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Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel

“Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel” was written and composed by Will L. Thompson, the same Southern Baptist composer who wrote the famous hymn, “Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling”.  It was first included in the Latter-Day Saint hymnal, Songs of Zion, published by the Northern States Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in 1908.  Latter-Day Saints musicians may be interested to know that the first line was changed, from “The world has need of Christian men...” to “willing men...”. At that time, it was not considered unusual for local missions or other units of the Church to produce their own hymnals. I have been unable to learn the exact year of the song's composition or its publication history, though it appears to have been first published as a Southern Baptist hymn about the same time that it appeared in Songs of Zion. 

The title comes (originally) from one of Aesop’s Fables, “The Tale of Hercules and the Wagoner”. The tale goes as follows (spelling modernized):

    A wagoner was once driving a heavy load along a very muddy way. At last he came to a part of the road where the wheels sank half-way into the mire, and the more the horses pulled, the deeper sank the wheels. So the wagoner threw down his whip, and knelt down and prayed to Hercules the Strong:
    "O Hercules, help me in this my hour of distress."
    But Hercules appeared to him, and said, "Tut, man, don't sprawl there. Get up and put your shoulder to the wheel."
    The gods help them that help themselves.

This song is not difficult to play for anyone who doesn’t mind a few barre chords and ligados. Intermediate level guitarists should have no trouble with it.  You will, however, need a guitar that allows you to perform a double hammer-on.  There are a few places where you hammer-on a note, then hammer-on a higher note on the same string.  If you’ve never done this before, don’t worry; it’s not nearly as hard as it looks, as long as your guitar can sustain that second note long enough for the second hammer-on to work.  If your guitar won’t do this, try putting higher tension strings on it.  You’ll be amazed at the difference that can make.  Of course, there’s hardly a guitar in existence that cannot benefit from new strings!

You may find the FV chord difficult if you are not used to it.  It’s just a C-shape chord, barred at the 5th fret, and is basic to many styles of music.  If you don’t know it, this is an excellent opportunity to learn it.  You can’t follow the melody of this song without it.

Another place you may want to practice is the slide on the first string, in the third measure of the next to last line, where you are holding a CIII chord, and have to slide from G to F on the first string.  The trick is that you don’t actually have to hold the barre in the 3rd space; you have enough time to release the barre and fret the G note with the tip of your index finger, making the slide much easier. 

The only relatively quick chord change needed is in the next measure, in the transition from C to G7addD.  This is only a problem if you play this chord as a normal G7, then add the D a moment later.  Trust me, you will not have time to do it this way.  But if you learn the chord, as a chord, and play it all at once, you’ll have enough time.  Once again, the “trick” is lots of practice.

The last line is a recap of the previous line.  This is not according to the hymnal, nor does it match the original hymn in the Southern Baptist hymnal.  It’s an addition I put in, just ‘cause it sounds better to my mind.  Leave it out if you don’t like it.  Or, you can leave it in, and leave out the previous line.  They are not the same.

This song is in the public domain.



A Hungarian young woman named Nami Tóth requested this song.  It’s from the French language version of the LDS hymnal, called “Cantiques”, which is French for “Hymns”.  The music is based on the New World Symphony by Antonin Dvorak, which in turn was based on an American Negro spiritual called, “Steal Away to Jesus.”  Some musicologists believe this to be one of the “code songs” used by the slaves to pass on the information that a “conductor” on the “Underground Railroad” was in the area, and an escape was planned.  I’m a sucker for the message of liberation, for the French language, and for requests from Saints in places where I’ve never been, especially if they are young people, and especially if I find the music unusual or interesting.  How could I resist?  Nami, this one’s for you!

PLEASE NOTE: This is NOT an easy song to play.  When I first transposed it, there were more chords in it than in any other hymn I’ve ever tabbed.  There were more hard chords in it.  There were more strange chords in it.  I had to invent a couple of chord names. One was so long, I had to truncate it. Two chords were simply impossible to play for anyone with normal hands.  I simplified one to make it playable, and left the other one out, replacing it with a single melody note.  Other chords needed to have their notes rearranged.  I maintained the melody notes as the treble note of each chord (the usual practice), rearranging the order of the other notes to make  playable chords.  It was still impossible, so I bit my lip, apologized to Dvorak, and re-wrote the whole song.

The result sounds very close to the original, but it contains thirteen fewer chords.  At the cost of some very subtle (and very beautiful) harmonies, it is now merely difficult to play on the guitar, instead of impossible.  If you are a regular on this blog, you will find nearly all the chords familiar. 

Strum all the chords with the thumb or with a relatively soft pick.  If thumb strumming, pluck the individual melody notes with the middle or ring finger. I find using the ring finger allows me to play with a rocking motion of the wrist. 

In the third measure of the first line, you can leave the left ring finger on the second string, 5th space, which converts the GIII chord into a G6, for a nice, subtle harmony.  I did not call for this in the tab, because I used it later in the fifth line, which is otherwise very similar.

The second line starts the same as the first, but don’t omit the G13→ Bdim→ Am chord progression.  It’s beautiful.  Your audience will love it, and it’s not hard.  G13 may be unfamiliar to you, but it’s only a three finger chord.  Bdim is even easier, being exactly the same as G13, except that you lift up the left ring finger.  It can be a bit of a trick to get from there to Am quickly.  I don’t know any special tricks for this.  You just have to practice until you can do it fast.  Be sure to play only the strings shown in the tablature, to bring out the melody notes. The chord charts show the standard fingering for the chords, but not all notes shown in the charts are used in the tablature every time.

