Guitar lesson for

If I Had a Boat

by Lyle Lovett  •  Lesson #229

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Editor’s notes

Hey friends! In this lesson I’m excited to teach you how to play “If I Had a Boat” by Lyle Lovett. This one came in by patron request, and it has been my pleasure to learn this song and prepare this lesson. I’ll teach you a capo 9 version of this song (how Lovett plays it), focusing on a Travis fingerpicking style matching what he plays. I’ll show you the chord shapes, progressions needed, explain the Travis picking basics, and break down the verse/chorus/intro sections with tabs. I hope you enjoy! Send along any other Lyle Lovett requests you may have, as I’d love to know which other songs y’all may want to hear by him.

Video timestamps:

Lyrics w/ chords

(Capo 9th fret)

INTRO
    G ... G ... C - G/B -  G ... G ... D ... G ... G

CHORUS
            C    G/B   G           C      G/B    G
        And if I had a boat... I'd go out on the ocean
            C    G/B      G        Em             D
        And if I had a pony... I'd ride him on my boat
            C        G/B   G         C      G/B    G
        And we could all together... Go out on the ocean
                G          D          G
        I said, me upon my pony on my boat

VERSE
    G                           C    G/B       G
    If I were Roy Rogers... I'd sure enough be single
               G                           D
    I couldn't bring myself to marrying old Dale
         G                                 C      G/B           G
    It'd just be me and Trigger... we'd go ridin' through them movies
              G              D              G
    Then we'd buy a boat and on the sea we'd sail

        [ chorus ]

            G                                  C      G/B     G
    Now the mystery masked man was smart... he got himself a Tonto
            G                          D
    'Cause Tonto did the dirty work for free
        G                               C        G/B  G
    But Tonto he was smarter... and one day said kemo sabe
    G                                D            G
    Kiss my ass I bought a boat, I'm going out to sea

        [ chorus ]

        G                             C        G/B     G
    And if I were like lightning... I wouldn't need no sneakers
             G                           D
    Well I'd come and go whenever I would please
            G                                      C         G/B     G
    And I'd scare 'em by the shade tree... and I'd scare 'em by the light pole
          G                             D                G
    But I would not scare my pony on my boat out on the sea

        [ chorus ]

                G          D          G     (end)
        I said, me upon my pony on my boat

Capo 9th fret

Oh baby! High capo on this one. I love it though, as it makes the song sound very unique. Obviously, you could use a capo on a different fret if you prefer (maybe you want to match your vocal range), or likewise you could use no capo at all – and the tabs shown here will still work – you just won’t be able to play along with the album version of this song, or my video lesson for that matter.

Chord shapes needed

If you wanted to strum the song, just use these shapes. Leave the high E-string open if you want to capture that distinctive note heard in the fingerpicking. You’ll notice I’m using a Cadd9 instead of a C, just to keep the changes easy. But note, for the rest of the lesson I’ll be leaving the strumming path and entering the realm of fingerpicking in the Travis style.

E ––3––––3––––3––––0––––2––––
B ––3––––3––––3––––0––––3––––
G ––0––––0––––0––––0––––2––––
D ––0––––2––––0––––2––––0––––
A ––2––––3––––2––––2–––––––––
E ––3––––––––––––––0–––––––––
    G    C   G/B   Em   D

For Travis picking, you’ll want to play the shapes like this. Yes, the Em is technically an Em7, and the D is technically a D/F#. And the G, C, G/B would have weird names too if you accounted for the high E string always being open. To keep things simple, I’ll be referring to the chords with the following names for the rest of the lesson.

E ––0––                      E ––0––                     E ––0––
B ––3––  <= left pinky       B ––3––  <= left pinky      B ––3––  <= left pinky
G ––0––                      G ––0––                     G ––0––
D ––0––                      D ––0––                     D ––0––
A ––x––                      A ––3––  <= left ring       A ––2––  <= left middle
E ––3––  <= left ring        E –––––                     E –––––
    G                            C                          G/B

E ––0––                      E ––0––
B ––3––  <= left pinky       B ––3––  <= left pinky
G ––0––                      G ––2––  <= left middle
D ––0––                      D ––0––
A ––x––                      A ––0––
E ––0––                      E ––2––  <= left index
    Em                           D

Chord progression cheat sheet

Here's the progressions, big picture. Note that "/B" is the same as "G/B", I'm just being space-conscious. If you want to strum the song, this chart will be helpful for you.

INTRO
    G       G       C  /B   G       G       D       G       G
    1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4

CHORUS
    "If I had a boat..."
    C  /B   G       C  /B   G       C  /B   G       Em      D
    1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4

    "And we could all together..."
    C  /B   G       C  /B   G       G       D       G       G
    1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4

VERSE
    "If I were Roy Rogers..."
    G       G       C  /B   G       G       G       D       D
    1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4

    "It'd just be me and Trigger..."
    G       G       C  /B   G       G       D       G       G
    1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4

Travis picking basics

First, understand that you’ll need your right thumb to be an engine of continuous picking, alternating between bass notes. This usually means between the 6th string and 4th string, but on the C & G/B chords you’ll go from 5th to 4th. You could technically play the entire song just by using the right thumb tabs shown below. You’ll want to get this to be second nature and automatic, because it gets tougher when you start adding your right index finger for the treble melody notes.

