One of the most well-known hymns in the Christian literature—“It Is Well with My Soul,” by Horatio Spafford (1828–1888)—has one of the saddest backstories. In the early 1870s, Spafford, a prominent lawyer and real estate investor, lost most of his properties in the Great Chicago Fire, and then his four-year-old son succumbed to scarlet fever. As a reprieve, in 1873 Spafford sent his family on a boat trip to Europe and all four of his daughters perished when the vessel was wrecked. He composed the words to “It Is Well with My Soul” when he was en route to meet his grief-stricken wife.
Keep Spafford’s tragedies in mind when you play through the lovely arrangement here, which is excerpted from guitarist Steve Baughman’s book Gospel Songs for Fingerstyle Guitar. To get into the song’s double dropped-D tuning, just lower your first and sixth strings by a whole step, from E to D.
The arrangement is fairly undemanding of both the picking and fretting hands and makes strategic use of the open strings. There are some potentially tricky spots, though, like the single-note runs in bars 4 and 28, and the large stretch between frets 2 and 6 on beat 4 of bar 30. If that stretch is too difficult, just play the E an octave higher, on string 5, fret 7.
Be sure to play the piece unhurriedly, and take the time to observe Baughman’s special touches—like the interaction between the ringing open strings and fretted notes in bars 26 and 29—that add sublimity to this moving hymn.