Learn the essential techniques of bluegrass flatpicking guitar through classic and lesser-known songs and tunes, from bluegrass blues to old-time fiddle tunes to country swing sounds.
Check out these songs featured in the Advanced Flatpicking Guitar course.
Learn the basics of bluegrass and old-time country rhythm guitar playing: the boom-chuck pattern, along with some variations and the classic bluegrass G-run.Then you’ll put them all together to play rhythm to the Monroe Brothers’ classic “Long Journey Home.”
“Temperance Reel” is an old Irish tune that has become a favorite of bluegrass guitarists. When learning fiddle tunes, it’s a good idea to consult the original version. You’ll learn the original melody to “Temperance Reel,” which contains a few phrases not often heard in bluegrass versions. You’ll also learn to create variations by narrowing your sights and taking it a measure or two at a time.
Learn four ways to play the classic “Soldier’s Joy,” a simple old-time fiddle version, a version from some old fiddle tune books, bluegrass fiddler Richard Greene’s version (recorded with Bill Monroe), and Clarence White’s classic guitar version. Scott also talks about learning to recognize and think about a fiddle tune by its overall shape and distinctive melodic motifs rather than a specific series of notes.
When playing fiddle tunes on the guitar, it’s important to think not only about the notes you play but how you play them. You can pick each note or use slurs (slides, hammer-ons, pull-offs), and in many cases you can choose to play a note as an open string or by fretting it in a different position. The choices you make affect your tone, the rhythm of the melodic line, and the relative ease of playing the notes. In this lesson, Scott demonstrates different ways of articulating fiddle tune melodies, using Tony Rice’s version of the bluegrass standard “Gold Rush.” You’ll also learn some variations that Scott plays on “Gold Rush” and learn about Tony Rice’s distinctive picking style.
Many bluegrass guitarists tend to favor G and C positions, using the capo to play in other keys like A, D, E, etc. But open D position works well for lots of things, including fiddle tunes like “Fisher’s Hornpipe.” To get a lot of practice in open D, you’ll learn “Fisher’s Hornpipe” in two octaves as well as a harmony to the melody.
Doc Watson’s 1963 recording of “Black Mountain Rag” arguably created the style of flatpicking you hear today. The clarity, fluidity, and speed of his playing had not been heard before, and soon hundreds/thousands of guitarists were trying to “play like Doc.” Learn Scott’s version of Doc’s arrangement of “Black Mountain Rag” in this lesson.
“Crosspicking” is defined as using a flatpick to play arpeggiated chords across the guitar strings, much like a fingerpicker would. In bluegrass, the term refers to arpeggiated patterns that imitate a bluegrass banjo player’s rolls. In the 1950s Stanley Brothers guitarists George Shuffler and Bill Napier used syncopated 3-3-2 rolls to fill out song melodies, and Clarence White, Doc Watson, and other flatpickers soon followed suit. Learn the basic crosspicking rolls and use them to play the old-time song “Home Sweet Home,” which Earl Scruggs also played as a bluegrass banjo instrumental.
The blues is an essential part of bluegrass, but the scale used in bluegrass blues, unlike the minor pentatonic blues scale favored by blues guitarists, uses both the flatted third and major third, as well as the flatted seventh. Learn some bluegrass blues sounds using the old-time murder ballad “Pretty Polly.” You’ll learn a basic version of the melody of “Pretty Polly” as well as some some variations on the melody that keep its basic shape.
Most of the great bluegrass guitarists use the song’s melody as a basis for their solos. Scott uses the bluegrass standard “Nine Pound Hammer” to show you how to create a melody-based solo to a song, as well as how to create multiple variations to each melodic fragment so that you can vary your solo and eventually start improvising in a melodic way. You’ll start by learning a break to “Nine Pound Hammer” similar to one Clarence White played on the Kentucky Colonels’ recording Appalachian Swing.
