Learn to play fiddle tunes and other bluegrass and roots melodies, with an emphasis on alternate picking, simple scales, and developing good picking- and fretting-hand technique. Designed for guitarists just starting to play melodies as well as intermediate players who want to work on their flatpicking technique.
Grammy-winning guitarist Scott Nygaard is one of the most inventive and original flatpicking guitarists in the bluegrass/acoustic music scene.
His solos, a seamless amalgam of bluegrass, folk, and jazz influences, shift easily from breathtaking virtuosity to soulful melodic musings and his accompaniment is always intriguing, supportive, and propulsive.
Downbeat magazine called Scott “a phenomenally talented stylist.” He has performed and/or recorded with Tim O’Brien, Joan Baez, Chris Thile, Darol Anger, Jerry Douglas, Peter Rowan, Laurie Lewis, Anonymous 4, and many others, and has released two solo albums, No Hurry and Dreamer’s Waltz, on Rounder Records as well as self-produced albums with his band Crow Molly, Roger Tallroth and Scott Nygaard, and the Websters and Scott Nygaard. Scott was the guitarist on three recordings that have proven to be extremely influential on the contemporary acoustic music scene: Chris Thile’s Leading Off, Tim O’Brien’s Red on Blonde, and Jerry Douglas’s Slide Rule. He recently released a recording with John Reischman and Sharon Gilchrist, The Harmonic Tone Revealers.
Formerly the editor of Acoustic Guitar magazine, Scott has written hundreds of articles on music, musicians, guitars, and guitarists for Acoustic Guitar, Strings, Play Guitar!, and Guitar World Acoustic; authored two instruction books, Bluegrass Guitar Essentials and Fiddle Tunes and Folk Songs for Beginning Guitar; produced an instructional video, Bluegrass Lead Guitar for Stefan Grossman's Guitar Workshop, and taught at most of the United States’ best-known bluegrass and/or guitar workshops. Scott is co-founder and editor of Peghead Nation.
Learn the second part of the popular fiddle tune “Sally Gooden,” with advice on keeping your fretting-hand fingers in position above the notes, as well as “planting” them: keeping them down on the fret until after you play the next note in the phrase. With Notation/Tab
Download a PDF list of all the Intermediate Flatpicking Guitar lessons so you can keep track of your progress.
Intermediate Flatpicking Guitar Lessons
An Intermediate Flatpicking Guitar subscription includes:
A step-by-step approach to mastering flatpicking technique
More than 20 complete fiddle tunes to play, with variations
New lessons and tunes added every month
Detailed tab/notation for all lessons
In-depth lessons on flatpicking and fretting-hand technique
High-quality video with multiple camera angles so you can see closeups of both hands in action
Play-Along Tracks so you can practice what you’ve learned
Get started now!Use promo code ScottLand at checkout and get your first month free or $20 off an annual subscription. Subscribe to the Intermediate Flatpicking Guitar course today for access to all of these guitar lessons and new material every month!
FLATPICKING TECHNIQUE In these introductory lessons you’ll learn the basics of good flatpicking technique, including how to hold the pick, alternating picking, the rest stroke, the importance of upstrokes, and more.
Holding the Flatpick While there are many ways to hold the flatpick, it’s important that your hand and arm should be comfortable, with as little tension as possible.
Downstrokes and Bass Notes An in-depth look the downstroke and the different ways you can play the bass note of a boom-chuck strum. Scott talks about the importance of the rest stroke in bluegrass guitar technique, the arm movement required to play an upstroke strum after a downstroke bass note, and the disadvantages of playing bass notes with a “bounce stroke.”
Upstrokes and Swing Upstrokes are important not only for flatpickers playing fiddle tunes and bluegrass solos, but for rhythm guitarists trying to lock in with the rhythmic feel of the people they’re playing with, as well as for communicating how much “swing” a song has.
Alternating Picking Alternating picking, also called alternate picking or down-up picking, is the basis of good flatpicking technique. The basic idea is that you consistently alternate pick strokes based on where you are in the measure. Downstrokes are played on the 1, 2, 3, and 4 beats of a measure of 4/4 (or 1, 2, and 3 beats of a measure of 3/4), and upstrokes are played in between those beats—on the ands of the beats. In this lesson you’ll learn strict alternating picking and look at some ways to deal with string crossings.
Pick Exercises Learn some simple pick exercises that can help you deal with some of the trickier aspects of alternating picking. You’ll learn exercises that will help get your pick oriented to the strings and help you move your picking hand both from the wrist, for small movements, and the elbow, for larger movements.
FIDDLE TUNES Learning these popular and fun-to-play tunes will take you through the flatpicking techniques you need to know in order to play smoothly and efficiently.
