Scarborough Fair

Scarborough Fair

Part of the fun of playing guitar is coming up with your own song arrangements. They can be as simple or complicated as you like. They can even be arrangements of songs that people know well, but you get to put a bit of your own personality on it. You’ve undoubtedly read our lesson on the Simon and Garfunkel arrangement of Scarborough Fair (taught to Paul Simon by Matin Carthy). When I decided to include Scarborough Fair as one of the song lessons for The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Guitar, I had to create one that was decidedly easier than this, as the book was meant for a complete beginning guitarist. The idea for this section of the book was to use the basic techniques learned throughout the book to play complete song arrangements. At the same time, though, I wanted it to be interesting and teach a few new simple ideas.

And believe it or not, I got some help with my arrangement from Pink Floyd! I’d been playing around with their song Welcome to the Machine from the Wish You Were Here album and was marveling at how the acoustic guitar part takes a simple line that’s been used countless times and provides more interest to the basic Em chord that the song centers around. Much in the way of Scarborough Fair, I thought.

So, using no capo and working in the key of Em, I came up with the following simple arpeggio to serve as our “theme” for this arrangement:

Example 1
Example 1 continued

Essentially, this is a very easy chord arpeggio played in a very similar fashion to the basic picking pattern of House of the Rising Sun. It’s meant to give the beginner more practice with using all his or her fingers to pick. You want to play the first two notes (on the low E and the D string) with the thumb, then use your index finger to strike the G string, your middle finger to pluck the B string, your ring finger on the high E and then your middle finger again on the B. This is a very basic picking pattern that most people can start playing very quickly.

To make it more interesting, we’re shifting the second note of the arpeggio higher up the D string each time, moving from E (second fret) to F# (fourth fret) and then to G (fifth fret) before descending to F# again. Essentially, you’re changing the Em to Emadd9 each time you play the F#. And alternating measures of Em and Emadd9 is a lot more interesting than just playing Em over and over again.

Again, I have to stress that this is a simplified version of what happens in Welcome to the Machine. If you’d like to have this sound more like the Pink Floyd song, then you want to drop out the note of the low E string after the first strike and instead substitute a slide along the D string from the first note to the next in the sequence, like this:

Example 1B
Example 1B continued

As I mentioned, this is a time-honored technique used by guitarists for ages. In addition to Welcome to the Machine, it features prominently in Joan Baez’s Diamonds and Rust as well as Sad and Deep as You by Dave Mason. And it definitely makes any guitarist sound better.

You can use either of these versions, the “Basic Em Arpeggio” of Example 1 or the “Em Arpeggio with Embellishment” of Example 1B whenever you’ve a few measures of Em to play through. It will repeat at various points during the song. It’s good as an introduction and it will appear at the end of the first two lines.

Speaking of the first two lines, let’s take a look at how they play out:

Example 2 line 1
Example 2 line 2
Example 2 line 3

The first two measures of this part begin the exact same way as the first two measures of the Introduction. If you use your middle finger to play the F# at the fourth fret of the D string, you can keep it right in place for the Dadd4add9 chord in the third measure. That chord may have a fancy name, but it’s just an open position C chord moved two frets up the neck. You’ve run into that before in many of our Guitar Noise lessons, such as Man on the Moon.

The fourth measure marks the start of a very short and simple walking bass line. Keeping your finger on the E note at the second fret of the D string (and again I recommend using the middle finger but others will work, too), you play the basic Em arpeggio and then move the bass note up to the F# on the second fret of the low E string (use your index finger for that). You then wind up on a G chord to begin the “parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme” line. The G becomes your basic Em again and then at “rosemary” you slide your middle finger up to the seventh fret of the D string and place your index finger at the sixth fret of the G, which gives you a haunting Aadd9 chord. You finish the second line by returning to the four-measure “basic Em arpeggio” of the Introduction.

The third line is fairly simple, just Em, G and D arpeggios, so I threw in a more interesting and complicated arpeggio, which probably should be called a riff or a lick, right at the end:

Example 3
Example 3 continued

Since you are playing a D chord right before this happens, all you have to do initially is remove your middle finger from the high E string for the first three notes. Then remove all your fingers from the neck to play the open B and G strings. Use that free time to get your ring finger or pinky on the fourth fret of the D string.

Then when you start the last line, use the striking of the low E string to reposition yourself for another go at the “basic Em arpeggio.” There isn’t anything here that should give you trouble at this point:

Example 4
Example 4 continued

In order to give this arrangement something more striking, I came up with an outro that is played with only natural harmonics:

Example 5
Example 5 continued

Again, playing the open low E string provides you with more than enough time to position your finger at the twelfth fret to begin this short melodic phrase. You want to practice this section separately (and very slowly!) if you’ve not done a lot of work with harmonics before. Get them to ring cleanly and clearly at a slow pace and you will probably find that playing them at tempo will come with relatively little repetition.

And just to give you a special treat, here’s an MP3 of the first verse of this song sung by Nick Torres. When we recorded this for The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Guitar our thoughts were to try to make it very different from the Simon and Garfunkel arrangement everyone knows. I had done my part with the sparse and simple arpeggio arrangement. Nick did his by delving deeply into the historical soul of the song. When you think about it, giving someone impossible tasks in order to prove his or her love is a bit on the same level as the story of Rumpelstiltskin. So Nick channeled his best Boris Karloff and came up with a very unnerving take on the song, which I hope you find as mesmerizing as I do:

Download a PDF of the complete arrangement

I hope that you’ve enjoyed this lesson and both the “old school“ and the “easy beginner” arrangements of this wonderful song. Scarborough Fair is an excellent exercise in fingerpicking as well as chord shapes. Using the Carthy-based arrangement keeps your fingers on their toes, so to speak, as you have to constantly change picking patterns. And while the picking on the easy version is certainly less complicated, you also get a chance to work in one challenging riff as well as a harmonics-based melody line.

As always, feel free to write me with any questions, comments, or concerns you might have. You can either drop off a note at the Guitar Forums or email me directly at [email protected].

And until our next lesson…