Learn about different minor scales, and how to know which one to play when improvising or creating a solo for a song in a minor key. You’ll learn a melody-based solo to “Shady Grove,” something like Doc Watson would play, sticking to the notes of the melody, which make up a D sus pentatonic scale, slightly different than the D minor pentatonic scale. You’ll also learn the D natural minor scale and the D Dorian scale, two other options for playing in D minor, and another melody-based solo to “Shady Grove,” this time with notes from the D Dorian mode as well as a bluesy lick with a flatted fifth.
Using the melody as a basis for improvising or composing solos is a great approach, but it’s also important to have a bunch of bluegrass guitar licks at your disposal. Learning some standard licks will also help you immerse yourself in the bluegrass blues language. In this lesson, Scott shows you 18 licks, borrowed from great guitarists like Tony Rice, Clarence White, David Grier, Kenny Smith and others, that you can use over a G chord when you are playing any bluesy bluegrass song.
Scott has a three-step method for creating bluegrass solos to songs, which you’ll learn in this lesson, using Ralph Stanley’s version of the folk classic “Worried Man Blues.” Step One is to learn the melody, so you’ll learn the basic melody and some easy ways to embellish and articulate the melody on the guitar. Step Two is adding short three-beat runs or intro licks to the melody notes. The idea is to always be thinking about where you’re going and how you’re going to get there. Step Three is what you do once you’ve gotten to where you’re going, which involves using cross-picking, strums, and place-holder licks to fill out the held melody notes.
The instrumental breaks played by guitarist Maybelle Carter during the Carter Family’s recording of the song “Wildwood Flower” created what is likely the first recorded country guitar instrumental, a must-know for all flatpicking guitarists. It’s also a good song to illustrate how to modify standard crosspicking patterns to create your own arrangement of a song melody. Scott shows you how Maybelle Carter played “Wildwood Flower” and how to flesh it out by using a standard 3–3–2 crosspicking pattern to play the first line of the melody. Then he shows you how he gradually modifies the pattern and creates variations on that pattern (and others) depending on how he wants to phrase the melody.
Work on some up-the-neck scale positions in the key of G, including a common position at the seventh fret and an intermediary position at the fifth fret. You’ll also learn how to move between positions using open strings and slides and get some exercises to practice moving between the fifth-fret and seventh-fret positions. You’ll finish by learning a version of the fiddle tune “Blackberry Blossom” that moves between the seventh-fret and fifth-fret positions.
Learn scale positions in the keys of C and D, and how to move from position to position using open strings and slides. You’ll start with a position in C at the third fret, with some ideas about how to move there from open position, and then how to move to positions at the fifth and tenth frets. You’ll also learn up-the-neck positions for the key of D, which are only two frets higher than the C positions, and an arrangement of the fiddle tune “Forked Deer” in the key of D using multiple positions.
The old-time fiddle tune “Big Sciota” has been a bluegrass jam favorite ever since guitarist Russ Barenberg recorded it with Jerry Douglas and Edgar Meyer on Skip, Hop, and Wobble in 1993. Scott also recorded it on his 1990 album No Hurry. There are some similarities between the versions and a few differences, so you’ll learn both versions.
Norman Blake is one of the pioneers of flatpicking, with a guitar style influenced by old-time music and mandolin playing, but with his own unique sound. He also writes great tunes that combine old-time fiddle melodies with contemporary ideas. In his three-part guitar tune “Coming Down from Rising Fawn,” the A part has a simple song-like melody that showcases Norman’s “almost crosspicking” style of melody and rhythm playing, while the B part is more like a fiddle tune. The C part begins with Norman strumming an unusual G–F–A–D chord progression and then moves into another characteristic Blake single-string lick where he bounces off the open first string while playing fretted notes up the neck.
