‘There But for Fortune’: Travis Picking, Joan Baez style

As with any folk accompaniment, you needn’t bother with playing exactly what’s on the printed page. It would sound overly studied to play things note for note.

On the 1966 Elektra album Phil Ochs in Concert, the folk icon can be heard introducing “There But for Fortune” as having been written for him by Joan Baez. This was in fact said in irony, as Ochs first recorded the song in 1964, but it was Baez who scored a hit with her interpretation that same year.

Baez’s recording, a single from her album Joan Baez/5, is a showcase not just for her soaring voice in its prime, but for her quietly formidable accompaniment chops. She plays “There But for Fortune” in the key of G, but with a capo at the third fret causing it to sound a minor third higher than written, in Bb. (To match the original recording, you’ll need to tune your guitar slightly sharp.)


Harmonically speaking, the song is straight-forward, but with an interesting twist throughout. In the key of G, the expected IV chord is C, but beginning in bar 3, that chord is substituted with Cm/G, which is borrowed from the parallel key of G minor, giving the tonality a slightly disorienting feel. Note, too, that G and Cm/G share a bass note of G, making for a smooth transition between the chords. Keep your first finger barred at the third fret when switching between the two grips.

Speaking of smooth, Baez uses two different types of G-chord shapes here—one that third-position barre (bars 1–2, 5–6, etc.) and the other open. In measures 21–22, the open shape makes for a preferable transition between the D and Em chords, while also providing variety in the bass line through the inclusion of the G chord’s third (B) on string 5.

In terms of the picking hand, Baez opts for a classic Travis pattern throughout. To do the same, hold each chord shape for as long as possible; pick a bass note squarely on each beat with your thumb and the melodic notes on the higher strings with your index and middle fingers, and occasionally both. (For more on Travis picking, see Jamie Stillway’s Basics lesson in the December 2017 issue of AG and her Weekly Workout in the January 2019 issue.)

As with any folk accompaniment, you neednt bother with playing exactly what’s on the printed page. It would sound overly studied to play things note for note. Instead go for the overall rhythmic effect—spritely and syncopated.

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 May/June 2019 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine, you will find the music on page 60.

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *