Scarborough Fair for Solo Fingerstyle Guitar

I learned Paul Simon’s guitar accompaniment for “Scarborough Fair” probably about 20 years ago from a transcription that ran in Frets magazine. The instantly recognizable guitar part does a great job of complementing the vocal line with its hypnotic repetition of airy, ambiguous chords occasionally shifting gears to reinforce the melody by harmonizing or doubling it. Those spots where the melody was doubled made me ask myself if it might be possible to maintain the melody throughout the piece, creating a solo version. It turns of that it wasn’t too difficult to do, and I ended up with the not-too-difficult arrangement you see below.

These days I use it mostly as a solo piece, but you could also use it as an instrumental break if you’re performing the song with vocals. Have fun with it, it’s been a great addition to my repertoire. If you enjoy the arrangement or have any questions please leave me a comment. I’d love to hear from you!

The Music

In PDF format:
Download Scarborough Fair PDF

Practice Notes

The arrangement is pretty straight-forward. Bringing the piece to life mostly rests on your ability to bring out the melody. It was difficult to notate the melody notes separately from the accompaniment, so I’ve included the vocal line to clear that up. Be aware of the melody at all times and work to keep it above the level of the other notes.

If you’ve never worked through Paul Simon’s accompaniment before, start with just the intro which will familiarize you with the right-hand pattern that flows throughout most of the piece. Be careful between bars 5 and 6. They will require you to lift your left-hand fingers on the downbeat of bar 6 for a clean transition. Most guitarists get in the habit of lifting before the downbeat, but that last A in bar 5 won’t allow for it! Also, note that although the vocal line in bars 11 and 23 indicates a value of a dotted-half note, I wanted to allude to the longer melody note while maintaining the accompaniment part, so I changed the attack on the G at beat 3 to a pull-off in order to soften the transition between the two parts.

Finally, notice the capo indication. On the original Simon & Garfunkel recording the guitar is capoed at the seventh fret,causing the song to sound in the key of E minor. As a solo artist, you can choose capo anywhere you’d like – or not at all – but I think that the high capo position is responsible for creating the magical, delicate sound that’s associated with this song.

8 thoughts on “Scarborough Fair for Solo Fingerstyle Guitar

  1. Hi John,

    I am sorry we never reconnected. I ended up moving to Maui. I did appreciate learning Scarborough Fair. That is a perfect arrangement!

    Thanks for putting up with me. You are a wonderful guitarist!

    bruce scheer

  2. You have some genuinely great information and details on this article. I have genuinely enjoyed your views on this subject. You really are a gifted writer. Thank you.

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