Sharon Gilchrist has long made her home in the American acoustic music scene. Whether she’s playing mandolin, thumpin’ the upright bass, singing a traditional ballad, or performing one of her original pieces, her music is steeped in traditional Appalachian sounds, delivered with a distinct spacious, graceful, and fiery style all her own.
Sharon has performed with Darol Anger, Peter Rowan and Tony Rice Quartet, Uncle Earl, Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands, the Kathy Kallick Band, Bill Evans, and many others. Her playing can be heard on two film shorts that feature her original music: Milagros and La Sevillana as well as Quartet, the Rounder Records release by the Peter Rowan and Tony Rice Quartet. Her latest project is a trio with Peghead Nation instructor and co-founder Scott Nygaard and mandolin master John Reischman. Their first album, The Harmonic Tone Revealers, will be released in September 2016.
Sharon is also a respected mandolin teacher, with numerous private and Skype students. She served as mandolin instructor at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design from 2004 to 2012 and has taught at music camps throughout the US. She earned a bachelor’s degree in mandolin performance from Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee.
Learn the bluegrass standard “I’m Going Back to Old Kentucky” using a common technique in bluegrass mandolin: playing melodies on two pairs of strings. With Notation/Tab
Intermediate Bluegrass Mandolin Lessons
A subscription to Intermediate Bluegrass Mandolin includes:
More than 36 intermediate bluegrass mandolin video lessons
More than 20 great bluegrass tunes and songs to play
New lessons added every month
Extensive right- and left-hand technique lessons
High-quality video with multiple camera angles so you can see close-ups of both hands in action
Play-Along videos so you can practice what you’ve learned
Downloadable audio MP3s of each tune
Get started now!Use promo code “SharonLand” at checkout and get your first month free or $20 off an annual subscription. Subscribe to Intermediate Bluegrass Mandolin today for access to all of these bluegrass mandolin lessons.
MANDOLIN BASICS In five introductory lessons, you’ll learn how to hold the mandolin and pick comfortably and get in-depth advice on picking-hand and fretting-hand technique, with exercises that get you started off right and help you develop efficient technique for both hands.
MONROE CHORDS The closed “chop” chords known as “Monroe chords” (after Bill Monroe) are what give your rhythm mandolin that classic bluegrass chop sound or bark. You’ll the Monroe chord shapes for G and C, and since they’re closed chords (with no open strings) you can move them around the neck to play any major chord. You’ll also get advice on fingering the chords easily and exercises to increase finger strength and get you used to stretching out your pinky.
MORE RIGHT- AND LEFT-HAND TECHNIQUES
Rest Strokes The rest stroke comes from classical mandolin and guitar technique but is used by many bluegrass mandolinists and guitarists. To play a rest stroke you pick through both strings and then rest your pick on the next string over. This allows you to get the deepest possible tone from your instrument. With simple exercises using a G major scale.
Scale Review Review the G major, A major, D major, and C major scales and learn to practice the A major scale by stretching from your ring finger to pinky, which is useful for playing chop chords as well as scales. You’ll also learn some simple exercises for developing strength in your pinky.
Tremolo Technique and Exercises Learn some exercises that can help you work on your tremolo. Sharon learned these exercises from classical mandolinist Caterina Lichtenberg, and she gives you lots of great technical advice on playing tremolo.
BLUEGRASS FIDDLE TUNES AND INSTRUMENTALS Learn some great bluegrass instrumentals heard in jam sessions around the world. With play-along tracks for every tune.
Clinch Mountain Backstep This bluegrass standard comes from the great banjo player Ralph Stanley, but it has a simple modal melody that suits all instruments. It has an extra beat in the second part and you’ll learn to “ghost” a note with your picking hand to make sure you get the timing right.
Soldier’s Joy A must-know tune in the bluegrass and old-time world, “Soldier’s Joy” is in the key of D, and in addition to learning the melody, you’ll learn the D major scale in two octaves.
Midnight on the Water The beautiful waltz “Midnight on the Water” comes from legendary Texas fiddler Benny Thomasson. You’ll learn how to use tremolo to play it and how to add drone notes to the melody.
