Tips to Play ‘Tangled Up in Blue,’ Bob Dylan’s Apparently Unfinished Masterpiece

Here are tips for playing Bob Dylan's "Tangled up in Blue," as arranged on The Bootleg Series, Vol. 14 in an intimate and intense version with just guitar, harmonica and bass.

Bob Dylan has been known to endlessly tweak his songs up through when he’s recording them in the studio—and even after. “Tangled Up in Blue,” first released on Dylan’s 1975 album, Blood on the Tracks, is a song he can’t seem to stop working on. As evidenced on various live versions, he has continued to retool the tune in concert for decades, adjusting not only the lyrics but the tempo, key, chord voicings, and other aspects. 

The box set The Bootleg Series, Vol. 14: More Blood, More Tracks offers a glimpse into Dylan’s idiosyncratic process, with eight different takes of “Tangled Up in Blue” aside from the original studio recording. The transcription in our January/February 2022 issue captures the intimate and intense first take—just Dylan and his guitar and harmonica, with support from bassist Tony Brown. 


It’s striking how dissimilar this rendition is from the full-band album version most listeners know and love. Some of the lyrics are switched from the first to the third person and there are many other differences: For instance, in the third verse, the location is Los Angeles, rather than New Orleans, and the gig is in an airplane plant rather than on a fishing boat; the words in the bulk of the sixth verse are completely different. (You can compare the lyrics in this transcription to that of the studio recording at As for the guitar accompaniment, the main acoustic on the album version plays mostly basic open shapes, all of them triadic. But on the first take Dylan plays in open E, using two- and three-finger shapes whose relationships to the open strings sometimes result in complex chords heard far more often in jazz than folk, like Emaj9/D# and B11.

Open-E tuning requires raising strings 4 and 5 a whole step from standard, and string 3 a half step. If you’d prefer not to put the extra tension on your guitar’s neck, just tune to open D (D A D F# A D) and use a capo at the second fret to match the recording. Whichever option you choose, be sure to not just to play “Tangled Up in Blue,” but also explore the harmonic and textural possibilities inherent to the open tuning.

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 January/February 2022 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine, you will find the music on page 56.

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2022 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.

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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