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Gently Raise the Sacred Strain IITabs

In playing through this piece over and over, I find I want to make a couple of changes. They are not great, so I’m not going to alter the original tabs, but the changes are useful enough to share with my readers. Hence: Gently Raise the Sacred Strain II. Check it out in "The Tabs".

First, the format:  By viewing the page in Landscape mode instead of Portrait, and minimizing the non-tablature parts, it is possible to get the entire tab on one page, which makes it much easier to use for practicing.  I have left out all the chord charts and lyrics, which are not needed for practice, once the piece has been learned. Because nearly all the notes are eighth-notes, I have left out the counting numbers too, except where they are needed for clarity.

I have also made a couple of substantive changes. Measure [18] has a couple of extra notes added, necessitating a brief change to 8/8 time for just that single measure. This does not follow the music as published in Hymns, nor any arrangement of the Tabernacle Choir that I have been able to discover.  But it does sound really nice, which is excuse enough. I have also changed the three-string, pinched chord in measure [22] to a five-string, strummed, GaddD chord, and extended the following two chords to a full six beats each, for the same reason. That's it! Enjoy.

Gently Raise the Sacred Strain

What more can be done with a hymn that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir has used as their “Music and the Spoken Word” opening theme song for the last 75 years?

Plenty, it turns out.

Every now and then, a hymn just demands to be arranged for the guitar, and when thus played, sounds like it was always meant to be a guitar song. This is one such hymn.

Moreover, it contains no barre chords, no difficult chords, no especially hard techniques, and no fast or difficult chord changes, yet it sounds fantastic. What more could a guitarist ask for?

It’s in the Public Domain, too.

Nevertheless, this is not a song for beginners. There is LOTS of expression, often in long strings of ligados, and in a few places, slides on two strings simultaneously.  It shouldn’t be too hard for any experienced guitarist to learn, but will require some practice.


This piece is based on a pattern pick, using two patterns, with modifications.
Measure [1] introduces Pattern A: treble - bass, treble - bass, treble - bass.
Measure [2] introduces Pattern B: treble - arpeggio - bass.

To avoid confusion, the right hand fingers are numbered, not named: the thumb is #1, the index = #2, the middle finger #3, and the ring finger = #4. The right pinkie is not numbered, because it is not used. (The left pinkie IS used. A lot.) Similarly, although the strings are normally distinguished by the numbers 1 - 6, to avoid confusion with the numbered fingers of the right hand, I shall call the strings by the notes they make when played open: e, B, G, D, A, and E respectively.

For these patterns, lead with the #4 finger on the initial treble note. #1 plays the bass notes of pattern A, and the first two or three notes of the arpeggio in pattern B.  #2 plays the next note of the arpeggio, and #3 and 4 play the other notes as appropriate. The second chord in measure [2] is a C/G (pronounced “C over G”), and is fretted exactly like a C chord, except that the pinkie frets the bass E string in the third space.

Measure [6] breaks the pattern slightly with a glissando (a slide) on the B string, using the left pinkie. Measure [7] appears to be Pattern A again, but there’s an easier way to play it. Since the left pinkie is already in the fifth space from the last note of the previous measure, the left Index finger is perfectly positioned to fret the e string in the third space, a technique referred to as “Third Position” and usually marked in guitar music with a small Roman numeral III above the staff. Third Position means that the hand is moved up the neck of the guitar, so the Index finger, which usually frets notes in the first space, now frets notes in the third space. In this system, the normal hand position is called, “First Position,” but is only marked with a Roman Numeral I above the staff when needed.

Measure [8] returns to First Position and Pattern B, continuing in Measures [9] and [10]. To fret the last note in [9], flatten the middle finger briefly across the G string. Measure [10] introduces a pull-off, a very slight variation on Pattern B, but significant, as eight of the next nine measures contain either pull-offs, hammer-ons, or slides.  You’ll have to fret the B string with the Index and Ring fingers simultaneously in the first and third spaces, then pull-off the Ring finger.

Measure [11] departs from the pattern altogether. There are two hammer-ons in this measure, shown two different ways. I use the same underscore for the hammer-on and for the pull-off. I realize that it may seem comfusing at first, but it’s really not possible to mix them up, as pull-offs always go down in tone, while hammer-ons always go up.

