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America the Beautiful (Oh, beautiful for spacious skies)

Last week I was invited to my grand-kids’ elementary school for their annual, Veterans’ Day assembly. When the whole school stood and sang this song, it brought tears to my eyes, especially when they sang the third verse:

Oh, beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine,
Till all success be nobleness,
And ev'ry gain divine.

When I returned from my military service, I was greeted with rotten tomatoes and curses, and it was fifteen years before anyone ever thanked me for risking my life for my country.  These kids served me breakfast, plied me with questions, and treated me like a hero. Thank you so much, American Preparatory Academy!

I thought this would be a hard song to arrange for the guitar, but it turns out to be one of the easiest. There are only five chords (two are very easy), and while there are three barre chords, they are all the same barred-E chord shape.  They are played exactly the same, just at different frets.  So this is really only a three-chord song.

There are a few slides, including one whole-chord slide, and a few pull-offs. But there are no difficult techniques or hard chord changes, as long as you can do the barre chords.  If you have not yet learned barre chords, this is the perfect song for learning them!  Only one new chord shape to learn, and you get three chords for the “price” of one.  (Actually, you get more than three, as the barred-E chord shape is commonly used to play F, F#, G, G#, A, Bb, B, and C, plus other chords even higher up the fretboard, if you have an electric guitar.)

I left out the counting numbers.  They are more confusing than helpful in this song, and besides, everybody already knows it.  If for some reason you don’t know how it goes, you can find dozens of versions recorded on the Internet.  I had thought to write a bit about the song’s origins, but the Wikipedia article found HERE says it all. This song is in the public domain.

Welcome, Welcome, Sabbath Morning

The name of Ebenezer Beesley, the composer of this hymn, may seem familiar to you.  If so, it’s probably because he composed the tunes to many other hymns in the LDS hymnal, including:

    #5    High on the Mountain Top
  #16    What Glorious Scenes Mine Eyes Behold
  #32    The Happy Day at Last Has Come 
  #76    God of Our Fathers, We Come Unto Thee
  #77    Great Is the Lord
#156    Sing We Now at Parting
#232     Kind Words Are Sweet Tones of the Heart
#177    Tis Sweet to Sing the Matchless Love
#185    Reverently and Meekly Now
#232    Let Us Oft Speak Kind Words
#280    Welcome, Welcome, Sabbath Morning
#282    We Meet Again in Sabbath School

He has more tunes in the current LDS hymnal than any other composer except for Evan Stephens, and also composed others that were included in previous editions of the hymnal, but are not used in the current edition.

“Welcome, Welcome, Sabbath Morning” is a sprightly tune, and sounds good played fast, as just an instrumental melody, without any chording at all, but I have included one G7 and one G chord, just for variety. They are so simple, and so standard, that I haven’t even included chord charts. If you are such a rank beginner that you do not know how to play these chords, you probably should not be starting with this hymn. It’s not really a simple song. It’s full of hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides. You could certainly play it without those techniques, but it wouldn’t sound nearly as good. Using ligado techniques of various sorts as well as normal, stacatto notes adds a subtle kind of interest to the song that you cannot get from a piano. I haven’t tried it, but I suspect it would sound good as a duet with a violin or viola.

If you are a newcomer to finger-picking, the simplicity of this song may tempt you to try it, despite the use of slightly advanced techniques. Go ahead! None of the techniques in this song are especially difficult, even if you are trying them for the first time. Here are some tips to make it even easier:

With a few exceptions detailed below, always fret all notes in the first space with the index finger, those in the second space with the middle finger, and those in the third space with the ring finger. This allows you to change from one note to the next quickly, without moving the hand.

The exceptions are several notes in the fourth and fifth spaces:

In the second line, the double pull-off 5-3-0 requires you to move your hand up the neck, so you can fret the fifth space with your ring finger, while simultaneously fretting the same string in the third space with the index finger. This allows for an extremely fast double pull-off. While your index finger is still at the third fret, play the 3-0 pull-off on the next string with the index finger, then move it back to normal position for the rest of the line.

At the end of the first measure in line three, move your hand to make the slide with your strongest finger, which for most guitarists is the middle finger. The next two notes are on open strings, giving you plenty of time to move your hand back into the normal ("first") position.

In the next measure, you can either move your hand again, then move it back quickly, or, if your hand will stretch, you can fret it with the pinkie, without moving your hand. Try it both ways, and do it the way that works best for you.

The first two measures of the next line are played exactly the same as line three, but in the third measure, you will need to reposition your hand to fret the slide, so you might as well play the whole measure that way. The double slide, down-and-up, is not nearly as hard as it looks. The only tricky part is hitting the right fret. It’s fast, and it’s easy to slide too far unintentionally. The solution is to practice. A lot.

The last two lines are played exactly like the first two, except one octave lower, and the final chord is a G, instead of a G7. Playing the same notes an octave lower does require different fingering on the fretboard, but the techniques are the same as in the rest of the song. You will probably notice that it’s easier to hit the G chord from the lower notes, since the first and second fingers are already positioned near the 5th string. If this seems like a lot of extra work, you can simply play the last two lines exactly like the first two, only adding the chord at the end. The notes will not be wrong, but it’ll sound a bit funny, as your brain will expect the lower notes. That’s all there is to it!

If you’ve never done them before, hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides may seem daunting to you. They need not. The hammer-on is indicated by two notes connected with an underscore, when the second note is higher in pitch than the first note. Perform it by playing the string normally, as indicated in the tab, then hammering down on the string in the indicated space with the tip of the proper finger: --0__2--. This creates a sound that makes the two notes seem to be tied together. Ligado is the Spanish word for “tied”, and is used in guitar music to indicate connected notes like these. Hammer-ons are also often indicated in tablature by the letter h before the note: --0--h2--.

Pull-offs are even easier. They are indicated with an underscore, like the hammer-on, but the second note is lower than the first. Sometimes they are indicated with a p before the note. You simply play the note as indicated, then, without pausing, pluck the string with the same finger of the left hand that is holding the note: --2__0--. This also causes the notes to sound connected, so is also called a ligado.

Another way to connect two notes is to slide from one note to the next without lifting the finger off the string. This is called a slide, or glissando, and is indicated in my tabs with a slash. A forward slash / indicates you are sliding up the neck (toward the body of the guitar) A back slash \ means you are sliding down the neck (away from the body of the guitar). “Up” and “down” in this sense refer to whether the next note is higher or lower in pitch, and have nothing to do with which part of the guitar is physically higher or lower. Slides look like this in the tab: --4-/-5-- and --4-\-2--.

If you are a real beginner, practice this song slowly, until you can play it smoothly all the way through, then gradually increase the pace. Otherwise, you’ll end up playing parts of it faster than others, and the habit will be really hard to break.

This is one of the very few hymns in the LDS hymnal that is NOT easier to play in C (on the guitar), so I have transposed it to the key of G. You can use a capo at the fifth fret, to play this song in the key of C, as it was written in the hymnal, if you wish. Unless you are playing with another instrument or a singer, I cannot imagine why you would want to do so.

Welcome, Welcome, Sabbath Morning is in the public domain.