Chasmac is a semi-retired guitar teacher who has taught in various schools in London and elsewhere for over 30 years.
The well-known English folk song "Scarborough Fair" has appeared in countless arrangements through the years—from a capella to full orchestral versions with everything in between. This version for acoustic fingerstyle guitar is simple enough to learn and play for anyone who has some basic fingerstyle ability. It sounds effective played on the steel strings of an acoustic guitar as they tend to preserve its folk-song character quite well.
The video consists of the soundtrack played on acoustic guitar and the score, which progresses line by line as the audio track plays. The same score is also displayed underneath the video. If you're going to study and learn this version, the static score underneath is more convenient. You can also download the score as a free PDF sheet from the link below the score
"Scarborough Fair" Score PDF
Click to open and download this score of "Scarborough Fair" as a PDF file for offline viewing and printing.
The song isn't too difficult if you're already familiar with basic fingerstyle technique. Notice that there are a few tied notes in the melody. This is to copy the vocal style of anticipating notes off the beat. It produces a slightly syncopated lilting touch.
If you follow the tab only, be aware that notes being tied to are greyed out. The tie itself isn't shown. It's a tab convention to show that the previous note is still sounding and the greyed out note isn't played.
Ties and ornaments (shown by symbols on the score) can be left out until you become more fluent. Put them back in when you're able to, though, as they enhance the song's 'olde worlde' character.
The highest note is A on string 1, fret 5. It's played, with your little finger, sometimes alone and sometimes as part of a 5th fret A minor chord. The tab makes clear which strings and frets to play those high A minor chords on. Use your 2nd, 3rd & 4th fingers to hold down that chord. Keeping your index finger free makes it easier to transition to the next chord further down the fretboard.
The version here is a short one-verse piece, but as it's a song with repeatable verses, you can play it more than once. Just don't play the two final bars after each verse until you're actually going to finish the song.
Only play a couple of verses at most if playing this solo fingerstyle piece as written, though, as there would be no variety between verses. Each repeat will be less impressive than the previous one to any listener, and by the 4th verse you'd have no listeners left (they've heard it all before... several times).
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Songs avoid that problem by having different lyrics for each verse, but for an instrumental version, there would have to be some other form of variety, such as a 'theme and variations' form. If you play the verse more than once, try to vary it each time by using different embellishments, e.g., grace notes, rolled chords, etc.
Better still, play it once and use it as an intro to another song or as a short filler between songs.
Don't try to sing along with it while playing the written arrangement as it already contains the melody. If you want to sing the lyrics and play many verses, just strum the chords or use a pattern-based accompaniment fingerstyle, such as the one made famous by Paul Simon.
"Scarborough Fair": First Verse and Chords
If you want to play "Scarborough Fair" as an accompaniment to a vocal melody, here are the chords and first verse. The chords are the same for all the verses, and you can find the other verses' lyrics on Wikipedia. There are many verses, and I've never heard an arrangement where every verse is sung, so pick and choose your verses.
Make Your Own Fingerstyle Guitar Arrangements
For a lesson on how to approach making the kind of solo fingerstyle arrangement I've used for Scarborough Fair, see my article: How to make solo fingerstyle guitar arrangements of simple songs.
It's a demonstration of how to start with a melody and add chords underneath and spread out their notes through the bar in a flowing rhythmic style.
About "Scarborough Fair"
This song is a 17th or 18th-century ballad written in the Dorian mode. The composer is unknown and the origins of the tune are unclear. There's at least one 17th-century Scottish song (The Elfin King) that predates it and contains lyrics that are too similar in places to be coincidental, but that song has nothing to with the northern English town of Scarborough or any fairs held there.
The lyrics of Scarborough Fair are based on the theme of having to complete some impossible tasks in order to win the affections of a suitor who's obviously playing very hard to get.
In recent times, the song was only known in folk music circles until it was recorded by Simon and Garfunkel and featured in the movie The Graduate in the 1960s. After that, it became very popular, especially among acoustic guitarists, thanks to the intricate and effective fingerstyle guitar accompaniment that Paul Simon wrote.
More Fingerstyle Arrangements to Try
Try some other folk fingerstyle arrangement—all are in standard notation and guitar tab with audio demo tracks for easy learning.
- Greensleeves: Two versions of Greensleeves; one is a simple classical arrangement, while the other is a more improvised folk fingerstyle version.
- Kimiad: A Celtic traditional song from Brittany in France
You can find more of my folk fingerstyle and also classical guitar arrangements by clicking through the "previous" and "next" links below this article. For a full list of all the arrangements available, see my profile.
The music and lyrics of "Scarborough Fair" are in the Public Domain.
The score, arrangement, images and audio track are by chasmac.
© 2014 Chas Mac
Chas Mac (author) from UK on September 13, 2014:
Thanks for your comments Hezekiah and ladyguitarpicker - Yes, it's a lovely song that has stood the test of time.
stella vadakin from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619 on September 13, 2014:
Hi, Love this song and like to play finger-style, nice hub love the melody.
Hezekiah from Japan on September 13, 2014:
Never heard of this arrangements before, thanks for sharing.