Measure [12] is actually a return to Pattern B, but doesn’t look it, due to all of the pull-offs. Fret the e string with the Index and Ring fingers simultaneously in the first and third spaces, to do the pull-off. Continue to hammer-on and pull off with the Index finger in the next measure, beginning with the C chord.

The next three measures, [13] through [16], completely  depart from Patterns A and B, in order to follow the melody closely. In [13] there’s a --pull-off -- hammer-on -- pull-off -- riff, repeated with a  --hammer-on -- pull-off -- riff in [14].  You may find it easiest to play this second riff with the pinkie.

The next measure [15], begins a series of double-glissandos, or slides done on two strings simultaneously.  Play the double slide on the D and B strings with the Middle and Ring fingers respectively, to set up for the change to F which follows.  You don’t actually need to do the two-string barre for the F chord at this time, as the e string is not played until the end of the next measure.

That F chord is vital, as it sets up the whole measure which follows. The word Mordent refers tp tje sound made by using a “Wa-Wa” pedal. If you are amplified and have a wa-wa pedal, use it here. If not, you’ll have to play it as two double-glissandos, as shown in the tab. Play the Mordent using the Middle and Ring fingers to fret the G and D strings respectively. Briefly lift the fingers off the fretbpoard without changing their positions, just long enough for the pinch on the open B and G strings, then replace the Index and Middle fingers on the B and G strings for the slide. Play the C chord which follows in the next measure as part of the same phrase that began in Measure [15].

Measure [16] will “make” the song in the minds of your audience if done right. Practice with a metronome until you can play it exactly on the beat, with no pause before or after the measure. Blows people away.

The next three measures, [17], [18] and [19], are a return to Pattern B, except that the previous 4th finger lead notes are now pinched chords. Play the slide in [18] on the e and B strings with the index and ring fingers respectively, starting in Third Position and sliding to First Position. This sets up your hand for the C chord which follows.

The final three measures are just chords.  Measure [20] contains the only “barred” chord in the piece-- the first three strings of a normal F chord.  Even if you can’t do full barre chords, there’s no reason you should have any difficulty with this simple, three-string chord.

Play the final two measures very slowly and deliberately.The second chord in [21] is actually a GaddD, but there’s no reason to fret the whole chord, when you’re only going to play three strings, and two of them are open! Just lift the fingers off the strings, maintaining the C-shape, and fret the third space on the B string with the pinkie. Quickly pinch the three strings with the #2, #3, and #4 fingers, then change right back to the C chord, using the pinkie to fret the bass E string in the third space, which changes the C into a C/G. (Pronounced, “C over G”.)

Contrary to my usual practice of including the lyrics of the first verse, I have included those of the fourth, because of the importance of its message: Repent and live! I hope you enjoy playing this song as much as I’ve enjoyed arranging it.


“Gently Raise the Sacred Strain” was included in the first LDS hymnal, compiled by Emma Smith shortly after her baptism, and published in 1835. The lyrics were written by William W. Phelps, who was boarding with the Smiths at the time. No one seems to know the original tune, but we do know it was not the current one, which was composed for the Tabernacle Choir by Thomas C. Griggs, who was not even born until 1845!

Lord, We Ask Thee Ere We Part

This piece is an etude, a short piece of music designed to teach or practice specific musical techniques.  Although one of them is metronome practice, don’t begin with the metronome set at full speed.  If you are unfamiliar with the other techniques, it would be better to master them before using the metronome at all.

All the single notes in this song that are not pull-offs or hammer-ons are rest strokes.  This is a right hand technique for plucking the strings with the index and middle fingers of the right hand.  Instead of plucking the strings away from the fretboard, stroke each string across the neck of the guitar, ending each stroke with the finger resting against the next string. That’s why they are called, “rest strokes.” Alternate the index and middle fingers. In this song, it doesn’t matter which finger you start with, but I prefer the middle finger. Strive for a steady rhythm.

In the third measure, there is a pull-off, shown by an underscore between the 1 and the 0.  Play the 1 as a normal rest stroke, but then, instead of plucking the same string with the right hand, pluck it with the left index finger, which is already fretting that string. This give the second note a different tonal quality, making it sound like the two notes are tied together.  This tonal quality is called a “ligado,” from the Spanish word for “tied”.  Ligados done by pulling the finger off the string like this are called “pull-offs.”

