Hailed by Nashville’s Music Row magazine for his “lickety-split mandolin work” and by Vintage Guitar magazine as “brilliant,” Portland, Maine-based Joe K. Walsh is emerging as 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. He’s played with everyone from John Scofield to Bela Fleck to Emmylou Harris, and performed everywhere from bluegrass festivals to laundromats to Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. After a number of years helping bluegrass supergroup the Gibson Brothers rise to the top of the bluegrass world, Joe now performs with his own band as well as with Danny Barnes and a group with Grant Gordy and Darol Anger called Mr. Sun.
An avid mandolin educator, Joe is a mandolin instructor at the Berklee College of Music. He teaches regularly at music camps throughout North America and beyond, and has taught hundreds of students near his home in Portland, Maine. Joe is also co-director of the Berklee American Roots Festival camp in Boston and the Ossipee Valley String Camp in Maine.
Learning to play melodies and solos in closed-positions allows you to play in any key. Learn to play a solo to the gospel classic “I’ll Fly Away” in a closed position in the key of G. With Notation/Tab
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MANDOLIN TECHNIQUE In these introductory lessons, you’ll learn three chord shapes you can use to play chords in any key anywhere on the neck; the basics of alternating picking technique, with some great exercises; and two positions for playing arpeggios in every key.
Chord Boot Camp You can use the basic major chord shapes in open position to generate any kind of chord anywhere on the neck. In these three lessons you’ll learn how to use three basic chord shapes (open G, open C, and open D) to create major chords as well as minor, dominant seventh, major seventh, and minor seventh chords.
Pick Technique Learn the basics of pick technique on the mandolin, including down/up or alternating picking, in which you play downstrokes on the 1, 2, 3, and 4 beats of every measure (of 4/4), and upstrokes on the ands between those beats. One of the trickiest things to get right is the crossing of strings, the motion of the pick as it moves from string to string, so you’ll also learn some simple exercises to practice string crossings.
Arpeggios Everywhere Arpeggios are what you get when you play the notes of a chord one at a time. They come in handy when playing all sorts of music, and learning them will help you find your way around the neck, especially in unfamiliar keys. You’ll learn two positions that you can use as templates to give you major or minor arpeggios anywhere on the neck. You’ll also learn to combine the positions to play two-octave arpeggios and how to modify the major arpeggios to create seventh chord arpeggios.
BLUEGRASS MANDOLIN TUNES AND SOLOS Learn some great bluegrass tunes and songs that are not only fun to play, and essential to know, but will help you work on mandolin techniques like tremolo, double stops, slides, and blue notes, as well as creating variations on basic melodies. With play-along tracks so you can practice what you’re learning.
Kentucky Waltz The melody of Bill Monroe’s popular “Kentucky Waltz” is a great vehicle for working on tremolo and adding double stops to a melody. You’ll learn a few different approaches to tremolo as well as a good way to stay in time while you’re playing tremolo by ending the tremolo right on the downstroke of the next beat.
Tennessee Blues The blues is a big part of bluegrass. In this lesson you’ll learn the classic bluegrass blues tune “Tennessee Blues,” which is the first tune Bill Monroe wrote. You’ll also learn a classic slide lick that doubles an open-string note, some variations on the melody, and how to find the “blue notes” in relation to the major scale.
Banks of the Ohio David Grisman’s simple version of the traditional song “Banks of the Ohio,” which he recorded on Tone Poems,is a great example of how to enhance a simple melody with tremolo and double stops. You’ll learn the basic melody of “Banks of the Ohio” as well as Grisman’s rendition, including how he combines hammer-ons, double stops, and tremolo to play a single melody note.
Chinquapin Hunting The old-time fiddle tune “Chinquapin Hunting” has become quite popular on the bluegrass jam scene in the last few years. In addition to the melody, you’ll learn how to add a backbeat to the steady stream of eighth notes in fiddle tunes and get advice on backing up another musician in a duet setting, with ideas on varying the chord voicings of simple chords, using different rhythmic approaches, and mining the melody for ideas to fill out the accompaniment.
Cuckoo’s Nest The fiddle tune “Cuckoo’s Nest” is a good tune for working on triplets, as well as being a jam session favorite. While learning the tune you’ll also learn a great technique for playing eighth-note triplets: picking the first note of the triplet with a downstroke, slurring the second note (with a hammer-on or pull-off), and picking the third note with an upstroke.
