Shenandoah is one of America's most beloved and famous songs in the folk tradition. Chances are you might have sung it in school choir! The song (according to some) tells the story of a settler who loves the daughter of an Indian chief, and wishes to come back for her, after his journey. As with most folk songs, there are different versions of the words.
This is a beautiful song with or without guitar. I have it here with guitar tabs (down the page) and also as a vocal or solo instrument lead sheet, in seven different keys.
Download Shenandoah lead sheet in the key of A
Download in the key of Bb
Lead sheet in the key of C
Download lead sheet in the key of D
Download in the key of Eb
Lead sheet in the key of F
Download lead sheet in the key of G
This violin version of Shenandoah from Celtic Woman (A New Journey) is so beautiful...
What's the best key to play Shenandoah in? That depends on who is singing the song! I helped one of my young singers and her guitar-playing friend perform this song for a folk recital last year, and we had to make some adjustments for the singer. Her naturally high voice sounded best singing this song in the key of F -- her high notes just soared! -- but in a lower key such as C, the musical excitement was much diminished.
Therefore, we used a capo and raised the song 5 keys -- (think: C, C#, D, D#, E, F! For the guitar, that means 5th fret). For students who have never used a capo before, this is really fun!
But it is also a bit hazardous; the two girls kept forgetting to use the capo! Not until the singer approached the word "A-a-way...." would the truth dawn on her that, Oops, they had forgotten the capo, once again. As for the guitarist, she was happily oblivious until the singer just stopped singing.
Unfortunately, this is exactly what happened in the public performance, too, in spite of lots of practice and preparation. It was (I hope) a useful lesson to my students. Whenever you perform with another musician (almost always the case for a vocalist) you must also know the other performer's role, to an extent. What could have been a thrilling performance was just OKAY.
Here is a free guitar tabs version for guitarists who wish to know the melody, as well as play the chords... lots of open strings (and no 4th fret!) make these easy guitar tabs approachable for beginners.
However, the timing of Shenandoah is NOT easy for beginners to feel. I would recommend not being terribly strict about the rhythm, unless you have an ensemble playing together:
Download folk song with guitar tabs in the key of C
Guitar tabs in the key of D
With guitar tabs in the key of G
In actuality, will your guitar students use the tab melody? Yes, initially, they should, to learn the tune of Shenandoah, but after that, they will probably just always play the chords... and sing or hum along, either aloud or in their head. So I don't push too hard here for a beautifully-performed melody; I am just interested that they know the way the melody is supposed to sound, in order to be a good back-up for the singer.
This song lends itself to several different strumming rhythms (one I like is "1-2-rest-4, 1-2-rest-4), but four verses of the same thing can be tedious. Sometimes we choose the three favorite verses and just sing those, with the first verse being a soft strum, the second verse accompanied by a picking pattern, and the third verse a stronger strum.
The simplest finger-picking pattern of all works pretty well with the tempo of Shenandoah: a slow P,I,M,A, P,I,M,A, (that is, thumb, index, middle, ring) just one stroke per beat (according to how I have written the time signature -- you might find it with eighth notes somewhere else).
However, in a big room, this pattern may get swallowed up and be inaudible, unless miked (and I try really hard not to have to mic my singers). So the same pattern twice as fast may be more effective if your student can handle it. It is especially nice if they understand how to alternate the thumb between two different strings, for example, using a C chord:
Thumb on string 5, Index on string 3, Middle on string 2, then Ring on string 1, then:
Thumb on string 6 (the Left Hand finger covering fret 3 on string 5 will have to move to string 6 and cover fret 3), and Index, Middle, and Ring play as before on strings 3, 2, and 1.
A chord effect I like very much with Shenandoah when finger-picking is to use the same bass note for the pattern when changing back and forth between the I & IV chords; for example, after changing from the C chord to the F chord, keep a C note (string 5 fret 3) as the first plucked sound of the F chord, instead of using F for your initial note. (This musical effect is known as "pedal point.")
A bit of walking bass is not too hard to do in Shenandoah, at least in the keys of C and G (which is one reason I favor the key of C here, in spite of the difficult F chord) -- when moving from the C chord to the Am chord, use beat 4 to pluck a "B" note (string 5 fret 2) just before playing "A" (string 5 open) of the Am chord.
Look at my Scarborough Fair guitar tabs if you need a written tab explanation for that. In the key of G, you will be moving to an Em chord at the point in the song. On beat 4 (after playing 3 beats of the G chord), pluck an "F#" (string 6 fret 2), then the open E (string 6 open) of the Em chord in the next measure. This walking bass adds depth to the accompaniment, and more dimension.
To play the melody in the key of D, ask students to try "SECOND POSITION." Instead of the finger numbers matching Left Hand fret numbers, place finger 1 on fret 2, finger 2 on fret 3, and finger 3 on fret 4. That makes the F#s a lot easier than having to use the "pinky" or 4 finger.
This is a nice slow song in which to practice what may be a new technique for some kids. (Although most kids start out their guitar career WANTING to use just finger 1, with some occasional help from finger 2, for ALL notes, and hopefully have been weaned off of this bad habit by the time they get to Shenandoah.) It is even better if they are using the staff notes and not the tablature for this.
Enjoy this beautiful folk song...
Do you have a funny story about this music, or does it remind you of something you'd like to share with other readers? Do you have a question? I'd love to hear it!
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