Sally Gooden The first fiddle tune you’ll learn is the old-time and bluegrass standard “Sally Gooden.” In addition to learning the basic melody in A, played out of G position, with a capo at the second fret, Scott gives you advice on keeping your fretting-hand fingers in position above the notes, as well as “planting” them: keeping them down on the fret until after you play the next note in the phrase. This is very important to work on, as it gives your playing a lot of fluidity and makes your fingering more efficient.
Dry and Dusty The old fiddle tune “Dry and Dusty” has a beautiful and simple melody and is also a good tune for working on playing in the key of D without a capo. You’ll learn the D major scale in open position as well as a couple of scale exercises. Scott also gives you advice on playing a hammer-on/pull-off triplet slur, and makes sure you understand the somewhat unusual phrasing of the B part.
Salt Creek Doc Watson’s performance of the old-time fiddle tune “Salt Creek” in the 1960s made it a flatpicking and bluegrass jam session favorite and a must-learn tune for any flatpicker. It’s also a good tune to demonstrate a style of flatpicking rhythm that imitates fiddlers’ shuffle bowing: down down-up, where the first down is a quarter note and down-up is two eighth notes. This maintains the strict alternating picking style you’ve been working on, and gives a nice rhythmic pulse to your playing.
Cherokee Trail “Cherokee Trail” sounds like an old tune but was actually composed recently by the great old-time banjo player John Herrmann. It makes a great guitar tune, with a melody that emphasizes downbeats and uses lots of slurs: hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides. Scott gives you advice on playing slurs and and shows you the hand movement necessary for playing clean pull-offs and hammer-ons. He also talks about the necessity of being precise in your movements when you slide from position to position.
Big Mon Bill Monroe’s classic fiddle tune “Big Mon” is in the key of A, and played on the guitar with a capo at the second fret. The tune, like “Salt Creek,” features a flatted seventh note, which makes it a Mixolydian scale. The first part is a great scale and alternating-picking exercise, while the second part has some typical syncopations favored by Monroe as well as some typical bluegrass licks you’ll hear played by banjo and mandolin players as well as guitarists.
Little Liza Jane The old-time fiddle tune “Little Liza Jane” is often played by fiddlers in the key of A, but Scott has arranged it for guitar in C position. The C scale has the same notes as the G Mixolydian scale used to play “Big Mon” and “Salt Creek” so you should be familiar with that scale. “Little Liza Jane” has a simple melody but the second part includes some syncopation and unusual phrasing. You’ll also learn two versions of the B part of “Little Liza Jane,” one in the lower octave on the three lowest strings and one in the higher octave on the three highest strings. It sounds great on the guitar in either octave.
Old Joe Clark The fiddle tune favorite “Old Joe Clark” is a must-learn tune for every bluegrass and old-time musician. It has a simple repetitive melody that can be played entirely in quarter notes. In this lesson Scott uses “Old Joe Clark” to show you how to fill out quarter-note melodies by adding eighth notes. He starts by showing you the basic quarter-note melody and then teaches you a more elaborate version of the melody that demonstrates some of the strategies you can use to modify a simple melody: using open strings or slurs, adding notes above and below the melody, etc.
Angeline the Baker The popular old-time fiddle tune is a must-know jam favorite. It’s in the key of D, and guitarists often play it without a capo. In this lesson, you’ll learn it in the key of C, which allows you to fill out the melody with some simple ringing strings and chord tones. First you’ll learn the basic melody in C position, and then you’ll learn how to fill out the melody by adding a few open strings. You’ll also learn a few variations that change the melody slightly to allow you create a fuller sound.
Cripple Creek “Cripple Creek” is one of the most popular bluegrass and old-time tunes, and one of the first tunes that banjo players and fiddlers learn. It’s very simple, so simple that many guitarists don’t bother to come up with a version that suits the guitar. But it’s a good tune for learning how to create variations on a simple melody by using the bum-ditty rhythm of clawhammer banjo players (the same rhythm fiddlers refer to as the Nashville shuffle): a quarter note followed by two eighth notes. You’ll learn the basic “Cripple Creek” melody and how to create variations by adding the bum-ditty rhythm to the melody and combining the bum-ditty rhythm with slurs: hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides.
Lonesome Moonlight Waltz Bill Monroe’s “Lonesome Moonlight Waltz” has a beautiful, haunting melody, and is a great tune for working on hammer-ons and pull-offs, as well as triplets played with slurs. It’s in the keys of D minor and F, but uses both the F and C major scales, as well as a few chromatic lines to connect melody notes. It’s also a good tune for working on phrases that start with upstrokes.
Shove the Pig’s Foot a Little Further in the Fire The old-time fiddle tune “Shove the Pig’s Foot a Little Further in the Fire” is a popular tune in old-time music circles. It has a simple but slightly syncopated melody that is fun to play and is also good practice for getting used to certain kinds of syncopations that come up frequently in bluegrass and old-time fiddle music. The B part is mostly played in a position with your first finger at the third fret, and Scott gives you advice on moving smoothly into this position. You’ll also learn a few different variations of the melody, including a variation on the A part in which you anticipate the main melody a beat early, a common rhythmic device in old-time music.
Whiskey Before Breakfast A must-know fiddle tune for flatpickers, “Whiskey Before Breakfast” has been recorded by numerous iconic guitarists, but probably the best-known is Norman Blake’s version, which is the basis for the version you’ll learn here. Like many fiddle tunes, the melody of “Whiskey Before Breakfast” can be played in many different ways and still retain its essential character. While there are some repeating phrases in the A part, Scott shows you how to vary the first basic phrase and how to think about the basic shape of a fiddle tune and not be stuck to a specific series of notes.
Stony Point The fiddle tune “Stony Point” is another great tune for working on getting the shuffle rhythm in your picking hand: down, down-up, down, down-up, etc. It’s been recorded by numerous people, most famously for guitarists by Tony Rice on his 1978 album Manzanita. It’s in the key of G and has three parts; the second part moves to E minor, though it resolves to G. You’ll learn a few variations, including a variation of the third part that accents the shuffle rhythm.
Little Pine Siskin John Reischman’s fiddle tune “Little Pine Siskin” is not that well known yet, but it’s a fun tune to play, has a catchy melody, and is good for working on playing in the key of D without a capo. It has three parts, but the B and C parts are only played once, so it’s the same length as a tune where the B parts are played twice. There are a couple of tricky things in the A part, including an old-time fiddle-style anticipation, where you hammer onto a note on the fourth beat of the measure and hold it through the downbeat, and a hammer-on/pull-off triplet lick on the D string.
Red-Haired Boy The fiddle tune “Red-Haired Boy” is a jam-session favorite and one that every flatpicker should know. In this lesson, you’ll learn a version with a characteristic bluegrass syncopation that is good to become used to: eighth note, quarter note, eighth note, which takes up two beats. To pick this with strict alternating picking you’ll play down-up, up-down, with that second downstroke starting the next phrase. You can practice this by keeping your pick moving and “ghost” the downstroke that would normally be played between up strokes: down-up, _-up down. Many versions of “Red-Haired Boy” start with this rhythm, and you’ll learn a version with a few more examples of this syncopation slipped into the melody so you can get comfortable with it.
Ookpik Waltz “Ookpik Waltz” is an old-time waltz composed some 50 years ago by Canadian fiddler Frankie Rodgers. It’s become quite popular recently among bluegrass and old-time musicians and has a very distinctive, haunting melody. The melody has a lot of phrases in which a dotted quarter note is followed by three eighth notes and other phrases where the rhythm is quarter, dotted quarter, eighth. Scott shows you how to keep the pulse in your hand during the dotted quarter by keeping your hand moving as if you’re playing a note on the second beat, and then starts walking you through the melody of “Ookpik Waltz.”
Foggy Mountain Special Earl Scruggs’ boogie-woogie banjo tune “Foggy Mountain Special” is popular at jam sessions and is fun to play, whether you’re playing the banjo melody, Lester Flatt’s G-run heavy guitar solo, or improvising on the tune’s blues form. You’ll learn the banjo melody and Lester’s solo in this lesson.
Garfield’s Blackberry Blossom The old-time fiddle tune “Garfield’s Blackberry Blossom” was called just “Blackberry Blossom” by a lot of old-time fiddlers, but since another tune called “Blackberry Blossom” has become more popular in recent years, most people refer to the tune you’ll learn in this lesson as “Garfield’s Blackberry Blossom.” You’ll learn two versions, with the same notes but different fingering, so this lesson will show you how you can finger melodies differently to get a different feel.
Faded Love “Faded Love” is a beautiful old western swing fiddle melody (and song) that sounds great on the guitar. It’s a simple melody, and in this lesson you’ll learn some ways to fill it out without getting too complicated, but instead finding some chord tones and simple arpeggios to add to the melody. Scott walks you through his arrangement phrase by phrase, starting with a cool intro lick stolen from Tony Rice’s version of “Faded Love,” and giving you advice on fingering to make sure the strings ring out as much as they can.
Squirrel Hunters The old-time fiddle tune “Squirrel Hunters” was made popular by John Hartford and has become a jam session favorite. It’s thought of as being in the key of A, but it uses the D major scale and the last chord in each part is D. As guitar players, we usually play A tunes with a capo at the second fret, using G major scales and chords, but “Squirrel Hunters” also works well played without a capo, in part because it uses the D scale. In this lesson, you’ll learn to play the melody in three different places: on the upper three strings without a capo, in a lower octave without a capo, and on the upper strings with a capo. In each case, the melody is exactly the same.