The third and fourth lines are virtually identical, and contain only one chord.  You may find it hard to hold the barred FI chord that long.  Not to worry.  There are a couple of spots in each line where you have to lift your fingers off the strings, to play the open notes on the 2nd and 3rd strings.  It’s a good idea to lift off only the index and middle fingers, leaving the other two fingers in place, to facilitate your return to the full FI chord moments later.

The fifth line is very similar to the first line, except for the G6 chord in measure two, and the G7III chord in measure four.  Be sure to add in the F note on the 2nd string, 6th space at just the right moment.  You could hammer it on if you want to.  Audiences love it.

The GaddD chord in the first measure of the last line is not nearly as strange or difficult as it may appear from the name.  Just barre the first two strings in the third space, and play the next two strings open.  You don’t even have to move your hand out of the C position. Just barre the strings with the little finger and lift the rest of the fingers off the strings.  As soon as the strings quit ringing, immediately move the left hand up the neck to the 8th fret.

The next measures are the only really difficult ones.  They are going to require some practice, especially if you are not used to playing barre chords at the 8th fret.  ALL the chords in the rest of the song are played with the barre at the 8th fret.  There’s just no other way to do it that is any easier.

Play the CVIII.  As you can see in the chord charts, this is just an E-shape chord barred at the 8th fret.  All the following chords are based on this chord shape, and are played without moving the barre, so it’s important that you get comfortable playing CVIII. Your finger’s going to be there, without moving, for the next three measures.

You could play G11 by barring the first five strings at the 10th fret.  If you are playing a steel-string guitar, or have a cut-away body, go right ahead and do it that way.  If, like me, you have a classical guitar with the 12th fret at the body, you probably won’t be able to fit your hand into the narrow space between the 10th and 12th frets.  My solution is to keep the barred E-shape at the 8th fret, but flatten the left hand against the neck, in effect fretting all of the first five strings at the 10th fret, as shown in the chord chart.

The next chord is actually a plain CVIII chord, with the high C added at the 12th fret. Hence, its name, CaddE. By returning to the CVIII , and playing only the first four strings, you should be able to stretch your hand far enough to hit the 12th space with your little finger.  If your fingers are short and stubby like mine, you may need to cover the note on the 4th string with your ring finger, which would normally be covering the 5th string, if you were playing more than four strings.  You may notice that this chord looks a lot like a normal F chord, only barred at the 8th fret. You are right, and you can play it that way if you wish. I find it easier to barre the first two strings with the first joint of the index finger, as I would do if barring all six strings.  This allows me to stretch my little finger farther. I suggest you try it both ways, then do it the way that’s easiest for you.  It’s probably going to be difficult no matter how you try.  No pain, no gain!

Hold the final CVIII chord as long as you can.  Check the position of your fingertips, to ensure each is as close to the “sweet spot” between the frets as possible.  If your fretting technique is good, you should be able to hold the chord at least for a count of 3.  If the chord won’t sustain, recheck your fretting technique.  Best way to do this is by looking in a mirror.  That way, you can see what your fingers are doing, without having to bend your wrist and mess up your finger position.

The lyrics to this song were written by a Church-sponsored committee, and the copyright is held by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  Used by permission.  You may download it, copy it for your own or church use, and perform it, as long as you don’t distribute it or charge money for performing. 

God Loved Us, So He Sent His Son

As written in Hymns, this song is in 2/2 tempo; each measure consists of two half notes.  It’s appropriate to a very slow, solemn song like this, but it makes counting really difficult, as there are numerous points where you have to play 16th notes.  That’s not bad in standard music notation, but in a tab where everything is a fraction of a half-note, you’d end up counting something like: “and-a-one-uh and-a-two-uh,” etc. Clumsy and confusing.  Much better to recast it as 4/4 and eliminate the 16th notes.  Eighth notes are bad enough.

This song has been transposed to the key of C.  I tried to transpose it to G, which is musically closer to the original, but it was impossible to play, so C it is.  That does require the use of a few “unusual” chords, but they are not difficult ones.  C/G (pronounced C over G) is just a normal C chord, with a G bass added on the #6 string.

C and Am are played normally, but GaddD is another interesting variation.  It is played exactly like a normal G, except the #1 string is not played, and the ring finger frets the #2 or B string in the third space, instead of the #1 string.  This chord is sometimes written as Gadd3, because D is the third note in the G scale.  It is dead easy to play, even easier than a normal G.

The rest of the chords are all easy barre chords.  GIII, CVIII, and FI are all barred E-shapes.  The only difference is their position on the guitar neck.  G7III is even easier, as it’s just a barred E7-shape.

The words to this hymn were written by Edward P. Kimball, who was the Mormon Tabernacle Choir organist for more than thirty years. He was the organist when Music and the Spoken Word was begun. His son, Ted Kimball, was the first announcer for the show.  Edward P. Kimball also wrote the music to "Great God, To Thee My Evening Song" and "The Wintry Day Descending to a Close", two other hymns included in the “green”hymnal.  He died in 1935. 

The music for this hymn was written by Alexander b. Schreiner.  Copyright is held by the LDS Church,  Used by permission.  This song is NOT in the Public Domain.  You may use it for personal or church use, but may not distribute it or charge for it, without written permission of the copyright holder.