Acoustic Classic: Richard Thompson’s “She Twists the Knife Again”

The transcription here, which captures the song note for note, comes from 'Acoustic Classics II' (2017).

As AG contributing writer Mac Randall observes in his Richard Thompson lesson feature in the July/August 2019 issue, the British guitarist sounds explosive when playing the electric guitar. Throughout his long career, Thompson has managed to harness that same high energy on the steel-string, as is perhaps best witnessed on a recent series of all-acoustic recordings featuring new arrangements of several dozen old songs.

The transcription here, which captures “She Twists the Knife Again” note for note, comes from Acoustic Classics II (2017). Thompson first released the song with a full band on his third solo album, 1985’s Across a Crowded Room, and has often revisited it in concert. The 1992 solo acoustic version linked to on AG’s website offers a glimpse of how Thompson’s songs tend to morph in performance.


In terms of lyrical content, “She Twists the Knife Again” deals with an angry lover, and a persecuted one at that. Correspondingly, there’s quite a bit of tension in his guitar parts, both in the picking-hand attack and choice of notes. As he customarily does, Thompson uses hybrid picking—a pick and fingers. This technique is especially effective here, as it allows for an agitated, contrapuntal sound that would be more difficult to achieve with other picking approaches.

The heart of the song is based on one long Em7 (E G B D) chord, which Thompson negotiates with a moving bass line against static chordal accents. To play this part, which first appears in the intro and continues into the verse, keep your third and fourth fingers anchored on strings 2 and 1, respectively, at the third fret. That way you can add the bass notes at the second fret with your first finger. Look out for the temporary position shifts in bars 4 and 6. Be careful not to let those moments disrupt the rhythmic flow. And, as a general rule of thumb, pick the notes on the lower strings with a pick and those on the higher strings with your middle and ring fingers; go for a kind of jittery feeling, which will suit the song.

Thompson’s guitar solo here might only be eight bars long, but it’s dense with athletic activity and requires solid technique in both hands. It’s one of those solos that’s perhaps best to begin learning at a ridiculously slow tempo so you can cleanly articulate all of the slurs (hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides) and rhythmic embellishments.

If you compare any two versions of “She Twists the Knife Again,” you can get a sense of the extent that improvisation features into Thompson’s guitar work. And so, once you’ve learned the piece, it would be a good idea to commit a few of his ideas to memory—a personal favorite is the angular line, harmonized in sevenths, that seems to appear from out of nowhere in bar 36. Combine those ideas with some of your own, whether spontaneous or precomposed, for a fresh rendition of “She Twists the Knife Again.”

Due to copyright restrictions, we are unable to post notation or tablature for this musical work. If you have a digital or physical copy of the July/August 2019 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine, you will find the music on page 54.

Adam Perlmutter
Adam Perlmutter

Adam Perlmutter holds a bachelor of music degree from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and a master's degree in Contemporary Improvisation from the New England Conservatory. He is the editor of Acoustic Guitar.

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