Whiskey Before Breakfast The fiddle tune “Whiskey Before Breakfast” is a popular tune among all sorts of roots musicians. The chords to “Whiskey Before Breakfast” change fairly often, especially in the B part. Sharon shows you a handy way to memorize them so that they don’t seem so random. You’ll also learn a few simple variations on the A and B parts.
BLUEGRASS SONGS Bluegrass is primarily a vocal-oriented music, so in addition to learning to play fiddle tunes and instrumentals you’ll need to learn to play breaks to songs.
Wayfaring Stranger The old hymn “Wayfaring Stranger” is a perfect tune to play on the mandolin with tremolo. It’s in the key of A minor, which sounds great on the mandolin, so you’ll learn an A minor scale and arpeggio before learing to add tremolo to the melody.
I’m Going Back to Old Kentucky Learn the bluegrass standard “I’m Going Back to Old Kentucky” using a common technique in bluegrass mandolin: playing melodies on two pairs of strings. You’ll learn the basic right-hand technique for playing two pairs of strings at a time, including how to keep the pick on the edge of the strings and not let the pick dig in past the strings, as well as how to slightly rotate your wrist so you can play all four strings (both pairs) at once. Then you’ll learn the melody to Bill Monroe’s “I’m Going Back to Old Kentucky” played on two strings in the key of A.
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 solos are a little different than most bluegrass solos. Usually the fiddle will play the first part, which corresponds to the verse, while another instrument will play the chorus form. In this lesson, you’ll learn the fiddle melody to the verse and a solo to the chorus based on some of Bill Monroe’s solos.
“I’m Going Back to Old Kentucky” Variations Learn three variations to “I’m Going Back to Old Kentucky” that including some of the arpeggios you’ve learned in previous lessons as well as folding scales, sequences, and some typical bluegrass mandolin licks.
SCALE AND CHORD THEORY Bluegrass singers often sing in keys other than the usual keys of C, G, D, and A you’re probably used to playing in if you’ve mostly been playing fiddle tunes. So it’s important to be able to play in different keys. In these lessons you’ll learn how major scales and arpeggios are constructed so you can play them in any key, including two major scale finger patterns you can use anywhere on the neck. You’ll also learn about the importance of knowing about seventh chords, and how Bill Monroe used dominant seventh arpeggios to create a bluesy sound.
MORE BLUEGRASS TUNES
Billy in the Lowground The popular fiddle tune “Billy in the Lowground” is in the key of C. You’ll learn how to kick it off and get tips on making the transition between the end of the A part and the beginning of the B part, as well as how to shift positions between phrases.
Jerusalem Ridge Bill Monroe’s epic fiddle tune “Jerusalem Ridge” has four parts and is in the key of A minor, the relative minor of C. You’ll learn the version played by Monroe’s long-time fiddler Kenny Baker in this lesson, rather than the way Monroe played it on the mandolin. Baker’s version has become standard for all bluegrass instruments.
St. Anne’s Reel The fiddle tune “St. Anne’s Reel” may come from the Celtic tradition, but it’s become a jam session standard in bluegrass and old-time circles. It’s in the key of D, so Sharon reminds you of the two-octave version of the D major scale. She also points out the small arpeggios that are part of the melody and some places where you should use finger planting. The chords to the second part of “St. Anne’s Reel” can be played in a few different ways, so you’ll learn the chords for each variation, and get play-along tracks for each version.
Gold Rush The bluegrass fiddle tune standard “Gold Rush” comes from Bill Monroe and fiddler Byron Berline. Sharon gives you advice on learning by ear, suggesting that you try to learn these tunes by ear and only use the tab/notation as a reminder when you don’t have access to the video. She also shows you the distinctive rhythmic accent in the B part that is usually played by the rhythm section, and how to fill in the rhythm by adding some strums to the basic chop pattern.
Red-Haired Boy The classic fiddle tune “Red-Haired Boy” is a popular bluegrass jam tune and one that every bluegrass picker should know. In addition to learning the melody, and a variation that includes a triplet, Sharon shows you how the chords to “Red-Haired Boy” match the melody, which alternates between an A Mixolydian sound (with a G natural) and A major (with a G sharp).
