“Beautiful Dreamer” was written by Stephen Foster (1826–1864)—often called the “father of American music”—at the end of his prolific career and published shortly after his untimely death. With its lilting rhythms and romantic lyrics, the song is one of America’s most beloved serenades.
Although “Beautiful Dreamer” was popular long before the advent of recording or radio, Bing Crosby had a huge hit with it 1940. The tune was revived again in the 1960s, a full century after it was written, with artists like the Searchers and Billy J. Kramer with the Dakotas attempting to update the song for the youth market with a rock ’n’ roll sound.
“Beautiful Dreamer” was originally written with piano accompaniment in the key of Eb major. Our arrangement transposes it to the more guitar-friendly key of C, with just a handful of chords, most of them open: C, Dm7, G, F, D7, and E. While most of these Campfire selections are in common (4/4) time, “Beautiful Dreamer” is in 9/8—that’s nine eighth notes per bar. Don’t feel intimidated if you’re not familiar with this meter. If you play along with the video, you’ll likely find that it’s easy enough to channel the waltz-like feel.
I like to play the song with a fairly active accompaniment part. As shown in the verse pattern notated below, I tend to play a bass note followed by two strums, occasionally adding a walk-up for a bit of spice, as in the last measure. While I like to change bass notes to keep things interesting, you could stick on the same bass note for each chord—for instance, the third-fret C for the C chord and the open D for the Dm7 throughout.
For a two-bar intro, I use a figure based on the song’s melodic hook, built around the C, F, and G chord shapes, and I play variations on it in other parts of the song over the G chord. If it’s too difficult, feel free to omit it, but I would recommend working it up if you can, as it really makes the arrangement more engaging—and more fun to play—and that’s what it’s all about.
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2022 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.