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"Ye Banks and Braes": Fingerstyle Guitar Arrangement in Tab, Notation, and Audio

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


This is a fairly simple solo fingerstyle guitar arrangement of the Scottish folk song popularly known as "Ye Banks and Braes," or even "Ye Banks and Braes o' Bonnie Doon." In fact, its real name is "The Banks o' Doon," but nobody ever seems to call it by that name.

The video contains the score (standard notation and guitar tablature) line by line in time with the audio track. It was recorded in 1080 HD widescreen, so if you intend to read and play along with the song on your guitar, choose the highest quality of video playback to ensure the score is readable. The video quality setting control is the cog-shaped button at the bottom right corner of the screen. It becomes visible after you click play.

Otherwise, you can just listen to the video and follow the complete score given below it. It's exactly the same score as in the video. Magnify the screen if necessary to see the notes and staff or tab more clearly by clicking anywhere on the score.

Ye Banks and Braes

Ye Banks and Braes PDF

Click to download a free PDF file of this score of Ye Banks and Braes for offline viewing and printing.

Learners' Notes

The song, in this arrangement, is in the key of C major. The chords are C, F, G and A minor, and the song stays mostly in the first position of the guitar with the exception of a 3rd position F major chord at bar 23. Melody notes are shown in the notation with upward pointing stems, while bass and inner harmony notes all have downward pointing stems.

Emphasise the melody a little to raise it clear of the bass and harmony. As it's originally a vocal melody, try to play it with a 'singing' style, and feel free to embellish it with grace notes, slides, hammer-ons, pull-offs, etc. Anything that you think is in keeping with the style is fine.

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You can simplify it too if the current version is a bit out of your reach, technically. Focus on playing the melody correctly, and miss out some inner harmony notes if necessary. If you need to choose a different bass note than what's shown in the score, try to ensure it's the same as the root of the chord. The root of a chord is the note that it's named after. So if the chord is C, the root of the chord is the note C (all C notes in any C major chord are roots). The root is always the safest note to use as a bass note as it's the most stable sounding. Other chord tones are less stable but also can be more interesting to use. Let your ears be the final judge.

Original Scots language lyrics to The Banks o' Doon

Original Scots language lyrics to The Banks o' Doon

About the Song

The lyrics are a poem by Robert Burns, published in 1791. It tells of a young woman walking on the banks of the River Doon in Ayrshire (Burns' birthplace) and lamenting a lost love. Burns edited his already existing poem to fit the tune when he came to know of it.

Who composed the tune is uncertain, and there are three current theories regarding its origin.

  1. It was composed by James Miller, an Edinburgh clerk, to whom it had been suggested that if he played on the black notes only of a keyboard instrument, whatever emerges is bound to sound like a Scottish folk tune. He tried it, and that was the lucky result. The reason this works (although not usually this well) is that the black keys of a keyboard instrument form a pentatonic scale, and a great deal of Scottish folk music is based on this scale.
  2. It was composed by Neil Gow, a famous 18th-century Scottish fiddler. It appears in his 1794 publication under a different name: The Caledonian Hunt's Delight.
  3. It originated in England and gradually became'Scottish' with the addition of some typically Scottish rhythmic effects. After Burns' poem was added, it became hugely popular and famous throughout Europe as a typically Scottish song. Understandably, this is the least popular theory in Scotland as nobody there likes to think that one of Scotland's most famous melodies is actually English.

Make Your Own Fingerstyle Arrangements in This Style

You can use this style as a model to make your own fingerstyle arrangements. Read my article on how to do it step-by-step. Basically it involves starting with the melody of a simple song and then adding the chords and bass. The rhythm comes from filling in the spaces between the melody notes by arpeggiating (picking) the inner chord tones of each chord in succession. This provides a flowing rhythmic effect throughout the song.

The following were made using the same style They're all in the same format, too, as Ye Banks and Braes with scores written in guitar tablature and standard notation and with audio demo track.

The Mist-Covered Mountains of Home - A Beautiful Scottish Air.

Scarborough Fair - The well-known English folk song.

© 2014 Chas Mac

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