Lonesome Moonlight Waltz Bill Monroe’s “Lonesome Moonlight Waltz” has a unique chord progression and 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. Joe also talks about targeting the chord tones of each chord when you’re improvising a solo.
SOLOING SECRETS These next lessons focus on techniques for soloing, including playing in closed positions, melodic improvising, double stops, and Mixolydian scales, using some classic song melodies.
Closed-Position Solos: “I’ll Fly Away” Learning to play melodies and solos in closed-positions allows you to play in any key. You’ll learn to play a solo to the gospel classic “I’ll Fly Away” in a closed position in the key of G. You’ll also learn how to play the melody with double stops, how to move the closed-position melody to any key, and how to find the “blue notes” in closed position.
Melodic Improvisation: “Cluck Old Hen” Learn a bluegrassy version of the traditional tune “Cluck Old Hen” as recorded by Alison Krauss and Union Station. Joe talks about using “anticipation” to change the phrasing of a tune and about how to improvise melodically by boiling a melody down to its important notes and creating variations that target those notes.
Double Stops: “Irene, Goodnight” Double stops are a huge part of bluegrass mandolin vocabulary. Learning them can give you roadmaps for finding things all over the fingerboard. Joe shows you three double-stop shapes you can play for any major chord all over the neck and how to use them to play a solo on the folk standard “Irene, Goodnight.”
Mixolydian Scales and Circle of Fifths Progressions: “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down Circle of fifths progressions occur in many tunes, including “Salty Dog Blues,” “Sweet Georgia Brown,” and “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down.” Learn what circle of fifths progressions are and how to negotiate these kinds of progressions. You’ll also learn the Mixolydian scale, which you can play over dominant seven chords, as well as some movable Mixolydian melodic ideas you can use over any dominant seven chord.
MORE FIDDLE TUNES
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. 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.
Dry and Dusty Fiddler Brittany Haas recorded a beautiful version of the Texas fiddle tune “Dry and Dusty,” which you’ll learn here, including the vamp intro and her arrangement’s unusual chords. You’ll also learn some of the fiddlistic ornaments Joe adds and some subtle variations using slides.
Cheyenne Bill Monroe’s haunting instrumental “Cheyenne” has been recorded by many people. The version you’ll learn here is based on the way Kenny Baker played it on Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe. The A part of “Cheyenne” is in the key of G minor, while the B part is in Bb. You’ll learn some cool double stops you can add to the melody of the B section and which minor scales you should use when playing over the Gm chord in the A part.
Brilliancy Newgrass mandolin star Sam Bush’s roots in Texas fiddling are displayed in his ornate version of the three-part contest fiddle favorite “Brilliancy.” The tune also illustrates how Sam embellishes a fiddle tune, as well as how he shifts positions on the mandolin.You’ll learn Sam’s version in this lesson, the basic melody as well as some of his variations.
Farewell Trion The old-time fiddle tune “Farewell Trion” is in the key of C and comes from the fiddling of James Bryan. Joe recorded it on a record with Darol Anger called e-and’a. “Farewell Trion” has three parts, the second of which has an extra half measure, or a measure of 6/4, depending on how you want to think of it. Joe walks you through each part and also talks about how Darol Anger arranged “Farewell Trion” for the recording on e-and’a.
Golden Eagle Hornpipe The traditional Scottish Tune “Golden Eagle Hornpipe” is a great workout for both hands, with long arpeggios and tricky string crossings. The A part is based on a G major arpeggio pattern that ascends through the different notes of a G chord while the B part has a much more complex chord progression that starts on a B7.
SWING AND JAZZ
Roly Poly Learn how to make a simple melody swing, using the western swing classic “Roly Poly.” You’ll also learn a swing-style solo, a cool intro from the original 1946 Bob Wills recording, some swing chords for backing up another soloist, and ideas on improvising and making melodies (and your rhythm playing) swing.
Dark Eyes The minor-key melody “Dark Eyes” is a Gypsy jazz standard, and a great “blowing” tune for working on playing in minor keys. Joe gives you tips on phrasing and syncopating the melody, ideas on what scales to play over the chord progression, and some new chords you can substitute for the basic chords when playing rhythm.
“Faded Love” with Double Stops The Bob Wills song “Faded Love” makes a great instrumental tune for mandolin and fiddle. Bobby Hicks’ fiddle version includes some cool double stops and intricate voice leading. It’s a great example of how to use different contrapuntal lines and harmonies to add some harmonic motion to your playing.
