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Learn the Chords & Riffs to Your Favorite David Bowie Songs on Guitar

Learn the chords and play along with 6 David Bowie guitar tutorials for hit songs like "Rebel Rebel,” Ziggy Stardust” & "Life on Mars.”

David Bowie’s musical career spanned seven decades. While he was a pioneer of the glam rock movement, Bowie made a habit of continuously reinventing himself, which gave him such longevity and marked him as a musical innovator recognized by generations of fans. Bowie’s untimely passing in 2016 and his final album, Blackstar, cemented his legacy as an icon in the realm of rock and pop.

In the early ‘70s, Bowie came up with the Ziggy Stardust persona, rocking outlandish costumes and a spiky flame-colored mullet. His Ziggy Stardust incarnation was inspired by mixing some of his glam and punk influences (like Lou Reed and Iggy Pop) to birth his new altar ego. The release of 1972’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars introduced the world to the androgynous alien being -- arguably Bowie’s greatest creation. Most notably, Bowie’s musical partnership with guitarist Mick Ronson sparked several hit songs, including “Starman,” “Moonage Daydream,” “Suffragette City,” “Rock n’ Roll Suicide” and (of course) “Ziggy Stardust.”

Two years later, Bowie released Diamond Dogs, which would end his glam rock period, baking in elements of soul and R&B into electrified guitar rock. “Rebel, Rebel” was one of the hits that stemmed from this album “and was possibly his most covered song, no doubt in part to its classic riff,” as noted by Fender Play Live host, guitarist Eugene Edwards.

Want to learn to play some of David Bowie’s biggest hits yourself? A free trial of Fender Play unlocks lessons that will show you the chords and riffs for some of The Thin White Duke’s most popular songs along with even more video lessons.

In this article, we’ll give you the chords and some tricks to learn to play some of David Bowie's biggest hits:

• Rebel Rebel
• Ziggy Stardust
• Life on Mars
• Starman
• Moonage Daydream
• The Man Who Sold the World

How to Learn David Bowie Songs on Guitar

Fender Play offers a collection of David Bowie guitar tutorials to show you how to play some of his best-known songs. A free trial unlocks in-depth lessons that teach you how to play chords and riffs on such songs as “Rebel Rebel” “Ziggy Stardust,” and “Life On Mars.” These songs are great for guitarists at all levels -- from beginners to advanced players. Even though some of the song tutorials require a more advanced knowledge of chords, Fender Play breaks down the songs into bite-sized segments, allowing even beginner guitarists to start slow and learn David Bowie songs at their own pace.

Before you start learning songs, make sure you learn the most common chords used in David Bowie’s songs. Start practicing some of the following chords to easily transition from one chord to the next:

Cm7
D7
E
F
Fm
Gm
Ab
Bm

Rebel Rebel Guitar Chords and Riffs

David Bowie’s song “Rebel Rebel” is one of his biggest and most memorable hits. Recorded in 1974, the song appeared on the album Diamond Dogs and has been covered by artists such as Joan Jett, Def Leppard, Tegan & Sara, and Cheap Trick. What a lot of fans don’t often realize is that Bowie himself played the iconic riff, with longtime guitarist Mick Ronson having exited the band. “Rebel Rebel” is the apex of Bowie’s punk and glam period -- backed with a bit of soul influence and a hint of Rolling Stones swagger.

To get that signature sound on “Rebel Rebel,” you’ll need to crank your amp all the way up, layered with some overdrive and reverb. While you can certainly tinker with your own amp and settings, Fender’s Mustang GT Heroes Bowie 4 Strat preset allows you to crib David Bowie’s signature guitar sound with minimal fuss. The preset weaves together sustain, overdrive, and a ‘65 twin reverb and delay -- heavy on the volume and with a ton of gain on the overdrive.

Played in the key of D major, the riff is played over the D and E chords, seamlessly transitioning between chords before switching to the A chord, that can be heard on the chorus. In playing the riff itself, pull-offs and string muting also lend a dramatic effect.

When playing the chorus and the pre-chorus on “Rebel Rebel,” the A major chord is used to maximum effect. The chord is played across all six strings instead of a sustained or power chord version that only uses two strings. Bending the G note (on the high E string) really packs an unexpected and punk feel to a composition that really feels almost classically influenced.

Difficulty: Advanced

E
D
A
Bm

Check out the Fender Play Live Crash Course below for an in-depth breakdown of David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel.”

Embedded content: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ewi6rnUWfuY

Learn to play the chords to “Rebel Rebel” on guitar.

Want more of a challenge, unlock the full “Rebel Rebel” lesson -- complete with chords, riffs, and more -- with a free trial of Fender Play.



Ziggy Stardust Guitar Chords and Riffs

“Ziggy Stardust,” off the 1972 concept album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars, is a third-person introduction to the glam rock alien persona of David Bowie. It tells the story of an extraterrestrial messenger who is far more human at heart and subject to the trappings of rock n’ roll.

The song uses a variety of chords, with a simple chord progression between G to D to C, then weaving in an arpeggio that breaks down the chords into their respective notes. As a result, it creates one of the most iconic riffs in rock n’ roll history that sounds almost like a glam rock harpsichord. Percussive strumming is another technique that lends punch to the song, giving beginner guitarists room to grow.

