The first part of the song can be strummed with the thumb, or even flat-picked, if you like. Most of the chords are easy, but you're going to have to play the full barre G7III anyway, so you might as well play the F with a full barre too. If you try to substitute a regular G7, the melody will seem to go down when it's supposed to go up. If you're only strumming accompaniment, that may be OK, but it's no good for a solo.
The second part of the song is the chorus, and is played very differently, with lots of single notes, and a few ligados, but I've tried to keep it pretty simple. There are a few "extra" notes, which are mostly inserted to help with the timing, and for emphasis.
This tab is pretty basic, to give you an idea how the melody and supporting chord structure go. You can easily fancy it up yourself, adding pinches, hammer-ons, etc. wherever it sounds good to you. I never play it the same way twice.
Of it's composition history, the lyricist, Jeremiah E. Rankin wrote:
Written…as a Christian good-bye, it was called forth by no person or occasion, but was deliberately composed as a Christian hymn on the basis of the etymology of “good-bye,” which is “God be with you.” The first stanza was written and sent to two composers—one of unusual note, the other wholly unknown and not thoroughly educated in music. I selected the composition of the latter, submitted it to J. W. Bischoff—the musical director of a little book we were preparing—who approved of it, but made some criticisms, which were adopted. It was sung for the first time one evening in the First Congregational Church in Washington, of which I was then the pastor and Mr. Bischoff the organist. I attributed its popularity in no little part to the music to which it was set. It was a wedding of words and music, at which it was my function to preside; but Mr. Tomer [William G. Tomer, the composer] should have his full share of the family honor.
This song was first published in 1880, and has since been translated into just about any language you could wish, including Latin, Hebrew, and Arabic. It's the only religious song I know of that's sung by Christians, Muslims and Jews, making it one of a handful of songs with universal appeal.
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