Temperance Reel The fiddle tune “Temperance Reel” is originally from Ireland, but has become popular at bluegrass and old-time jams. It’s in the key of G and includes an E minor chord. The tune starts with a triplet and includes some tricky pick moves. You’ll learn how to pick the triplet and get advice on maintaining strict alternating picking as you work through the melody.
Lonesome Moonlight Waltz One of Bill Monroe’s prettiest waltzes, “Lonesome Moonlight Waltz” has an unusual form and chord progression. The form is AABA and it moves between the keys of Dm and F. You’ll learn to play it out of an F major scale position with your index finger on the third fret. Sharon gives you advice on playing tremolo on the long notes, showing you how you can use a slower or quicker tremolo, and stresses the importance of ending the tremolo on a downbeat.
“Lonesome Moonlight Waltz” Harmonies Bill Monroe’s recording of “Lonesome Moonlight Waltz” includes three fiddles playing the melody in harmony. In this lesson you’ll learn to play both of the harmony parts on the mandolin, beginning with the high harmony. Sharon also explains how to find harmonies by finding the next note in the chord above or below the melody. Includes play-along tracks for both harmony parts with Scott Nygaard playing the melody on the mandolin so you can hear how the two parts go together and play along.
Sail Away Ladies There are many versions of the old-time fiddle tune “Sail Away Ladies.” This one comes from bluegrass fiddler Kenny Baker, who recorded it on his Baker’s Dozen album. You’ll learn how Kenny played it, along with a couple of variations. Sharon also gives you advice on how to pick some of the syncopated phrasing in both parts.
Stony Point The fiddle tune “Stony Point” is popular with old-time and bluegrass musicians. It’s been recorded by numerous people, most famously for bluegrass pickers by Tony Rice on his 1978 album Manzanita. Tony’s version has two parts, the first of which is in Em and the second of which is in G. The old-time version, which you’ll learn here, goes by many names in addition to “Stony Point,” including “Wild Horse,” “Wild Horse at Stony Point,” etc. and reverses the order of parts while adding a short third part in G.
Ashland Breakdown Bill Monroe’s fiddle tune “Ashland Breakdown” is in the key of C major and has three parts. The first two parts use the second position, with your index finger on the third fret. Sharon’s version combines the fiddle version that fiddler Kenny Baker played on his classic album Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe with some of Monroe’s phrasing from his mandolin solo on that same album.
Up and Around the Bend Béla Fleck’s tune “Up and Around the Bend” comes from his classic 1988 bluegrass instrumental album Drive, which featured Sam Bush on mandolin, Tony Rice on guitar, Mark Schatz on bass, and Mark O’Connor and Stuart Duncan on fiddles. In this lesson you’ll learn the melody as well as a harmony part that was played by one of the fiddlers.
Denver Belle The fiddle tune “Denver Belle” comes from famed bluegrass fiddler Kenny Baker. It’s in the key of C, but modulates to the key of G for the B part. Sharon walks you through the melody and includes some minor variations on the A part that Kenny Baker played. She also gives you advice on playing the tricky triplet lick that the B part starts with.
BLUEGRASS MANDOLIN SOLOS Learn solos to songs by some of the great bluegrass mandolinists.
Old Home Place: Ricky Skaggs Solo Ricky Skaggs’ solo on the 1975 JD Crowe and the New South recording of “Old Home Place” is a classic and illustrates many elements of his funky style, including some cool syncopations and bluesy, swingy licks. The solo is in the key of Bb, so you’ll learn three ways to play a Bb major scale as well as how to find a blues scale, which includes the flatted third, flatted seventh, and flatted fifth, in Bb. Then you’ll learn Ricky’s solo, including how to pick the syncopated phrases and get the timing right.
Walls of Time: Ricky Skaggs Solo Ricky Skaggs’ solo on the Bill Monroe/Peter Rowan song “Walls of Time” (from Ricky’s album Ancient Tones) is a contemporary bluegrass mandolin classic, an update of Monroe’s classic style with lots of eighth-note downstrokes, triplets, position shifts, and bluesy licks. Sharon walks you through the solo, which is in the key of B, phrase by phrase, showing you how to play with all downstrokes on eighth notes, make the position shifts, pick the triplets, and play the cool lick that begins the second half of the solo, which combines a descending major scale with pedal tones using open strings.
