How to Play ‘William Tell Overture’ Like Glen Campbell

Glenn Campbell was not just a charming, golden-voiced entertainer; he was a hell of a guitarist as well.

Glen Campbell first heard The Lone Ranger’s brisk theme song as a kid and vowed to learn it on guitar. Not only did he do just that, Campbell made the theme—an overture from the 1829 opera William Tell, by the Italian composer Gioachino Rossini—one of his signature numbers. He revisited it throughout his career, wowing audiences by playing it with casual ease, sometimes with the guitar on top of his head.

The transcription here is taken from Campbell’s 1990 studio recording of “William Tell Overture,” from Walkin’ in the Sun. On the album, Campell used a 12-string guitar, but the piece works just as well—and is easier to play—on the six-string. It serves as an excellent flatpicking study, and it gives your fretting fingers quite a workout as well.

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Begin learning the piece with a picking exercise: Isolate the galloping rhythm of an eighth note followed by two 16ths, first seen in bar 15. The eighth note and the first 16th should be downstrokes and the second 16th an upstroke. Pick any note on the guitar and, using a metronome set at a comfortable speed, play this rhythm repeatedly, edging up the metronome until you can play it quickly and cleanly.

This same picking approach will work throughout the piece: generally, play the notes and beats 1 and 2 and their “ands” with downstrokes and the 16th notes falling outside of those beats with upstrokes.

A good fretting-hand strategy would be to glance through the piece and make note of its positions. The first nine bars, for instance, are all in ninth position, meaning it’s best to play the 12th-fret notes with your fourth finger and the ninth-fret notes with your first. In bar 14, move down to first position and play the second-fret notes with your second finger, fourth-fret with your fourth finger, and the first-fret G#with your first finger.

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I’ve included chord symbols in the notation, as it would be fun to play the “William Tell Overture” with a fellow guitarist, trading accompaniment and melodic roles between sections, and goading each other on in terms of speed.


Due to copyright restrictions, we are unable to post notation or tablature for this musical work. This article originally appeared in the November 2017 issue  issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine. The music for “William Tell Overture” is available in the print and digital editions of the magazine.

Adam Perlmutter
Adam Perlmutter

Adam Perlmutter holds a bachelor of music degree from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and a master's degree in Contemporary Improvisation from the New England Conservatory. He is the editor of Acoustic Guitar.

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