Campfire Songs: Learn the Gospel Classic ‘This Little Light of Mine’
For nearly 100 years,“This Little Light of Mine” has been a staple of the gospel songbook. The hymnist Harry Dixon Loes originally wrote this spiritual as a children’s number, and it found its way into the folk tradition after being gathered by the musicologist John Lomax in 1939. Ray Charles later gave the tune a secular treatment (“This Little Girl of Mine”), and the Everly Brothers followed suit with their own version.
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“This Little Light of Mine” is also nicely suited for campfire play, as the San Francisco Bay Area singer-songwriter and guitarist Maurice Tani demonstrates in the accompanying video. Tani plays the song in the bright key of G major, with a handful of basic open chords—the first grips that most guitarists learn to play.
To work up “This Little Light of Mine,” first make sure that you are familiar with all the chord shapes and can switch between them with relative ease. Note that in his performance, Tani kicks off the piece with a G5 chord (a G chord without its third, B). This makes for a lean and uncluttered sound that stands in contrast to the fuller G chord in the chorus/verse that follows. Also note that he sometimes plays a G7 chord in bar 8, but this is optional; you can just stay on a G chord here if you’d like.
Tani uses a nicely serviceable strumming pattern here. To copy it, worry less about playing what’s written in the notation than aiming to hit the lower strings with a solid strum directly on beats 1 and 3, and the higher strings on 2 and 4. Use downward strums on all the beats, and upward strums on the “ands.” Play along with Tani’s video until you’re satisfied that you’ve captured his solid time feel, and then you’ll be well on the way to having “This Little Light of Mine” ready for your next camping trip.
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2019 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.