Panhandle Rag The Bob Wills Western swing classic “Panhandle Rag” has become a bluegrass jam session favorite. Learn a swingin’ version of “Panhandle Rag,” the melody of which can be interpreted in a number of ways. You’ll learn how to make the melody swing by using syncopation and emphasizing upstrokes and Joe gives you some soloing ideas based on reinterpreting the melody, playing the melody in a higher octave, and using Mixolydian scales to solo over the chords.
Daphne Django Reinhardt’s “Daphne” has a simple melody over standard swing-style “rhythm changes” in the keys of D and Eb. You’ll learn the melody and some variations in two octaves as well as some closed voicings for the I–vi–ii–V progression in D and Eb. Joe also talks about soloing in Eb, showing you a closed-position Eb major scale as well as some scale exercises you can use to get more comfortable in Eb and some arpeggio exercises for the chord progressions in both keys.
Swing 42 The Django Reinhardt tune “Swing 42” was recorded by David Grisman and Tony Rice, and besides having a cool melody, is another good vehicle for practicing improvising. The chord progression of “Swing 42” uses repeated I–vi–ii–V progressions in the key of C in the A part and in the key of E in the bridge. Joe talks about soloing over “Swing 42” using closed positions for the bridge in the key of E and using the notes of the E major scale in different ways. He also talks about emulating the phrasing of the melody in your soloing.
Lulu’s Back in Town The jazz standard “Lulu’s Back in Town” was first made popular by Fats Waller, and Thelonious Monk also recorded a great version that inspired Joe’s arrangement. In this lesson, Joe uses his arrangement of “Lulu’s Back in Town” to show you how to flesh out a melody with double stops and chord tones. Most of the chords in the song are dominant seven chords, so it’s a good song for working on dominant arpeggios and scales.
Bebop Blues Blues progressions appear in all sorts of music, of course, and you can often apply ideas from one kind of blues to another. In this lesson you’ll learn the Charlie Parker blues “Now’s the Time,” and get some ideas about using some more advanced harmonic concepts when playing the blues.
Russian Lullaby The jazz standard “Russian Lullaby” was written by Irving Berlin and has been recorded by numerous musicians, including, most significantly for acoustic string musicians, David Grisman and Jerry Garcia. It’s a simple melody with a somewhat complicated chord progression that moves between D minor and F major, and has four distinct sections. You’ll learn the basic melody, the “line clichés” you can use with the chord progression, and how to flesh out the melody with chord tones. Joe also talks about some different ways to solo on the chord changes using the line clichés.
CONTEMPORARY MANDOLIN TUNES
Two Béla Fleck Tunes: “Up and Around the Bend”and “Down in the Swamp” Learn two Béla Fleck tunes from his classic bluegrass instrumental album Drive: “Up and Around the Bend” and “Down in the Swamp.” These are great tunes to play and also to jam on. Joe also includes his transcription of a live Chris Thile solo to “Up and Around the Bend” recorded in 2000.
Key Signator This jazzy “new acoustic” tune comes from fiddler Darol Anger. The melody has some odd timing, with phrases that start in the middle of the measure and interesting syncopation. Joe shows you where to add tremolo and explains some of the harmonic ideas in the melody. You’ll also learn the chords and rhythm to the tune, including the vamp used as an intro. Joe also talks about improvising on the chord changes of the “blowing” section, which are different than the main melody.
Salt Spring Mandolinist John Reischman’s tune “Salt Spring” has become a modern standard, played at jam sessions by many people who think it’s a traditional old-time fiddle tune. You’ll learn the basic tune and a version that imitates a clawhammer banjo, something that John does a lot, filling in basic melodies with strums and chord tones.
Jessamyn’s Reel Chris Thile’s “Jessamyn’s Reel” has become a modern solo mandolin classic and illustrates his style of combining quick arpeggios and melodies with slides and chords. Joe gives you tips on fingering some of the chord voicings and playing the up-the-neck arpeggios in the second part, with suggestions on when to shift positions and when to stay in the same fretting-hand position.
Dawg’s Waltz David Grisman’s “Dawg’s Waltz” is a great tune from hisalbum with Jerry Garcia, Garcia/Grisman. You’ll learn the basic tune and some of the different ways Grisman phrased the melody, with some syncopated rhythms, slurred grace notes, tremolo, and hammer-on/pull-off embellishments. Joe also talks about how the chords relate to the melody, and about how he improvises a solo based on the melody. He also gives you some arpeggio exercises in which you play an arpeggio for every chord of the song starting on different notes of the chord.
