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America the Beautiful - A fingerstyle guitar lesson

Guitar Lesson by Kirk Lorange
Difficulty Rating: Intermediate-Advanced

Here's my laid-back fingerstyle arrangement of America the Beautiful, the unofficial anthem of the USA. It certainly is a beautiful tune and I hope I've done it justice.

Key of G. Once again G proved to be the best guitar key for this tune. The only thing lacking is a low D note to accommodate the V chords. I could have played it in dropped D to make that note available, but it threw the fingering out on several passages. I always try to keep these arrangements as compact as possible. My rule of thumb is this: If I have trouble playing through certain passages, I look for an easier way. I don't believe in making things difficult for myself ... or anyone else.

The Intro

I came up with what I reckon is a nice little intro, nothing too fancy or unusual, but one that leads nicely into the main tune. You'll notice that I keep coming back to that high D note (3rd fret, second string). It ends the intro and also begins the melody line, which is why it works so well in this context.

The tune itself ...

... is another one of those tunes that changes key a few times. It's all G until measure 11 when that E7 comes into play. Em is the the E you'd expect in the key of G, but here it goes to E major. That's what gives the tune that nice lift at that point. What is actually happening is that the E7 is acting as a V chord of the key of A, the chord that follows. But, the A changes to a D7, which is the V chord of G, so at bar 13 we're back in the key of G. There is another E7 later on (halfway through measure 18), and in this case it brings in another A chord, only this time Am, which keeps us in G.

(This is all just a lot of 'theory', take no notice unless you find it interesting. It's all good to know, though, and makes it much easier to make sense of tunes when you're learning them. In this case, that G# in the melody line is the note that instantly told me that the underlying chord is E major. There is no G# in the key of G, so it had to be an outside chord. I could have tried many -- like G#, G#m, C#, C#m or any other chord that has G# in it -- but I knew straight away it was E7. I could hear it was E7, I'm familiar with the sound of a I chord changing to a VI7 chord, which is what that is in terms of Roman numerals. It's a common way to deviate from the home-key.)

There are no real tricky bits in this, other than some fairly long jumps up and down the fretboard. It took me a while to get some of those moves to flow smoothly, especially that Amadd11 to the D at bar 14. For some reason I found that difficult to nail down but, as always, practice made it come together. There is an interesting thing that happens at bar 18: I play an E7 chord there in a way I've never played one before. Because I need that D note that ends bar 17 to keep ringing, I can't take my finger off to play an E7 chord the way I usually do, so I wind up fingering those two other notes in the shape with fingers not usually used. It felt very strange at first but after a few passes through that section, my hand learned this new move (after 52 years of playing!) and all was well.

You'll see that I play a few of those D chords -- the D/F# chords, second inversions -- using my thumb to grab the F# bass note. This is something I used to do all the time, until one day something gave (tendon?) in my knuckle and I had to stop. For years I shied away from this grip but recently I found I can do it again without any pain. I'm glad because it's a very practical way to grab bass notes in many chord shapes. If you can't (or don't want to) do it, use a barre on the second fret spanning all six strings with the middle finger grabbing the D on string 2.

The Outro is the same progression as the intro, treated a bit differently.

The picking hand is just doing what it should ... thumb plucking the bass notes; index, middle and ring handling the others in logical fashion. If your wrist is slightly bent down, those fingers should fall naturally onto their respective strings. That last strum is done with the back of my index finger nail.

That's about all I can think of to tell you about this great old tune. Practice this up for July 4th. Remember that you can simply strum through the chord changes and turn it into an accompaniment if you want to sing it. Enjoy, that's the main thing.


Most of my lessons, including this one, are now free. Please consider making a donation so I can keep these free lessons coming. -- To donate, simply click the green donate button below and you will be taken to a PayPal page where you can enter the amount you would like to donate. No amount is too small ... or big!

A big thanks in advance, Kirk Lorange