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"Away in a Manger": Fingerstyle Guitar Arrangement in Notation, Tab, and Audio

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


"Away in a Manger" (Kirkpatrick Version)

This is the famous version of the Christmas carol "Away in a Manger" by William Kirkpatrick. It is the version most often heard in the UK. As far as I know, it's not nearly so common in the USA where another version of the song is popular. This solo fingerstyle guitar arrangement, for anyone interested in playing it, is fairly simple and consists of the melody played above a flowing arpeggio on nut position chords.

Look and Listen

The video belows contains a software-generated (MIDI to audio) soundtrack and the score in three separate pages or screens as the music plays. The score is also shown below the video if you'd prefer to see it all in one view while listening to the demo audio track from the video capsule.


Learners' Notes

Time signature: Three-four time (three quarter note beats per bar or measure).

Tempo: The tempo of the recording is 120 BPM (beats per minute) but a slower tempo is also quite common. Don't drop the tempo too much, though. It's not meant to be a sad song.

The harmony in this arrangement is simplified for easy guitar accompaniment.

Key C major (No sharps or flats)

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Although the key of C major is widely regarded as the simplest key due to the major scale having no sharps or flats, it's not the most guitar friendly of keys. The three most important chords in any major key are the major chords built on the 1st, 4th and 5th major scale degrees (scale notes). These are often referred to by Roman numerals as: I, IV & V (or V7 where that chord is a 7th instead of a major, as is very often the case). In the key of C major, those chords are C major, F major & G major (or G7). C major & G major are no problem for all but complete beginners, but F major can still be a bit of a problem for those who are 'not-quite complete beginners' because of the need to have your index finger covering the first two strings, or covering all six strings in the full six-string version of the chord. The full barre version of the F chord is only needed in bars 7 & 15, Modify (simplify) it if necessary by playing the bass note an octave higher on string 4 fret 3 and changing the fill-in harmony note from F (on string 4 fret 3) to A (on string 3 fret 2).

Performance Notes
To play it as a solo fingerstyle piece (rather than strumming the chords and singing the lyrics) you need to focus on emphasising the melody so that the underlying chords and bass will provide an unobtrusive flowing arpeggiated accompaniment.


The default 'picking hand' fingering is thumb for bass notes and any convenient alternation of your index, middle and ring fingers for the chord and melody notes.
The 'fretting hand' fingering is mostly the standard fingering for the common nut position chord shapes C, F, D minor and G. Try to hold the chord for its full duration and use your one remaining free finger to fret melody notes that aren't also chord tones. For example, hold the common 5-string, nut position C major shape throughout the first bar (and beyond) but, as you can see, the second last melody note of the first (complete) bar is D on string 2 fret 3, which is NOT a chord tone. As your 4th finger is free at that point, you can use it to fret that D note without losing the chord shape. This is standard practice and important in arpeggiated accompaniments such as this one, so that the harmony notes can ring out uninterrupted, while you play the melody notes above them.

Standard Notation
For standard notation readers, the arrangement is in three parts: melody, harmony and bass, but has been written with two of the parts combined to avoid cluttering the staff. The melody and harmony share the same part and have upward pointing stems. This means that while most of the melody notes are quarter notes, they may appear in the score as eighth notes followed by an eighth note harmony note. Play them for their full quarter note duration as you can hear in the audio track.

Guitar Tab
Tab readers don't need to care about this as there's no distinction made in tab between the various parts.

Tab Error - Bars 5, 13 & 14 show the essential notes only (bass and melody). The inner chord tones shown in the notation didn't make it across to the tab staff for some reason. It's no problem. You can fill in the tones from the chord symbol above the staff - or leave them out if you prefer a lighter sound at those points. Musically, either way is fine as the essential harmony is conveyed by the melody and bass in combination.

Lyrics and Chords

Here are the lyrics to the song. The author is unknown and they (or at least the first two verses) first appeared in an 1884 publication called 'The Myrtle'. The lyrics were ascribed to the German Protestant reformer, Martin Luther, who is alleged to have composed the song 400 years previously. This claim is seen as false by historians.


More Songs

For more Christmas/New year -themed acoustic fingerstyle solo guitar arrangements, check out the articles below. They are arranged in similar style with melody played above a flowing arpeggio. They're also about the same level of difficulty (more or less) and are in tab and notation with audio demos.

© 2013 Chas Mac

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