, this song is simply an exercise in transitioning between two different chord sets, so practice moving between them for the best results.

The chorus section isn’t much different, but we incorporate the F major 7 chord a bit more than in the verse.

Check out the lyrics below to see the exact placement of the chords for the chorus, as they’re a bit more specific than the verse.

Tom-Petty-Breakdown-guitar-chords

Chorus section:

Am    G       Fmaj7            G

Breakdown go ahead and give it to me

 

Am    G                  Fmaj7                       G

Breakdown honey, take me through the night

 

Am    G                    Fmaj7              G

Breakdown now I’m standing here, can you see

 

Am    G              Fmaj7  Fmaj7sus2  Fmaj7

Breakdown it’s alright…

 

Fmaj7  Fmaj7sus2  Fmaj7

…it’s alright,

 

Am     G

…it’s alright.

Pro Tip: See how the F major 7 chord is tacked on into the middle of the chorus progression to lengthen it?

This provides more melodic emphasis on the end section of the chorus, where we once again hone in on the play between the Fmaj7 and Fmaj7sus2 chords.

So now that we’ve sorted out the order of these Tom Petty Breakdown chords, how do we approach strumming them?

Tom-Petty-Breakdown-chords-lesson

Tom Petty Breakdown Chords IV: The Strumming Pattern

Here’s the funny thing about this song: There really isn’t much of an active ‘strumming pattern’ like there is in other tunes.

So, what do we do? Why, we listen of course!

The guitar serves very much as an auxiliary instrument to the keys and vocals in this song, so it’s important to learn how to count beats in order to place the guitar where it should be.

Let’s start by counting eighth notes (1 – & – 2 – & – 3 – & – 4 – & -” through the verse and chorus, and we’ll find something interesting:

Tom-Petty-Breakdown-chords-tutorial

The guitar is palm muted and plays A minor on the “1,” and G major on the “&” of “2.” The keys take care of the rest of each barre until the F chord.

The F major 7 chord progression starts on the “1” as well.

With this in mind, there is less of a strumming pattern in this song and more of a “chord placement” pattern instead.

Pro Tip: The Tom Petty Breakdown chords are fantastic for beginner guitarists who are looking to learn how to play a bit more minimally in order to support other instruments in a band (a valuable and worthwhile skill for all to learn, we might add.)

Let’s finally put the pieces of this song together and review the chord progressions altogether before we get to some practice tips.

Tom-Petty-Breakdown-guitar-lesson

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.

Tom Petty Breakdown Chords V: Putting The Pieces Together

If you’ve made it this far, congrats! You’re ready to finalize everything you’ve learned so far and play it back.

One of the best things about the Tom Petty Breakdown chords is that they help us train our ears to hear certain chord changes. After you’re through with this song, you’ll definitely have a better awareness of the F major 7 chord and its sound.

Below, we’re going to list the sections of the song in order.

Be sure to lean in on those A minor and G major Tom Petty Breakdown chords!

Tom-Petty-Breakdown-chords

Song sections (in order):

Intro (Am & Gmaj)

Verse 1 (Fmaj7 & Fmaj7sus2 at end of “I get the feeling you won’t”)

Verse 2 (same as above)

Chorus

Instrumental (Am & Gmaj x10 – end with Fmaj7)

Chorus

Outro (Am & Gmaj only)

Pro Tip: You might find that hearing your way through the song is a bit difficult due to the guitar and keyboard playing different parts of the same chord.

This is common for beginner guitarists, and that’s why it’s so important that we learn to count our way through the songs we learn.

This way, we can accurately place where we should place our instrument in an arrangement.

Your ears are your best friends as a guitarist!

Finally, let’s look at some tips for better and more effective guitar practice beyond these Tom Petty Breakdown chords.

Free-guitar-lesson

Tips For Better Practice

Now that you’ve conquered your way through the Tom Petty Breakdown chords, the only thing left to do is practice your way to perfection.

Here are a few tips and resources to help you out:

  • Use a metronome to help you count your way through a chord progression. Metronomes may seem like annoying instruments at first, but they can help you improve your musical timing in a huge way. Click here for a free metronome.
  • If you want a closer look at the Tom Petty Breakdown chords, click here for a chord chart from Ultimate Guitar.
  • Use arpeggios to help you sound out difficult chords that you’re just beginning to explore, like the F major 7 chord. 

Recommended Resources

If you loved this lesson on how to play “Breakdown” by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, you’re going to enjoy these other lessons we have for you below:

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