Difficulty: Advanced

Here is a list of some of the chords used in this song:

G5
D
Cadd9
C
G5
Bm

Check out Fender Play Live’s look at “Ziggy Stardust,” as played by Andrew Martin of Moon Honey.

Embedded content: https://youtu.be/5y5Nc8wQ4DE?t=203

Then, learn to play “Ziggy Stardust” by David Bowie on guitar with a free trial of Fender Play.

Life on Mars Guitar Chords

David Bowie’s “Life on Mars” incorporates over 10 different chords and chord variations, making it a challenge for even seasoned guitarists. This pensive -- and surreal -- sounding song was featured on Bowie’s 1971 album, Hunky Dory.

Beginner guitarists may want to look to first mastering the cluster of chords heard on the verse of the song, then, refining their alternate strumming technique before working their way up to different chord tempos (half note, quarter note, and eighth note strumming). More advanced guitarists can level up with advanced chord voicings, combining different chords to create new sounds.

Difficulty: Advanced

Here is a list of some of the chords used in this song:

Am
Bb
C7
D7
F
Fm
Gm

Learn to play David Bowie’s “Life on Mars” on guitar.

Starman Guitar Chords

Another ethereal-sounding Bowie track, “Starman” weaves together a tapestry of chords made even more interesting by leveraging techniques such as percussive strumming, syncopated picking, and string bending.

“Starman” takes guitarists through multiple movements -- some chord-driven, others punctuated with soulful string bends. In a Fender Play Live look at “Starman,” guitarist Andrew Mooney and host Scott Goldbaum discuss how beautiful and dissonant some of the chords sound -- as if they were played almost by mistake. While learning advanced songs like “Starman” can make you want to strive for perfection, the guitarists remind us that sometimes leaning into a mistake can create a really memorable musical moment.

Difficulty: Advanced

Here is a list of some of the chords used in this song:

F
C
Dm
Am
Ab
Bb

Check out the clip from Fender Play Live’s look at the Sound of Ziggy Stardust to get tips on how to play “Starman.”

Embedded content: https://youtu.be/5y5Nc8wQ4DE?t=1155

Ready to dive a little deeper? Sign up for a free trial of Fender play to learn David Bowie’s “Starman” on guitar.

Moonage Daydream Guitar Chords

Another track from Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars, you can hear the cohesive musical and chord threads heard on some of the other songs on this “rock opera” concept album.

Long, sustained notes on the solo make “Moonage Daydream” accessible for even beginners to learn, despite the plethora of chords populating this track. Techniques such as vibrato and sustain can really go a long way toward bending and shaping single notes into a memorable guitar solo -- a valuable technique for guitarists of all levels to learn from Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream.” Alternate strumming and string muting also come into play on this track, making it a fun one to play.

Difficulty: Advanced

Here is a list of some of the chords used in this song:

Bm
A
E
G
D

Hear Scott Goldbaum and Andrew Martin duet on a version of “Moonage Daydream” on the Bowie-focused episode of Fender Play Live.

Embedded content: https://youtu.be/5y5Nc8wQ4DE?t=895

Sign up for a free trial of Fender Play to unlock a tutorial to play David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream” on guitar.

The Man Who Sold the World Guitar Chords

David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World” is a slow, moody, and atmospheric track from Bowie’s album of the same name. It was famously covered by Nirvana on the group’s MTV Unplugged special, recorded in 1993 and released a few months after singer / guitarist Kurt Cobain’s death.

Suitable for intermediate guitar players, but a fun and rewarding challenge for beginners, “The Man Who Sold the World” introduces a handful of chords, but amps up the drama with different strumming techniques. Syncopated strumming, alternate strumming and picking, and 8th note strumming create the winding swirl of chord progressions that make this a favorite among Bowie fans.

Difficulty: Intermediate

Here is a list of the chords used in this song:

A
Dm
F
C
C#

Learn to play “The Man Who Sold the World” by David Bowie on guitar.

Advice for Playing David Bowie Songs

David Bowie’s chameleon-like nature is evident on all of his songs, giving guitarists of all levels something to learn and grow within their own playing.

Here’s some “homework” from Fender Play LIVE’s session to help you progress:

Beginner guitarists: Practice strumming the chords to “Ziggy Stardust” (G, D, and C) and get used to quickly transitioning between chords. You can also practice switching between the D to E chords on “Rebel Rebel,” using quarter note strumming.

Intermediate guitarists: Play the riff to “Ziggy Stardust” at full speed. Concentrate on how the chords and single notes work together to create a memorable riff. You can also try your hand at practicing the main riff to “Rebel Rebel.”

Advanced guitarists: Try playing the full “Rebel Rebel” song at the correct tempo, from start to finish. Review the free “Rebel Rebel” Crash Course song video and then use Fender Play to get tips on how to break down the full “Rebel Rebel” song even further, taking you through the song’s tone, as well as how to play the intro, verse, and chorus -- complete with guitar tabs and chord charts.

Check out David Bowie Fender Play Guitar Lessons

Learning to play songs by one of your favorite artists helps to not only give you a greater appreciation of their musicianship and the style they use to make those songs so memorable, but it’s fun, too. Be patient as you learn to play. Everyone was a beginner once. Try your hand at these David Bowie song tutorials and unlock a full library of songs and lessons with a free trial of Fender Play today.