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The 20 Radiohead guitar chords you need to know

Thom Yorke
(Image credit: Kevin Winter / Getty)

While clocking up a hugely diverse catalogue of albums, Radiohead have retained a level of musicianship and melodic knowhow that’s ensured they’ve remained peerless throughout their lengthy career.

The band’s cunning use of passing notes, inversions and slash chords have built up a formidable library of voicings that will have you reassessing your approach to chordal playing, and are sure to inspire a new song or two.

Each and every one is catalogued in the exhaustive Radiohead Complete songbook, which features every song the band has ever officially released - right up to A Moon Shaped Pool, Spectre and OK Computer’s 20th Anniversary tracks.

Before we dive in, we’ll point out that the voicings used are sometimes condensed versions of chords used by Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien, and are designed to sound good on one guitar - and, of course, a few of these are piano transcribed to guitar, too.

So, without further ado, here are 20 of our favourite chords from the band’s extensive discography - read on and be inspired…

Radiohead Complete is published by Faber Music, and available to buy online.

1. Aadd#11

Radiohead 1

(Image credit: Future)

Song: Planet Telex
This chord, taken from The Bends’ opening track, appears at the end of each verse cycle, alternated with a regular A. It creates a sense of suspense in the build-up to the chorus.


2. Dmaj9/F#

Dmaj9/F#

(Image credit: Future)

Song: Fake Plastic Trees
An early example of Thom Yorke’s knack for freezing notes up top while changing the bass underneath, this one appears in the song’s verse, preceded by A.


3. B11/F#

B11/F#

(Image credit: Future)

Song: (Nice Dream)
Discordant and uneasy, this is one of (Nice Dream)’s closing chords - you’ll hear it on Thom’s fourth ‘nice dream’ in the final chorus. It showcases a cunning use of open strings to provide ambiguity.


4. Abmaj7

Abmaj7

(Image credit: Future)

Song: Talk Show Host
On the track, this chord is arpeggiated on keyboard, but transcribed onto guitar (with the added Ab on the low E string), it makes for a beautiful voicing.


5. Dm6/9/A

Dm6/9/A

(Image credit: Future)

Song: Airbag
This composite chord appears underneath Jonny Greenwood’s opening riff - shift it down a fret and it becomes a tasty A(add9).


6. Dm(add9)/F

Dm(add9)/F

(Image credit: Future)

Song: Paranoid Android
This sinister number is the middle chord of this OK Computer anthem’s chorus, sandwiched between a Gm6 and E7.


7. Aadd4/C#

Aadd4/C#

(Image credit: Future)

Song: Let Down
The first chord from Let Down is a bit of a finger-twister. Change the top note from the 5th down to 0 then the 4th fret to replicate the fragile opening refrain.


8. Am(add9)

Am(add9)

(Image credit: Future)

Song: Karma Police
In the song’s verses, every second Am is this fruity extended version.


9. Gm6

Gm6

(Image credit: Future)

Song: No Surprises
Pair this with a D major chord and you’ve got the basis of the rhythm part for the song’s eerie main hook - this is also the chord you’ll need for the chorus of Paranoid Android.


10. Dbmaj7(#11)

Dbmaj7(#11)

(Image credit: Future)

Song: Everything In Its Right Place
Thom Yorke opens Kid A with a C before hitting this exotic number, then landing on a Cm/Eb.


11. E(add9)

E(add9)

(Image credit: Future)

Song: Pyramid Song
Halfway through the verse, Thom pulls out this dreamy add9 - it’s a beauty on guitar, too.


12. C(add4)/E

C(add4)/E

(Image credit: Future)

Song: 2 + 2 = 5
You’ll need to tune to drop D and get your arpeggiation on for this one, which follows a common-or-garden Fm in the track’s intro.

Pairing a ‘regular’ chord with something slightly more unnerving is a Radiohead trademark.


13. Cmaj9(#11)

Cmaj9(#11)

(Image credit: Future)

Song: All I Need
You’ll find this chord in All I Need’s tumultuous outro, where the notes up top stay the same, and the lower C cycles to an E, then a G.


14. G#m(b6)

G#m(b6)

(Image credit: Future)

Song: Reckoner
After Thom sings ‘Because we separate like ripples on a blank shore’ (lovely line, that), you’ll hear this bona fide stunner. Good use of the open E string there.


15. Dm11

Dm11

(Image credit: Future)

Song: Bloom
This chord is a smart amalgamation of Ed’s guitar playing on the track, as well as its background loops.


16. Cadd9#4

Cadd9#4

(Image credit: Future)

Song: Codex
You can just about make this out following the track’s third verse. Again, it’s a Thom-tinkling-ivories special transcribed to guitar, and it’s just lovely.


17. C(#9)

C(#9)

(Image credit: Future)

Song: The Daily Mail
More evidence of the brilliance of piano chords transcribed to guitar comes courtesy of The Daily Mail, of all things.

Slide that 3-2-0 up to 4-3-1 (keeping the Eb on the B string the same) for a Dbadd9, before resolving to a standard Eb barre, and you’ve got yourself half the chorus.


18. F#6/9

F#6/9

(Image credit: Future)

Song: Burn The Witch
There’s not much guitar on A Moon Shaped Pool’s opener, but you can console yourself with this outrageously ambiguous chord, composed of the string section’s opening stabs.


19. Fmaj13

Fmaj13

(Image credit: Future)

Song: Daydreaming
The opening piano refrain of this one is proper jaw-dropping, as is this chord, which essentially takes an A(sus4) and sticks an F underneath. In fact, switch that lower F out for an A, and you’ve got the crux of Thom’s piano line.


20. Abmaj7(#11)

Abmaj7(#11)

(Image credit: Future)

Song: True Love Waits
Radiohead songs don’t get much more beautiful than this. The second and third verses feature this melancholy heartstring-tugger, preceded by Cmaj7 and Am7.


Michael Astley-Brown

Mike is Editor-in-Chief of GuitarWorld.com, in addition to being an offset fiend and recovering pedal addict. He has a master's degree in journalism, and has spent the past decade writing and editing for guitar publications including MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitarist, as well as a decade-and-a-half performing in bands of variable genre (and quality). In his free time, you'll find him making progressive instrumental rock under the nom de plume Maebe.