“When We Were Young” is one of Adele’s most memorable and emotive songs. And its chord progression is ideal for the intermediate guitarist — the version below lets you blend some basic “cowboy chord” shapes (and a couple basic barre chords)with some slightly more challenging chords. Let’s dive in!
Quick Facts: Meet Adele
Adele is one of the world’s most famous singer-songwriters. And while most people can recognize her voice almost immediately, many of us don’t know a whole lot about this superstar. Here’s a quick 5-fact intro.
- Her career started with MySpace. Adele’s music comes from humble beginnings. She gave a friend a copy of a song demo she had recorded for a project. The friend posted it on MySpace. It became so popular that Richard Russell of XL Recordings reached out to her and started her professional career.
- She was inspired by the Spice Girls. You probably wouldn’t guess it from her songs, but Adele cites the Spice Girls as a major influence. Watching the group perform inspired a love for music and a desire to pursue it.
- The UK Prime Minister wrote to her. Lots of artists get fan mail, but how many can say they’ve gotten mail from the Prime Minister. During the UK’s severe recession, Adele received a letter from Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister at the time. He thanked her for improving the morale of the country through her music.
- Her album titles are a chronology. Thus far, each of Adele’s albums has simply been titled as the age she was when working on the album. So far, she has released 19, 21, 25, and 30.
- She had to undergo vocal surgery. In 2011, Adele suffered a hemorrhaged vocal cord and needed surgery. The surgery ultimately helped her career — she added four notes to the top end of her range.
Introducing “When We Were Young”
Before learning to play a song, it’s never a bad idea to learn a little bit about its backstory. And when you fully understand a song’s meaning, your playing (and your voice if you sing, too) will be much more authentic. With that being said, here are a few neat facts about “When We Were Young”:
- She describes it as the most meaningful song on 25. We all know artists all have favorite songs from their own discographies, and this is one of Adele’s.
- She wrote it on a piano owned by composer Philip Glass. Whether it had an impact on the finished product or not, the fact that Adele wrote this song on a piano owned by such a high-profile musician is an interesting tidbit.
- It was inspired by old friends. Adele has said the song is about reuniting with old friends and experiencing all the memories you’ve had with them.
- The song was a team effort. Adele wrote the song with Tobias Jesso Jr., a Canadian singer/songwriter.
- It was inspired by Elton John. You might notice a disco-like sound in “When We Were Young.” That’s by design — the work of this famously flamboyant artist was part of the song’s inspiration.
When We Were Young Chords
Now we come to what you’ve been waiting for — the actual Adele When We Were Young chords. We’ll go through it piece by piece. This version asks you to play in standard tuning with a capo on the third fret. Playing this way helps simplify the chords a bit, making it more accessible for newer players.
Here’s the intro and first verse:
Now, heIn this section, and really throughout the song, you might have realized that there’s no real strumming pattern to follow. But the minimalist piano chords in the original leave you a lot of room to experiment with your rhythm pattern.
Of course, as you’re just learning the song and getting a feel for the chord switches, it’s a good idea to keep things as simple as possible. Going through it a few times with single down-strums can help you get comfortable enough with the When We Were Young guitar chords to start trying out rhythm or picking patterns. If you want, you can even throw in some palm muting or other techniques — practicing and applying guitar techniques as soon as you learn them can make playing a lot more fun!
But speaking of familiarity, there are a few chords in the intro and first verse that you may not be familiar with. Chances are good that you’ve seen Am, Em, F, Dm, G, and C. However, there are three chords that beginners and intermediate players may not be as familiar with: C/E, C/B, and Gsus4. In case you haven’t seen them before, we’ll briefly introduce you here:
The chords C/E and C/B are called “slash chords,” and they are essentially modified versions of the C major chord. As what’s known as “chord inversions,” they switch which note in a chord is used as the bass note. This gives them a slightly different sound than a regular major chord. C/E is pretty simple — all you do is play an open C major chord, but you make sure to include the low E string.
To play C/B, place your first finger on the first fret of the B string, your second finger on the second fret of the A string, and your third finger on the second fret of the D string. Don’t play the low E string!
The last unfamiliar chord, Gsus4, takes a bit of a hand stretch to get right. Put your index finger on the second fret of the B string, your middle finger on the third fret of the low E, your ring finger on the third fret of the A string, and your pinky on the third fret of the high E.
Now, here’s the pre-chorus and chorus:
And then the second verse:
Now we come back to the pre-chorus and chorus:
You might notice that this chorus ends with a different chord than before: G/Ab. To play this one, place your index finger at the second fret of the A string, your middle finger on the third fret of the high E, and your ring finger on the fourth fret of the low E.
And now we’re at the bridge:
This next part is different than what you’d expect, at least in terms of structure. We come back to the pre-chorus, but then instead of launching into the chorus, we come to what’s essentially another bridge:
And finally, back to the chorus:
Hopefully, these Adele When We Were Young Guitar chords have inspired you and helped you learn a beautiful ballad for guitar. And remember that part of the fun of learning to play other artists’ songs is adding your own spin. Whether you want to adjust the tempo, design a fingerpicking pattern, or add something else, we hope you enjoy making this song your own.