Scotch and Swing Mike Marshall’s tune “Scotch and Swing,” from his album Gator Strut, is another classic modern mandolin tune from one of the great modern mandolin players. The A section includes a couple of nice “Celtic” ornaments and a melodic reference to Bill Monroe’s tune “Scotland,” while the B part has a number of chromatic lines and some syncopation that gives it a swing sound.
Black’s Fork “Black’s Fork” is a three-part tune in A from Matt Flinner, which you can hear on Matt’s album The View from Here. The A part includes some important position shifts while the C section begins with a couple of extra beats and a syncopated strum figure on the E chord.
Itzbin Reel John Reischman’s “Itzbin Reel” is another contemporary mandolin classic. John first recorded it in the early ’80s and recently re-recorded it with Chris Thile on harmonymandolin. You’ll learn John’s version of the melody as well as Chris’s harmony.Joe talks a bit about how to start finding harmony parts (starting a third above the melody) and points out some of the interesting rhythmic and harmonic choices Chris made in creating his harmony part.
Telluride Contemporary mandolin guru David Grisman recorded the tune “Telluride” on his 20th-anniversary recording DGQ20. You’ll learn the melody, a harmony part (played by fiddler Mark O’Connor), and Grisman’s solo to “Telluride,” whichis very illustrative of his soloing style. Joe shows you how Grisman constructs some of his typical lines to fit the chords he’s playing over and explains some of Grisman’s quirky phrasing, in which he ends or begins phrases on unexpected beats.
Where to Now? Learn guitarist Scott Nygaard’s tune “Where to Now?,” both the melody and Mike Marshall’s solo on Scott’s recording. The melody is very syncopated and includes some triplets and other ornaments, so Joe makes sure you get the timing right and shows you the right pick strokes to use for the syncopated lines. He also talks about different approaches to soloing over “Where to Now?” For example, because of the tune’s tempo and feel, you can play all the eighth notes as downstrokes and use alternate picking for double-time 16th-note runs or triplet phrases.
Ride the Wild Turkey Darol Anger’s wild fiddle tune “Ride the Wild Turkey” is a contemporary bluegrass instrumental classic. 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. “Ride the Wild Turkey” is almost “through composed,” meaning that there are very few repeated parts, and when there are repeats, usually the shape of the repeated part is similar to the first, but the details are different.
Baltimore Jonny The contemporary mandolin tune “Baltimore Jonny” comes from the great Ronnie McCoury and was recorded by the Del McCoury Band. It’s a three-part tune in G dorian and shows hints of Ronnie’s two biggest influences, Bill Monroe and David Grisman.
Dawgma David Grisman’s tune “Dawgma” appeared on his Quintet 80 album in two forms, one as a swing tune and one as a slow bossa nova called “Dawgmatism.” In this lesson, you’ll learn the swing version of “Dawgma”: the melody, some cool chord voicings, and Grisman’s solo from Quintet 80.
Land’s End Tim O’Brien’s great mandolin tune “Land’s End” can be heard on two recordings: one by the group New Grange (with Mike Marshall, Darol Anger, Alison Brown, and others) and one on Tim’s album Fiddler’s Green. It’s a three-part tune in the key of D in 3/4 time, and is a good tune for working on picking-hand technique. The B part of “Land’s End” can be played in two octaves, and you’ll learn both versions here.
The Open Road Béla Fleck’s tune “The Open Road” comes from his groundbreaking recording Drive, where it starts with Sam Bush’s mandolin, so it has the feel and sound of a mandolin tune. It has three parts and some unusual melodic phrasing, where certain phrases can sound like they start on a different beat than they actually do. The A part is melodically fairly simple but the first phrase anticipates the downbeat and the last phrase has a tricky three-over-two syncopation. The B part involves some shifts between closed-position fingering for C and B chords, while the C section is played over one chord (D7) but uses a lot of notes that aren’t just the three or four main notes of the underlying chord, including some three-note arpeggios and some syncopated phrasing.
Bow Wow David Grisman’s tune “Bow Wow,” from his recording Quintet 80, is one of his most accessible tunes, a fun medium tempo tune in A minor that’s easy to jam over. The A part has a signature phrase that gets repeated numerous times and the B part has a simple pentatonic melody, but with some tricky timing. As an intro to the tune, Grisman plays a melody that Beethoven wrote for the mandolin and you’ll learn that as well as the solo Grisman plays, which is a good example of how he uses a minor pentatonic scale with a flatted fifth to solo on minor-key tunes.
