- String School
- Instruments & Gear
- News & Reviews
- Featured Videos
Learn the essential instrumental tunes you’ll encounter at bluegrass jam sessions everywhere. Designed for intermediate level mandolinists, with tunes, techniques, and solos from mandolin greats.
Hailed by Nashville’s Music Row magazine for his “lickety-split mandolin work” and by Vintage Guitar magazine as “brilliant,” Joe K. Walsh is one of the best mandolinists of his generation. Walsh is known for his exceptional tone and taste, and his collaborations with acoustic music luminaries, including legendary fiddler Darol Anger, flatpick guitar hero Scott Nygaard, folk legend Jonathan Edwards, and pop/grass darlings Joy Kills Sorrow, have taken him all over the musical and figurative map. An avid mandolin educator, Joe is a mandolin instructor at the Berklee College of Music and teaches regularly at music camps throughout North America and beyond.
The bluegrass jam favorite “Dixie Hoedown” comes from mandolin great Jesse McReynolds and has been recorded by numerous people. The version you’ll learn here is based on the way Grisman, Jesse McReynolds, Ronnie McCoury, and others played it on Bluegrass Mandolin Extravaganza. With Notation/Tab
Download a PDF list of all the Bluegrass Mandolin Jam Favorites lessons so you can keep track of your progress.
A subscription to Bluegrass Mandolin Jam Favorites includes:
Get started now! Use promo code “JoeLand” at checkout and get your first month free or $20 off an annual subscription. Subscribe to The Advancing Mandolinist today and get access to all these mandolin lessons:
BLUEGRASS JAM TUNES
Chinquapin Hunting Learn the great old-time fiddle tune “Chinquapin Hunting,” which has become quite popular on the bluegrass jam scene in the last few years. Joe breaks it down for you phrase by phrase and shows you how to add a backbeat to the steady stream of eighth notes in fiddle tunes.
Cuckoo’s Nest The fiddle tune “Cuckoo’s Nest” has been recorded by many people, including Nickel Creek, and though originally Irish in origin has become a bluegrass and old-time jam session favorite. Joe plays through the tune and then reminds you of his technique for playing eighth-note triplets, which occur in multiple places in the A part of “Cuckoo’s Nest.” Then he walks you through the melody phrase by phrase.
Lonesome Moonlight Waltz Bill Monroe’s “Lonesome Moonlight Waltz” is kind of an anomaly in the bluegrass world. It has a unique chord progression and it uses some atypical triplet rhythms in the melody. You’ll learn to play it in closed position with tremolo, as well as how to play triplets with a down-up-down pattern and then starting the next phrase with a downstroke.
Road to Columbus Bill Monroe’s “Road to Columbus” was recorded by the great bluegrass fiddler Kenny Baker on his album Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe and that’s the version you’ll learn here. Joe explains how to pick some of the syncopated lines in the A part and how to play the slides and triplets. The B part has some long held notes, which fiddlers can sustain with their bow. You’ll learn the way Kenny Baker plays the B part and the way Joe has adapted the melody to the mandolin to fill out the long melody notes.
Dixie Hoedown The bluegrass jam favorite “Dixie Hoedown” comes from mandolin great Jesse McReynolds and has been recorded by numerous people, including Jerry Douglas, David Grisman, Matt Flinner, and many others. But nobody really plays the B part the same way. The version you’ll learn here is based on the way Grisman, Jesse McReynolds, Ronnie McCoury, and others played it on Bluegrass Mandolin Extravaganza. Joe also talks about the “target” notes of the first half of the melody, and how to create variations by targeting those melody notes. For the second half of the B part, you’ll learn a cool syncopated line played on Bluegrass Mandolin Extravaganza as well as a variation played by mandolinist Casey Campbell.
Big Sandy River “Big Sandy River” comes from Bill Monroe and fiddler Kenny Baker’s playing of the melody has influenced the way many people interpret the melody. “Big Sandy River” has been recorded numerous times and Joe references a few different versions in this lesson. You’ll learn the way Joe (and others) play the melody as well as how Kenny Baker played the A part.
New Camptown Races Mandolinist Frank Wakefield’s instrumental tune “New Camptown Races” has become a contemporary bluegrass instrumental classic, but the way the melody is played these days is a bit different than the way Frank played it in the early 1960s. In this lesson you’ll learn the way Frank originally played it as well as a more contemporary version based on the way mandolinist Jesse Brock plays it.
Leather Britches There are many versions of the fiddle tune “Leather Britches,” but the one you’ll learn here comes from Sam Bush, who recorded “Leather Britches” on Late As Usual. In addition to Sam’s version, Joe shows you how he plays the melody to the A part of “Leather Britches” in a higher octave.
