Chad Manning is a Bay Area bluegrass, old-time, and swing fiddler who currently plays with the David Grisman Sextet, the David Grisman Bluegrass Experience, and Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands.
Over the years he has toured with many bluegrass greats such as J.D. Crowe, Curly Seckler, Alan Munde, and Tony Trischka, to name a few. Chad also finds great joy in teaching and working with all levels of adult fiddle students. He and his wife, Catherine, teach more than a hundred students at their studio in Berkeley, California.
Chad talks about his philosophy of improvising, including some advice from David Grisman, and shows you how he distills a tune down to its most basic elements.With Notation
Bluegrass Fiddle Lessons
A Bluegrass Fiddle subscription includes:
More than 56 in-depth fiddle video lessons
Detailed notation for every lesson
Extensive technique and theory lessons for both hands
More than 32 complete solos and/or tunes
High-quality video with multiple camera angles so you can see closeups of both hands in action
New lessons added every month
Play-Along Tracks for most tunes so you can practice what you’ve learned
Get started now! Use promo code ChadLand at checkout and get your first month free or $20 off an annual subscription. Subscribe to the Bluegrass Fiddle course today for access to all of these fiddle lessons and new material every month!
FIDDLE BASICS Get started with these introductory technique lessons for both hands, with helpful exercises as well as essential advice on tuning and caring for your fiddle.
Care and Maintenance of Your Fiddle Learn key tips for taking good care of your fiddle and bow, such as loosening the bow before you put it away, cleaning your strings, how much rosin to use, and more.
Tuning the Fiddle Learn how to get in tune using an electronic tuner.
Bow Technique Bow technique is all about trying to get the tone you hear in your head into your fiddle. Chad demonstrates his approach to holding the bow, and how to find a good position that will work for you, with some simple exercises from Yehudi Menuhin’s book Violin and Viola. He also includes some call-and-response exercises that explore different bow tones.
Left-Hand Technique Learn how best to position your left-hand on the fiddle, the difference between playing with the tips of the fingers versus the pads, and how much pressure to use to get the best tone. Chad also delves into various pitch issues, such as the “ring” you get when you play certain notes perfectly in tune, landing notes firmly with your fingers and adjusting the pitch afterward by “rolling” your finger.
Vibrato Learn some exercises for developing good vibrato technique, which should not be just a shake of your finger but very deliberate changes in pitch.
OLD-TIME FIDDLE TUNES Learn a few old-time fiddle tunes that have become bluegrass fiddle standards, with advice on how to make them sound “fiddly.”
Angeline the Baker “Angeline the Baker” is one of the most popular fiddle tunes at bluegrass and old-time jams throughout the world. After learning the melody you’ll learn to add the fiddle “layers” that really make you sound like a fiddler, including hammer-ons, up-sweeps, anticipation, and double-stringing.
June AppleLearn the popular old-time tune “June Apple” and how to play the A part with the “Nashville shuffle” bowing pattern and the B part with the “Georgia shuffle” bowing pattern. You’ll also get tips on improvising on a fiddle tune like “June Apple.” Chad talks about his philosophy of improvising and shows you how he distills a tune down to its most basic elements, so that you can start playing around with the rhythm, varying the melody, etc.
Old Joe Clark “Old Joe Clark” is one of the best-known American fiddle tunes. It’s in the key of A Mixolydian, which means that the seventh step of the A major scale (G#) is lowered to a G natural. In addition to learning a shuffle bow pattern you can use to play both parts of the basic mleody, as well as some double-stringing and slides, you’ll learn a more “notey” version of the melody with variations on each phrase.
Whiskey Before Breakfast Another need-to-know fiddle tune, “Whiskey Before Breakfast” is in the key of D, and the B part includes some cool slides. You’ll also learn a few simple melodic variations.
BLUEGRASS FIDDLE TUNES Bluegrass fiddle tunes are, of course, similar to old-time tunes, but they have a sound all their own, and often include more variations and improvising. Some lessons include the versions that bluegrass fiddle masters like Kenny Baker, Bobby Hicks, and Stuart Duncan played.
