Learn “Doc’s Guitar”—Doc Watson’s Fingerstyle Tour de Force

The brilliance of Watson’s right-hand technique can be clearly heard on this punishingly fast instrumental
Doc Watson playing an acoustic guitar

Doc Watson was not just a flatpicking titan, but a fingerstyle force as well, whether in the context of playing accompaniment or solo guitar. The brilliance of Watson’s right-hand technique can be clearly heard on his composition “Doc’s Guitar,” a punishingly fast instrumental that crams a nonstop flurry of notes into barely over a minute’s worth of music. 

This transcription of “Doc’s Guitar” comes from the version that appears on The Best of Doc Watson: 1964–1968 (Vanguard). The piece is played in the key of C major, with a capo at the second fret causing it to sound in D. Based on simple chord shapes in the cowboy position, it isn’t terribly demanding of the fretting fingers, but the syncopated fingerpicking patterns can be tricky, to say the least, to master at tempo.


To learn the piece, it would be best to play it very slowly—say, half speed or lower—using a metronome or playing along with the original recording using software to adjust the playback tempo. As you would in learning any fingerpicking piece, pay close attention to where the thumbpicked notes (those with downward stems) fall in relation to those played by the fingers (upward stems), and to which notes are picked versus articulated with hammer-ons or pull-offs. 

Tackle the piece systematically, first measure by measure and then phrase by phrase, ironing out any kinks along the way, until you can play the whole composition from beginning to end without making errors. Try to avoid unnecessary tension in your body, hands, and fingers. Then, however long it takes, gradually increase the speed until you can effortlessly match Watson’s tempo—admittedly, easier said than done.

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 July/August 2023 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine, you will find the music on page 48.

Acoustic Guitar magazine cover for issue 341

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2023 issue of Acoustic Guitar 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.