Lydia Maria Child was a noted 19th-century civil rights activist, author, and journalist from Medford, Massachusetts, who wrote “Over the River and through the Wood(s)” as a Thanksgiving song celebrating her childhood memories of visiting family during the holidays. Originally published in Child’s Flowers for Children, Vol. 2 (1844), it remains a popular favorite among children and adults to celebrate Thanksgiving and the Christmas season.
This arrangement travels through three different keys, moving from F major to C before finishing in G. After a four-measure intro, the melody begins over a Travis-style bass/chord accompaniment in 6/8 time. Most often, the melody appears over a single bass note or chord, but occasionally the picking-hand fingers outline an arpeggio as a fill during melodic pauses (as in measures 8 and 12).
Although the melody notes should sound distinct from the underlying accompaniment, it’s often best to hold down a complete chord shape while articulating the different parts as necessary with your picking hand. For example, in measures 5–8, fret the complete chord voicings for the F, Bb, and C chords until you encounter the next chord change, and let the picking hand do the work to create the individual parts.
The A section in F major is played twice before modulating to C in measure 27. The melody in the B section is slightly more difficult in that the melody has the same eighth-note rhythms but features fuller chord voicings than those found in the first A section. The B section also introduces a few new harmonies, like the C#dim7 passing chord in measure 30 and the F#dim7 in bar 39. As with the A section, the B section is played twice before modulating to the final key of G major.
By the time you get to the C section in measure 49, your fretting hand might be feeling the burn. If this is the case, make sure to take frequent breaks during practice sessions, stretch out your hands, and feel free to abbreviate this arrangement during live performances. The C section is very similar to the first two, but also introduces a few new chordal textures such as the Dadd4 in bar 50, Bm7 in 61, and Csus2 chords in measures 51 and 59. Measure 65 begins a four-measure outro to take the song home. Feel free to play these measures slower and more freely to add a dynamic, lyrical quality to the ending.
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2023 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.
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