Road to Columbus The bluegrass fiddle tune “Road to Columbus” was written by Bill Monroe and made famous by Kenny Baker on his album Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe. You’ll learn it here, including its unique intro and cool double stops. The B part to “Road to Columbus” is mostly played in third position and you’ll learn a quick vibrato that Kenny Baker uses on some of the high notes.
Cattle in the Cane This version of “Cattle in the Cane” combines a Texas-style approach with a more bluegrass way of playing the tune. The tune has two parts, one low part in A minor and one higher part in A major. You’ll also learn two versions of the A part, one inspired by Texas fiddler Terry Morris and the other from bluegrass fiddler Aubrey Haynie.
Rebecca Bluegrass mandolinist Herschel Sizemore’s popular instrumental “Rebecca” is in the key of B, an unusual key for old-time fiddlers but an essential key for bluegrass players to know. The tune is mostly played out of a closed position and you’ll learn some variations inspired by the way Bobby Hicks and Stuart Duncan played “Rebecca.”
Bill Cheatham The old-time fiddle tune “Bill Cheatham” has become a bluegrass jam session favorite. In addition to learning a great bluegrass version of the tune, Chad talks about his approach to improvising on “Bill Cheatham” and shows you the “target notes” in each part and how you can think about creating lines that get to those notes.
New Camptown Races Here’s another bluegrass favorite written by a mandolinist in an unusual key: Bb. “New Camptown Races,” written by bluegrass mandolinist Frank Wakefield, moves to G minor, the relative minor of Bb, in the second part. You’ll learn the Bb major scale and how to play all the modes in Bb.
SCALES AND CHORDS To learn to improvise on the fiddle, or accompany others with chords, it’s important to learn the basics of music theory on the fiddle.
Scales and Chords In this basic music theory lesson, you’ll learn how scales and chords are constructed so you can find them in any key. You’ll also learn some handy fingering patterns for scales and some chord “shapes” that will help you remember them.
G Chords Now that you’ve learned the basics of chords and double stops, Chad gets in deep with the G chord, covering numerous G double stops in various positions and using them to play classic bluegrass fiddle licks. You’ll also learn some third-position double stops and double-stop runs that include passing chords.
Chord Intensives In these in-depth lessons on chords, you’ll learn a couple of double stops on each string for major chords in the keys of A, D, G, C, and F; some exercises to help you practice them; and some ways to work on transitioning between the chords.
Seventh Chords Seventh chords can help you transition from one chord to another. In these lessons, Chad gets in-depth with seventh chord double stops, starting with D7, which is the V7 chord in the key of G, which means it’s a good chord to use when moving to a G chord. After learning all the D7 shapes on each set of strings, you’ll learn the same for the A7 chord and how to move from A7 to D.
BLUEGRASS SONG SOLOING Fiddle tunes form the basis of much bluegrass fiddling, but bluegrass is primarily a vocal music, so you need to learn how to playing solos to songs as well as instrumentals written by other instrumentalists. In these lessons, you’ll learn closed position scales, classic licks, and how to base your solo on the melody of the song or tune.
Closed Positions Learn closed positions on the fiddle that will allow you to play bluegrass fiddle licks in any key and some bluesy bluegrass licks you can move from chord to chord.
Your Love Is Like a Flower Chad shows you his approach to playing bluegrass solos using this standard song with a very common chord progression. You’ll learn the melody and chords in the key of E using standard “capo” positions, the major pentatonic scale, and other bluegrass fiddle techniques. You’ll also learn some exercises to help you learn to match the melody of “Your Love Is Like a Flower” with the chords, and how you can move the “capo” position to different keys, like B, Bb, etc. And you’ll get five play-along tracks so you can practice playing “Your Love Is Like a Flower” in the keys of E, A, G, D, and C.
