- String School
- Instruments & Gear
- News & Reviews
- Featured Videos
Get deep into the roots of Southern Appalachian old-time fiddling. Bruce breaks down the melody, bowing patterns, rhythms, and embellishments of each tune he teaches so you can really learn to play like Bruce and the old masters he learned from.
Bruce Molsky is "one of America's premier fiddling talents" (Mother Jones) and a twice-Grammy nominated artist. The first permanent visiting professor in Berklee College of Music's American Roots Program, Bruce is the go-to guy for the next generation of fiddlers.
On the road 250 days a year, Bruce tours the world solo and with super groups Mozaik, The Jumpsteady Boys, the Old-Time Kozmik Trio, and as a trio with Aly Bain and Ale Möller. Bruce's latest solo album, If It Ain't Here When I Get Back, was released in the spring of 2013. No Depression called it "an album from an absolute master."
West Virginia fiddler Edden Hammons was recorded in 1947 by a collector named Louis Chappell. Hammons’ playing has a Scottish influence, with strongly detailed phrases and an old-fashioned style of intonation. Learn his version of “Greasy Coat” in AEAE tuning. With Notation
Download a PDF of all the Old-Time Fiddle lessons so you can keep track of your progress.
A subscription to Old-Time Fiddle includes:
Get started now! Use promo code “BruceLand” at checkout and get your first month free or $20 off an annual subscription.Subscribe to Old-Time Fiddle today and get access to all these old-time fiddle lessons:
INTRO TO OLD-TIME FIDDLE Bruce Molsky introduces you to the wonderful world of old-time fiddle, playing a number of great tunes and explaining how the music was passed down, and how he’s going to pass it down to you.
JENNY BAKER The old-time tune “Jenny Baker” is known in Ireland as a hornpipe called “The Boys of Blue Hill” and also as “Twin Sisters” by the great West Virginia fiddler Melvin Wine. This version is more of a square dance tune and was recorded in the 1930s by Kentucky fiddler Andy Palmer with the Jimmy Johnson String Band. Bruce talks about how, when learning fiddle tunes, it’s important to think of melodies the same way you think of spoken language.You’ll learn the melody to “Jenny Baker” as well as the bowing, which is based on a common pattern called shuffle bowing. Once you’ve learned the melody and basic bowing pattern, you’ll learn how to add embellishments—bowing variations, accented bow strokes, drone strings—that give the tune a syncopated pulse.
FINE TIMES AT OUR HOUSE The version of this great old tune you’ll learn comes from West Virginia fiddler Edden Hammons. It uses an A Mixolydian scale and is played with the low G string tuned up to A. The bowing of the A part of “Fine Times at Our House” is not so much pattern-oriented as it is designed to put the accents in the right places. The B part can be played either with a straight shuffle bowing or the more-syncopated bowing that Bruce shows you. You’ll also learn where to add drones and double stops.
THE BLUE GOOSE “The Blue Goose” comes from Kentucky fiddler Buddy Thomas. It’s in the key of G and is played in standard tuning. The melody includes some nice trills, slides, and blue notes and it has a very specific bowing. You’ll also learn where to use open-string drones and doubles stops.
SOLDIER’S JOY “Soldier’s Joy” is one of the most popular in the fiddle tune repertoire. The version you’ll learn here comes from the great Tommy Jarrell from the Round Peak region of North Carolina. Tommy was one of Bruce’s heroes when he was starting out and has been a mentor to many a young old-time fiddle enthusiast. His playing has a unique swingy syncopated feel, with some characteristic rhythmic bowing patterns that Bruce shows you here. “Soldier’s Joy” is in the key of D, and is played in “high bass” tuning: A D A E. After learning the melody you’ll learn a couple bowing exercises so you can get comfortable with Tommy’s bowing patterns. You’ll also learn how to add a figure-eight motion to your bow arm, which gives an additional syncopated accent to the bowing.
KATY DID The great old-time fiddler Lowe Stokes recorded “Katy Did” in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1929. “Katy Did” is played in standard tuning in the key of C and has some nice bluesy, ragtime elements. The bowing to “Katy Did” alternates between shuffle bowing and single “saw” strokes, of which Lowe was a master.