E ––––––––––––––––                       E ––––––––––––––––
B ––––––––––––––––                       B ––––––––––––––––
G ––––––––––––––––                       G ––––––––––––––––
D –––––0–––––––0––  <= right thumb       D –––––0–––––––0––  <= right thumb
A ––––––––––––––––                       A –3–––––––2––––––  <= right thumb
E –3–––––––3––––––  <= right thumb       E ––––––––––––––––
   G                                        C       G/B
   1 + 2 + 3 + 4                            1 + 2 + 3 + 4

E ––––––––––––––––                       E ––––––––––––––––
B ––––––––––––––––                       B ––––––––––––––––
G ––––––––––––––––                       G ––––––––––––––––
D –––––0–––––––0––  <= right thumb       D –––––0–––––––0––  <= right thumb
A ––––––––––––––––                       A ––––––––––––––––
E –0–––––––0––––––  <= right thumb       E –2–––––––2––––––  <= right thumb
   Em                                       D
   1 + 2 + 3 + 4                            1 + 2 + 3 + 4

Fingerpicking tabs for each section

Intro tab

E ––––––––0–––––––––––––––0–––––––––0–––––––0–––––––––––––0–––––––––
B ––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––
G ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
D ––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––
A ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––3–––––––2–––––––––––––––––––––––
E ––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––––––––––––––––––3–––––––3–––––––
    G               G               C       G/B     G
    1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

E ––––––––0–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
B ––––3–––––––3–––––––––––3–––––––––––––––3–––––––––––––––3–––––––––
G ––––––––––––––––––––2–––––––2–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––
D ––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––
A ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
E ––3–––––––3–––––––2–––––––2–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––
    G               D               G               G
    1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

Chorus tab

"If I had a boat..."                           "I'd ride him on my boat"
E ––0–––––––––––––––––––––0–––––––––           E ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
B ––––––––––3–––––––––3–––––––3–––––           B ––––––––––––3–––––––––––3–––––––––
G ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––           G ––––––––0–––––––––––––––––––2–––––
D ––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––  x 3      D ––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––  x 1
A ––3–––––––2–––––––––––––––––––––––           A ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
E ––––––––––––––––––3–––––––3–––––––           E ––0–––––––0–––––––2–––––––2–––––––
    C       G/B     G                              Em              D
    1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +                1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

"We could all together..."
E ––0–––––––––––––––––––––0–––––––––
B ––––––––––3–––––––––3–––––––3–––––
G ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
D ––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––  x 2
A ––3–––––––2–––––––––––––––––––––––
E ––––––––––––––––––3–––––––3–––––––
    C       G/B     G
    1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

"Me up on my pony on my boat"
E ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
B ––––––––3–––––––––––––––3–––––––––––––––3–––––––––––––––3–––––––––
G ––––0–––––––0–––––––2–––––––2–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––
D ––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––  x 1
A ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
E ––3–––––––3–––––––2–––––––2–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––
    G               D               G               G
    1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

Verse tab

"If I were Roy Rogers, I'd sure enough be single..."
E ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––0–––––––––––––––––––––0–––––––––
B ––––––––3–––––––––––––––3–––––––––––––––––3–––––––––3–––––––3–––––
G ––0–––––––––0–––––0–––––––––0–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
D ––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––
A ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––3–––––––2–––––––––––––––––––––––
E ––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––––––––––––––––––3–––––––3–––––––
    G               G               C       G/B     G
    1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

"Couldn't bring myself to marrying old Dale..."
E ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
B ––––––––3–––––––––––––––3–––––––––––––––3–––––––––––––––3–––––––––
G ––0–––––––––0–––––0–––––––––0–––––2–––––––––2–––––2–––––––––2–––––
D ––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––
A ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
E ––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––2–––––––2–––––––2–––––––2–––––––
    G               G               D               D
    1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

"It'd just be me and Trigger, we'd go riding through them movies..."
E ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––0–––––––––––––––––––––0–––––––––
B ––––––––3–––––––––––––––3–––––––––––––––––3–––––––––3–––––––3–––––
G ––0–––––––––0–––––0–––––––––0–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
D ––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––
A ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––3–––––––2–––––––––––––––––––––––
E ––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––––––––––––––––––3–––––––3–––––––
    G               G               C       G/B     G
    1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

"Then we'd buy a boat and on the sea we'd sail."
E ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
B ––––––––3–––––––––––––––3–––––––––––––––3–––––––––––––––3–––––––––
G ––0–––––––––0–––––2–––––––––2–––––0–––––––––0–––––0–––––––––0–––––
D ––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––––––0–––
A ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
E ––3–––––––3–––––––2–––––––2–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––3–––––––
    G               D               G               G
    1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

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