Fingerstyle Guitar

Camptown Races – Travis Picking and Guitar Strumming

“Camptown Races” is a comic song by Stephen Foster, published in 1850 in Foster’s Plantation Melodies. I’m including three of my own arrangements of this song but I haven’t recorded it. It’s an easy melody and is a great beginner song for learning Travis picking on the guitar.

The first arrangement is Melody & Accompaniment, with alternating bass and strumming in the guitar part (bottom line).

The simplified arrangement below might be best thought of more of an exercise or a demonstration of how Travis picking works. If you go along and just play the notes on the top three strings you will be playing the melody. If you just play the notes on the bottom three strings you are playing alternating bass notes. Playing them both at the same time takes some practice. In this exercise there are only quarter notes so you’ll have less to worry about while getting used to the technique. When you’re ready for a challenge try the more advanced Travis picking arrangement of Camptown Races.

When playing the G chord, be sure to use fingers 2, 3, and 4, with your 4th finger (pinky) holding down the 2nd string most of the time instead of the 1st string (because the melody happens to be on the 2nd string). Remember, any time you see a chord chart it tells you the general position your fingers should be in, but if the tablature tells you to play a different position while holding the chord you should make that change but still hold the chord if possible. In this case much of the melody is on the 2nd string 3rd fret and very little on the 1st string 3rd fret, so it’s easy to hold down the 2nd string with your pinky while still holding down the regular chord position for the G chord on the 5th and 6th strings.

The D chord is also different in this arrangement than you are probably used to. The 1st string and the 6th string are both tuned to E when played open, so played at the 2nd fret they would both be F# notes. Therefore in order to get a better bass sound we’re playing the F# on the 6th string and not worrying about holding down or playing the 1st string unless necessary.


Here’s the standard Travis picking arrangement. It takes the arrangement above and adds in eighth notes, hammer-ons, and pull-offs…


What Child Is This? (Greensleeves) – Guitar Tab


The first tab is the fingerstyle arrangement I played beginning at 1:48 on the recording. I included the right hand fingering that I used (T=Thumb, I=Index, and M=Middle).


Next is an easier fingerstyle arrangement for you to play if the one above is too difficult.


Here’s a simple alternating bass strum arrangement (bottom line of tab) you can play while you’re singing.

We Three Kings – Guitar Tab


The first tablature is a Travis picking arrangement. It’s what I played on the recording before singing the first verse. Traditionally this song is played in 3/4 time, but on the recording I played it in 4/4 time, which I prefer for this song.

I didn’t tab out the fingerstyle accompaniment that I used but it’s basically the same style without anything extra (just the chords).


Here’s a simplified chord accompaniment arrangement (bottom line) along with the melody (top line).


If you prefer 3/4 time, here’s an melody and accompaniment arrangement for you.

Good King Wenceslas – Guitar Tab


I recorded this song in kind of a bluesy Travis Picking style. Here’s my arrangement that I played for the breaks on the recording. For the verses I just played the chords, in the same style but without the melody.


The Melody & Accompaniment arrangement below shows an easy way to accompany a song fingerstyle (the bottom line of tab). Just use your thumb to alternate the bass notes on the counts of 1 and 3, and use your index and middle fingers to pluck up on the other two notes I’ve written in. They’re all part of the chord so you don’t have to worry about playing notes outside of the chord. Of course, the top line of tab is just the basic melody of the song, which you can play for extra practice on playing melodies.


Here’s an easier fingerstyle solo. In arranging this I mostly just put a chord at the beginning of each measure and then followed that with melody notes. That’s an easy way to create your own arrangements that works well many times. For those chords on the count of 1 that require you to play 3 notes, use your thumb for the lowest one (the bass note), your index finger for the middle note, and your index finger for the highest note, which will usually be a melody note.

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen – Guitar Tab

“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” was first published in 1833 when it appeared in Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern, a collection of seasonal carols gathered by William B. Sandys.

The lyrics are reputed to date back to the 15th century, and are written in Early Modern English. The author is unknown. The words of the song had different meanings in the time of its writing than in contemporary use; rest meant “keep,” while merry meant “mighty” or “strong”—thus, the title in modern English means “May God keep you gentlemen strong.” It is believed that the song was sung to the gentry by town watchmen who earned additional money during the Christmas season.

Melody and Accompaniment arrangement with alternating bass strumming pattern (play either the top or the bottom line of tab):


Pattern picking arrangement that is played on the recording (bottom line of tab under melody). Use your middle finger to play the 1st string, index finger to play the 2nd string, and the thumb to play the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th strings. Your thumb plays 4 beats per measure in an alternating pattern.


This is not on the recording, but after I recorded the song somebody requested a guitar break they could play so I made this up-the-neck arrangement.