Learn a Spirited Version of Kate Wolf’s Folk Favorite, “Across the Great Divide”


“Across the Great Divide” is a beautiful folk song written by singer-songwriter Kate Wolf in the early 1980s. Since then, it has been covered by many artists—perhaps most notably by folk-country singer Nanci Griffith with Emmylou Harris on Griffith’s 1993 album, Other Voices/Other Rooms. More recently, in 2022, Americana artist Iris DeMent gave a memorable performance of the song at the 25th and final Kate Wolf Festival—an annual Northern California concert series dedicated to the late musician.

Wolf’s original recording and the covers tend to have slow to medium tempos, but this arrangement, which I recorded with the folk group the Real Sarahs, is played in fast cut time, around 102 half notes per minute, making the most of the ukulele’s quick attack. On our studio recording, some fun syncopation adds a burst of energy to the harmonized vocals and supports Nina Gerber’s driving electric guitar work.


I use an open picking hand for strumming throughout the song, with my thumb playing downstrums on the beat and my index finger adding ups on the offbeats. Accents on the upbeats and the occasional anticipated chord change at the end of a measure both add to the syncopated feel. 

As you’ll see in the video lesson above, my right hand moves up and down in a continuous stream of eighth notes, sometimes passing over the strings to intentionally miss them where there are rests, and other times brushing them very lightly or muting them with an open palm. Note that I will occasionally bring my picking-hand thumb down on the fretboard simultaneously with the palm-mute, adding a percussive sound.  

The chord voicings often echo the key tones in the vocal melody. For example, the first couple phrases of the melody contain the notes C#, E, and F#, which are also played on one of the top three strings of the accompanying chords. These types of voicings are used throughout to “contour” the chord progression. Note, too, that there are three separate voicings for the F#m chord in this arrangement—a good way to add harmonic variety and build intensity.

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 Spring 2024 issue of Ukulele magazine you will find the music on page 36.