Bluegrass Licks in the Key of C Every key has its own sound and vocabulary on the fiddle, and in this lesson, you’ll learn some typical licks that sound great in C, with some seventh and ninth double stops, pentatonic scales, and raggy syncopation You’ll also learn how to vary each of the licks to create your own ideas and use the licks to improvise over a standard bluegrass chord progression.
Bluegrass Licks in the Key of G Learn some bluesy bluegrass licks in the key of G that you can use behind a vocalist or as part of your solo. You’ll learn a number of short phrases based on a G major and G7 arpeggio and how to articulate and modify them with bluesy slides, chromatic notes, double stops, etc.
Train 45 The bluegrass and old-time classic “Train 45,” also called “Reuben,” “Lonesome Reuben,” or “Reuben’s Train,” is a great tune for working on bluesy slides and double stops as well as unison drones. Learn how to play the melody in second position and some different double stops. Chad also gives you ideas for improvising on “Train 45” and tunes like it, showing you how he shapes the melody through inflections, dynamics, and rhythmic variations.
Don’t This Road Look Rough and Rocky Chad shows you how to construct a solo to the bluegrass standard “Don’t This Road Look Rough and Rocky,” starting with the basic melody and then giving you ideas for adding double stops, fills, melodic variations, etc. He also gives you ideas on improvising on the melody with different kinds of fills.
CLASSIC BLUEGRASS FIDDLE SOLOS Learn some classic solos to songs and instrumentals by bluegrass fiddle legends Benny Martin, Paul Warren, Chubby Wise, and others.
Flint Hill Special Learn three classic bluegrass fiddle solos to the Earl Scruggs banjo tune “Flint Hill Special,” as played by the great Benny Martin on the original 1952 Flatt and Scruggs recording. These solos include some variations of the sliding double-stop licks you learned in the lesson on G chords.
Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down Paul Warren’s fiddle solo on the Flatt and Scruggs’ recording of the bluegrass standard “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down” is a bluegrass fiddle classic. It’s in the key of F, but “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down” has a circle-of-fifths progression that starts on the D chord. The solo starts with some cool sliding double stops on the D chord and then moves to a quick D augmented chord on the way to the G chord.
Chubby Wise Solos on “Will You Be Loving Another Man?” Most people consider the September 1946 Bill Monroe recording sessions with Earl Scruggs, Lester Flatt, and Chubby Wise to be the first bluegrass recording sessions. One of the songs recorded at that session was “Will You Be Loving Another Man,” on which Chubby took two classic fiddle solos. By learning both of his solos you’ll see how Chubby used two-note slurs to give his playing a swing feel and you’ll learn some of his sliding double stops and other licks that have become bluegrass fiddle classics.
Pike County Breakdown Flatt and Scruggs’ recording of Earl Scruggs banjo tune “Pike County Breakdown” includes a classic solo by little-known bluegrass fiddler Benny Sims. It’s a great solo to play on “Pike County Breakdown” and it’s been quoted by numerous bluegrass fiddlers on all sorts of fast bluegrass tunes.
Dark as the Night, Blue as the Day Bobby Hicks’ fiddle solo on the original recording of Bill Monroe’s “Dark as the Night, Blue as the Day” is a great bluesy solo using the E capo position, which means you can use the licks you’ll learn in this lesson in other keys. Chad walks you through the solo phrase by phrase, showing you some of the many ways you can do bluesy slides and add double stops. You’ll also learn a cool alternate intro/ending lick Bobby played in his second solo.
Blue Ridge Cabin Home The bluegrass standard “Blue Ridge Cabin Home” comes from Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs and has become a jam session favorite. In this lesson you’ll learn a fiddle solo to “Blue Ridge Cabin Home” that Bobby Hicks played on the Bluegrass Album Band recording of the song. The solo is in the key of Bb, and it has some classic bluegrass fiddle licks in the key of Bb.
BILL MONROE TUNES Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass, was a mandolin player, but he also wrote some of the greatest bluegrass fiddle tunes.