Dill Pickle Rag Rags like “Beaumont Rag” and “Panhandle Rag” are popular among flatpickers and they usually include some tricky syncopations. The three-part “Dill Pickle Rag” is another rag popular among guitarists. Although it may be a little complicated for intermediate flatpickers, it includes a couple of typical raggy syncopations that are repeated numerous times on different melodic phrases, making it a good tune on which to practice these kinds of syncopations.
Big Sandy River Bill Monroe’s fiddle tune “Big Sandy River” has been a favorite of flatpickers ever since Dan Crary recorded it as “Cross the Big Sandy” on his 1970 instrumental album Bluegrass Guitar, one of the first albums devoted to flatpicking guitar instrumentals. “Big Sandy River” has a distinctive beginning, but from then on everyone plays it differently. The original Bill Monroe version features Kenny Baker on fiddle, and his version of the A part is very distinctive but a little unwieldy on the guitar, which is probably one reason guitarists started modifying it right off the bat. In this lesson, you’ll learn Kenny’s original fiddle melody as well as a way to play the tune that is more like the way guitarists generally play it.
Lonesome Fiddle Blues Vassar Clements recorded his tune “Lonesome Fiddle Blues” on the original Will The Circle Be Unbroken album, and it’s been a bluegrass jam session favorite ever since. It’s in the key of Dm, but mostly uses a C major scale. Unlike the usual AABB fiddle tune form, the form of ““Lonesome Fiddle Blues” is AABA, with a bridge or B part that is mostly a series of chord changes rather than an exact melody. In this lesson, you’ll learn the melody of the A part the way Vassar plays it as well as a typical solo on the chord changes of the bridge.
Clinch Mountain Backstep Ralph Stanley’s banjo tune “Clinch Mountain Backstep” has become a jam session favorite. While it’s a simple melody with just two chords, the extra half measure in the B part (the “backstep”) can be tricky, so it’s good to have a guitar arrangement for the tune if you’re going to play it at jam sessions. You’ll learn the melody of the A part the way Ralph phrased it on the banjo as well as a less syncopated version that works well on the guitar. You’ll also learn a couple of variations that will help fill out and add some variety to both parts of “Clinch Mountain Backstep.”
BLUEGRASS SONG SOLOS Fiddle tunes and instrumentals are favorites of flatpickers, but in many bluegrass jam sessions most of what you'll play are songs. In these lessons, you'll learn to construct melody-based solos to bluegrass and old-time songs.
Little Sadie In this first lesson on learning how to play solos to songs, you’ll learn how to take the basic melody of the old-time and bluegrass classic “Little Sadie” and turn it into a solo. You’ll also learn one of Doc Watson’s melody-based solos to “Little Sadie.” Scott starts by showing you a simple version of the melody and then how to add simple strums to fill out the longer notes of the melody.
Bury Me Beneath the Willow The bluegrass standard “Bury Me Beneath the Willow” was recorded in 1927 by the Carter Family and has been sung and recorded by numerous musicians since. The version Ricky Skaggs and Tony Rice recorded on their 1980 duet recording has become a standard source for many people. In this lesson, Scott shows you the basic melody and then some ways to embellish it, including adding lead-in runs, fills, and other devices that you can use to embellish the melodies of many songs. He also talks about varying the phrasing of the melody and shows you how to start your solo with a “kickoff” or three-beat intro lick.
Lonesome Road Blues “Lonesome Road Blues” has been popular since the dawn of recorded country music. It’s also known as “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad” and is played at nearly every jam session. It has a bluesy melody and a common chord progression that has been used for numerous other songs, including Bill Monroe’s classic instrumental “Rawhide.” You’ll learn a melody-based solo that includes a number of typical bluesy bluegrass licks.
All the Good Times Are Past and Gone The bluegrass standard “All the Good Times Are Past and Gone” was recorded by Bill and Charlie Monroe (the Monroe Brothers) in 1937 and has long been a jam session favorite. It’s in 3/4 time (also called “waltz time”). To play a solo on a song in 3/4, you can use the same approach you learned for “Lonesome Road Blues” and “Bury Me Beneath the Willow,” filling out the melody with intro licks, fills, and ending licks, but you’ll have to adjust your licks to fit the 3/4 time signature. Scott walks you through the basic melody, and then shows you two solos, one that is just a slightly elaborate version of the melody and one that includes different ways of articulating the melody and more extensive fills and melodic variations.
East Virginia Blues The bluegrass standard “East Virginia Blues” is a good example of a song in which the melody occurs mostly as lead-ins to the downbeat of a chord change. This means that using lead-ins to the melody as a method of embellishing a melody doesn’t really work because the lead-ins and melody occupy the same space. In this case, you’ll need to concentrate more on filling the space occupied by long melody notes. One great way to do that is by using cross-picking, arpeggios of the chords played like banjo rolls. In this lesson, you’ll learn to fill in the spaces of the melody of “East Virginia Blues” with some simple crosspicking patterns.