How to Play George Harrison's "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)," Avett Brothers Style
Bring some warmth and light into the picture by learning this old-fashioned strummer with a positive message.
”Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)” is one of George Harrison’s best acoustic strummers and served as the kickoff track to 1973’s Living in the Material World. The single was a chart-topper, but somehow I was only vaguely familiar with it until the Avett Brothers brought it to a modern audience on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
It was Inauguration Day 2017, and the Avetts were savvy to figure Americans would appreciate a good old-fashioned song about peace and love. My wife and I were just lucky enough to be the last in line let into the Ed Sullivan Theater on that freezing afternoon in New York City.
We learned to play and sing the song immediately afterward and continue to whenever we need a lift. With another election season behind us, it seems a good time to share some insights into the track. Hopefully, it will bring you warmth and light during the cold dark winter.
Strumming Pattern And Key Signature
“Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)” is a flexible tune in that it works in all sorts of different acoustic styles – from strumming a dreadnought with a plectrum, as Seth Avett does on his signature Martin D-35, to using a thumb-plus-fingers folk-strumming style on an orchestra model, parlor guitar, or 12-string.
Harrison himself gets a lot of mileage from slight changes in the strum pattern and rhythmic feel, but you can boil what he does down to a simple “down, down-up, up-down-up.”
The song is in the key of F, but the guitar part is based on using an open-D chord shape with a capo applied at the third fret, so I always think of the chords as if they were in the key of D, which is how we’ll treat them here.
A two-bar lead in of Dsus2 to D kicks things off, and then a full introduction heralds the first chord progression, flowing two per measure: D - Dmaj7 – Em7 - A – Gm - A – C - G. It repeats before a second succession of chords follows at a pace of one per measure: D – Dmaj7 – D7 – G7.
Repeat that and play the transition, which consists of a measure of E followed by an odd seven beats of A that sets up the next stanza. I usually round that off to keep it simple.
The fab thing about Harrison’s song arrangement is it can be seen as one long lyrical stanza running over those two progressions, plus that tag. Then the whole thing simply repeats, like a church hymn.
Even the lyrics remain the same, which is why it’s great to sing it as a duet, as the Avett Brothers do. The first singer takes the first stanza, the second singer echoes the same sentiment, they join together in harmony for the third pass, and culminate on a fourth pass with higher intensity and rhythmic flares, and by extending the meter of the last four chords in first progression to a full measure each: Gm – A – C – G.
The vocal is in a common range and sung plaintively, so the average singer shouldn’t have to work hard to get this one across. Anyone with a significantly higher or lower vocal range can simply move the capo up or down a fret or three.
Getting fancy with embellishment can easily detract from the direct lyrical message, so take it easy. If a buddy can play electric slide guitar to cover the lyrical leads Harrison places in the second half of the second pass and again at the very end, all the better.
Perform “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)” with and for your family and friends this winter, and they’ll surely appreciate sharing in the love. Let’s all hope, pray, and work to increase peace in 2021!
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Jimmy Leslie has been Frets editor since 2016. See many Guitar Player- and Frets-related videos on his YouTube channel, and learn about his acoustic/electric rock group at spirithustler.com.
By Jimmy Leslie