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.
The minor-key tune “Cherokee Trail” sounds like an old one 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. You’ll get lots of great advice on playing hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides in this lesson. With Notation/Tab and Play-Along Track
Peghead Nation is creating a library of accompaniment videos (and downloadable MP3s) for songs and tunes that are taught on the site, classics that you'll find at many jams and picking parties. As a subscriber, you have access to this library and can use the tracks to practice playing tunes and songs at a slow or medium tempo with guitar accompaniment. New songs will be added regularly.
Intermediate Flatpicking Guitar Lessons
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Holding the Flatpick There are many things to think about when you look at how best to hold a flatpick and how it should strike the strings. While there are many ways to hold the flatpick that work well for different guitarists, it’s important that your hand and arm should be comfortable with as little tension as possible. In this lesson, Scott demonstrates his way of holding the pick and talks about things you should think about in order to play with minimal tension and get the best tone you can get, including where and at what angle your pick hits the strings, how your arm and hand move in concert, and how to find a comfortable position on your guitar. He also talks about choosing a pick and how to make sure that you’re not gripping the pick too hard.
Pick Technique, Part 1: Downstrokes and Bass Notes Scott looks at the mechanics of pick technique in depth in these two lessons, starting first with the downstroke and the different ways you can play the bass note of a boom-chuck strum. He 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.”
Pick Technique, Part 2: 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. A lot of flatpickers play with some sense of swing, though at fast tempos it can be difficult to hear. Scott defines swing and shows you that the timing of the upstroke is what defines whether a song has swing or not.
Pick Technique, Part 3: 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. You can model this by simply tapping your foot 1, 2, 3, 4. Play downstrokes when your foot goes down and upstrokes when your foot goes up. That’s fairly straightforward and creates a nice consistent rhythm that’s essential in acoustic music. But it can get a little tricky when you start playing melodies that move from string to string. In this lesson you’ll learn strict alternating picking and look at some ways to deal with string crossings.
Pick Technique, Part 4: Pick Exercises Learning some simple pick exercises can help you deal with some of the trickier aspects of alternating picking. In this lesson you’ll learn a number of picking 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.
Sally Gooden, Part 1 The first fiddle tune you’ll learn is the old-time and bluegrass standard “Sally Gooden,” a fairly simple tune that is often used by instrumentalists as a showpiece, with multiple variations, etc. In this lesson you’ll learn the basic melody, played out of G position, with a capo at the second fret, which is generally the the way flatpickers play tunes in A. The fingering of “Sally Gooden” is fairly straightforward, in fact you can play the melody of the A part with one finger, but it’s a good tune to work on getting your alternate picking down, as there are a couple of tricky string crossings. Scott walks you through each phrase, giving advice on fingering and picking, recommending that you play the tune without any slurs and picking each note, so you can concentrate on your alternate picking. You’ll learn two ways to finger the A part in this first video.
Sally Gooden, Part 2 SAMPLE LESSONThe B part of “Sally Gooden” starts with a simple scale fragment, starting on the open G, that may be familiar from the Alternating Picking video. Scott walks you through the melody of the B part phrase by phrase, and 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.These are very important things to work on, as they give your playing a lot of fluidity and make your fingering more efficient.
Sally Gooden, Part 3: Play-Along Track Use this video to practice playing “Sally Gooden” a few times at a medium tempo with Scott.
Dry and Dusty
Dry and Dusty, Part 1: D Major Scale 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. Scott starts by showing you the D major scale in open position as well as a couple of scale exercises to work on.
Dry and Dusty, Part 2: A Part Melody You’ll learn the A part to “Dry and Dusty” in this video. Scott starts by playing the melody and then walks you through it phrase by phrase. He gives you advice on playing the hammer-on/pull-off triplet slur in the first measure, and shows you an alternative to the phrase if you want to play it without the slur.
Dry and Dusty, Part 3: B Part Melody and Chords The B part of “Dry and Dusty” is pretty simple, mostly played in the lower register on the D and G strings, but it has an unusual kind of rhythmic emphasis that stresses the second beat of the measure. Scott makes sure you understand this phrasing and then walks you through the whole B part. You’ll also the learn the chords that Scott plays to back up “Dry and Dusty,” including an alternate way to play Bm.
Dry and Dusty, Part 4: Play-Along Track Use this video to practice playing “Dry and Dusty” a few times at a medium tempo with Scott.
Salt Creek, Part 1 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. This down down-up rhythm naturally occurs in many places in the melody of “Salt Creek,” including the first measure. “Salt Creek” is in the key of A and, like “Sally Gooden” is played with a capo at the second fret. Scott plays through his arrangement and then shows you the A part of “Salt Creek” phrase by phrase in this video.
Salt Creek, Part 2 The B part of “Salt Creek” features a repeating phrase played mostly on the high E string. The first phrase starts on the G at the third fret, which is played with the first finger, followed by a stretch up to the seventh fret. Scott walks you through this phrase, giving you advice on making the stretch by rotating your picking hand. This phrase is then repeated down two frets, starting with an F note, followed by the first phrase again, and ending with the last phrase of the A part. You’ll also learn the chords to both parts of “Salt Creek” in this video.
“Salt Creek” Play-Along Track Use this video to practice playing “Salt Creek” at slow and medium tempos with Scott playing rhythm.
Cherokee Trail, Part 1: A Part Melody “Cherokee Trail” sounds like an old tune but it 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 starts by showing you the melody of the A part, phrase by phrase, showing you how he shifts positions and varies the slurs. He finishes by playing the melody through slowly so you can play along with him.
Cherokee Trail, Part 2: Hammer-Ons, Pull-Offs, and Slides In this video, you’ll get lots of great advice on playing slurs: hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides. Scott talks about being precise in your movements when you slide from position to position, and shows you the hand movement necessary for playing clean pull-offs and hammer-ons. Slides and hammer-ons take a lot of strength to play cleanly so Scott talks about the importance of being efficient and only keeping your finger down for as long as you need to. He also talks about the importance of developing calluses to play clean pull-offs.
Cherokee Trail, Part 3: B Part Melody You’ll learn the B part of “Cherokee Trail” in this video. The melodic rhythm of the B part is similar to the A part, and there are lots of repeating phrases, with a number of hammer-ons and pull-offs using your second finger at the second fret. Scott plays the B part through and then takes it apart, phrase by phrase. You’ll also learn the scale you’ve been using to play “Cherokee Trail”: the E minor pentatonic scale, which is also called the G major pentatonic scale if you’re playing in G major. Scott shows you the scale in open position, running from the low E string to the high E string.
Cherokee Trail, Part 4: Play-Along Track Use this video to practice playing “Cherokee Trail” a few times at a medium tempo with Scott as he plays the melody and/or as he plays the chords.