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Riff Breakdown: The House of the Rising Sun – The Animals (Tabs & Chord Diagrams)

In this lesson we’re going to break down the iconic riff of The House of the Rising Sun by The Animals. It’s pretty straightforward as far as the progression, but does offer some nuanced picking patterns over arpeggiated chords that can be a little tricky to play.

The House of the Rising Sun Chords

The chords for The House of the Rising Sun are based out of the key of A minor, but uses a major IV chord (D) in place of the Dm and a major V chord (E) in place of the Em. Both of these chords are borrowed from the parallel major key of A major.

Am – C – D – F – E

Key of A Minor
Chord diagrams for house of the rising sun

Time Signature for The House of the Rising Sun

Before we get to the riff itself, it’s important to make note of time signature used for The House of the Rising Sun as it’s not the traditional 4/4 time. This song is played in 6/8 time, which means there are 6 beats per measure with the 8th note getting the beat. In 6/8 time, the emphasis falls on the 1st and 4th beats, which gives it a waltz feel.

1 2 3 4 5 6

Now let’s turn our attention to the riff itself. As always, give it a listen first to pick up on the rhythm and feel: The House of the Rising Sun – The Animals.

The Riff

The riff we’re going to breakdown is the intro riff to The House of the Rising Sun. While the intro is slightly different from the verse riff in terms of the actual chord progression, the picking pattern and feel are the same.

The chord progression for the intro is as follows: Am – C – D – F – Am – E – Am – E

Let’s walk through each bar of the intro.

Bars 1 & 2

In bar 1, we’re arpeggiating an Am chord and picking down on strings 5, 4, 3, and 2, then reversing and picking up on strings 1, 2, and 3. Notice the nuanced 16th notes on strings 3 and 4 during the downstrokes. This can be a little tricky to play at first, but you want to avoid strumming through these notes. Play it at a tempo slow enough to allow you to pick these notes individually then increase the tempo as you get it up to speed.

Bar 2 shares the exact same picking pattern as bar 1, except over a C major chord this time.

The audio for the first two bars is below the tab. There’s audio for the normal tempo at 117bpm and with the tempo slowed to 80bpm so you can clearly hear the picking pattern.

Guitar tab for bars 1 and 2 of house of the rising sun
Bars 1 & 2 at 80bpm
Bars 1 & 2 at Normal Tempo

Bars 3 & 4

In bars 3 & 4 we move to the D and F chords. While the picking pattern is similar, there’s a small difference from Bars 1 and 2. When we get to the D chord the picking starts on string 4 instead of string 5. Since there are only 4 strings to pick instead of 4, the F# chord on string 1 is picked twice, once with a downstroke and once with an upstroke.

In bar 4 we have a similar situation. Here we’re playing an F chord, but from the root on the 4th string instead of the 6th string root. So when playing the F chord we have 4 strings as well and end up with the same picking pattern as the D chord in Bar 3, doubling up the F note on the 1st string.

Guitar tab for bars 3 and 4 of house of the rising sun
Bars 3 & 4 at 80bpm
Bars 3 & 4 at Normal Tempo

Bars 5-8

In Bar 5, we return to the Am chord and play the same riff as Bar 1. In Bar 6 we go to the E chord, where again there’s another nuance in the picking pattern. For the E chord, you pick each note of the chord, which give us 6 notes across the fretboard. To keep in time, you play 16th notes for the notes on strings 5, 4, 3, and 2. The two additional 16th notes can, again, be a little tricky so start slow and build up to tempo.

Bars 7 and 8 are repeats of the Am and E chords in Bars 5 and 6.

Guitar tab for Bars 5-8 of the house of the rising sun by the animals
Bars 5-8 at 80bpm
Bars 5-8 at Normal Tempo

The House of the Rising Sun Intro Tab

Here we have the full tab for the intro to The House of the Rising Sun by The Animals.

Guitar tab for the house of the rising sun

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