John Denver’s Neat Trick on “Rocky Mountain High”

This folk-rock gem became the official state song of Colorado in 2007.

Colorado has inspired a good number of songs, but few are as evocative of the Centennial State and its majestic elevations as John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High.” This folk-rock gem, which Denver co-wrote with the singer/songwriter and guitarist Mike Taylor (who also performed on the original 1972 recording), spent years as an unofficial anthem for Colorado before becoming the official state song in 2007. 

Denver played “Rocky Mountain High” in dropped-D tuning (from standard, the low E string tuned down a step, to D) in the key of D major, with a second-fret capo transposing the song to E. He started the song with an interesting riff, shown below in notation, in which he decorated chord shapes with single-note embellishments. This figure also occurs in the verses. If you use the indicated fingering for the D chord, then you’ll need to hammer on the notes at fret 4 with your fourth finger. If it feels awkward to use that digit, though, try fretting the D chord with a barre at fret 2 across strings 1–3 and your second finger on the D at string 2, fret 3. That way your third finger will be available for those fourth-fret hammer-ons. 


For the Em7, G, and A7sus4 chords, Denver used a neat trick: Instead of three separate chord grips, he used a single shape—the second and third fingers at parallel frets, slid along the bottom two strings. Not only does this make things easier to play than with stock open chord voicings, it lends harmonic color. 

In another nice chordal move, Denver opts for some alternate voicings for the D and G chords in the chorus, fingered on the top three strings in seventh position. That gives this section of the song a little emotional lift, which is only fitting given the context.

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 March/April 2020 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine, you will find the music on page 72.

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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