American singer and songwriter Bruno Mars recorded When I Was Your Man for his second studio album Unorthodox Jukebox released in 2012. The song was the third promotional single and second official single, taken from the album, to hit mainstream radio in the U.S. Today, we’ll learn an easy version of the When I Was Your Man chords for guitar.
As a kid, Bruno Mars loved impersonating Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson and Little Richard. He shared his father’s love for doo-wop and has referred to that music as “simple four-chord songs that got straight to the point”. Bruno Mars was also influenced by Jerry Lee Lewis, Frankie Lymon and the hip-hop productions of The Neptunes and Timbaland that he constantly heard on the radio.
Title: When I Was Your Man
Artist: Bruno Mars
Songwriters: Philip Lawrence / Ari Levine / Bruno Mars / Andrew Wyatt
Album: Unorthodox Jukebox
Chord Progression: Am–C–D7–Dm–Em–F–Fm–G–G7–Bb
Accompaniment Technique: First-Position Chords and Fingerstyle Strumming
Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind that will help you learn the tune faster while giving you some ideas for how to approach performing it. I provided some useful links above and I’ll take you through the When I Was Your Man chords, accompaniment patterns, song form, and a chord chart. Everything you need to get started playing this tune.
When I Was Your Man Chords
When I Was Your Man is an emotional piano ballad. The lyrics speak to the broken heart and regret of lost love. This song features Mars on piano and vocals.
This song is in the key of Am. But, because it was written and performed on piano, the subtle changes in chords, while easy on the piano, are not that easy on guitar. A one-finger adjustment on the piano translates into a three- or four-finger adjustment on guitar. However, this tune provides us with an opportunity to increase our chord vocabulary.
We’re also gonna approach this from a finger-plucking and finger-strumming standpoint. Using a pick would take away from the atmosphere that we’re trying to create. However, I do encourage you to approach the song however you see fit. These are just my suggestions.
I’ve broken down my approach to this tune into four basic techniques. I use a fingerstyle technique that I’ll describe below. But, the basic idea is that my thumb plays the bass note (as the left hand of the piano would) and my index, middle, and ring fingers pluck or brush the top part of the chord (as the right hand of the piano would).
Here’s the basic techniques that I use:
- Block Chord: Pluck all of the strings (well, the four that you’ll be playing) at the same time with a quarter-note rhythm. In the same way that Mars plays the intro.
- Bass Chord: Here, we separate the thumb and fingers to create more of a rhythmic feel. Aim to use the thumb on the downbeat and then freely add the fingers. This creates a pianistic effect.
- Arpeggios: Individually pluck the notes of the chord. I usually do this to answer the vocal. The previous two techniques I use for supporting the vocal. Otherwise, it may sound too busy and take away from the song’s character.
- Finger Strums: I use the I-M fingers in the same way that I use a pick except that I brush the strings lightly. This creates more energy and motion. Perfect for increasing the intensity of the song, especially during the chorus.
Basic Fingerstyle Technique
When I Was Your Man is perfect for beginning fingerstyle players. The right hand is notated as follows:
- P = Thumb
- I = Index
- M = Middle
- A = Ring
I find that using a pick to strum the chords can be a little too harsh sounding for the mood of this tune. For that reason, I suggest using your fingers to pluck and strum the chords. Let’s begin by assigning the right-hand fingers to certain strings:
- The Thumb (P) plays the bass note:
- 6th string for G, G7, Em, F and Fm
- 5th string for Am, C, G/B, and Bb
- 4th string for Dm, D7
- The Index (I) is assigned to the 4th string.
- The Middle (M) is assigned to the 3rd string.
- The Ring (A) is assigned to the 2nd string.
- The I-M-A fingers move up a string set for the Dm and D7 chords. Or, you could assign the I-M-A fingers to the 3rd, 2nd and 1st strings right from the beginning.
This is the essence of fingerstyle playing, assigning fingers to specific strings. This way, you don’t need to look at the right hand while playing. Once you get used to it, you can “feel” where you are.
I suggest using the block chords for the intro and the verse. Then, add arpeggios to the verse as well. Use the bass-chord technique for the refrain and finger-strumming technique for the chorus. I explain this in more detail in the video.
I’ve included a When I Was Your Man chords chart, which is a simple road map that shows you:
- The overall arrangement of the song.
- A section by section breakdown of the song.
- Each chord and how long to play it for.
If you don’t read music, please don’t be intimidated. This is a cheat sheet that can help you get through the tune quickly and easily. I find it indispensable for learning songs and I can also hand it to a seasoned musician and they can follow along without any problems.
- Intro: 4-bar section; A 2-measure chord riff that’s repeated. The progression is D7–Dm–C and the G/B is added as a transition to the verse.
- Verse: 8-bar section. Bar 1, Am–C; Bar 2, Dm; Bar 3, G; Bar 4 C. However, on the repeat, Mars makes subtle changes in the third and fourth measures changing the chords slightly.
- Refrain: 4-bar transition to the Chorus; Am–Em–Bb all receive a full measure; the final measure is C/G for two beats followed by a G (and we pause for dramatic effect).
- Chorus: 9-bars the first time and 8-bars on the repeat before transitioning to the Bridge. F–G–C (2x) F–G–Am–D–F–Fm, then the last two bars are C with embellishments that reflect F and Em/B. Don’t play the last measure on the repeat as you transition to the Bridge.
- Bridge: 8-bar section; Begins with F and G for a full measure each; Bars 3 & 4, descending bass line chord progression C–G/B–Am–Em/G. The final 4 measures are D7–Dm–G for a full measure each and the G stops on the downbeat of the final bar.
Once you become familiar with chord charts, you’ll never want to go back. It’s just easier to see where you’re going when you have a map. And, it’s especially helpful when you’re not familiar with the song or there’s a section of the song that you don’t remember (Bridges and Interludes are notorious for surprising players and derailing a song’s performance). So, heads up, this tune has a Bridge and not only is there a progression change but the texture of the tune and the accompaniment pattern also changes.
I hope that you’ve enjoyed learning the When I Was Your Man chords as much as I did in preparing this lesson for you. During the intro for this piece I mentioned Bruno Mars’s influences. I encourage you to listen to those artists and discover where Mars got his inspiration from. This tune is a beautiful piece of songwriting that has moments that seem, to me at least, to be inspired by The Beatles.
Thanks for hangin’ with me and I’ll see you next time.