Walls of Time: Bill Monroe Solo Bill Monroe’s solo on his recording of “Walls of Time” includes a steady 16th-note tremolo, eighth notes played with downstrokes, and a number of his characteristic arpeggio licks, as well as some subtle syncopations and variations on phrases. Sharon gives you advice on playing the 16th-note tremolo by using your arm and wrist together and then walks you through the solo, which is in the key of C and starts with a quick 16th-note run up to the C on the second string.
Big Sandy River: Sam Bush Solo The Sam Bush solo on the fiddle tune “Big Sandy River” you’ll learn in this lesson comes from a performance on the TV show Nashville Now featuring Doc Watson with an all-star band: Sam on mandolin, Doc and Pat Flynn on guitars, Ricky Skaggs on fiddle, Bela Fleck and Tony Trischka on banjos, and Edgar Meyer on bass. The way he plays the B part is a good example of how to use sevenths leading to thirds, which Sharon has talked about in her lessons on arpeggios.
Big Sandy River: Sam Bush Solo, Pick Exercises In this lesson, Sharon uses some of the trickier passages in Sam Bush’s solo on “Big Sandy River” to create picking exercises, showing you how to practice the difficult passages in any tune you’re working on or learning. In particular, once you’ve learned a melody and are trying to get it up to speed it’s important to look for and practice string changes. Sharon goes through the Sam Bush solo phrase by phrase, finding the sections with tricky string changes and creating pick exercises out of them.
“Sail Away Ladies” Solos You learned the melody to Kenny Baker’s version of the traditional fiddle tune “Sail Away Ladies” in a previous lesson. In this lesson, Sharon gives you two solos on “Sail Away Ladies” that demonstrate how she would improvise and/or compose a solo for “Sail Away Ladies.” The solos alternate phrases based on the melody with other phrases based on arpeggios of the underlying chord or scalar sequences. The second solo moves up the neck, finishing with a repeat of the basic B part melody.
Walls of Time: Sharon’s Solo Sharon revisits the Bill Monroe/Peter Rowan song “Walls of Time” in this lesson to show you the solo she played on the Peter Rowan/Tony Rice Quartet recording of the song. Sharon’s improvised solo has lots of bluesy accidentals and slides and is very syncopated with some across-the-bar phrasing. She walks you through it phrase by phrase, showing you her fingering and picking, which includes a lot of consecutive downstrokes.
CHORD INVERSIONS Chord inversions can add variety to your backup playing, providing an alternative to Monroe chords that create a feeling of harmonic motion and allow you to be more interactive and creative in whatever ensemble you’re playing in. You’ll learn three voicings of a major chord in this lesson, and learn to find those voicings for the I, IV, and V chords in the key of A in three “neighborhoods” on the fingerboard. Sharon also gives you ideas for combining and practicing inversions using a standard bluegrass chord progression that is used for songs like “Your Love Is Like a Flower,” “Bury Me Beneath the Willow,” and others.
DOUBLE STOPS Double stops are two-note partial chords that sound great on the mandolin and are helpful for getting a bigger chordal sound out of a simple melody line.
Double Stop Series Sharon begins these lessons on double stops by showing you a double-stop series (short, medium, and long) for a G major chord on the top strings (A and E). These shapes were used often by Bill Monroe and have a definite bluegrass sound. Sharon gives you advice on fingering each shape and sliding from shape to shape, and gives you some exercises to help practice moving from shape to shape with her. You’ll also learn the G major double-stop series on the middle strings (D and A) and bottom strings (G and D).
Double Stop Neighborhoods In this lesson, you’ll learn to find double stop “neighborhoods”: I, IV, and V chord double stop shapes that are closest to each other on the fingerboard. The first neighborhood Sharon shows you is based on the short G double stop on the top strings, which is combined with a long C double stop and a medium D double stop to make a double stop neighborhood in the key of G. The next double stop neighborhood is based on the medium G double stop shape on the top strings and the final neighborhood is based on the long G double stop. You’ll also learn seventh chord versions of the major double stop shapes in each of the three double stop neighborhoods and get some practice tracks using the song “Rocky Road Blues,” which has a 12-bar blues progression that’s also used a lot in bluegrass songs.