Want to play better guitar?
This piece, called the “City of Savannah Hornpipe”, covers a wide range of guitar techniques. It will help to improve your flat-picking (alternate picking), hammer-ons and pull-offs, string skipping, stretching and sweep picking.
Before jumping into the song, it’s always a good idea to get an overview of the structure, or form, of the piece you are about to learn. When you know how a song is constructed you will find it easier to learn and memorize.
Here is the PDF for the sheet music for the City of Savannah Hornpipe for Guitar. It’s in tab and standard notation.
The Musical Form of the “City of Savannah Hornpipe”
The “City of Savannah Hornpipe” is in binary form. In binary form, there are only 2 sections in the entire song. So, in binary form, there is an A section and a B section.
Sometimes the B section contains an entirely new melody and chords. In other cases, the B section may share some of the same melodic and harmonic (chord) material as the A section. Regardless, the B section is usually easy to pick out by ear.
What’s also great about this piece is its length. The entire piece is only 16 measures long, so it won’t take you too long to learn the whole piece.
The A section of the “City of Savannah Hornpipe” is 8 measures long and repeats once. The B section is also 8 measures long and repeats once as well.
So the overall structure of the song is:
A A B B
The version I have transcribed and notated for guitar is in D major and 2/4 time. Depending on your current skill on the guitar, the notation of this piece may look downright ugly, or not too bad at all. Regardless, we will now look at some tips to simplify the song so you can learn it faster.
Making Sense of Sixteenth Notes and Sixteenth Note Triplets
The “City of Savannah Hornpipe”primarily uses sixteenth notes and sixteenth note triplets. That’s why the notation looks worse than it actually is.
With sixteenth notes, you play four notes of equal duration on the beat. Here is one way to count sixteenth notes: 1 e & ah 2 e & ah.
The actual sixteenth note triplet figure encountered in this song can be counted as: 1 e ah & ah 2 e & ah.
A Easy Trick to Simplify the Rhythm
An easier way to learn this rhythm is to simplify it first. What you do is cover up the top beam on the rhythm figure. Imagine the top beam is not there.
If the top beam of the figure was gone, you would have a triplet and three pairs of eighth notes.
You are now playing this rhythm figure at half speed and are now in four-four time. This is why you could now count the figure as a triplet and eighth notes: 1 & ah 2 & 3 & 4 &.
Practice the above rhythm several times. Once you feel comfortable with clapping the rhythm shown above, change how you tap your foot.
Normally, when you play a song in two-four, or four-four time, you tap your foot on each beat. You tap your foot on beats 1 and 2, in two-four time. In four-four time, you tap your foot on beats 1 2 3 4.
So first clap this rhythm while you tap your foot on the 1, 2, 3 and 4.
Next tap your foot only on beats 1 and 3 as shown below.
When you tap your foot as shown above, you are now playing the figure.
Now change your counting to: 1 e ah & ah 2 e & ah…
And presto, you are back in two-four time and counting the figure accurately!
Understanding Fret-Hand Fingerings
Fingerings for scales and melodies are based on the principle of one finger per fret. This means that if you position your first finger on the first fret, the following will happen: your first finger will play all notes found on the first fret, your second finger will handle the second fret, your third finger will play notes on the third fret, and your fourth finger will play notes on the fourth fret.
In some situations, you will find it necessary to have one finger play the notes on two frets. Instead of shifting your whole hand up or down one fret, it is more practical to leave your hand in one position and have one finger cover the notes on two frets. The finger that will do the stretching will be either your first finger or your fourth finger. On rare occasions you will find that your first finger and fourth fingers may both be required to perform double duty. In the following example you can see that your fourth finger does double duty and plays the notes on the 8th and 9th frets.
In the above example your first finger plays notes found on the 5th fret, your second finger plays notes on the 6th fret, your third finger plays notes on the 7th fret and your fourth finger plays notes on the 8th and 9th frets.
In most songs there will be position shifts. This means that you will realign all of your fingers starting on a new fret. In the two previous fretboard diagrams, you would be changing from first position to fifth position.
How Fret-Hand Positions are Determined
We define finger positions based upon where the first finger lies when it is not stretched.
In other words, when you position your fingers one-per-fret, wherever your first finger lies determines the position you are in. So for example, if you line up your fret-hand fingers one-per-fret starting on the fifth fret, you are in fifth position. If you line up your fingers one-per-fret starting on the tenth fret, you would be in tenth position. If you do the same on the third fret you will be in third position. If your first finger or fourth finger needs to do double duty and play the notes on two frets, your fingering position will still be determined by the fret your first finger is on when not stretched.
Of course, there are exceptions to rules. In some situations, these fingering rules won’t apply. Remember that these fingering rules apply to playing scales and melodies. They usually don’t apply to playing chords.
Now that you understand how fret-hand positions work, we can look at the proper fingerings for the “City of Savannah Hornpipe”.
The A section, which is the first 8 measures, is performed in seventh position with the first and fourth fingers handling two frets. So your first finger plays the notes on the 6th and 7th frets, the second finger plays the 8th fret, your third finger plays the 9th fret, and the fourth finger plays notes on the 10th and 11th frets.
The B section of the City of Savannah Hornpipe has eight position shifts. Measure 9 is in fifth position. Measure 10 is in fourth position. Measure 11 returns to fifth position. Measure 12 moves down one fret to fourth position. Measures 13 and 14 are both in fifth position. The second last measure is in third position for the first beat and then moves down to second position for beat two. The final measure is in ninth position.
So there you go, there’s a walk through the “City of Savannah Hornpipe”.
If you are not quite sure about how to perform flat-picking (alternate picking), hammer-ons and pull-offs, string skipping, stretching and sweep picking; click on the previous links to get a quick primer on each technique.
If you are looking for some powerful ways to improve your country, rock, folk, blues, or jazz guitar playing, go here: How to Improve Your Guitar Technique.