Jerusalem Ridge Bill Monroe's “Jerusalem Ridge” is a four-part tune in the key of A minor. You’ll learn the version played by Monroe’s long-time fiddler Kenny Baker, which has become the standard reference for all the bluegrass instruments. The A and B parts are fairly straightforward but the C and D parts have some unusual timing and phrasing.
Ashland Breakdown Bill Monroe’s tune “Ashland Breakdown” is in the key of C major and has three parts. You’ll learn the way fiddler Kenny Baker played “Ashland Breakdown” on his classic album Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe. The A part is played entirely in second position, with your index finger on the third fret, while the B part moves between second and first position, and the third part is played in first position on the bottom two strings.
Big Sciota The old-time tune “Big Sciota” entered the bluegrass jam world through its presence on Skip, Hop, and Wobble, the great 1993 recording by Jerry Douglas, Russ Barenberg, and Edgar Meyer. Mandolinist Sam Bush guested on that recording of “Big Sciota,” and Sam’s playing as well as a version by Chris Thile are the sources for Joe’s version.
Bill Cheatham You’ll hear the old-time fiddle tune “Bill Cheatham” at jams everywhere as well as on numerous recordings. In this lesson, you’ll learn a basic version of the tune as well as some of Joe’s favorite variations.
Shove the Pig’s Foot a Little Further in the Fire This old-time tune has become a favorite of bluegrass musicians lately. Joe’s version comes from a recording by Bruce Molsky and Big Hoedown, and there are lots of other old-time versions. Rock icon Mark Knopfler even recorded a version of “Shove the Pig’s Foot a Little Further in the Fire” with Bruce that they called “Oklahoma Ponies.”
Old Dangerfield Bill Monroe recorded his instrumental tune “Old Dangerfield” in 1981, and it has been recorded numerous times since then by a variety of musicians. Joe’s version of “Old Dangerfield” reflects the melodic approaches of Stuart Duncan, Sierra Hull, and Matt Flinner.
E.M.D. David Grisman’s tune “E.M.D.” was the leadoff track on the debut David Grisman Quintet recording in 1977 and it has become a bluegrass jam favorite, in part because of its repetitive syncopated melody and chord progression in the key of E minor. In addition to showing you the melody (which just has one part), Joe talks about improvising on “E.M.D.”, explaining how to modify the scale you’re using for the C7, A7, and B7 chords.
Denver Belle Kenny Baker’s tune “Denver Belle” has had a resurgence in popularity lately, and Joe recorded it with Darol Anger on the E-And’ A album. “Denver Belle” is in the key of C, but it modulates to the key of G for the B part.
Done Gone There are a few versions of the fiddle tune “Done Gone,” some in the key of C with three parts. But the most popular version, the one you’ll likely encounter in jams, is in the key of Bb, with a B part in the relative minor of Bb: G minor. The melody includes lots of Bb arpeggios, so it’s a good workout for your fretting hand in the key of Bb.
Rebecca Mandolinist Herschel Sizemore’s “Rebecca” is one of the most popular bluegrass mandolin tunes around. It’s in the key of B and has some unusual phrasing, with an irregular number of measures. In addition to being a great tune to play, and one that gets called at a lot of bluegrass jam session, it includes a number of useful phrases you can use when playing in the key of B. Herschel recorded this a couple of times and seems to play it a little differently every time, so Joe has created a composite version that includes all of his favorite passages from Herschel’s recordings and live videos on YouTube.
Big Mon “Big Mon,” of course, comes from Bill Monroe, and is a must-know tune for any bluegrass mandolinist. There are a few ways to play the second part, but in this lesson you’ll learn the way fiddler Bobby Hicks plays the melody. “Big Mon” is usually played as a two-part tune, but there is a third part, that often functions as a variation on the A part. You’ll learn all three parts in this lesson.
Squirrel Hunters The old-time tune “Squirrel Hunters” has become a bluegrass jam session favorite in the last few years. It comes from John Hartford and has an unusual relationship between the melody and the chords.
Cherokee Shuffle The bluegrass jam favorite “Cherokee Shuffle” comes from 1950s Nashville session fiddler Tommy Jackson, who took the old-time tune “Lost Indian,” changed the key from D to A, and essentially came up with a brand new B part, which includes an extra two bars.
Eighth of January The old-time fiddle tune “Eighth of January” is a favorite of bluegrass players. Tony Rice recorded a great version on his first Rounder album in the 1970s with David Grisman playing mandolin and Darol Anger playing fiddle harmony. It’s a great tune to play harmony to, so you’ll learn the melody and a high harmony in this lesson.
