From the November/December 2019 issue of Acoustic Guitar | BY JEFFREY PEPPER RODGERS
Pete Seeger wrote this lovely song in the 1960s, and it may have been the last song he sang. He told banjoist Tony Trischka this was his favorite of his own songs. Like so many Seeger tunes, it’s a catchy three-chorder, and the lyrics present in just a few simple words his socially concerned yet ultimately optimistic point of view.
Seeger released this song on several albums in varying keys, including Together in Concert with Arlo Guthrie (in Gb) and Tomorrow’s Children (with a kids’ chorus, in Db). The new box set The Smithsonian Folkways Collection features a performance in the key of D with Seeger on banjo and Fred Hellerman playing what sounds like a 12-string guitar in dropped D. The Mammals, Holly Near, and others have recorded their own versions. In Seeger’s Where Have All the Flowers Gone songbook, he provided tab for the song in G on a five-string banjo in G tuning (G D G B D), with a sweet three-finger-style banjo part that translates easily to guitar. That was the inspiration for this arrangement.
You can approach “Quite Early Morning” in several ways. The easiest would just be to sing and accompany it with standard G, C, and D7 chords. Alternatively, tune to open G (D G D G B D) and play a simple alternating bass/strum behind your voice, as Seeger himself sometimes did, using the picking patterns shown on page 66 for the three chords. (I’m including two ways to play the C: in open position with G in the bass and as a barre at the fifth fret.) Or you can try the open-G fingerstyle part, which includes the whole melody and can stand on its own. On the Tomorrow’s Children album and in several YouTube performance videos, you can hear Seeger play the three-finger part not just as an instrumental intro and break but under the singing. Doubling the vocal melody with your guitar is a nice effect.
In the fingerstyle instrumental, note that the melody is not on top but on the middle strings—primarily the third and fourth strings, with just a few notes on the second string in measure 9. You can help the melody stand out by picking these notes with your thumb. Sliding up to the fourth fret on the third string (rather than playing the open second string), as in measure 2 and throughout the piece, helps articulate the melody too.
This arrangement stays close to how Seeger picked “Quite Early Morning” on banjo but makes some adjustments for the difference in instruments (since a guitar doesn’t have a high fifth string, for instance). Try playing the instrumental as an intro, sing a few verses, and return to the instrumental as a break before or after the final verse. Then, as Seeger would want you to, put away the tab, make it your own, and pass it along.
Due to copyright restrictions, we are unable to post notation or tablature for this musical work. If you have a digital or physical copy of the November/December 2019 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine, you will find the music on page 64.