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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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Long Journey Home To play a melody-based solo on the bluegrass standard “Long Journey Home,” you can start by adding lead-in runs to the main melody notes. The melody of “Long Journey Home” is very repetitive, with one simple phrase used three times, so it’s a good song to work on creating variations to simple melodies. In this lesson, Scott shows you a few variations on the repeated line, including some syncopated ideas, as well as how to finish off your solo with a bang, using a long fiddle tune–like line on the last two measures.
Down in the Valley to Pray The melody to the gospel song “Down in the Valley to Pray” (familiar to some people as “Down in the River to Pray,” its title on the O, Brother Where Thou? soundtrack) can easily be turned into an instrumental, and either played by itself or as a solo to a sung version. Scott recorded a version on his album with Chris and Cassie Webster, 10,000 Miles. The melody has few holes and few of its phrases repeat, making it easy to fill out and turn into an instrumental on its own.
Kickoffs and Fills In the last few lessons on playing solos to songs, you’ve learned to flesh out melodies with lead-in lines (kickoffs) and fills, many of which can also be used as endings. All of these licks or melodies are three beats long, and in this lesson, you’ll concentrate on increasing your repertoire of these lines, with kickoffs or lead-in lines that lead to every potential melody note in the key of G.
Orphan Girl Gillian Welch’s “Orphan Girl” is one of her most popular songs and is also common at bluegrass jam sessions. It’s usually played at a slow or medium tempo, and Scott uses it to demonstrate how to make fingering choices to get notes to sustain and ring into each other when playing a melodic solo at a slow tempo. You’ll learn two solos, the first is simpler and follows the melody pretty strictly. The second solo is more elaborate, expanding on some of the melodic phrases instead of playing the melody verbatim.
In the Pines The folk and bluegrass standard “In the Pines” is an eight-bar blues with eight short (three-note) melodic lines. There isn’t much space between the melody lines, so if you’re creating a solo there isn’t time to either lead into the melody or fill in the spaces. This makes “In the Pines” a good song for working on creating variations to simple melodies. In this lesson Scott gives you a few variations for each melodic line in “In the Pines,” emphasizing the bluesy nature of the melody and the underlying triplet feel.
Some Old Day The Flatt and Scruggs song “Some Old Day” is a medium tempo bluegrass song with a bit of a swing feel and a couple of unusual chord changes. In this lesson, you’ll learn a melody-based solo to “Some Old Day” in the key of D with a few swing-influenced lines and chord arpeggio licks.