Kitchen Girl The old-time fiddle tune “Kitchen Girl” comes from West Virginia fiddler Henry Reed, and guitarist Bryan Sutton recently recorded a version that has made the tune popular in bluegrass jam circles. The first part is in A Mixolydian and the second part is in A Dorian, so they’re good examples of the differences between those modes.
Lonesome Fiddle Blues Vassar Clements’s “Lonesome Fiddle Blues” is probably his most famous instrumental, and there have been numerous great recordings of it. Instead of the usual fiddle AABB form, it has an AABA form, and the B part is more of a set of chord changes than a melody. Vassar also plays the melody differently every time he plays it, so there are many ways to interpret the melody. Joe shows you his version of the A part, along with some variations, and two different ways to play the B part.
Temperance Reel The Irish tune “Temperance Reel” is also a popular tune in bluegrass jams. It’s in the key of G, with a second part mostly in E minor, the relative minor. In addition to showing you his version of the tune, Joe shows you some ways to improvise on the melody.
Boston Boy The old-time fiddle tune “Boston Boy” has been recorded by Bill Monroe, David Grisman, and others. It’s in the key of C and, like a lot of old tunes, the melody has been played in many different ways. Joe shows you a couple of different ways to play it, the first based on the way Grisman plays it.
Brown County Breakdown There are many versions of Bill Monroe’s E-major, three-part fiddle tune “Brown County Breakdown,” but Kenny Baker’s is probably the clearest iteration of the melody, so that’s the one you’ll learn in this lesson.
Fisher’s Hornpipe The traditional fiddle tune “Fisher’s Hornpipe” has been played and recorded by countless people, including, perhaps most notably for mandolin players, Chris Thile and Mike Marshall on their Into the Cauldron album. In addition to teaching you Chris and Mike’s version of the melody of “Fisher’s Hornpipe” in this lesson, Joe also shows you how to come up with a harmony part for “Fisher’s Hornpipe” and tunes like it.
Watson’s Blues Bill Monroe’s tune was written for guitarist Doc Watson, and usually starts with a guitar lick, while the mandolin melody is played with tremolo for most of the tune. It’s in the key of E major, but mostly uses the E minor pentatonic scale. Joe’s version, which you’ll learn here, is influenced both by Monroe’s version and David Grisman’s.
Daley’s Reel “Daley’s Reel” is a fiddle tune likely of Canadian origin in the key of Bb. It’s great for getting familiar with the key of Bb, and is a good bootcamp for your pinky, as the pinky is used a lot in both parts to play the Eb note on the A string.
Gold Rush The bluegrass jam favorite “Gold Rush” was written by Bill Monroe and fiddler Byron Berline, and has been recorded by numerous people. Joe walks you through his version, which is influenced by the way Berline plays it, especially the A part. You’ll also learn the B part in two octaves.
Cattle in the Cane The fiddle tune “Cattle in the Cane” is one of the few fiddle tunes that changes keys, in this case from A Mixolydian to A minor. It’s been recorded a number of times, perhaps most notably by Tony Rice on Church Street Blues and Sam Bush on Bluegrass Mandolin Extravaganza. Joe walks you through his version of “Cattle in the Cane” in this lesson, giving you a couple variations on the melody as well.
Billy in the Lowground The old-time fiddle tune “Billy in the Lowground” has long been a staple of bluegrass jams. It’s in the key of C with a distinctive A part but a somewhat nebulous B part that Joe plays in second position.
Red Prairie Dawn The old-time fiddle tune “Red Prairie Dawn” comes from Indiana fiddler Gary Harrison, and has become popular in bluegrass jam circles lately. It has an infectious melody with a lot of space and a chord progression that has evolved over time.
Red Wing “Red Wing” is a Western swing tune that has become popular in the bluegrass world, and its melody originally comes from the 19th century German classical composer Robert Schuman. Woody Guthrie also used the melody for his song “Union Maid.” It can be heard in a few different keys, but fiddlers usually play it in the key of G, so that’s where you’ll learn it. It’s a simple melody and can be played in a number of different ways, so, in this lesson, Joe shows you how he would “mandolinify” it.
Garfield’s Blackberry Blossom The old-time tune “Garfield’s Blackberry Blossom” has become popular with bluegrass musicians lately. There are a number of old-time fiddle versions of the tune, which bears little resemblance to the fiddle standard “Blackberry Blossom,” but most bluegrass versions use what’s called a Lydian dominant scale, which has a flatted seventh and a raised fourth.
Check out these recordings of tunes featured in the Bluegrass Mandolin Jam Favorites course.