The great Texas bluegrass fiddler Byron Berline’s tune “Huckleberry Hornpipe” has become a flatpicker’s favorite, in part because of Clarence White’s classic solo on the original recording. You’ll learn both the fiddle melody and Clarence’s solo, which is a great example of how to create a guitar-friendly version of a fiddle tune that might be tricky to duplicate exactly on guitar.
In the 1960s Doc Watson transformed the Texas fiddle rag “Beaumont Rag” into a flatpicking and bluegrass jam essential. If you’re a flatpicker, you have to play “Beaumont Rag,” and Doc’s recordings of it are definitive. You’ll learn Doc’s version in this lesson, including the way he played the second part, which may surprise you. Because the structure of “Beaumont Rag” is so repetitive, it’s a great tune to work on melodic improvising, so Scott gives you a few variations that you can alternate with Doc’s melody.
The gospel favorite “I Am a Pilgrim” was a signature instrumental for Clarence White. Scott gets you started on a basic version of the melody and adds a couple chordal fill licks, so you get a good sense of the vocal phrasing of the melody and how it relates to the chords. Then, since Clarence never played “I Am a Pilgrim” the same way twice, you’ll learn a “compilation” solo for “I Am a Pilgrim,” with many of the things Clarence played and explanations of his timing and how his variations relate to the basic melody.
The traditional song “John Hardy” has become a bluegrass jam session favorite, and guitar legend Tony Rice has recorded it a couple times. You’ll learn how he played it on his debut album Guitar. This solo showcases both his melodic playing, which includes a lot of syncopated and crosspicked phrases, as well as his more improvisatory style, with blues runs and licks that can be played over different chords.
“Alabama Jubilee” is an old popular song from the turn of the 20th century that was a showpiece for Clarence White and has become a popular instrumental at jam sessions. It has a ragtime-era chord progression and a simple melody and is usually played at a fast tempo. Clarence used syncopated crosspicking to play the open four bars, which is difficult to duplicate, but includes one simple pattern that is easier to play at a fast tempo. In this lesson, Scott shows you Clarence’s first chorus from the Kentucky Colonels’ Living in the Past recording and then shows you the simple 2–3 crosspicking pattern and how to use it to modify Clarence’s version into something a little more manageable.
“Listen to the Mockingbird” is a Civil War–era song that Clarence White turned into a guitar instrumental for the Kentucky Colonels’ album Appalachian Swing. It’s a crosspicking showcase but it rarely follows the standard 3–3–2 crosspicking. Clarence had his own favorite pattern (2–3–3), but he also adapted and varied the patterns according to how he wanted to phrase the melody, and “Listen to the Mockingbird” is a great example of that. In this lesson, you’ll learn Clarence’s first solo (with a few modifications) from Appalachian Swing.
The Western swing instrumental “Panhandle Rag” has become popular with bluegrassers, but it also makes a good vehicle for demonstrating swing-style phrasing, which is quite different than bluegrass or fiddle tune phrasing. You’ll learn a basic arrangement of “Panhandle Rag,” with advice on how to give the lines a swing feel and provide some variation in the phrasing. Scott also shows you a few ways to take each melodic fragment and syncopate it or elaborate on it so that you’re coming up with variations or improvising based on the melody rather than just playing licks based on the underlying chord.
Django Reinhardt’s tune “Minor Swing” has become a popular jam favorite among Gypsy jazz musicians as well as bluegrass and string band players of various instruments. In this lesson, you’ll learn the melody and chords as well as a solo from Django’s classic 1937 recording that illustrates many aspects of his approach to improvising.
Learn a swing blues tune from Benny Goodman, along with a Charlie Christian solo from the original Benny Goodman Sextet recording. “Benny’s Bugle” is a fairly straightforward uptempo blues riff tune in Bb. The first melody outlines basic Bb, Eb, and F chords (the I, IV, and V) in Bb, and the band plays a couple of other cool riffs later in the tune. Charlie Christian takes the first solo on the recording of “Benny’s Bugle” and it’s a classic, one of those solos learned by most jazz and swing guitarists.