GEORGIA HORSESHOE “Georgia Horseshoe” comes from Bill Hensley, of western North Carolina. It’s a four-part dance tune in A tuning: AEAE.The bowing to the A part has a nice syncopated “hemiola” rhythm. Bruce gives you advice on using drone strings to get the whole fiddle to ring as well as how to add accents to give the bowing a more syncopated feel.
CUMBERLAND GAP This version of the well-known old-time fiddle tune “Cumberland Gap” comes from the great North Carolina fiddler Tommy Jarrell. It’s in an unusual tuning: ADAD, which gives your fiddle a unique resonance.You’ll learn Tommy’s bowing, along with advice on adding a circular motion to your bow arm and how to fit it into the bowing pattern, with a counterclockwise motion for the first part of the pattern and a clockwise motion for the second half.
CITACO The great dance tune “Citaco” comes from Georgia and was recorded in the 1920s by one of the most famous fiddlers of that era, Lowe Stokes. “Citaco” is in GDAD tuning, which just involves lowering the E string to D. The bowing has a nice syncopated feel, and you’ll learn a couple of bowing variations as well as drones for both parts.
BLUE TAIL FLY “Blue Tail Fly” was recorded in the 1920s in a skit by Seven-Foot Dilly and His Dill Pickles. It’s in the key of G in standard tuning. You’ll learn the bowing and what drones and double stops work well, as well as how to punctuate the rhythm by accenting some of the drones.
SINGING AND FIDDLING: “GREEN GROWS THE LAUREL” Bruce teaches you one of his specialties: singing and playing the fiddle at the same time. Specifically, playing harmony parts with the fiddle. You’ll learn the traditional song “Green Grows the Laurel,” but first Bruce gives you a couple of exercises to get started thinking about singing with the fiddle. After learning the melody, you’ll learn how to play chords behind the melody, and a simple parallel harmony below the melody.
JENNY ON THE RAILROAD The dance tune “Jenny on the Railroad” was recorded by the Carter Brothers and Son in 1928. It uses an A Mixolydian scale and has several parts that share melodic phrases. A good approach to bowing “Jenny on the Railroad” is to think about the sense of “gallop” in the rhythm. You can achieve that by using straight shuffles and using a few early bow strokes to give it some excitement.
SHOVE THE PIG'S FOOT A LITTLE FURTHER IN THE FIRE A popular tune in the old-time repertoire, “Shove the Pig’s Foot” comes from Marcus Martin from western North Carolina, who recorded for Alan Lomax and the Library of Congress in the 1940s and who recorded this with his son Wayne in the late 1950s. The bowing in “Shove the Pig’s Foot” isn’t as pattern oriented as some tunes. The bowing, instead, responds to the phrasing and rhythm of the melody, which can be likened to speech, with punctuation, breath, etc.
PICKIN’ THE DEVIL’S EYE “Pickin’ the Devil’s Eye” comes from Mississippi fiddler Enos Canoy, who had a bluesy, syncopated style of fiddling. Bruce’s version has evolved since he first learned it and the tune has become a vehicle for different ways of creating rhythm on the fiddle. It’s also in an unusual tuning, AEAC#, sometimes called “Black Mountain Rag” tuning.You’ll learn the bowing as well as “pulses” that emphasize the second note played with one bow stroke.
GREASY COAT West Virginia fiddler Edden Hammons was recorded in 1947 by a collector named Louis Chappell. Hammons’ playing has a Scottish influence, with strongly detailed phrases and an old-fashioned style of intonation. You’ll learn his version of “Greasy Coat” in AEAE tuning in this lesson.Bruce shows you how Hammons often played thirds and sevenths slightly flat, and trilled the third.
ACORN HILL BREAKDOWN Tommy Jackson was a Nashville session fiddler in the 1950s. He also recorded a series of square dance records designed for people to dance to and wrote “Acorn Hill Breakdown.” Most of the tune is played with a shuffle bowing, with a few exceptions. Bruce points out the string crossings to watch for as well as some variations in the shuffle pattern.
BACKSTEP CINDY One of the most popular fiddle tunes in the Round Peak area of North Carolina, “Backstep Cindy” is a three-part dance tune with crooked phrasing and interesting bowing, played in a high-bass tuning with the G string tuned up to A: ADAE. You’ll learn some ways to add double stops and chords with a circular bow movement as well as some rhythmic variations used by Tommy Jarrell and others.
