Few songs are as evocative of the ideal of the American West as “Home on the Range,” that old ode to frontier life. The original lyrics were penned by Brewster M. Higley, a doctor who moved to Kansas as a homesteader in 1871, and, inspired by his new surroundings, wrote the poem “My Western Home.” Higley’s friend Daniel E. Kelley later added the music that transformed these words into “Home on the Range” as we know it.
The earliest recording of the tune, sung by a saloonkeeper in 1908, was documented by musicologist and folklorist John Lomax, who made his own version two years later. In 1933, the pop vocalist Bing Crosby released what would become the most popular version. (Crosby also rerecorded it in 1938 and 1939.) Singers as varied as Frank Sinatra, Gene Autry, and Tori Amos have made notable interpretations as well.
“Home on the Range” has seen many lyrical variations over the years—Lomax added a verse about the plight of the Native Americans, for instance—and this arrangement captures a typical short set of verses.
It’s in E major, which works nicely on the guitar. If E is unsuitable to your vocal range, simply use a capo to transpose up to a different key.
In terms of strumming, pretty much any basic pattern in 3/4 time (remember, three quarter notes per measure) should do the trick, but here in the notation I’ve suggested one that should be fun to play: a root note squarely on beat 1, followed by eighth-note strums on beats 2 and 3. Just think low string on 1 and high strings on 2–3, and go for rhythmic verve over precision.
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2019 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.