This is as much a theory lesson as a “learning the fingerboard” lesson. Dominant nine chords and arpeggios are a common extension for playing V7 chords, you just add the nine to the root, third, fifth, and seventh of the dominant seven chord. If you remove the root from the dominant nine, you get a four-note arpeggio that is also a minor six (m6) and minor seven flat five arpeggio (m7b5), depending on which note is the root. Scott shows you three convenient shapes for this arpeggio on strings 4–2, 3–1, and 5–3, and how to combine the arpeggio with the corresponding scale for the shape. Then he shows you a few ways to use the dominant 9/minor 6 arpeggios, first as a dominant arpeggio on a circle-of-fifths progression and then as the ii7b5 chord in a ii7–V7 progression in a minor key and as the iv6 chord in a Gypsy jazz progression.
“Tin Roof Blues” is a simple 12-bar swing blues in Bb that was a favorite of early jazz and western swing bands. Scott uses it to talk about a handy closed position you can use to play in Bb or any closed position up the neck. Flatpickers can think of this as open G position, but with the index finger fretting notes that would be open strings in open G. Scott walks you through the melody, which ends with some handy swing licks, and then talks about other ways to use this position.
Diminished arpeggios and scales are used in swing, bebop, and contemporary jazz. In this lesson, Scott shows you a couple of convenient positions on the top four strings that you can use to play diminished arpeggios and scales and gives you examples of how diminished chords and scales are used in swing, mainstream, and contemporary jazz.
The fiddle tune “Crazy Creek” comes from Nashville fiddler Tommy Jackson, whose 1950s records featured some great players like Jethro Burns on mandolin and some great tunes, like this one. “Crazy Creek” is in the key of A, but has some long sections in C that include F chords. It can be played without a capo, but it also works well with a capo on the second fret played out of G position. This means that the C and F chords translate to Bb and Eb with the capo on. Scott shows you how the Bb and Eb scales can be played quite easily in first position, using the open G, D, and even A strings for part of the scales.
The fiddle tune standard “Bill Cheatham” is played in the key of A by fiddle players and mandolin players, and most guitarists play it in the key of G, capoed at the second fret. In this lesson you’ll learn to play “Bill Cheatham” in A but without a capo. This is not only a good exercise for learning to play in the key of A without a capo but for learning a movable scale position that spans three frets on the top three strings (with your first finger playing the root of the scale on the third string).
A ragtime-sounding tune written by swing era pianist Joe Sullivan, “Little Rock Getaway” was later adapted to the guitar by Chet Atkins and Les Paul. It’s a fun tune with an interesting chord progression, and it makes for a good technical workout for both hands. The first four bars feature cascading arpeggios through a series of chords, and in addition to tricky crosspicking, it requires accurate and efficient use of your fretting hand, so Scott gives you advice on keeping your fingers in a single position to play all the arpeggios, and how to “plant” your fingers so that you keep a finger down as you play the next note in the arpeggio.
Bill Monroe’s fiddle tune “Wheel Hoss” has a unique chord progression and phrasing. A favorite of mandolin and fiddle players, it’s usually played at a fast tempo and the first part can be tricky on the guitar at high speeds, so it’s important to come up with a version you can play fast. In this lesson, you’ll learn a simplified version of the A part you can play when the tempo gets high as well as the note-for-note fiddle version of the melody. The B part of “Wheel Hoss” is not as complex, but when you’re coming up with a way to play it on the guitar, you’ll need to remember to just use phrases you can play at a fast tempo.
“Arkansas Traveler” is a must-know tune for flatpickers and all roots music musicians. In this lesson, you’ll learn a basic guitar arrangement of it and then Scott uses it to show you some different rhythmic variations, including rhythmic displacement and three against four phrasing.
