Sometimes, making a hard song easy also makes it worse. This is not one of those times. This simpler version sounds just as good, and in some ways even better, though many of the cool chords have been eliminated. In this version, fourteen chords have been reduced to eight, and nine barre chords have been reduced to two or three, depending on how you count. The odd one is B, which is an A-shape barred in the second space, but in this instance, the barre isn’t strictly necessary, since the first string is not played, so the “barring” finger only has to fret one string! But it’s still a barre chord, because that is the easiest way to play it. Go figure!
I’ve done my best to make this version easy to play. Aside from Ddim7, all the chords are common ones you probably already know, and there’s only one form of each chord used. There’s no need for Roman numerals to show you where to put the barre, so I’ve left them out. This doesn’t affect the playing of the song at all, but makes for a much less scary tab.
Try as I might, I haven’t been able to totally eliminate all hard chord changes, but I have been able to make most of them a lot easier. In the second measure, I changed the rising pinches into a slow strum on three open strings. This gives your left hand plenty of time to prepare for the Bm in the next measure. The tenth measure works the same way, preparing for the B chord in the eleventh. I also substituted a D7 for the Edim7 in the sixth measure. The two chords are almost alike, musically, but the D7 is easier to play quickly for those not used to barre chords or diminished sevenths. I also substituted a slide for the hammer-on in the seventh measure, to make it easier to play.
The most obvious difference to the audience comes in the second measure of the third and fourth lines, where I’ve substituted a --1__0-- pull-off on the second string (C to B) the for the --8--7-- melody line on the first string (also C to B, but an octave higher). This avoids the rather quick, long transition from the G chord to the high C note. It’s a much easier transition for the guitarist, but is quite noticeable to any listener who knows the hymn, since the melody line goes down to the C instead of up. There’s just no way to avoid this octave deficit without using some rather unusual and difficult chords. If this really bothers you, and you’re advanced enough, play the original version, which I am not taking down.
I left the high C in for the finale, but used a couple of tricks to make the transition and the return easier. Both have to be done within one measure, so you have to be quick and accurate. To simplify, only strum the three open strings of the G chord. You won’t have to fret the chord at all! You can strum with your right hand, while moving your left hand up the neck of the guitar toward the high C at the same time. It may feel a bit strange to be playing the strings with one hand while doing something completely different with the other, but the strangeness will pass with practice. Getting used to it is much easier than learning to play a long reach with speed and accuracy. Why do it the hard way?
Returning on time to the Bm in the next measure isn’t so easy, but here too, there’s a trick that can help, and it actually improves the sound. You start by sliding the C in the eighth space to the B in the seventh. Leave your finger on the string and continue your hand motion toward the head of the guitar, producing a slurring sound as your finger moves from space to space for a few frets. This gives you about a half a beat headstart on your move toward the Bm in the next measure. It’s still not exactly easy, but should help a bit. That’s why I only use it one time in the song. You can even substitute a D for the Bm, to make it easier still. Make the transition as sloppy as you like. It’s supposed to sound slurred. That’s why it’s called a slur. Slurs actually sound pretty cool, as long as you don’t overuse them.
Right at the very end of the last line, I’ve simplified the broken chord. End with a single note, the G, and hold it with tremolo, as long as you can. There are two main ways to do this tremolo on an acoustic guitar. You can slide your finger rapidly back and forth along the string, within the space. This method usually works best for tremolos in the fourth and higher spaces. Or, you can vibrate your finger across the string, stretching it slightly each time. This often works best for the first and second spaces. For the third space, where this note falls, the preferred method depends on the guitarist, the guitar, and the strings. Try it both ways, and use the one that sounds more crisp. If you switch guitars, or even put on new strings, the best method may change. On my guitar, high tension strings seem to like the first method best (along the strings), while low tension strings do better with the second method (across the strings).
You may find that the tremolo on the third fret sounds muddy, no matter what you do. Don't despair! There's a work-around. The same, exact note is found on the second string, in the eighth space. If you can move quickly and accurately from the third fret to the eighth, you can do the tremolo there, using the first method, along the string. Because the string is thicker, the quality of the sound may be a little different, but the tremolo will be much, much crisper.
These two versions of the song need not be considered mutually exclusive. They are in the same key, so you can mix and match chords and techniques from one to the other, giving variety from verse to verse. However you play it, it’s a beautiful hymn, and well-suited to the acoustic guitar, either solo or in a duet with a singer. If accompanying a vocalist, the first four of the five instrumental measures at the end of the song make a fine introduction, minus the final, tremolo measure. I’ve indicated this with half-brackets ┌ ┐ above the score, as is done in the hymnal.
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