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Battle Hymn of the Republic

Here it is, just in time for Pioneer Day!

The fanfare is really one of the easiest parts of the song to play, if the CVIII chord doesn’t bother you. It’s just a barred-E shape-- the most common barre chord and probably the easiest to play. Here’s a trick for playing the fanfare fast: for the first measure, play the fourth, third, and second strings with the index, middle, and ring fingers respectively. Then switch and for the rest of the pattern, play the third, second, and first strings with the index, middle, and ring fingers. Use the thumb to play the bass notes of each pinch, regardless of which string it’s on. Repeat the whole pattern. Practice it slowly at first, using a metronome (HERE) until you get it right, then work up to speed, or the rhythm will suffer, and it’ll never sound right at speed. Played fast and in perfect rhythm, the fanfare sounds awesome. That’s why the Tabernacle Choir uses it. If you have trouble with the timing, listen to their version a few times (HERE). You will notice that my version of the fanfare is simpler.

For the verse, I use the timing of the hymnal, not the Choir’s “hesitation” version, which doesn’t sound so good on the guitar. There’s a tempo change from 6/8 to 8/8. But I have left out the counting numbers. It’s just too confusing with all the dotted eighth notes and sixteenth notes. You know how it’s supposed to sound. For the same reason, I do NOT advise practicing the rest of this piece with a metronome-- you’ll be off rhythm half the time.

All three of the verses can be played the same, but it sounds way better if you make the following changes: for the first verse (and chorus), play as written, ignoring the light-face notes in parentheses. Exception: DO play the boldface notes in parentheses in measure [16]. For the second verse, strum some or all of the chords that you pinched in the first verse, but otherwise play it exactly the same. On the final verse, DO play the lightface notes (except in measure [16]), and follow the instructions for “last time”. The instruction to use “lots of expression” means to use lots of tremolo, changes in speed and volume, and pauses for emphasis, to express the way you are feeling when you play it.

The last time through, on the chorus, be sure to put in the notes for “truth is march-ing.” In measure [10], do NOT play the boldface note on the second string. In measure [12], DO play the boldface note on the fourth string. I know it’s confusing, but I couldn’t think of any other way to tab it without tabbing the whole third chorus separately. I could have done that, of course, but then the tab wouldn’t fit on a standard music stand. Repeat measure [12] for emphasis. It’ll remind the audience of the Tabernacle Choir version again. It’ll lose effectiveness if you do it every time, so only repeat this measure on the last chorus.

The final “A-men” is also borrowed from the Tabernacle Choir; it’s not in the hymnal. You can play it as written, but an interesting variation is to strum the chords using the tremolo strum. Strum down with the middle finger (or middle and ring fingers), then up with the thumb, rotating the wrist back and forth rapidly for speed. Done rapidly, this sounds like a continuous drum roll. It's not technically difficult, but sustaining it requires practice. Instead of playing the single note between the two syllables of "A - men," tremolo-strum the FI chord on all strings except the #1 string. Then shift the strum to include the #1 string, and omit the #6 string. Then slide the whole chord quickly to the VIII fret, for the final CVIII chord, without pausing or slowing the strum. Continue the tremolo-strum for an additional few counts, if you like. Don't miss any beats, as they will be terribly obvious to the audience, and there's no recovery.

For those who don’t like barre chords, you can play this hymn easily without them, by making a few, easy substitutions. Wherever you see a barre chord, just substitute the regular chord of the same name. Leave out the bass notes of each of the pinches in the fanfare, and play only the treble notes of the “A-men.” Play them with LOTS of left-hand tremolo, by wiggling your finger along the length of the fretboard. Stay within the fret, and wiggle rapidly. This will also help to sustain the final note, which you want to hold as long as you can.

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