Shortnin' Bread
Arranging Techniques for Fingerstyle Guitar
By Vincent Sadovsky
Originally appeared on Mel Bay's Guitar Sessions

About the Author
Vincent Sadovsky's Website

The beauty and art of fingerstyle guitar, unlike many other instruments, is the ability to play multiple lines of music.  Much like the piano, the guitar is quite capable of maintaining a bass line or accompaniment while at the same time playing a melody and harmony counterpoint.

My arrangement of Shortnin' Bread has proven over the years to be a great example of this, and a wonderful introduction to my students into the art of fingerstyle guitar playing.  The song itself is not one of great difficulty, but as you will see, because of the use of our thumb and three fingers on our picking hand, we can turn this song into a delightful fingerpicking arrangement. 

Complete TAB (pdf)

Complete Tab (TablEdit)


The first rule of fingerstyle guitar that I teach is the picking hand placement or assignment of the thumb and three fingers.

  • Thumb picks the 4th, 5th, and 6th strings

  • Index finger picks the 3rd string

  • Middle finger picks the 2nd string

  • Ring finger picks the 1st string

As music becomes more advanced, the picking hand fingering can change its orientation to the strings of the guitar as the music demands.  However, for our purposes right now, follow the thumb and finger assignment as I have stated.

This arrangement of Shortnin' Bread is in the key of G.  The chords used for accompaniment are G and D.

In the first section of the song (measures 1 through 4), I have placed the melody on the 6th and 4th strings of the guitar.  The 3rd string is added as a filler to help with the flow from measure to measure.  Please note that the song is played with a swing rhythm rather than even eighth notes.  When playing this piece, keep the ring finger of your fretting hand on the 6th string 3rd fret (the low G) until it is necessary to take it off.  The sustain of this string provides a nice bottom end for the song.  Also note that the bass line established here stays the same throughout the piece except for one measure in the third section.  The thumb picks the 6th and 4th strings while the index finger picks the 3rd string.

The second section of the song (measures 5 through 8), introduces a harmony by picking the second string of the guitar.  This is a drone harmony because it does not change pitch.  Adding this harmony note contributes to the independence of the thumb and fingers of our picking hand, which is so important to this style of playing.  the middle finger picks the 2nd string.

In the third section of the song (measures 9 through 12), the picking hand continues playing what it learned in the previous section.  Our fretting hand now changes its fingering to accommodate the new harmony introduced on the second string of the guitar.  Take note of the F natural played on the 4th string 3rd fret (the blue note).  I've lowered this note to create interest at this point.  This is the only spot where I have changed the bass line in the entire piece.

In the fourth section of the song (measures 13 through 16) there is a little more involvement of both hands.  I have maintained the original bass line, dropped the harmony but added the melody to the 1st and 2nd strings of the guitar.  The ring finger of our picking hand is now getting involved picking the 1st string and our fretting hand is taking care of both bass and melody.

Measures 17 through 20 (the next section), is a chorus to the previous section... nothing new, just a little different.

In the last two sections of the song (measures 21 through 32), I put it all together and bring it on home.  I still maintain the original bass line melody introduced in the first four measures of the song.  The melody introduced in the two previous sections still remains.  The harmony on the 2nd string of the guitar is also there.  How simple!  What magic!!  Enjoy!!!

Complete TAB (pdf)

Complete Tab (TablEdit)



About The Author

Vincent Sadovsky is no stranger to the music industry. In 1973 he opened an acoustic music store in Rochester, Michigan which he and his wife operated for over 30 years.

He has taught guitar, banjo, mountain dulcimer, and autoharp since 1970, and has become one of the most sought after instructor’s in Michigan for composition and technical ability for guitar and 5-string banjo. He currently teaches Guitar and 5-string Banjo at his teaching studio: Rochester Folk Workshop.

Over the year’s, Vincent has appeared on television and radio broadcasts. His performing has taken him from coffeehouses to festivals, to performing for dignitaries including former President, George Bush Sr. His expertise allowed him to become an "Artist In Residence" for the Michigan Council for the Arts. His passion for acoustic music led him to found and establish the Paint Creek Fokllore Society, a nationally known society of acoustic musicians which as been active since 1973. Vincent’s playing has appeared on radio and television commercials, documentary films, and as a studio musician on various recordings.

"To say that Vince has his own style is like saying that Van Gogh dabbled in color!"
--Chicago Joe Nesbitt