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Learn fiddle in the styles of Kenny Baker, Stuart Duncan, Vassar Clements, Bobby Hicks, and other bluegrass greats by learning classic tunes, with improvisation exercises and advanced techniques.
Chad Manning is a Bay Area bluegrass, old-time, and swing fiddler who 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
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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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Creating a Melody-Based Solo: “Uncloudy Day” In this lesson, Chad shows you his process for creating a melody-based solo on a bluegrass song. To illustrate this he uses the song “Uncloudy Day” as sung by bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley. Chad shows you how he starts by figuring out the key notes of the melody and once he’s got that, he tries to capture the bluesy quality of how Ralph Stanley phrases the melody. He also shows you how to add bluesy licks, walk-ups to the main melody notes, double stops, and ending licks to create a complete solo.
Double-Stop Solos: Two Mac Wiseman Songs In honor of the great bluegrass singer Mac Wiseman, you’ll learn solos to two of Mac’s songs. A lot of the solos on Mac’s recordings are played with two fiddles, so Chad shows you how you can imitate twin-fiddle breaks by playing a simple melody with double stops, using the double-stop scale. Both solos are in the key of A. The first is for the song “We Live in Two Different Worlds,” and the second is for “Four Walls Around Me.”
CLASSIC BLUEGRASS FIDDLE SOLOS Learn some classic solos to songs and instrumentals by bluegrass fiddle legends Benny Martin, Paul Warren, Chubby Wise, and others.
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.
“Rawhide” Stuart Duncan Solo The recording of the Bill Monroe classic instrumental “Rawhide” on True Life Blues: The Songs of Bill Monroe earned a 1997 Grammy nomination for Country Instrumental of the Year and helped propel the tribute to the music of Bill Monroe to a win for Bluegrass Album of the Year. It’s an amazing version of the tune, led by mandolinist Ronnie McCoury, and it features a blistering and inventive solo by fiddler Stuart Duncan that you’ll learn in this lesson.
Can’t You Hear Me Calling Chubby Wise’s solo on Bill Monroe’s original 1949 recording of “Can’t You Hear Me Calling” is a classic, and a great example of bluesy bluegrass fiddling in the key of G. Chad plays the whole solo through and then breaks it down phrase by phrase. He also shows you a cool variation Chubby plays on his second solo.
Cry, Cry Darling Country singer Jimmy C. Newman’s song “Cry, Cry, Darling” is a bluegrass standard, having been recorded by Bill Monroe, Dolly Parton, Chris Thile, Laurie Lewis, and many others. The solo you’ll learn here comes from Johnson Mountain Boys fiddler Eddie Stubbs. It’s in the key of E and uses the double-stop scale in E, mostly in the E capo position.
Highway of Sorrow The fiddle solo on Bill Monroe’s recording of his song “Highway of Sorrow” was played by a young Vassar Clements. You’ll learn that solo and, since his kickoff solo is only on half of the tune, Chad constructs the rest of the solo, so you’ll have a full Vassar Clements–inspired fiddle solo on “Highway of Sorrow” to play.
Footprints in the Snow Chubby Wise played a great solo on Bill Monroe’s original recording of “Footprints in the Snow.” It’s in the key of E and features some nice double stops and classic Chubby Wise syncopation and phrasing.
Don’t Give Your Heart to a Rambler Fiddler Richard Greene’s solo on Tony Rice’s recording of the bluegrass song “Don’t Give Your Heart to a Rambler,” is a classic. It’s in the key of Bb and is mostly played out of the Bb “capo position” using the pentatonic scale with some bluesy thirds and sevenths.
We Can’t Be Darlings Anymore In this lesson, you’ll learn Bobby Hicks’s solo to the Flatt and Scruggs song “We Can’t Be Darlings Anymore” from the Bluegrass Album Band recording. Chad learned this directly from Bobby, and like many of Bobby’s solos, it includes some great double-stop licks and a nice long tag.
Troubles ’Round My Door Vassar Clements’s solo on “Troubles ’Round My Door,” from the Red Allen album Family and Friends, is a great example of his idiosyncratic bluesy fiddling. It’s in the key of B and includes some B minor pentatonic scale lines in different positions as well as some of Vassar’s trademark chromatic licks.
BILL MONROE TUNES Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass, was a mandolin player, but he also wrote some of the greatest bluegrass fiddle tunes.
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.
Panhandle Country This great Bill Monroe tune is a fast one in the key of C with lots of long double stops. Although it’s basically a two-part tune with the same chord progression in each part, there’s a variation that is usually played by the fiddle, making it functionally a three-part tune for fiddlers.
Wheel Hoss Bill Monroe’s fiddle tune “Wheel Hoss” is one of his most popular, a fast, galloping tune in G Mixolydian with some extra beats at the end of the second part that are usually filled with a guitar run. Chad walks you through the melody and talks about some different bowing patterns you can try, including single bows, the Georgia shuffle, and Nashville shuffle.
Land of Lincoln “Land of Lincoln” is a four-part Bill Monroe tune that Monroe’s great fiddler Kenny Baker recorded on his Dry and Dusty album in the early 1970s. The tune moves between the keys of A major and A minor, sometimes even in the same phrase, with C♮s alternating with C#s and G♮s alternating with G#s.
MORE BLUEGRASS FIDDLE FAVORITES
“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.
“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 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.