The old-time fiddle tune “St. Anne’s Reel” has become a jam session standard, a favorite of guitarists, mandolin players, and fiddlers. Scott’s version is inspired by the playing of Russ Barenberg, who plays with a great syncopated bounce and, rather than improvising on the chord changes to create variations, as many contemporary players do, plays variations on the melody that keep the original drive and melodic shape of the tune. You’ll learn “St. Anne’s Reel” in D without a capo, and Scott’s version includes a pass through the tune in the lower octave, for which he tunes down to dropped-D tuning.
Mandolinist Frank Wakefield’s instrumental tune “New Camptown Races,” written and first recorded in the 1950s, has become a contemporary bluegrass favorite. It has an unusual chord progression and structure, with 16-bar A parts, and it’s played on the mandolin and fiddle in Bb. That would usually mean that a guitarist would play it out of G position with a capo on the third fret, but in this lesson you’ll learn to play it in Bb without a capo.
The melody of “Goodbye Liza Jane,” also called by some “Little Liza Jane” and “Liza Jane” has been around for at least a hundred years, and has morphed into numerous versions in that time. The 1940s recording by Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys is probably the source for most bluegrass versions these days. In this lesson, Scott shows you his version, both a “composed” version that he would use to kickoff the tune, and one that reflects how he improvises on the melody.
The old-time fiddle tune “Red Apple Rag” comes from fiddler Arthur Smith, but Scott learned it from Seattle fiddler Hank Bradley and recorded it on his first solo record No Hurry. Hank’s version reverses the A and B parts and includes a third part. In this lesson you’ll learn the way Scott played all three parts on his recording, including a variation on each part.
The fiddle tune “Acorn Hill Breakdown” (also called “Acorn Hill”) was written by Nashville fiddler Tommy Jackson, a Nashville studio fiddler who played on many classic country records and made a few records of “Square Dances Without Calls” in the 1950s. Scott recorded “Acorn Hill” on his album No Hurry and bluegrass guitarist Kenny Smith has also recorded it recently, on his instrumental album Return. It’s in the key of D and Scott plays it without a capo. In this lesson, you’ll learn the basic tune, as well as a version in the lower octave, which is a great way to create a variation without significantly altering the melody.
Learn a couple different ways to play the blues on bluegrass and simple swing tunes, using Bill Monroe’s “Rocky Road Blues.” Both solos use a blues scale that includes both the minor and major thirds and the flatted seventh. Scott starts by teaching you a bluegrass-style solo based on the melody of “Rocky Road Blues.” You’ll also learn a 12-bar swing blues solo that incorporates the bluegrass blues tonality in closed-positions around the third to seventh frets.
The great contemporary bluegrass song “Colleen Malone” was popularized by Hot Rize and won the IBMA award for Bluegrass Song of the Year in 1991. In this lesson you’ll learn a solo inspired by Hot Rize mandolinist Tim O’Brien’s crosspicking and guitarist Charles Sawtelle’s bluesy Clarence White–inspired playing. The ending line to “Colleen Malone” is a good place to play some variations, so you’ll learn three variations on the ending line that illustrate how Scott moves up and down the neck through three-note F and G shapes.
The Delmore Brothers song “Blue Railroad Train” has been recorded by numerous people, but for guitar players Doc Watson’s and Tony Rice’s versions have become classics. In this lesson, you’ll learn the basic form of the song, with some variations, as well as the Delmore Brothers guitar line and Tony Rice’s solo from his album Manzanita.
In another lesson on creating solos to bluegrass songs, Scott looks at Bill Monroe’s recording of “Rose of Old Kentucky.” You’ll learn the sung melody and Monroe’s mandolin solo and look at how the two compare. You’ll also learn how Scott used Bill Monroe’s mandolin solo on “Rose of Old Kentucky” to create a guitar solo that combines guitaristic versions of Monroe’s melodic lead-in lines with crosspicking, fills, and placeholder licks in place of the tremolo that Monroe played on long melody notes.
