What’s Going On chords by Marvin Gaye

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What’s Going On | Chords + Lyrics


||: Emaj9 E6/9 | Emaj9 E6/9 :||

Verse 1

| Emaj9 (E6/9) | Emaj9 (E6/9) | C#m7 (C#m) | C#m7 (C#m)|
Mother, mother. There’s too many of you crying.
| Emaj9 | Emaj9 | C#m7 | C#m7 |
Brother, brother, brother. There’s far too many of you dying.
| F#m9 | F#m9 |
You know we’ve got to find a way.
| B13sus4 | B13 |
To bring some lovin’ here today, yeah.

Verse 2

| Emaj9 | Emaj9 | C#m7 | C#m7 |
Father, father. We don’t need to escalate.
| Emaj9 | Emaj9 | C#m7 | C#m7 |
You see, war is not the answer. For only love can conquer hate.
| F#m9 | F#m9 |
You know we’ve got to find a way.
| B13sus4 | B13 |
To bring some lovin’ here today.

Bridge 1

| F#m7 | B9 | F#m7 | B9 |
Picket lines and picket signs. Don’t punish me with brutality.
| F#m7 | B9 |
Talk to me, so you can see.

Chorus 1

| Emaj7 | C#m7 | Emaj7 | C#m7 |
Oh, what’s going on (What’s going on). What’s going on (What’s going on).
| Emaj7 | C#m7 | Emaj7 | C#m7 |
Yeah, what’s going on (What’s going on). Oh, what’s going on (What’s going on).

Chorus Tag

||: Cmaj7/A | Cmaj7/A :|| x4
Right on, baby. Right on, baby. Right on.
||: B13 | B13 :||
Du dee do…

Verse 3

| Emaj9 | Emaj9 | C#m7 | C#m7 |
Mother, mother. Everybody thinks we’re wrong.
| Emaj9 | Emaj9 | C#m7 | C#m7 |
Oh, but who are they to judge us. Simply ’cause our hair is long.
| F#m9 | F#m9 |
Oh, you know we’ve got to find a way.
| B13sus4 | B13 |
To bring some understanding here today.

Bridge 1

| F#m7 | B9 | F#m7 | B9 |
Picket lines and picket signs. Don’t punish me with brutality.
| F#m7 | B9 |
Come on talk to me, so you can see.

Chorus 2

| Emaj7 | C#m7 | Emaj7 | C#m7 |
What’s going on (What’s going on). Yeah, what’s going on (What’s going on).
Tell me what’s going on (What’s going on). I’ll tell you, what’s going on (What’s going on).

Chorus Tag

||: Cmaj7/A | Cmaj7/A :|| x4
Ah, right on, baby, right on. Right on, baby.
||: B13 | B13 :||
Du dee do…


||: Cmaj7/A | Cmaj7/A :|| x4
Ah, Right on, baby, right on. Right on, baby.
||: B13 | B13 :||
Du dee do…

What’s Going On Chords: Learn the progressions!

What's Going On Guitar Lesson + TAB T

In the key of E, Marvin Gaye‘s What’s Going On‘s chords mainly achieve its slick sound through natural extensions.

Let’s examine all these chords, starting with the intro.

We begin with an Emaj9 chord which replaces the maj7 with a 6 towards the end of the bar, creating an E6/9 chord before it repeats.

Here’s some TAB showing what you could play for the intro, including both these chords if you played in a band.

What's Going On chords and TAB, intro electric.

Let’s also look at how you could play What’s Going On’s intro chords on just one acoustic guitar.

What's Going On chords and TAB, intro acoustic.

As you can see, I’ve added a big low E, played more strings and also taken out many rhythms. This creates more space and imitates the feel of a band, not just a guitar part that sits in the mix of a band.

The verse sticks with the concept of combining the Emaj9 with an E6/9, but goes between them more often (members get TAB).

To indicate this, I’ve put an E6/9 in brackets above with chords and lyrics as it appears, goes away and appears again. The same happens to the next chord which moves between C#m7 and C#m. (member get TAB!)

I only did it for the first line of the verse as it looks too messy putting it everywhere. This is followed by a II – V, Fm9 and B13.