L&N RAG This ragtimey tune in the key of C comes from Corbin, Kentucky, and the playing of Alex Hood and his Railroad Boys, who recorded it in 1930. The B part of “L&N Rag” has a repeated phrase with an extra beat. It can be played with a straight shuffle, but Bruce shows you some variations, which sound especially good at the beginnings and ends of phrases.
SINGING AND FIDDLING: “GOODBYE OLD PAINT” The song “Goodbye Old Paint,” is in the Alan Lomax cowboy song books and was recorded years ago by Harry McClintock, the version closest to the one Bruce teaches here. Bruce sings “Goodbye Old Paint” in the key of A and plays it on the fiddle in AEAE tuning. He starts with an exercise to help you get used to singing with your fiddle, first by singing an A major scale in unison with your fiddle and then in harmony with your fiddle.After learning the fiddle melody, you’ll learn to accompany your singing with some basic double stops for the chords of A, E, and D, as well as how to play the melody along with your voice, and even add some harmony notes on the fiddle.
APPLE BLOSSOM This version of “Apple Blossom” was recorded by the John Lusk String Band for the archive of the Library of Congress in the 1940s. “Apple Blossom” is in the key of D, played with the G string tuned up to A, and it has a lot of similarities to “Sally Ann.” It’s a very rhythmic tune, so Bruce spends some extra time on the bowing in this lesson.
FORT SMITH There are a number of versions of “Fort Smith.” The version you’ll learn here comes from Luke Highnight and His Ozark Strutters, who recorded “Fort Smith Breakdown” in the 1920s. It’s in the key of G in standard tuning. Most of it is played with a straight shuffle bowing, but in the first anticipated phrase of the A part, you stretch the bow strokes out to match the rhythm of the melody, and there are a few other variations to the shuffle pattern as well. Bruce also shows you how to play the A part in the higher octave and how to add punch to the rhythm with some open string hits.
GLORY IN THE MEETING HOUSE Alan Lomax recorded a lot of great fiddlers on his 1937 trip to the South, including Eastern Kentucky fiddler Luther Strong, the source for this version of “Glory in the Meeting House.” It’s in the key of E minor, but in an unusual tuning: EDAE, with the lowest (G) string tuned down to E.The first part of “Glory in the Meeting House”has a nice syncopated bowing while the B part mostly uses straight shuffle bowing. Bruce shows you some variations, including how to put an emphasis on the downstrokes of the shuffle pattern.
SUSANANNA GAL The old-time favorite “Susananna Gal” is known by a few other names, including “Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss” and “Western Country.” The version Bruce teaches you here, in ADAE tuning, is from the Round Peak area of North Carolina, home to great fiddlers like Tommy Jarrell, Kyle Creed, and others.
NEW MONEY “New Money” comes from Kentucky fiddler Doc Roberts, who recorded it in the 1930s. It’s a lyrical tune in the key of C in standard tuning and has a bit of a ragtime flavor. The bowing for the A part mostly uses shuffle bowing, but with a couple variations for the syncopated “raggy” parts of the melody. The B part has a few more variations on the shuffle pattern, including a syncopated bowing Doc Roberts often used.
KANSAS CITY REEL This great old tune is from Fiddlin’ Bob Larkin, who played with a band called the Melody Makers in the 1920s. It’s played in AEAE tuning and the bowing is mostly a shuffle pattern, with some variations to match the phrasing of the melody.
GARFIELD’S BLACKBERRY BLOSSOM The version of “Blackberry Blossom” you’ll learn in this lesson is not the tune common in the bluegrass world and which comes from Arthur Smith. This tune is much older and is sometimes called “Garfield’s Blackberry Blossom” to differentiate it from the bluegrass fiddle tune. There are a number of great recordings of this version of “Blackberry Blossom” by Ed Morrison, Snake Chapman, and Ed Haley.
SINGING AND FIDDLING: OLD VIRGINIA The beautiful old love song “Old Virginia” is a great song to sing with the fiddle. You’ll learn a few different ways to accompany your singing in this lesson, starting by just doubling the melody on the fiddle. Once you’ve learned to play and sing the melody together, Bruce shows you some simple double stop chords and how to add them to the melody.
