Learn to Play “The Lakes of Pontchartrain” | AG Patreon Song of the Month

Learn a fingerstyle arrangement of this ballad; a tune interpreted by Paul Brady, Bob Dylan, Aoife O'Donavan, and countless pub session players.
lakes of pontchartrain title slide showing a guitarist playing and looking out an open window

This month’s Patreon song is “The Lakes of Pontchartrain,” a ballad that originated in the Southern United States that chronicles a wandering and cash-strapped man who is offered shelter by a Louisiana Creole woman. He falls in love and proposes to her, but as his luck would have it, she is already engaged to be married.

Some of the best-known recorded versions of “The Lakes of Pontchartrain” are by the traditional Irish group Planxty and a solo version by Paul Brady (incidentally, a member of the band). (A transcription of Brady’s version done by former AG music editor Andrew DuBrock is available on the musician’s website.) Bob Dylan played the song in his shows in the late 1980s, and more recently, singer-songwriter Aoife O’Donovan has performed it for programs on NPR and in various other settings, including an Acoustic Guitar Sessions video. The song was also the memorable closer in pub sessions on a musical trip that magazine staff and guests took in Ireland several years ago.


The arrangement here is inspired by O’Donovan’s interpretations. While she plays the song using open chord shapes in the key of G major, it sounds in the key of B due to a capo at the fourth fret. Note how the dulcet chord progression makes great use of the droning open G string throughout, with pared-down voicings that leave plenty of sonic space for the vocals. Though the chords could be fingered in a number of different ways, the frames show the most efficient way of doing so.

I’ve included a suggested fingerpicking part with a good amount of syncopation and subtle variations—dynamic patterns that you can borrow for any song in waltz time. As always, it’s best to use the notation as a guide in creating your own unique arrangement.

The TAB and notation for “The Lakes of the Pontchartrain” are available to members of the Acoustic Guitar Patreon page at the Supporters tier or higher. Join our community to access live workshops, song transcriptions (like “Hotel California,” “Hello in There,” “The Entertainer,” and more!), exclusive podcast episodes, and guitar lessons.

Blurred image of musical notation and tablature for "The Lakes of Pontchartrain"
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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