This one is slow, easy to play, lovely, and has an interesting history. There’s not a hard chord, technique, or transition in it, and the words were written by a canonized saint-- in the twelfth century. What’s not to love?
If you can play C, G7 and G, you can play this song. The G chord I use is actually a GaddD chord, but it’s fretted exactly like a normal G, except the ring finger frets the third space on the 2nd string instead of the 1st string, which is not played. This makes it even easier to play than a normal G.
All the chord changes in the first two lines (except one) follow a note played on an open string, giving you plenty of time to make the change. The exception is the change from C to GaddD at the end of the seventh measure. I usually fret the D note on the #2 string with my ring finger, making the change to GaddD super easy.
Similarly, the pull-off in the first measure of the third line eases the transition to GaddD. Then, after playing the chord and holding it as long as needed, release it, shifting the hand to a normal G7 position. Since you are not playing the #1 string, this chord is actually a G, but it’s easier to hit the notes called out in the tab from the G7 hand position, and it makes no difference to the music what you call it.
For the whole third line, you’re actually holding the middle and ring fingers in place, using the index finger to fret the melody notes. In the third measure of the line, I usually just flatten my middle finger across the #3 string briefly to hit the A note, instead of fretting it with the index finger. Do it the way it is easiest for you.
There’s an optional pull-off in the third line. Play the C note with the index finger, then pull that finger off the string, plucking the string with the left hand. It makes the two notes sonnd more connected, and is therefore called a ligado, the Spanish word for “tied”.
The last line is all played from a C hand position. On the final chord, if you wish, you can fret the #6 string in the 3rd space with your pinkie, turning the chord into a C/G, which just means a C chord with a G bass note. I like the sound of it better with a deeper bass, but it’s not necessary. If you prefer, just play a normal C here, omitting the #1 string. This omission is necessary, as the melody note is the C on the 2nd string. If you play the E on the open #1 string, the melody won’t sound right.
Edward Caswall, who translated the lyrics, was a clergyman in the Church of England who later converted to Catholicism and became a Catholic priest. Over his long lifetime as a clergyman, he wrote and translated hundreds of hymns.
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux was without doubt, Western Europe's “man of the twelfth century.” Adviser of popes, preacher of the Second Crusade, defender of the faith, healer of a schism, reformer of a monastic Order, Scripture scholar, theologian and eloquent preacher, he was the son of a French nobleman, who gave up all his advantages to become a priest. He was the first member of the Cistercian order to be placed on the Calendar of Saints, and was canonized, or officially recognized as a saint, on January 18, 1174. This was exactly 842 years ago today, January 25, 2016, due to confusion between the Julian Calendar in use at the time, and the Gregorian Calendar in use worldwide today. If you think that’s confusing, you don’t know the half of it!
If Saint Bernard did in fact write this hymn, it was probably written in Latin, but I have been unable to find any original lyrics. The music is a different story. It was composed by John B. Dykes, in the mid-nineteenth century, approximately seven centuries later. We don’t have an exact composition date for this tune, as Dykes was a prodigy who was Assistant Organist at his church by the age of ten, and who composed over three hundred hymn tunes in his short lifetime. He is better known as the composer of the tune used for Lead Kindly Light (Hymns #97).
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