Guitar lesson for


by Billy Strings  •  Lesson #279

Video lessons

Getting started with the song (#279)


Exactly how Billy Strings plays it (#316)

Editor’s notes

Hey friends! Here’s a lesson teaching you how to play the classic song “Summertime”, specifically using the Billy Strings guitar arrangement from his cover with Marcus King. In my first lesson (#279), I’ll be covering the 80% broad-stroke core of what Billy plays: chords, the progression, basic strumming, and some muting techniques. In a separate video (#316) I’ll teach you the exact strumming, runs & fills Billy plays – but watch this one first if you’re just getting started with the song, as that other lesson builds off of this one. Note that this version of the song is similar, but not exactly the same to the Doc Watson version.

The version I’m basing my lesson on

This lesson is based on the Billy Strings & Marcus King cover of this song, which was posted to the Carter Vintage Guitars YouTube channel in March 2019. I’m not going to presume this is the “only” way Billy has played this song – so when it comes to my arrangement, keep this in mind and stray off the path if you want.

I should note, the Billy & Marcus version above is very much similar to the Doc Watson version, which can be seen here:

Chord shapes

Here’s the chord voicings I’m using.

Mastering the Em-D/F#-G

This was the trickiest part for me, when picking up this song from scratch. For what I’m calling the D/F#, specifically (which in reality is probably a D6/F# or something else) – it took me a while to get comfortable with the transition from the G. Note, I have additional tips on strumming these chords further below.

e ––0––                 e ––2–– <=       e ––3–– <=
B ––0––                 B ––0––                 B ––3–– <= L.ring
G ––0––                 G ––2–– <= L.ring       G ––0––
D ––2–– <= L.ring       D ––0––                 D ––0––
A ––2–– <= L.middle     A ––0––                 A ––2–– <= L.index
E ––0––                 E ––2–– <= L.middle     E ––3–– <= L.middle
    Em                     D/F#                     G

See my PDF for the diagrams.

The other chords

The rest of the chords are more straightforward. Note for the C, Billy looks like he does a C/G sometimes (332010). Likewise, for the B7 note Billy is alternating the bass notes by moving his left middle finger to the F# (2nd fret of low E string), on the longer measures at least – which I note as B7/F#.

e –––0–––0–––2–––2–––
B –––1–––1–––0–––0–––
G –––2–––0–––2–––2–––
D –––2–––2–––1–––1–––
A –––0–––3–––2–––x–––
E –––––––––––––––2–––
     Am  C   B7  B7/F#

The importance of bass notes in the the Em-D/F#-G

Whether strumming or playing fingerstyle, I always prefer playing these 3 chords by (1) first plucking the bass note – and then (2) plucking the thinnest 3-4 strings. This is tremendously helpful when it comes to capturing the sound heard in the Billy Strings version, as well as that of Doc Watson etc.

See my PDF for the diagram.

Chord progressions

See my PDF for the diagram.

Song structure

Inst. verse, w/ Marcus Solo
Inst. verse, w/ Billy Solo
Verse 1
Verse 2
Inst. verse, w/ Billy Solo
Inst. verse, w/ Marcus Solo
Verse 3

Lyrics with chords

    Em  D/F#  G  D/F#   Em  D/F#  G  D/F#

          Em    D/F#  G            D/F#      Em    D/F#  G  D/F#
    Summertime............ and the living is easy
                Am          C                 B7      B7
    Fish--- are jumping........ the cotton is high
                 Em    D/F#  G            D/F#        Em      D/F#  G  D/F#
    Your pappy's rich........... and your mama's good looking
    G            Em      Am          C              Em    B7
    Hush, little baby...... Honey----  don't you cry

                 Em       D/F# G          D/F#    Em      D/F#  G  D/F#
    One of these mornings......... you'll rise up singing
                          Am     C                   B7
    Honey spread out your wings..... and take to the sky
               Em    D/F#  G         D/F#         Em      D/F#  G  D/F#
    Until that day........... honey, hush up your crying
                G             Em       Am         C               Em    B7
    'Cause your mama and your pappy...... honey, they're standin' by

    [ instrumental verse(s) with solo ]

              Em    D/F#  G            D/F#      Em    D/F#  G  D/F#
    Oh, summertime............ and the living is easy
                                       Am          C                 B7     B7
    Them old catfish, yeah they're are jumping........ the cotton is high
                 Em    D/F#  G            D/F#        Em      D/F#  G  D/F#
    Your pappy's rich........... and your mama's good looking
    G            Em      Am          C              Em    B7
    Hush, little baby...... Honey----  don't you cry

ENDING (let chords ring, slow down)

           G            Em      Am         C      Em (end)
    I said hush, little baby... don't... you... cry---------

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