Lonesome Moonlight Waltz Bill Monroe’s mournful “Lonesome Moonlight Waltz” is one of his most distinctive tunes. It’s in the key of Dm and has an unusual chord progression. You’ll learn the melody here, along with some cool bluesy slides and double stops, and get ideas for how to improvise over the “Lonesome Moonlight Waltz” chord progression.
Big Sandy River “Big Sandy River” was recorded by Kenny Baker on the classic bluegrass fiddle album Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe. You’ll learn Kenny’s version along with a variation on the A part that includes some cool descending double stops.
Big Mon Bill Monroe’s bluegrass fiddle tune “Big Mon” is a jam session favorite. It’s usually played as a two-part tune in jam sessions, but there’s a third part often played by the fiddle that you’ll also learn.
Methodist Preacher The fiddle tune “Methodist Preacher” sounds so much like an old-time classic, it’s hard to believe it was written by Bill Monroe. It has four parts and typical G-pentatonic fingering, with phrases that sound like other key-of-G fiddle tunes.
Brown County Breakdown “Brown County Breakdown” is a three-part tune in the key of E, so it’s great for working on playing in the key of E, using the first finger “capo” position. You’ll also learn a great warm-up exercise with open strings, designed to help you get even, consistent tone with your bowing arm.
Jerusalem Ridge Bill Monroe’s classic tune “Jerusalem Ridge” is associated with his greatest fiddler, Kenny Baker. The version of “Jerusalem Ridge” that Kenny recorded on Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe has become the standard version and that’s the version you’ll learn here. It’s in the key of A minor and has four parts.
Gold Rush The bluegrass fiddle tune standard “Gold Rush” was written by Bill Monroe and fiddler Byron Berline. The version you’ll learn here is based on the way Monroe’s longtime fiddler Kenny Baker played it. You’ll also learn a version of the B part in the upper octave and get advice from Chad on how he improvises on “Gold Rush.”
Uncle Pen Bill Monroe wrote the song “Uncle Pen” about his uncle Pendleton Vandiver, a fiddler whose influence inspired Monroe to create bluegrass music. The song begins with on a classic fiddle solo that gets repeated after every chorus. The first part includes a lot of unison drones and double stringing, while the B part has some cool sliding double stops.
Ashland Breakdown Bill Monroe’s tune “Ashland Breakdown” was recorded by Kenny Baker on his classic Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe album. It’s in the key of C and has three parts, the first two of which are mostly played in second position. Chad walks you through the melody, phrase by phrase, showing you a couple different ways to bow some of the phrases and add drone notes and giving you advice on shifting positions.
MORE BLUEGRASS FIDDLE FAVORITES
Big Sciota The old-time fiddle tune “Big Sciota” entered the bluegrass repertoire through a recording by Russ Barenberg, Jerry Douglas, and Edgar Meyer in the early ’90s. It has since become a jam session favorite. You’ll learn Chad’s version and his bowing, which includes a few consecutive three-note slurs, as well as a variation on the B part that comes from fiddler Billy Contreras.
Golden Fiddle Waltz Randy Howard’s beautiful “Golden Fiddle Waltz” is in the key of F and is a great tune for working on double stops in F. In this multi-part lesson you’ll learn the melody without double stops, double-stop scales in F (one with the harmony below the melody and one with the harmony above), and the complete version with double stops.
“Golden Fiddle Waltz” Arpeggios Randy Howard’s “Golden Fiddle Waltz” has a complicated chord progression, and if you want to improvise on it, you’ll need to know the arpeggios for each chord. In this lesson, Chad walks you through the progression chord by chord and arpeggio by arpeggio, making sure you know the names of all the notes in the chords and giving you some exercises to practice the arpeggios in different ways. He also shows you how he improvises on the chord progression by just using chord tones.
Cherokee Shuffle “Cherokee Shuffle” is one of the all-time great bluegrass jam tunes. You’ll learn Chad’s version of the melody and how he bows each part, as well as a cool variation on the B part that adds the seventh note to some D chords and includes some cool slides up to the high C and C#.
