In this lesson I’m going to teach you how to play Heart of Gold, Neil Young’s most famous harmonica song. Here we go…

Why Every Harmonica Player Should Learn Heart of Gold

Not only will this lesson give you the ability to play along with the Heart of Gold recording, a jam track, or best of all with other musicians who are playing it, it will also give you a great framework for being able to make up your own folk-style 1st position harmonica solos on many other songs you may want to play, cos you’ll really be able to put your heart into it. 😉

Which Harmonica to Use?

The original Heart of Gold recording is in the key of G, played by Neil Young on a 10-hole diatonic harmonica in the key of G in 1st position, and in my opinion, this is some high quality folk style harmonica playing. The melodies and rhythms that Neil Young plays here are more evocative and exciting than anything Bob Dylayn ever played on harmonica, for example, in my humble opinion.

In the video lesson below, I’m going to teach you “Heart of Gold” a C harmonica because C is the best key harmonica for beginners to start with, and many beginner harmonica players don’t own a G harmonica.

The G harmonica is a much lower tuning than the C harmonica, and so it produces a timbre that sounds less “screechy.” If you want to be able to play along with original recording or with other musicians who are performing the song in the record key, you’ll need to pick up a G harmonica. And,  if you do, you’ll probably agree with the prevailing opinion that it has a “sweeter” sound to it. 

You can hear the difference here:

Neil Young recorded Heart of Gold in 1971, and in 1972 it went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, becoming Young’s first and only #1 hit.

Fun Facts

The background vocals that come in around 2:30 were sung by James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt. Taylor, Ronstadt, and Young had all traveled to Nashville to perform on the Johnny Cash Show. Neil Young recorded “Heart of Gold” in a Nashville studio on Saturday, February 6th, and then invited James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt to sing on it on Sunday the 7th, in a session that Rondstadt said was fun but challenging, and lasted until dawn of the next morning.

Listen to drummer Kenny Buttrey’s performance on the track and notice that he doesn’t keep time a hi-hat or any cymbal the way a drummer typically would, except for briefly in the 1st verse from :35-:51 and in the 2nd verse from 1:35-1:53, and on the very last note of the song. In an interview with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Neil Young said “Heart of Gold” wouldn’t have been a hit without drummer Kenny Buttrey.

Bob Dylan knew that Neil Young was a fan of his, but felt that Heart of Gold went too far in its emulation of Dylan’s style. As quoted in Neil Young: Long May You Run: The Illustrated History, Dylan complained, “I used to hate it when it came on the radio. I always liked Neil Young, but it bothered me every time I listened to “Heart of Gold.” I’d say, that’s me. If it sounds like me, it should as well be me.”

The record this song was on, Harvest, also went to #1 in April 1972, making it the first time a Canadian had a #1 record in America.

What About the Cool Solos?

I got you covered!

Neil Young plays 3 Harmonica solo’s on the recording, one during the intro at :12, one after the first solo at 1:12, and the final one after the second chorus at 2:13. All of the solos have a similar feel and emotion to them. I don’t think it’s necessarily important to learn all 3 solos, but I decided to make this lesson comprehensive with note-for-note transcriptions of each solo, for anyone who’s interested.

If you’re a beginner, you may want to start with the 2nd solo. In the 1st and 3rd solos, Neil Young bends some of the notes. If you haven’t started the journey of learning how to bend notes on the harmonica, you can still play these solos without bends, and sound good, or if you’re ready to learn how to bend, check out my lesson How to Bend Harmonica for Beginners.

After demonstrating the solos, I’ll also show you how to play the melody that Neil Young sings in this song, in a fun and easy way that’s suitable for beginners.

First Solo

4 5 6 -5 5 -4’ -4 4 23

6 7 -6 6 -6’ -6 6 5

34 34 34 45 45 45 56 56 56 -45 45 34

Second Solo

(4 5) 6 6 -5 5 -45 45 34

67 78 -56 56 -56 56 -56 56 45

67 67 56 56 45 45 34 34 -23 34 -34 45 -45 56 45 -34 34

Having a killer sense of rhythm separates the pros from the hacks. If you’re struggling with the rhythm of this solo, and you really want to be able to nail it, I have 2 lessons devoted to this solo in my Beginner to Boss course. 

Third Solo

67 67 7 -6 6  7 -6 6 -6’-6 -6’-6 6 4

56 56 56 56 56 34 56 34 -23 -34 45 -45 45 45 45 45

7 (-6) 6 7 6 -6 6 -6’ -6 6 5 (-4 4)

Sung Melody (Easy) Tabs

Even though these harmonica tabs are titled “Easy” they are not without challenges. Namely, skipping over a hole and changing air direction at the same time. This happens jumping from the 4 up to the -6, and then jumping from the 6 down to the -4. These are the most challenging parts of playing these tabs for the melody that Neil Young sings in Heart of Gold.

INTRO

4  4   4   -6   6  6   -4  5
I want to live, I want to give
 4    4   4 -6-6  -6 -6  6    -4  5
I’ve been a miner for a heart of gold
 4     4   4  -6  -6    6 6 -4   5
It’s these expressions, I never give
-4    5   -4  5  -4     4 -4  5    -6 6 5
That keep me searchin’ for a heart of gold
 3   3   4  4    4
And I’m gettin’ old
 5   5   5   -4    4 -4  5    -6 6 5
Keep me searchin’ for a heart of gold 
 3   3   4  4    4
And I’m gettin’ old

 4    4   4  -6 -6 -6
I’ve been to Hollywood
 6    6   -4  5  5
I’ve been to Redwood
4    4     4  -6-6  -6 -6  6    -4  5
I crossed the ocean for a heart of gold
 4    4   4  -6  -6
I’ve been in my mind
 6    6  -4  5    5
It’s such a fine line
-4    5    5   5  -4     4 -4   5   -6 6 5
That keeps me searchin’ for a heart of gold
 3   3   4  4    4
And I’m gettin’ old
 5    5   5  -4    4 -4   5   -6 6 5
Keeps me searchin’ for a heart of gold
 3   3   4  4    4
And I’m gettin’ old

  5  5   5   5     5  5  -4   -3  3
Keep me searchin’ for a heart of gold
 3    3   3 3  3   3  3  -4   -4  4
I’ve been a miner for a heart of gold
 4   4   4   4     4  4  -4   -2  3
Keep me searchin’ for a heart of gold
 3   5   5   5   5    -4  5  -6   6  -4 5
You keep me searchin’ for a heart of gold

And that brings us to the end of the harmonica lesson for “Heart of Gold” by Neil Young. If you need a fast track for learning harmonica, consider checking out my Beginner to Boss course. Please leave any questions or comments below. Keep on playing the harmonica, and making the world a better place.

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