Bill Monroe’s song “Footprints in the Snow” was a favorite of Clarence White’s: you can hear early recordings of him playing it on 33 Acoustic Guitar Instrumentals and he played a couple of classic melody-based solos on the 1973 Muleskinner recording. In this lesson, you’ll learn those 1973 solos and look at how Clarence based his solos on the melody of the song, using variations on some of his favorite licks.
Vassar Clements’ fiddle solo on Bill Monroe’s classic song “My Little Georgia Rose” is one of the most distinctive parts of Monroe’s original 1950 recording and most bluegrass fiddlers use it as a model for their solos on the song. Scott does the same when he plays it on the guitar, and in this lesson he shows you how he used the fiddle solo to construct a guitar solo, filling it out with crosspicking and some more guitaristic licks.
Tony Rice’s solo on the Bluegrass Album Band’s recording of “Your Love Is Like a Flower” is a classic: one of the best examples of his flashy, driving improvisatory style and a great example of how to create an exciting sound by anticipating chord changes and varying stock phrases by starting them in different parts of the measure. Tony’s solo ignores the melody for the most part, and, because “Your Love Is Like a Flower” has a very standard chord progression (sometimes called “bluegrass chord progression #1), you can use a lot of his ideas in songs with the same progression.
Learn the solo Scott played on Tim O’Brien’s recording of the Bob Dylan song “Señor,” from Tim’s acclaimed Red on Blonde album. While it was a partially improvised solo, Scott followed a lot of the concepts he’s been talking about in other lessons on creating solos to songs: targeting melody notes, using lead-in runs to the melody, etc. The song is in a minor key with an unusual chord progression, and has a contemporary bluegrass feel. Scott walks you through the solo note for note, sharing some of the things he thought about while playing the solo and giving technical advice on certain aspects of the solo, like the slow vibrato he used on some of the long sustained notes.
The traditional song “John Henry” is often played as a fast bluegrass instrumental, and it can be tricky to create a guitar solo for it. The form is unusual—20 bars, with five four-bar melodic phrases—and there are almost no chord changes. Scott shows you how he comes up with a solo for a fast tune like this, starting by listening to what other guitarists have done (in this case, Clarence White) and then creating a basic melodic solo that he can embellish.
Scott uses the old folk song “Been All Around This World,” which has been recorded by Jerry Garcia, Bryan Sutton, and many others, to illustrate how to take a simple Maybelle Carter–style arrangement of a song and make it your own. He starts by giving you ideas on expanding on a simple arrangement by adding lead-in lines, improvised cadence licks, and elaborate melodic variations. Then he walks you through a solo to “Been All Around This World” he created to kick off the song.
Tony Rice’s solo on the legendary 1975 JD Crowe and the New South recording of “Old Home Place” is a classic. But it’s only a half solo, so if you’re going to play a complete solo on the song, you’ll need to come up with your own second half. In this lesson, Scott shows you Tony’s solo as well as his own solo inspired by Tony’s. In addition to showing you Tony’s solo, Scott explains how Tony’s unique idiosyncratic approach to pick direction makes it more difficult for strict alternating pickers to play some of his phrases.
Scott recorded an instrumental version of the Carter Family song “Bury Me Beneath the Willow” that featured his crosspicking style on his 1990 Rounder Records debut No Hurry. In this lesson, you’ll learn his basic crosspicked arrangement and also the improvised two-chorus solo he played on the recording. As he explains, Scott’s crosspicking style is as influenced by the time he spent playing electric guitar in country and Cajun bands (where he imitated Cajun steel guitar players’ approach to playing the melody of Cajun dance tunes) as it is by the traditional crosspicking style of George Shuffler and Clarence White.