“Sally Gooden” Texas-Style Texas fiddler Eck Robertson’s 1922 recordings were probably the first country music recordings, and his version of “Sally Gooden,” with around a dozen variations on the melody, became a classic and a favorite of fiddlers everywhere. In this lesson, you’ll learn Chad’s Texas-style version of “Sally Gooden,” which was influenced by Oklahoma fiddler Orville Burns and Texas fiddlers Terry Morris and Benny Thomasson. It’s an elaborate version that presents some technical challenges because it relies on a lot of consecutive three-note slurs as well as drones using your pinky. You’ll learn two A parts and two B parts in this lesson.
“Sally Gooden” Variations, Part 1: High Parts You’ll learn three “high parts” to “Sally Gooden” in this lesson, including one in which you stretch your pinky up to get a C natural on the E string, and two that go into third position. Chad walks you through each variation, giving you advice on reaching the C natural with your pinky while staying in first position and showing you the bowing he uses in the first two variations. He also gives some ideas for different ways you can bow the third high part, including with Texas-style consecutive three-note slurs, the Georgia shuffle, and a more old-timey “train shuffle.”
“Sally Gooden” Variations, Part 2: Final Parts You’ll learn Chad’s final six variations on “Sally Gooden” in this lesson. The variations include licks and phrases from Texas fiddle legends Terry Morris and Major Franklin, as well as some of Chad’s own variations.
Garfield’s Blackberry Blossom This old-time tune has been making the rounds of the bluegrass fiddle world. Chad’s version of “Garfield’s Blackberry Blossom” is based on the playing of Ed Haley, Stuart Duncan, and John Hartford. You’ll also learn some variations and how to tweak the tonality by making the C slightly sharp or playing C#s instead of C naturals.
Maiden’s Prayer Bob Wills’ western swing fiddle instrumental “Maiden’s Prayer” is also popular at bluegrass jam sessions. As well as learning the melody in this lesson, Chad gives you lots of ideas about improvising on “Maiden’s Prayer,” showing you how to use the arpeggios of the A and E chords as jumping-off points for improvising. He also shows you how to use the pentatonic scale on each of the chords, as well as how to add the seventh and ninth to the A and E (V) chords.
Billy in the Lowground Traditional music master Jody Stecher calls “Billy in the Lowground” the “mother of all C tunes.” You’ll learn Chad’s version in this lesson, as well as how he approaches improvising on “Billy in the Lowground.” Chad walks you through the melody and bowing phrase by phrase and then talks about his approach to improvising on tunes like “Billy in the Lowground,” which involves breaking the tune down to its essential elements. He shows you his skeletal version of “Billy in the Lowground” and then gives examples of how he improvises on that basic melodic structure.
Bluegrass Fiddle Backup In this lesson, Chad talks about playing backup fiddle on bluegrass songs and building your vocabulary of backup licks. You’ll learn some great backup fiddle licks in the style of Bobby Hicks using the Bluegrass Album Band’s recording of “Letter from My Darling” in the key of G. Chad shows you a series of classic licks, giving you advice on using dynamics and fading out the last note of your lick as the vocal comes back in.
Bobby Hicks Backup Licks You’ll learn the backup licks that bluegrass fiddle legend Bobby Hicks plays on the Bluegrass Album Band’s version of “Don’t This Road Look Rough and Rocky” in this lesson. Chad walks you through each lick, showing you where they fit in the song and giving you advice on bowing and slides and showing you how Hicks often derives his lick from the previous lick he’s played.
Backup Fiddle in Bb Chad uses Tim O’Brien’s recording of Hazel Dickens’ song “A Few Old Memories” to show you some ways to play backup on a slow song in Bb, using capo positions and simple melodies that outline the chords of the song. He also shows you how to embellish simple melodies with slides and hammer-ons, add double stops to your backup lines, and play out of a bluesy position in third position.
Bluegrass Fiddle Source Material
Check out these tunes featured in the Bluegrass Fiddle course.