Pogo Big Joe’s tune “Pogo Big,” from his Borderland album, owes a debt to a number of fiddle players, including Darol Anger, Brittany Haas, and Bruce Molsky. It’s a happy fiddle tune in the key of G and includes some melodic lines you can use in other tunes. The chords to the B part of “Pogo Big” are a bit unusual for a traditional-sounding fiddle tune and you’ll also learn an alternate way to play the chords, using a descending line between changes. Joe also gives you ideas for soloing on “Pogo Big” using the diatonic scale.
The Crossing Tim O’Brien’s fiddle tune “The Crossing” is a great tune to play and is also great for working on your right-hand precision. It’s in the key of A major, but occasionally includes some G naturals in a melody with lots of G#’s. You’ll learn the melody, chords, and melody to the B part in the upper octave, which is a common variation.
Montgomery Ball The contemporary mandolin tune “Montgomery Ball” comes from fiddler/mandolinist Aubrey Haynie. It has some great “chop chord” vocabulary and is played almost entirely over a C chord. After showing you the melody, Joe shows you how to add double stops to the basic melody and how to move the melody to other keys, including G and D.
Tipsy Gypsy David Grisman wrote his great Gypsy-jazz influenced tune “Tipsy Gypsy” for the movie King of the Gypsies, and it was included on Grisman’s DGQ20 album. It’s in the key of D minor but there are a lot of accidentals, with some G#s, C#s, and F#s in the melody as well as the notes of the D natural minor scale. This requires some fingering choices, and as Joe walks you through the melody of “Tipsy Gypsy” he shows you his fingering. Joe also shows you the intro used on Grisman’s original recording and talks about how to use some of the chromatic notes in the melody in your solos.
Buck’s Run The three-part tune “Buck’s Run,” which comes from the great but under-recognized mandolin player Buck White, has become a bluegrass mandolin jam session favorite lately. It’s a fairly simple melody but uses some open strings and double stops in unusual ways. The melody of the A part is based around a B–C# hammer-on played up the neck on the D string, instead of the A string, which allows the A and E strings to ring with the melody line. The C section of “Buck’s Run” also uses some interesting double stops high up on the neck, played with a rhythm similar to the A part.
Big Country The simple melody of Béla Fleck’s tune “Big Country” combined with its unusual phrasing and interesting chord changes, makes it a great tune for improvisers of all stripes, and it sounds particularly good on the mandolin. Béla recorded “Big Country” in the key of E, but you’ll learn it here in the key of G. Joe walks you through the simple melody phrase by phrase, giving you a few suggestions of subtle rhythmic variations and double stops you can try.
Flatbush Waltz Mandolinist Andy Statman’s tune “Flatbush Waltz” is a contemporary mandolin classic. In addition to having a great melody, it features some interesting double-stop movement in the B part and some unique embellishments and tremolo.
New Chance Blues Norman Blake is probably best known as a guitarist and songwriter, but he has also written a lot of great mandolin tunes, including the “New Chance Blues,” a midtempo tune with a unique chord progression. Norman recorded it with Tony Rice and it’s also been recorded by Punch Brothers.
Emily’s Welcome to Portland Joe’s original tune “Emily’s Welcome to Portland” (recorded on his album Sweet Loam) is a Celtic-sounding melody that Joe wrote in honor of his sister Emily’s move to Portland, Maine, which was Joe’s hometown at the time. It’s in the key of F and has some challenging string crossings and tricky left-hand fingering.
The High Road “The High Road” comes from Tim O’Brien who recorded it on his 1983 solo album Hard Year Blues with lyrics. These days it’s usually performed as an instrumental and Bryan Sutton and Casey Campbell have recorded it that way. The instrumental version has also become popular at bluegrass jam sessions.“The High Road” is in the key of E minor and features an unusual chord progression with an F# chord in the B part.
Prelude to Bach Cello Suite No. 1 The Prelude of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cello Suite in G Major, No. 1 is one of the most well-known pieces in Western music. Violinists (and mandolinists) usually play it in the key of D so that the fingerings are the same as on the cello, and that’s where you’ll learn it. It's a great piece of music that will get your fingers to do things they don't often do, and there are some fingering challenges, especially when you want a note to sustain through another note. Joe walks you through the Prelude measure by measure, giving you advice on fingering choices as he goes.
Advancing Mandolinist Source Material
Check out these tunes and artists featured in the Advancing Mandolinist course.