Paddy on the Turnpike The fiddle tune “Paddy on the Turnpike” is popular in the bluegrass, old-time, and Texas fiddling worlds. Chad’s version comes from some of his favorite fiddlers, including Benny Thomasson, Terry Morris, Gene Goforth, Vassar Clements, and others. You’ll learn two A parts and two B parts in this lesson.
Lonesome Fiddle Blues Vassar Clements’ “Lonesome Fiddle Blues” is a bluegrass fiddle classic, one of the few in the key of D minor. Vassar played it differently every time, and the bridge doesn’t have a melody, just a set of chord changes to improvise on (the form of the tune is AABA). Chad shows you a version of the A part melody and a bridge that uses some of Vassar’s licks and some of Chad’s own. You’ll also learn some variations to the A part that include a couple classic Vassar licks.
Bluegrass in the Backwoods Kenny Baker’s epic tune “Bluegrass in the Backwoods” has five parts and an intro. You’ll learn the first three parts in this lesson. It’s in the key of D minor, and uses the D harmonic minor scale as well as the D natural minor scale, so Chad starts by showing you the D harmonic minor scale in two octaves, and also runs through the arpeggios you’ll use in the tune: D minor, A dominant seven, and G minor. Then he shows you the melody to the first three parts of “Bluegrass in the Backwoods.”
Bluegrass in the Backwoods, Intro and Parts 4 and 5 In this lesson, you’ll learn the rest of “Bluegrass in the Backwoods,” starting with the intro and the fourth part. The intro is played “rubato” or without a beat, while the fourth part is a long 16-bar part with no repeated phrases. The fifth part of “Bluegrass in the Backwoods,” like the fourth part, is a long part (12 bars this time). It starts on a C chord, and is mostly in the key of F major, finishing out Kenny Baker’s epic fiddle tune with four bars in the original key of D minor.
Stony Point The old-time fiddle tune “Stony Point” has become a favorite of bluegrass players. It’s in G and E minor and has three parts. Chad starts with the E minor part, although some fiddlers play one of the G parts first.
Old Gnarly Oak “Old Gnarly Oak” is one of Chad’s original tunes, a fast bluegrass fiddle tune in A modal that includes some cool bow crossings and rhythmic punctuation.
Goodbye Liza Jane The melody of “Goodbye Liza Jane” has been around for at least a hundred years. The 1940s recording by Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys is probably the source for bluegrass versions of the tunes. It’s a great tune for creating variations and improvising on. Chad walks you through his version of both parts of “Goodbye Liza Jane” and gives you ideas for creating variations.
Dixie Hoedown The bluegrass standard and jam-session favorite “Dixie Hoedown” was written by mandolinist Jesse McReynolds. It’s in the key of G and has a second part that features some beautiful double stops as well as a long line with chromatic neighbor tones. In addition to showing you his version of “Dixie Hoedown,” Chad gives you ideas about creating variations on the melody by focusing on the underlying chords.
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 Backup in E: “Teardrops Fell Like Raindrops” In this lesson, you’ll learn Eddie Stubbs’s backup (and solos) on the Johnson Mountain Boys recording of “Teardrops Fell Like Raindrops,” a great example of midtempo bluegrass backup in the key of E. Chad starts by showing you Eddie’s kickoff to the song, which he also uses as the basis of his solo. Then Chad walks you through the backup to the first verse and chorus, the solo, and the backup to the second verse and chorus, as well as the ending.
Backup for “Tennessee Waltz” Chad shows you a backup part for “Tennessee Waltz” in the key of D that includes lots of great double-stops and some chordal moves you can use in backing up other tunes in the key of D. Most advanced-level bluegrass fiddlers will know “Tennessee Waltz,” but Chad starts by playing the melody of “Tennessee Waltz” before walking you through his backup part.
“We Can’t Be Darlings Anymore” Backup Bobby Hicks plays some great backup fills on the Bluegrass Album Band recording of “We Can’t Be Darlings Anymore” and in this lesson, Chad shows you his backup behind the second verse of the song. He walks you through the backup part, and then shows you how to take some of the individual licks and vary them.
PRACTICE TECHNIQUES In this lesson, Chad gives you advice about practicing and improvising. The first thing he talks about is the importance of practicing with a beat or groove in mind, tapping your foot or using a metronome, or finding some way to establish a tempo whenever you practice. Chad also talks about hearing what’s coming next, hearing a little ahead of where you are, whether you’re improvising or playing a melody.
THE PHYSICS AND PHYSIOLOGY OF FIDDLING In this lesson on bow technique, Chad shows you that fiddling is a very natural thing for the human body to do, and that the motion of the arms, in concert with the bow and violin, is designed to match what the body naturally wants to do. He talks about the physics of fiddling—the balance and momentum of the bow—and shows you that by following the natural physiology of the human body and the path of least resistance in arm movement, you can make your bow motion smooth and natural.
FEELING THE PHYSICS OF FIDDLING Chad continues his lessons on the physics and physiology of fiddling with more bow work, giving you a series of awareness exercises that will help you connect more deeply with the balance, momentum, and weight of your bow and the tension of the strings. In addition to helping you feel the physics of fiddling, these exercises are also great warm-up exercises. He also gives you a series of expressive bow exercises that will help you apply the awareness exercises to actual musical phrases.
Check out these tunes featured in the Bluegrass Fiddle course.