Under My Thumb, by The Rolling Stones – How to Play

under my ThumbThe Rolling Stones' Under My Thumb — a song that is really just Verse and Chorus sections that repeat — is pretty learner-friendly, so give it a try.

Under My Thumb, written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards for the 1966 record Aftermath, was the first to be recorded in the United States and is notable for the instruments not usually associated with the Rolling Stones, such as the Marimba. Bill Wyman uses (most likely) a Maestro Fuzz pedal on the Bass guitar for this song.

Key and Scale

Under My Thumb is played in the key of F# Aeolian, which is a Minor mode of the A Major Scale. This is also the scale from which the F# Minor Pentatonic and the F# Blues scales are derived.

F# Aeolian = F# G# A B C# D E
A Major = A B C# D E F# G#
F# Minor Pentatonic = F# A B C# E
F# Blues = F# A B C C# E

Under My Thumb: Song Parts and Analysis

Song Parts and Analysis

This song is really just Verse and Chorus sections that repeat. The Marimba, played by the late Brian Jones, is one of the main melody instruments, and Bill Wyman’s relentless Bassline is especially noteworthy, driving the song without taking it over.


The first eight bars of Under My Thumb are the Intro, and it is actually just four bars that repeat. The Marimba can be prominently heard along with the Bass, the Guitar accenting the rhythm with quick, short, blasts. (Fig 1)

Figure – 1

Let’s take another look at those chords. (Fig 2)

Figure – 2

We can see from the figure above that we are using three Triad chords high up on the neck. We are starting with an F# Minor chord followed by an E Major and then finally a D Major chord for two measures.


The Intro of Under My Thumb is followed immediately by the Verse. The Verse is also eight bars long and it uses the same chord progression of F# Minor – E Major – D Major that the Intro uses, but it adds a Rhythm Guitar to strum chords and fill out the sound. The strumming pattern used here is just a guide. (Fig 3)

Figure – 3

Let’s take another look at those chords. (Fig 4)

Figure – 4

We can see that we are using the same chords that we do in the Intro but now we are playing full chords lower on the neck for a bigger and fuller sound.

Something that is interesting to take note of is that both the Marimba and the Bass Guitar play several G notes over the D Major chord. The F# Aeolian (A Major) does not contain a G note, but “flatting the 7th” of a Major scale is often seen as “legal.” In our case, the 7th of A Major is G#, and we can flatten it to a G. In practice, this is often done to allow us to play a G chord in the A Major scale. Otherwise, we would be stuck with a G# Diminished chord in that position.


The next part that we will look at is the Chorus. The Chorus is a 10 bar section of music. The first five bars look like this. (Fig 5)

Figure – 5

Let’s take another look at those chords. (Fig 6)

Figure – 6

The first chord is an A Major and it is played for two bars before it is followed by a D Major. The next chord is a B Major and it contains the only note that is “outside” the scale of F# Aeolian: the D#. The final chord in this set is an F# Minor.

The next five bars look like this. (Fig 7)

Figure – 7

This section uses only one new chord, but let’s take a look at them anyway. (Fig 8)

Figure – 8

The new chord (in this section) is the E Major, which is followed by a D Major after only half a bar. The next four bars are an A Major chord which sets up the return to the Verse.

There are no surprise notes to worry about in this section; all notes are in the F# Aeolian scale. This section represents the Turnaround and it is a V – I (5-1) progression with a passing IV (4) chord.

I = A Major
IV = D Major
V = E Major

Guitar Solo and Analysis

The Guitar Solo of Under My Thumb is very laid back as far as guitar solos go, but it accents the song perfectly and has a very Bluesy feel to it. The same can be said for all of the Lead Guitar playing on this song. The Solo sticks to the F# Minor Pentatonic scale. The lead guitar for the rest of the song also uses the F# Pentatonic in the second position but gets many notes from the 5th position A Blues scale as well. (Fig 9)

Figure – 9

Song Form and Structure

Once you have each of these parts worked out you are ready to play the whole song.

A = Intro
B = Verse
C = Chorus

The song goes

There are four Verses and the Guitar Solo is played over the same chords as the Verse, after the 3rd Verse. Remember that the song ends on the Chorus and then repeats the last two bars as the song fades.


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