On the keyboard, you could play first with an 11, then without. Both would be 13 chords. On the guitar, we can’t fit all those notes in so let’s first play a sus4, then the 3rd to achieve a similar effect.

A great trick on the electric guitar is to first use lots of movement between Emaj9E6/9, then between C#m and C#m7. Once we get to F#m9, we keep that for the B13sus4 as they share the same notes, only changing one note to get the B13.

This creates the variation of being extremely busy, then very much the same (did I mention members get TAB?).

Here are all the chords for What’s Going On’s verse:

| Emaj9 (I) | Emaj9 | C#m7 (VI) | C#m7 |
| Emaj9 | Emaj9 | C#m7 | C#m7 |
| F#m9 (II) | F#m9 |
| B13sus4 (V) | B13 |

On the acoustic guitar, we must change more than on the electric as the bass notes are so important (members get TAB!). We also move around between extensions playing Emaj7E6/9Emaj9E6/9 to create movement, compensating for the lack of a band.

Next, we have the bridge. This is similar to how the verse finished, just smaller extensions in F#m7B9. The chords only have one bar each as well, like this:

||: F#m7 (II) | B9 (V) :|| x3

Just like with the verse, What’s Going On’s bridge chords will be played differently if on the electric in a band or acoustic on your own.

The chorus is similar to how the verse started (genius!), only with a chord per bar each and smaller in extensions using just Emaj7C#m7.

Lastly, the chorus tag, and this is the first time we go outside the key of E major. What we have here is a modal interchange, going from E Ionian to E Aeolian. You can even see a C-shaped Em chord in the Cmaj7/A!

Should you want to improvise over this section, try an A Dorian scale, or a C Lydian. These two scales share the same notes but will make you choose different target notes.

Here’s a link to the complete lesson with TAB for all sections, acoustic and electric (members only): What’s Going On – Guitar lesson with TAB.

Become a member today and get unlimited access to all step-by-step guitar coursesTAB for the songbook, the Self-Eliminating Practice Routine, and the eBook Spytunes Method.

What’s Going On was voted the greatest album of all time!

What’s Going On (1971) was the 11th studio album by Marvin Gaye. He had spent his entire recording career in Detroit under the watchful eye of Berry Gordy.

By now, Marvin was a superstar but had grown tired of being told what to do so this album was the first he produced himself in collaboration with the band he knew better than few, Motown’s house band The Funk Brothers.

Together they’d spent a decade recording in Hitsville, creating the greatest musical treasure known to man.

What’s Going On was in many ways the peak of this era, later recognised as the best album of all time (Rolling Stones top 500 album list, 2020) it marked not just the peak of Motown but also the end of an era.

Released in May 1971, The Funk Brothers only had six months left before the doors of the hit factory closed in early 1972 with a note on the door saying, “No work today”.

Motown continued its operation in California but most of the musicians didn’t follow and things were never the same again.

What’s Going On Chords | Related Pages

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Study these in-depth and you will gain a complete understanding of the guitar fretboard, including how to build any scale, arpeggio, or chord.

Five similar tunes with chords and lyrics

When you can play What’s Going On's chords, try these five tunes from the songbook.

Marvin Gaye

Marvin Gaye helped shape the Motown sound as a drummer, session singer, writer, lead singer, and producer in the 60s and 70s.

Marvin’s hits include I Heard It Through The Grapevine, Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, Can I Get A Witness, and politically fueled What’s Going On.

Marvin Gaye on the web

Listen to Marvin Gaye on Spotify.

Motown & Soul

When you can play What's Going On's chords, check these Motown and Soul tunes as well.

Motown & Soul is the best place to start if you want to get better at playing the electric guitar. The harmony is simple and there is room for improvisation.

Learn tunes by The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye, Dusty Springfield, Aretha Franklin, and many more.

About me

Dan Lundholm wrote this article about What's Going On's chords.

This article on What’s Going On’s chords was written by Dan Lundholm. Discover more about him and learning guitar with Spytunes.

Most importantly, find out why you should learn guitar through playing tunes, not practising scales, and studying theory in isolation.


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