There are other ways to give the ligado sound to a note.  The very next note is played by hammering the middle finger of the left hand down onto the G string in the third space.  Even though the note is on a different string, a note which is hammered-on like this will still have that ligado sound.  Such notes are called “hammer-ons”.  In tablature, hammer-ons are often indicated by a lower-case h before the note.

The very next note is another pull-off, played the same way as the previous pull-off. Done in rhythm, this produces a string of four notes that all sound connected.  Play them as one continuous phrase, before returning to the rest stroke of the next-to-last note.

The final notes of the line form a D chord. Play the open D string with the right thumb, simultaneously plucking the e, B, and G strings all together to form a chord.  You won’t be able to do this as rest strokes. All four strings will have to be plucked away from the fretboard. This type of stroke is called a “free stroke”, because at the end of the stroke, the fingers of the right hand are not touching any strings.  When two or more strings are plucked simultaneously in this manner, it is called a “pinch,” because the fingers and thumb naturally come together in a pinching motion.  There are only two chords in this piece, and both are pinched, not strummed.

In the first measure of the next line, you have a single rest stroke, followed by two pull-offs in succession. You can accomplish this by fretting the B string in the first and third spaces simultaneously. Then, when you pull off the middle finger, the next note that sounds will be a C, fretted in the first space of the B string.  Immediately pull off the index finger too, producing a phrase of three ligado notes.

Adjust your timing so that each note receives the proper count.  Where a note is held only half as long as a normal count, the counting number is “&”, pronounced, “and” (very quickly).  Hammer-ons and pull-offs usually receive only half a count like this, but not always.  In the next measure, the hammered-on note is actually held for two full counts, so you’ll have to hammer it on quite hard, or it won’t sustain for the full two counts.

In the third measure of this second line, there’s another hammer-on on the B string, but it begins with a normal rest stroke, and with the string fretted in the first space, similar to the third measure of the previous line.  Then, instead of pulling the note off, hammer the next note onto the already sounding string, using the ring finger of the left hand.  Leave the index finger in place in the first space while doing this.  Most tab writers would “connect” these two notes by placing a h next to the second one, similar to the way I did in the first line.  Instead, I have used an underscore.  This may seem confusing at first, and is not standard tab, but it is obvious that a hammer-on is meant, and it shows the connection between the two notes.  In classical guitar notation, ALL ligados are shown by a curved line connecting them.

When the B string finishes sounding, remove the ring finger and play the next note as a normal rest stroke, with the index finger still in the first space, pulling it off for the first note of the last measure. Play the next note as a normal rest stroke, then pinch the G chord, playing the open B, G and D strings with the index, middle, and ring fingers of the right hand simultaneously.  This is still called a pinch, even though the thumb is not used.  You could play all the strings by strumming a full G chord, but you’d have to be mighty quick to make the chord change.  I think the pinch on the three open strings sounds just as nice, and it’s LOTS easier.

Once you have mastered these techniques, it’s time to pay more attention to the tempo.  For your convenience, I’ve included counting numbers below the staff, though this is not common in tablature.  This song is in 4/4 time, meaning that there are four “quarter-note” counts to each measure.  The metronome setting listed near the top of the page tells you how many such counts there are per minute, when the song is played at full speed.

I don’t recommend starting at full speed.  If you do, you will find it very hard to keep up, and your rhythm will be ragged.  Keep practicing with a ragged rhythm, and that’s how you’ll learn it.  It will then be devilishly hard to correct your rhythm later.  It’s far better to start with the metronome set slow enough that you can play the entire song on the beat.  Once you can do so, you will find it surprisingly easy to speed up the metronome, little by little, until you are playing at full speed.

If you are not used to practicing with a metronome, you may find it annoying.  This is a dead giveaway that your rhythm is not as steady as it should be.  When your rhythm is exactly on the beat, the metronome’s quiet ticks tend to get lost in the music, and your brain stops hearing them.

There are many good, free digital metronomes available online, and some of the best are available for smart phones and tablets.