JEFF STURGEON “Jeff Sturgeon” comes from John Morgan Salyer of Salyersville, Kentucky. It’s a “crooked” three-part tune in A E A E tuning, and uses the major and Mixolydian scales. In addition to the melody and a fairly straightforward bowing, you’ll learn some of Bruce’s favorite variations to “Jeff Sturgeon,” many of which involve taking straightforward rhythmic phrases and syncopating them, as well as adding open strings to get counter rhythms. You’ll also learn some cool double stops as well as a bow triplet and how to add a pulse to the bow pattern.
GOING TO TOWN “Going to Town” comes from the great Arthur Smith, who was one of the innovators on the Grand Ole Opry in the 1930s and very influential on old-time and bluegrass fiddlers and all who heard him. “Going to Town” is a happy, bright, uptempo tune in the key of G. The bowing starts with straight shuffle bowing, and then Bruce varies it with some longer bow strokes. You’ll also learn some things Bruce does to flesh out “Going to Town,” including double stops and syncopated rhythmic accents.
GRIGSBY’S HORNPIPE “Grigsby’s Hornpipe” comes from the Texas fiddler Eck Robertson. It’s in AEAC# tuning (also called “Black Mountain Rag” tuning or the Devil’s tuning) and has lots of parts, many of which are very similar. The bowing uses a lot of “pulses” and drones. You’ll also learn an alternate E part, one of Bruce’s variations with some cool syncopation.
ROCKINGHAM CINDY Tommy Jarrell’s “Rockingham Cindy,” a distant cousin to the kids song “Get Along Home, Cindy,” is a great showcase for Tommy’s fiddle style. It’s a two-part tune in the key of D, played in “high-bass” with the G string tuned up to A: ADAE. You’ll learn the bowing Tommy Jarrell used on “Rockingham Cindy,” including how he “rocks” the bow on some phrases and uses a circular figure-eight motion on others. You’ll also learn a bowed triplet that Tommy Jarrell often used at the ends of phrases.
PEELER’S CREEK WALTZ The lovely “Peeler’s Creek Waltz” comes from a fiddler named Oscar Wright, but Bruce learned it from the great Highwoods String Band, a popular old-time string band in the 1970s. “Peeler’s Creek Waltz” is in the key of G in standard tuning and is a great tune for dancing. You’ll also learn the bowing Bruce uses in “Peeler’s Creek Waltz” to give accents and a pulse to the tune and some drones, double stops, and ornaments you can add.
MIDNIGHT ON THE WATER The Texas fiddle waltz “Midnight on the Water” has become popular with all sorts of roots musicians. The version you’ll learn here comes from Texas fiddle icon Benny Thomasson, whose father, Luke, wrote “Midnight on the Water.” It’s in an unusual tuning, DDAD, and, Bruce shows you how to use the open strings to create beautiful drones and double stops.
CASEY’S REEL Midwest fiddler Dwight Lamb is the source for this great old tune. Lamb comes from the Missouri fiddling tradition, though he was born in Iowa, in 1934. “Casey’s Reel” is a straightforward tune in the key of D, played in standard tuning. It can be played with straight shuffle bowing, but there are some phrases that benefit from accents created by bowing tailored to each phrase. The contrast between those phrases and the phrases played with straight shuffle bowing is really nice.
SINGING AND FIDDLING: RED ROCKING CHAIR The traditional favorite “Red Rocking Chair” has been recorded by many people and has some alternate titles (“Honey Babe,” “Ain’t Got no Honey Baby Now,” etc.) Bruce’s version, which you’ll learn here, is a combination of a fiddle version by Norman Edmonds and lyrics culled from different sources. You’ll learn to play the fiddle version and sing the song with your fiddle providing accompaniment in Bruce’s inimitable style.
RED STEER This great old square dance tune comes from John Dykes, who recorded it with his group Dykes Magic City Trio in 1927. “Red Steer” is a three-part tune in GDGD tuning, which is similar to AEAE tuning, but down a step. Bruce shows you how to get into GDGD tuning by lowering the A and E strings down one whole step to G and D and then shows you the melody and bowing, which has a lot of pulses. The bowing to the B part is straight shuffle bowing and Bruce shows you how to emphasize the backbeat with shuffle bowing.