Tony Rice’s style changes quite a bit depending on what key he’s playing in. His driving bluegrass style is usually played in G position, and is much different from his playing in C position, especially when playing by himself, as he did on his recording of Norman Blake’s song “Orphan Annie” on Church Street Blues. In this lesson, you’ll learn his first solo from that record. It’s a great solo, but for some reason, Tony added an extra measure in the middle of both of his solos on the record, so while it’s a fun solo to learn, don’t try playing it verbatim if someone calls “Orphan Annie” at a jam session.
Scott shows you a few different ways to play triplets and demonstrates them on a solo to Bill Monroe’s “True Life Blues.” Playing triplets is always an issue for a picking style based on two notes, and the question is how to pick three notes when you usually pick two. The most common way is to slur two of the notes, so you can maintain a strict alternating picking pattern, but Scott shows you some other methods, including using “sweep picking” and down-down-up picking.
The old-time fiddle tune “Half Past Four” comes from the great Kentucky fiddler Ed Haley, who was recorded by his son in a series of home recordings in the 1940s. It has also been making the rounds of bluegrass jams lately, and Scott recorded it with John Reischman and Sharon Gilchrist on Harmonic Tone Revealers. Scott’s version is much like the way a fiddler would play it, but with fingering choices designed to make it flow on the guitar. You’ll learn “Half Past Four” in two octaves, played out of G position on the guitar.
“Crockett’s Honeymoon” is an old-time fiddle tune that Scott recorded on his album Dreamer’s Waltz. It’s in the key of G and is often played at a very fast tempo. It also sounds good on the guitar in two octaves, so it’s good for practicing playing on the bottom strings. Scott walks you through the melody phrase by phrase, explaining his phrasing and fingering choices as he goes. You’ll learn “Crockett’s Honeymoon” in two octaves in this lesson.
The fiddle tune “Abe’s Retreat” comes from the old-time repertoire and likely dates back to the Civil War. It’s in the key of A Mixolydian and Scott plays it without a capo, often as a solo guitar tune, so his arrangement includes some bass notes and open strings that ring through the melody to fill out the guitar sound. One advantage of playing it without a capo is that the melody can be played in two octaves, which is a common way to vary things in old-time fiddling.
“Home Brew Rag” was recorded by Georgia old-time fiddler Lowe Stokes in 1927. It’s full of ragtime-style syncopations and is a fun rag to play on the guitar. It’s in the keys of F (the A part) and Bb (th B part), so it’s also a good opportunity to work on playing in those keys in open position.
There are a number of versions of this great old-time fiddle tune (also called “Sail Away Ladies” or “Sally Ann”), but the one recorded by fiddler Uncle Bunt Stephens in 1926 is a particular favorite. It has a distinctive syncopation common to Southern Appalachian mountain fiddling that is important to understand if you’re going to play with old-time fiddlers. In this lesson, Scott shows you how he adapts old-time fiddle tunes to the guitar by getting as close as he can to the fiddler’s phrasing and timing, and then changing it to make it work on the guitar while retaining the original’s syncopation and rhythmic emphasis.
Darol Anger’s wild and crazy fiddle tune “Ride the Wild Turkey” is a contemporary bluegrass instrumental classic. It’s been recorded by numerous people, including Jerry Douglas on his Slide Rule album, on which Scott played guitar. It’s a complex three-part tune (the form is ABCA) with a different number of measures in each part and some particularly unusual timing in the third part. You’ll learn the fiddle melody as well as Scott’s solo from Slide Rule in this lesson.
“The High Road” comes from Tim O’Brien who recorded it on his 1983 solo album Hard Year Blues as a song with a fiddle tune as the instrumental. Bryan Sutton recorded it as an instrumental on his album Bluegrass Guitar and it’s usually played that way in jam sessions. Scott used to play “The High Road” with Tim when he was a member of Tim’s band, the O’Boys, in the 1990s and this version is a combination of how Scott used to play it with Tim and how Bryan recorded it. In addition to the main melody, you’ll learn a variation of each part.
