Learn Tugboat, by Galaxie 500, on Guitar

Learn Tugboat, by Galaxie 500, on Guitar

Learn Tugboat, by Galaxie 500, on Guitar

This blog post is a tutorial on how to play Tugboat by Galaxie 500 on guitar.

The difficulty rating of Tugboat

Tugboat is given a 1/10 song rating because it is uses only two chords and has a simple strumming pattern. This means that the song is super appropriate for many beginners to learn.

Tugboat is based off of the chord system G–Emin–C–D. It can be played on either acoustic or electric guitar, and this tutorial is a transcription that will teach you a note-for-note version of the guitar part.

What are the required skills?

  1. You can play two or three chords. 
  2. You can strum the folk strum on guitar.

Recommended: Download the song

There are a few versions of this song you can find online, but this tutorial is based off of the studio recorded version. I strongly recommend downloading a MP3 copy of this song for yourself.*

iTunes | Amazon | CD | Vinyl

First, let's get familiar with the song.

In my opinion, nothing beats being familiar with a song before you attempt to play it on guitar. My highest suggestion is to listen to the song a couple of times before you jump into the guitar techniques.

If you're already familiar with Galaxie 500, I'm sure you'll agree with me that Tugboat is an epic song. I've got great news for you beginners out there: It took so very little for Galaxie 500 to achieve that epic-ness! In fact, just two chords and a whole lot of reverb.

Second, lets hit the guitar part.

Guitar part overview

Tugboat has only one main chord progression. This main chord progression is repeated throughout the entire song and it never changes. The main chord progression has two chords, and these chords also never change throughout the song. 

If you learn these two chords, learn the strumming pattern, and can keep the strumming going while you change the chords, Tugboat is yours.


There are two chords in the main chord progression for this song. The first chord is G Major:

The second chord is CMaj7/E:


The strumming pattern is commonly known as "the folk strum." It looks like this:

Chord progression

The chord progression is the toughest part, but if you keep the strumming going you'll be okay. In fact, keep the strumming going but change the chords after each repetition of the strumming pattern. Once you have this chord progression down, you can play along to the song:


"I hear pauses in between chords."

You might not believe me, but the rhythm is more important than making the chords sound perfect. Let go and force the strumming to be more important than the chords. Make the strumming your priority, even if the chords sound a little muffled or muted. It will feel awkward at first, but in the end it will be more satisfying.

"I'm unable to hear the drums on the record!"

This song was recorded in the late 1980's. Give it a break! 

My first suggestion is turn the volume of the recorded song up slightly louder than your guitar. Second, use headphones. The crappiest pair of headphones will be far superior than most consumer grade laptop speakers or small stereo systems.

"How do I know when it's time to move onto a new song?"

When you can play along with the recorded version of this song from start to finish and do it without worrying about whether you are playing it correctly, you are ready for a new song.

Still having trouble? Want to learn the guitar solo in the beginning?

If you're still having trouble, chances are that you need a little help with the details.

The Galaxie 500 Tugboat module is a paid course to help you nail the song. It comes with a number of downloads, and best of all it will help you learn Tugboat inside and out.

What This Module Will Teach You

  1. How to play each chord, strumming pattern, and chord progression in a brick-by-brick and note-by-note fashion.
  2. How to practice the song by learning highly effective practice workflows.
  3. How to play the guitar solo in the beginning of the song (it's simple even for beginners).

*If you download a copy for yourself, you can slow down the music to practice it, which is an invaluable method for getting better at guitar. Also, you can slow down any song in your iPhone or iPad music library if you downloaded Capo for iOS

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