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"Auld Lang Syne": Fingerstyle Guitar Arrangement in Tab and Notation With Audio

Chasmac is a semi-retired guitar teacher who has taught in various schools in London and elsewhere for over 30 years.


"Auld Lang Syne"

For fingerstyle and classical guitarists and anyone who just wants to know more about the song, this is an original guitar arrangement I've made of the Scottish traditional melody, "Auld Lang Syne." For anyone interested in playing it, it should be played freely in a flowing arpeggiated style with the melody emphasised so it will be heard over the bass and harmony notes underneath. The melody notes have upward pointing stems in the notation. The bass and most of the harmonies have downward pointing note stems. This is the standard convention when notating music with multiple parts (such as bass, harmony and melody) on a single music staff.

You can see and hear the arrangement in the video or listen to the audio track while looking at the printed score below the video - whichever is more convenient. As this arrangement is meant to have an improvised feel, there may be slight deviations from the score, here and there. You too are welcome to make some tasteful deviations wherever your musical judgement decides and, as it's not a classical guitar arrangement, there's no need to play it exactly the same way every time.

Study notes for learners are provided below.


Chord Error

Bar 7 should be D, not A. Bar 8 is A.

"Auld Lang Syne" PDF

Click to download Auld Lang Syne PDF for offline viewing and printing.

Learners' Notes

Try to maintain an improvised feel throughout the whole song and feel free to embellish any parts (melody, harmony and bass). Some of the chords are played 'spread', i.e., the notes are slightly separated or 'rolled' from bass to melody note. That's what the wavy line in front of the chords means. However, you can ignore those if you want and choose which chords, if any, that you want to spread out.

Fretting Hand

Every note is located within the first five frets of the guitar fretboard. The chord shapes are mostly simple and familiar nut position shapes with the exception of bars 7 and 15, which are second position D major chords (as the tab shows). The final A major chord on beat 3 of the last bar is also less common and requires you to stretch your first finger across four strings (half barre) while stretching your 4th finger up to the high A note on string 1 fret 5.

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Picking Hand

Use your 'picking hand' thumb for the bass notes and the most convenient fingers for the melody and harmony notes. As it's arpeggio based, the fingering is usually obvious because you're almost always crossing strings.

If you're familiar with the classical guitar technique of 'rest stroke' (apoyando), you can use that to emphasise the melody notes where practical. Rest stroke with fingers involves plucking the string and following through to come to rest on the string above. It's a more forceful tone that emphasises the notes. It's often used to separate the melody from the softer harmony notes. Thumb rest strokes are similar but pick downward as usual, coming to rest on the string below. There's no need for thumb rest strokes in this arrangement of Auld Lang Syne as there's no need to emphasise the bass.

Alternate Chord Shapes

To keep the shapes simple, some of the chords are incomplete in terms of chord tones. Complete major and minor chords have three differently named notes called the root, 3rd and 5th. Where the chord's '3rd' is missing, it can sound a bit bare, so if you want to play different shapes in order to have all three different chord tones present and sounding together, you can do so, but make sure they're shapes that provide the melody note as the top note of the chord, otherwise you'll lose the tune.

Theory Notes

The key is A major, there are four beats to the bar (four-four time signature in this arrangement) and the melody is (major) pentatonic. The tempo is generally slow to moderate, usually depending on the mood of the occasion.

There are only three chords in this arrangement, A D & E. Common variations that you sometimes hear (assuming the same key) may have E7 leading to A in the last two bars to provide a stronger final cadence. Also you sometimes hear A major changing to A7 half-way through the bar in order to lead strongly to the D major chord. A7 is actually foreign to the key and in this context is called a secondary dominant.

Performance Notes

If you or someone else is singing the melody then there's no need to include the melody in the arrangement as it would be somewhat redundant. You can just play the bass notes and inner chord tones. If a whole bunch of people are singing it, then you can forget any kind of fingerstyle accompaniment unless your guitar is amplified. Otherwise it will be completely inaudible. Strumming the chords with the same gusto as the singers are singing the words is the only way to provide an audible guitar accompaniment in that case.

Auld Lang Syne - chords and lyrics

Auld Lang Syne - chords and lyrics

About "Auld Lang Syne"

The lyrics (and title) are a poem by the 18th century Scottish poet, Robert Burns, which he set to a traditional Scottish melody of unknown origin. The language is Old Scots, which even most Scots have trouble understanding. Wikipedia has an English translation of the full poem, but here are some of the more obscure words.

Auld lang syne is a phrase in old scots that translates something like "long time since". The correct pronunciation of "syne" is with a "S" sound (as in "sign"), not the frequently heard "Z" sound.

Some of the more obscure words of the song and their English equivalents

Old ScotsEnglish

auld lang syne

long time since


dear (which is what most people sing these days)

be a stowp

buy a pint (of ale)



a weary fit

a weary journey on foot

paidl'ed i the burn

paddled in the stream

gude-willy waught

a goodwill draught (drink)





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© 2013 Chas Mac

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