David Grier recorded his tune “Smith Chapel” on his 1995 album Lone Soldier and the tune has since become a jam favorite of flatpickers and bluegrass musicians. The chord progression is relatively simple—the A part progression is used in bluegrass standards like “Bury Me Beneath the Willow”—making it a fun tune to jam on, but playing Grier’s exact melody can be a little tricky.
The four-part contemporary fiddle tune “Cazadero” was written by fiddler Paul Shelasky and first recorded on mandolinist John Reischman’s album North of the Border (with Scott playing guitar). It’s also been recorded by Chris Thile (on How to Grow a Woman from the Ground) and has become a favorite of ambitious young string players. It’s in the key of E, and is usually played on the guitar out of D, with a capo at the second fret.
The bluegrass instrumental standard “Rebecca” comes from the great bluegrass mandolinist Herschel Sizemore. It’s played on the mandolin in the key of B, but on the guitar you’ll learn it out of G position with the capo at the third fret. “Rebecca” is distinctive for its unusual but very melodic phrasing. The form of the tune is AABA, but the A parts are 9½ measures long, and the B part repeats the odd phrasing of the A part and is 11 bars long. Scott shows you his version of the tune, along with a couple of variations that Herschel Sizemore played.
Tony Rice’s jazzgrass waltz “Old Gray Coat” is one of his most memorable melodies. This could be a simple tune to learn, but Tony has arranged the tune with different length interludes and chord progressions. In addition to learning the melody of the entire arrangement, you’ll learn the chord voicings Tony uses to accompany the melody of “Old Gray Coat,” voicings that he uses a lot in his jazzgrass work with David Grisman and his own Tony Rice Unit.
Béla Fleck’s tune “Down in the Swamp” is one of the highlights of his iconic late 1980s album Drive. It’s a fiddle tune in the key of E, actually E Mixolydian, which makes it the same as an A major scale. You’ll learn the tune in E without a capo and also out of D, with the capo at the second fret. Scott uses “Down in the Swamp” to talk about some of the phrasing choices you can make to get a tune in an unfamiliar key, like “Down in the Swamp,” to sound the way you want it to.
Scott’s tune “Crow Molly’ (recorded on his Dreamer’s Waltz album) has become popular in contemporary string band circles and was recently played by Chris Thile and Brittany Haas on Live from Here. It’s influenced by clawhammer banjo playing and has some tricky anticipations and syncopation in the second part. Scott shows you how he started with a basic melody based on old-time banjo playing and then adding syncopation and arpeggios to fill it out.
In this lesson, Scott demonstrates his approach to playing solo pieces on the guitar, using the traditional song “The Blackest Crow.” Scott’s solo style, like that of most flatpickers who play solo pieces with only a flatpick, including David Grier, Tony Rice, and others, is fairly individual: there’s no specific way to do this. In arranging melodies to be played unaccompanied, Scott concentrates on phrasing the melody and takes advantage of the natural sustain and resonance of the guitar.
Scott recorded the English folk ballad “Ten Thousand Miles” for his recording of the same name with Chris and Cassie Webster. The solo guitar version of the tune that starts the recording is played out of open A (capoed up to B for the recording), and it’s a good demonstration of playing solo guitar pieces in A. It’s also a good illustration of how you often have to modify the fingering of certain chord voicings. Scott walks you through his arrangement of “Ten Thousand Miles,” explaining his arranging process and why he chose certain fingerings.
Previous solo flatpicking lessons have dealt with playing slow and medium-tempo song melodies, but in this lesson Scott shows you how he arranges a fiddle tune like “Little Liza Jane” as a solo guitar piece by filling out the melody with bass notes, chord tones, and ringing open strings. Scott’s arrangement of “Little Liza Jane” is in dropped-D tuning, and he shows you how he arranges the melody on the top strings so that you can grab bass notes on the lower strings. He also shows you a few variations and talks about how he thinks about creating variations and improvising on the melody when playing a solo fiddle tune.