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Amazing Grace

Unusually for this blog, this song is meant to accompany a vocalist, at least in the second and third verses.  Words are provided for the first verse, for reference only, because the pattern picks can be confusing, but DO NOT SING THEM.  For those who may not be familiar with pattern-picking, I have provided detailed, line-by-line instructions.
The first time through is just an  instrumental introduction.  Play it simply, to state the melody, without a lot of expression.  In the seventh measure, there’s a slightly tricky slide that needs to be done with the pinky. Slide very fast, from the third fret clear up to the ninth.  Don’t hold that note at all, but drop it immediately and return to the third fret, to play the Gadd5 chord, fretting the extra note with the ring finger..  If you are OK with barre chords, you can substitute a GIII  for the Gadd5, which makes for an easier chord change.  But the barre chord isn’t necessary, as Gadd5 actually sounds better here.

The hammer-on/pull-off in the tenth measure is not hard to do if you release the chord first.  The rest of the introduction is straghtforward.  Remember to count out the timing, so you know where each note starts. 

Verse 1 is NOT sung, but is pattern-picked.  The pattern refers to the pattern in which the fingers of the right hand pick the strings, not the specific strings picked, or the acutal notes played.  The verse contains the same 3-/-9 slide as the first verse, played the same way. There is also a tremolo to hold the G note in the next measure. Do this tremolo by moving the “a” finger (left hand) ACROSS the string, rather than ALONG the string, as usual. Most guitarists find this easiest to accomplish by holding the finger rigid and vibrating the whole hand.

Verse 2 is meant to accompany the first SUNG verse. Play the whole verse with the right hand THUMB, not the fingers.  Use a slow, even tempo, and don’t try to fancy it up. You want to back up the singer or singers, not distract the audience from them. There are LOTS of verses to Amazing Grace. Repeat this instrumental accompaniment through as many as you like, but switch to Verse 3 for the last sung verse.

Verse 3 is almost identical to Verse 1, but play it softly, behind the singer(s).  Then reprise the instrumental solo of the Introduction, ending with the last two measures as shown.


The chords in this song are easier to play than many of my other arrangements, as there are NO barre chords required!  Even the three “advanced” chords called out in the tab are not especially hard, being only slight variations of the basic C - F -  G

Cadd5 is just a regular C chord, with the G note added on the first string with the little finger of the left hand.  It is actually just a C chord, but the G note (the fifth note of the scale) is emphasized because it is the highest note played.

F/C is read as “F with a C bass.”  Add the “extra” note on the fifth string with the little finger. This emphasizes the C note by making it the lowest note of the chord, a position normally reserved for the note that gives the chord its name (the “tonic” note).

Gadd5 is the only one of the three “advanced” chords that requires more than merely adding a note, though that is the effect.  Play it like a regular G, but place the “a” finger (the ring finger) on the 2nd string, and the little finger on the 1st string.  It’s called the “a” finger from“anulario, the Spanish word for ring.  Most classical guitar terms come from Spanish, for example: “p” is for pulgar, Spanish for  thumb.  Also, “i” is for indicio (index or pointer), and “m” for medio (middle).  Classical guitarists do not normally use the little finger of the left hand, which is a good thing, as it is either called muňeca (for wrist, which it is closest to) or pequeňo (little).


There are two basic pattern picks in the second verse.  Pattern A is 4-1-2-3-4-3.  If you are not used to pattern-picking, the thumb of the RIGHT hand is called the #1 finger, the index finger is the #2 finger, etc.  In the last half of the first line, the pattern changes to Pattern B:  4-1-2-1-3-1, slightly modified to  3-1-2-1-3-1 in the last measure. 

The second line returns to Pattern A, but slightly modified in the second measure by the 3 - / - 9 slide.  Play the third measure as a slow strum with the thumb.  Use tremolo to hold the G note on the first string if you have to.

The third line starts with a modified version of Pattern A, then a return to Pattern B in the second measure, Pattern A in the third measure, and a modified Pattern B in the last measure, with the hammer-on at the end of the line leading into  the patterns of the fourth line.

The fourth line of this instrumental verse consists of measures of Pattern A, followed by a slow thumb strum, exactly as in the second verse.  The singer needs to start singing at the very end of the last measure of this verse, with the first syllable of the word, “A-maz-ing”,


Although many people associate this song with Scotland and the bagpipes, or think it is a Negro Spiritual, neither is true. The lyrics were written by an Englishman, and the music was composed by two Americans, who combined a couple of popular church tunes of the day.  So far as anyone knows, it was not performed on the bagpipes until the 1970s, though it is now perhaps the most-requested of bagpipe tunes.

The lyrics were originally a poem written by English clergyman John Newton, to express repentence for his former life of slave-trading, rapine, drunkenness, atheism, and profanity so constant and foul as to embarass even his sailors-- a rowdy lot, it’s true.  It was first published in England in 1779, and remained obscure there for more than 50 years. In America, though, it was well-received, and sung to more than 20 different tunes, none of them the one we know today.

In 1829, two Americans, Charles H. Spilman and Benjamin Shaw, joined a couple of folk tunes called “Gallaher” and “St. Mary” to create a tune they called “New Brittain.”  Six years later, an American Baptist song leader, William Walker, assigned the tune to Newton’s lyrics, creating a combination that is performed about ten million times every year.  It has been recorded thousands of times. Judy Collins’ hit a cappella version topped the charts for 15 weeks in 1970. Two years later, it was recorded by The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, the first bagpipe arrangement ever known.

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