"Skye Boat Song": Fingerstyle Guitar Arrangement in Tab, Notation and Audio

Updated on November 22, 2018
chasmac profile image

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


The Skye Boat Song (also known as Over the Sea to Skye), is a traditional Scottish melody with lyrics added by Sir Harold Boulton sometime around the 1870's.

This solo fingerstyle guitar arrangement that I've made of the Skye Boat Song is around lower intermediate level of difficulty. Although it ventures no further than the 1st position (no higher than the 3rd fret), the melody needs to be played in a song-like fashion while the bass and arpeggiated inner harmony notes accompany it in a flowing style.

The guitar tablature shows the fretboard fingering, but (typical of guitar tab) it doesn't show the timing and note durations. The notation staff shows all the musical information including timing but (typical of staff notation) it doesn't show the guitar fretboard fingering. The combination of both notation and tab will tell you everything you need to know. If you don't read staff notation, use the audio/video track to guide you in working out the correct timing.

The video contains the same score as printed below plus the audio soundtrack.

Video Settings

Note* The video is recorded in 1080 HD, so, in order to make sure the notation and tab are as clear and readable as possible, you should use the highest setting available, especially if you want to watch it in full screen mode. Otherwise, it might look fuzzy and be difficult to read. What's available in terms of resolution depends on the device you're using as well as the size of video screen you've chosen. The small screen that appears on the page will automatically set itself to a lower resolution, so change it if necessary. The video settings button is the cog-shaped symbol at the bottom right of the video screen. It appears after you click 'PLAY'.

Skye Boat Song Tab and Notation

Skye Boat Song
Skye Boat Song | Source

Skye Boat Song PDF

Download The Skye Boat Song as a free PDF file for offline viewing and printing.

Learners' Playing Tips

You should adopt a fluid approach to the accompaniment. The arrangement is mainly chord based, which means that you can make any changes to the chord voicing (shape) that make it easier to play, or even more interesting to hear. It's up to you. You'll probably notice some minor deviations from the score in the audio track. These are typical of this type of playing - it's never played exactly the same way twice.

Melody is the most important thing to go after in this type of fingerstyle, so if you can't manage some positions or changes, simplify them. Leave out some inner notes if they're too tricky to reach - but don't compromise on the melody.

Note* The melody notes are shown in the notation staff with upward pointing stems.

You can embellish any notes, whether in the melody, bass or harmony, for musical effect, but keep in mind the traditional Scottish feel of the song. I don't think a reggae or rap arrangement would work too well for this song, so keep it 'folky'. Hammer-ons, pull-offs and grace notes will work well as they're typical of the style.

The time signature in this arrangement is 3/4 (three 'quarter note' beats to the bar), but you can speed it up a little and think of every two bars as a single bar of 6/4 if you like. Six-four time, (with greater emphasis on the first beat of each pair of bars) is an example of 'compound duple time'. That will give it more of a lilting sound in keeping with the style of a lot of Scottish folk music.

Solo Guitar Playing - Book 1, 4th Edition
Solo Guitar Playing - Book 1, 4th Edition
Improve your ability to read the standard notation staffs of the Skye Boat Song and other pieces instead of using tab with its many limitations. Solo Guitar Playing by Frederick Noad is an excellent teaching resource that I've used for teaching notation to my fingerstyle and classical guitar students. It takes students from complete beginner level to sight reading intermediate level pieces.

Skye Boat Song 1st Verse Lyrics & Chords

This is the chorus and first verse. There are plenty more verses, and you can find them on Wikipedia if you're interested. Every verse is followed by the chorus.

The chords are simple enough if you're strumming them while singing the lyrics. The G chords can be played G7 if you feel it adds more colour or drive. As an alternative to strumming them, a fixed three-beat repeating fingerstyle pattern works well for this song. What won't sound so good is singing and playing the solo version at the same time. The solo version already contains the vocal melody, so singing along with it would make it redundant.


About the Skye Boat Song

The lyrics of the song recount a historical event involving Prince Charles Edward Stuart, more popularly known as Bonnie Prince Charlie. He was considered by his followers to be the rightful heir to the British throne and he led an uprising to reclaim it on behalf of the Scottish House of Stuart (the first kings to rule over both Kingdoms of Scotland and England). The House of Stuart had previously been deposed and exiled to France. The new monarchy was the House of Hanover.

The uprising failed and ended in disaster at the Battle of Culloden in 1745, and Bonnie Prince Charlie fled to the Isle of Skye. Despite a large reward offered for his capture, he was helped by Scottish clan members, especially Flora McDonald, all of whom refused to betray him. He made his escape in a small boat disguised as Flora McDonald's maid. He eventually made his way to France, where he spent the rest of his life.

Questions & Answers

  • What tuning should the guitar be in to play this?

    Standard tuning - EADGBE

© 2014 chasmac


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