Leaving On A Jet Plane by John Denver

In this song study of “Leaving On A Jet Plane” by John Denver I’ll present you with different ways to approach and play the song. That’s the ultimate goal of this song study! Not only do I want you to be able to perform the song, but I want you to understand the theory behind the song, as well.

We’ll cover everything about the song that you could possibly want to know. We’ll learn the chords, the chord progression, the strumming pattern, the lyrics, how to sing it, and how to play the original guitar parts note for note.

In the video below you can listen to the original recording of the song and view the lyrics and chord changes. It’s a great way to prepare yourself for learning to play the song on your own:

Easy Strumming Only Version

The easiest way to play the song is to take the basic chord progression and add a basic strumming pattern. I’ll first introduce you to the chords and chord progression for the song. Then, I’ll show you the strumming pattern that you can use. Lastly, I’ll demonstrate how to add the lyrics/vocals.


In addition, I’ll show you how to play the guitar parts from the original recording. It’s all done with fingerstyle and is a fun and engaging part to learn how to play. The skill level is a little more intense, but it’s the ultimate standard to hold yourself to.


  • The original title of the song was “Babe, I Hate to Go”
  • It became the biggest hit for Peter, Paul and Mary (and last)
  • Originally written in 1966, Denver didn’t record it until 1969 and re-recorded it in 1973

Leaving On A Jet Plane Chord Progression

So, the very first thing that can do is to learn about the chord progression of the song. The actual chord progression for “Leaving On A Jet Plane” is very easy. to remember. Basically, it’s just G, C, G, C, G, C, and D throughout the whole song. Unfortunately, as easy as it sounds, there are a few variants that you should be aware of. Use this lesson to familiarize yourself with the chord progression.

In our next steps, we’ll learn the strumming pattern, the lyrics, the vocals, and finally the guitar parts, note for note.

On To The Chord Progression….

The song begins with an intro that plays the D chord for 6 measures. Since the song is actually in the key of G, by starting on the D chord, we’re starting the song on the V chord instead of the more common I chord (G).

After this intro, the chord progression is consistent throughout the song. It’s just G, C, G, C, G, C, D. Basically, we are going from the G chord to the C chord 3 times and then to a D chord.

So, to reiterate, the main chord progression just alternates between the G and C chords. When we get to the end of a verse or chorus, we’ll end on D.

leaving on a jet plane

The choruses use the same progression, but at the very end on the choruses, you’ll play the D chord for an additional 2 measures. This is after every chorus except for the very last one in which we only play two measures of the D chord before going into the outro (which is just the chorus played out until the end).

Leaving On A Jet Plane Strumming Pattern

The most basic way to play the song is to use a straight eighth strumming pattern. That means we’ll strum eight times per four beats.With four beats, which is standard time, we can count one, two, three, four. With eighth notes, we’ll subdivide the count. We’ll add an “and” or & in between each beat. The result is 1. &. 2, &, 3&. 4 &.When you translate this to strumming, it means strumming strokes of down, up, down, up, down, up, down, up. Pretty easy, once you get the hang of it.


In the original recording, strumming is a non-issue. Strumming is simply not how the guitar delivers the song. Most of it is done with fingerpicking. That’s not to say that we can just strum and sing the song. There’s nothing wrong with doing that, but if you want to take it one step further, this would be the direction…

Alternating Bass

The next step would be to add alternating bass. Using an alternate bass line would be closer to how the original song was done.

Leaving On A Jet Plane Chords And Lyrics

So, now we know the chord progression and the basic strumming pattern. I think by now, we should be able to do something with the guitar with the song. Now it’s time to try adding the lyrics and vocals.“Leaving On A Jet Plane” is a song that resonates well with audiences that just happens to be super easy to play.

Verse 1

Each verse can be broken down into two parts. Lyrically each part completes a sentence or full thought.

       G                     C
All my bags are packed, I'm ready to go,
     G                C
I'm standing here outside your door,
   G               C             D
I hate to wake you up to say goodbye.

The next part of the verse…

         G                      C
But the dawn is breaking, it's early morn,
     G                     C
The taxi's waitin', he's blowing his horn,
  G             C                D
Already I'm so lonesome I could cry.


    G           C
So kiss me and smile for me,
G                   C
Tell me that you'll wait for me, 
G                   C            D
Hold me like you'll never let me go.
            G      C 
'Cause I'm leaving on a jet plane, 
G               C
Don't know when I'll be back again,
G    C             D
Oh, babe, I hate to go.

Verse 2

           G               C
There's so many times I've let you down,
    G            C
So many times I played around,
   G         C               D
I tell you they don't mean a thing.
       G               C
Every place I go I'll think of you,
       G                C
Every song I sing I'll sing for you, 
     G                 C                 D
When I come back I'll bring your wedding ring.

Verse 3

G                 C
Now the time has come to leave you,
G              C
One more time let me kiss you,
     G                C             D
Then close your eyes, I'll be on my way.
G                C
Dream about the days to come,
     G                C
When I won't have to leave alone,
 G              C                D
About the times I won't have to say:


Leading into the outro is a chorus followed by two measures of the D chord (instead of the D chord for four measures that followed the previous choruses). Upon completion of these two measures, we’ll launch into the chorus one more time. The structure is the same as before. We’ll just alternate between G and C just as we did in the previous choruses. At the very end of the chorus we’ll change to the D chord once again, but this time we’ll hold it out for four measures right before ending the song by strumming a G chord.Outro

     G      C 
I'm leaving on a jet plane,
G                C
Don't know when I'll be back again,
G    C              D                      G
Oh, babe, I hate to go.

Original Performance

If you want to play “Leaving On A Jet Plane”, you already know everything that you need to know. What if you wanted to learn how to play it like the original musicians did, note for note? Learning songs how they were originally done is always fun and educational.

Verse Riff

Use fingerpicking to play this one.

Transposing Leaving On A Jet Plane

You can change Leaving On A Jet Plane to the following keys by placing the capo on these frets:

  • 1st fret = G#
  • 2nd fret= A
  • 3rd fret= A#
  • 4th fret= B
  • 5th fret= C
  • 6th fret= C#
  • 7th fret= D
  • 8th fret= D#
  • 9th fret= E

Were’ getting pretty high up on the fretboard at this point and using a capo on a fret any higher becomes very unpractical as you won’t have much room to fret full chords. You should be able to find a suitable key by using one of these options.e

If you’re performing the song with other musicians, you may want to stick to primary keys to make things easier for everyone. That means you’ll want to avoid sharps or flats. Just stick to A, B, C, D, E, or F.