I Cannot Tell – chords, melody with tabs, and guitar arrangement

Last updated on March 5th, 2024


I Cannot Tell is a hymn written by William Young Fullerton around 1920 to the Irish tune “Londonderry Air”. In this lesson, we cover the guitar chords you can use for this song, sheet music for the melody including tabs, and also a finger style guitar arrangement.

How to read the guitar chord charts

To clarify how to read the chord charts, the top horizontal line represents the high E string and the bottom horizontal line represents the low E string. The vertical lines separate each fret. The numbers in the blue dots tell you which fingers to use on the fretting hand. 

For example, on the C Major chord, you use the:

  • 1st finger on the 2nd string, 1st fret
  • 2nd finger on the 4th string, 2nd fret
  • 3rd finger on the 5th string, 3rd fret
  • Circles represent open strings
  • X means to avoid the string

If needed, check out this link for more on how to read guitar notation symbols.

I Cannot Tell chords

In the key of C Major, the basic chords for I Cannot Tell are C Major, C 7 chord on guitar, F Major, C/E, A minor 7, D/F#, G Major, F# dim 7, and E 7. You can click on the chords with links to learn different ways of playing that chord.

Try the following guitar chords one at a time until you feel comfortable switching between them. These chords will be written above the melody in the next section.

I Cannot Tell chords

Here are some other resources on chords:

I Cannot Tell guitar tabs and chords

For the sheet music below, keep in mind that the chords and melody are meant to be played as separate parts. We’ll look at how to connect these parts later in the arrangement section of this lesson.

The numbers above some notes on the top staff indicate which fingers to use on the fretting hand. 

You can refer to this simple guide to understanding music symbols if needed.

By the way, you can get all the PDFs of this song below.


I Cannot Tell melody and chords

I Cannot Tell lyrics

Verse 1:
I cannot tell why he, whom angels worship,
should set his love upon the sons of men,
or why, as Shepherd, he should seek the wanderers,
to bring them back, they know not how or when.
But this I know, that he was born of Mary
when Bethl’em’s manger was his only home,
and that he lived at Nazareth and laboured,
and so the Saviour, Saviour of the world, is come.

Verse 2:
I cannot tell how silently he suffered,
as with his peace he graced this place of tears,
or how his heart upon the cross was broken,
the crown of pain to three and thirty years.
But this I know, he heals the broken-hearted
and stays our sin and calms our lurking fear
and lifts the burden from the heavy laden;
for still the Saviour, Saviour of the world is here.

Verse 3:
I cannot tell how he will win the nations,
how he will claim his earthly heritage,
how satisfy the needs and aspirations
of east and west, of sinner and of sage.
But this I know, all flesh shall see his glory,
and he shall reap the harvest he has sown,
and some glad day his sun will shine in splendour
when he the Saviour, Saviour of the world, is known.

Verse 4:
I cannot tell how all the lands shall worship,
when at his bidding every storm is stilled,
or who can say how great the jubilation
when every heart with love and joy is filled.
But this I know, the skies will thrill with rapture,
and myriad myriad human voices sing,
and earth to heav’n, and heav’n to earth, will answer,
‘at last the Saviour, Saviour of the world, is King!’

Reference: I Cannot Tell. Hymnary.org

I Cannot Tell guitar arrangement

In this section, we are essentially connecting the melody and chords together using a finger picking method of playing. If needed, check out this lesson to learn how to finger pick on guitar.


I Cannot Tell guitar arrangement

If you like this style of playing, see this other lesson on how to connect a melody and chords on guitar.

Another song that shares the same melody as I Cannot Tell is the song “Danny Boy“, which you can check out using the link.

📘 Get the free guitar practice guide here!

Want to learn more songs? Check out the sheet music with guitar tabs resource on this site.

All the best,

JG Music Lessons

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