COTTON-EYED JOE As one of the most popular of old-time fiddle tunes, “Cotton-Eyed Joe” has probably been played by every old-time fiddler, so there are lots of versions. The version you’ll learn here is Bruce’s own, developed from hearing many great versions over the years, including some by Tommy Jarrell, Fred Cockerham, and other Round Peak fiddlers. You’ll learn the basic tune in AEAE tuning as well as a characteristic syncopated Round Peak bowing pattern and a couple variations. Bruce also shows you how to “rock” the bow and add pulses to the basic pattern as well as how to play the melody with a straight shuffle pattern.
JOHN BROWN’S DREAM There are a lot of versions of “John Brown’s Dream,” and a few tunes, like “Little Rabbit,” that are very similar to it. Bruce’s version, in AEAE tuning, is a four-part tune largely influenced by Tommy Jarrell, with a lot of the rhythmic syncopation and bluesy pulse characteristic of the Round Peak fiddling tradition.
BIG SCIOTY “Big Scioty” (also called “Big Sciota”) comes from West Virginia fiddler Burl Hammons, and it has evolved into a version that has made its way in the last few decades into the bluegrass and festival jam session worlds. Bruce breaks down the melody and bowing of each part, giving you advice about fingering and pointing out the rhythmic similarity of the phrases as he goes. Bruce also talks about different ways of fleshing out and making “Big Sciota” your own, including adding double stops to fit the chords that may be played by an accompanist. He finishes by playing a tune with a similar melody, John Salyer’s “Kentucky Winders.”
CHINQUAPIN HUNTING The dance tune “Chinquapin Hunting” comes from Virginia fiddler Norman Edmonds though it has evolved a bit from Norman’s version, as tunes often do. It’s a three-part tune in AEAE tuning. The A part is crooked, with an extra half measure, and all three parts are short. The melody of “Chinquapin Hunting” calls for a fairly syncopated bowing. Bruce shows you a syncopated pattern he uses for the A part and then shows you how it fits the melody. He also shows you how to drone the open A and E strings against the basic melody and how to play the melody on the bottom two strings.
SINGING AND FIDDLING: “PRETTY SARO” The Southern mountain ballad “Pretty Saro” is well-known and probably originated as an English folk ballad. Bruce’s version, influenced by a recording of Gaither Carlton, has no consistent time signature, but rather a “broken” meter that follows the lyrics of the song. Bruce starts by teaching the fiddle melody and then shows you how the fiddle melody relates to the sung melody. You’ll also earn some different ways to add chords and double stops to the fiddle part you play behind your singing.
ROBERT’S SERENADE Robert Sykes is one of the lesser-known fiddlers from the Round Peak area of Virginia. He’s probably best known for a unique version of “Black-Eyed Suzie” as well as his tune “Robert’s Serenade,” which is in AEAE tuning and closely related to “Clinch Mountain Backstep.” It’s a crooked tune with a number of syncopated five-beat phrases, and Bruce starts by getting you to feel those phrases, before walking you through the melody. You’ll also learn a bowing exercise that will help give the bowing in “Robert’s Serenade” a nice pulse.
STUMP-TAILED DOLLY Kentucky fiddler William Hamilton Stepp was recorded in 1937 by Alan Lomax of the Library of Congress, and this great square dance tune “Stump-Tailed Dolly” (or just “Dolly”) was part of that recording session. Bruce’s bowing of “Stump-Tailed Dolly” is based around three patterns: the straight shuffle, a syncopated variation of the shuffle pattern, and single bow strokes. Bruce shows you how to play the tune with a straight shuffle and then how to vary it.
CHRISTMAS EVE Bruce’s version of the square dance tune “Christmas Eve” is a combination of a couple of different recorded versions. It’s in the key of D and played in ADAE tuning. The bowing for “Christmas Eve” is pretty straightforward, combining shuffle bowing with a more regular quarter note bowing pattern. Bruce also shows you how to add a drone and double-stop accents to the second part.
MARTHA CAMPBELL“Martha Campbell” is a well-known dance tune in the key of D. Bruce’s version is taken in part from the great Kentucky fiddler Doc Roberts and it includes some of Doc’s signature rhythmic phrases. “Martha Campbell” is very notey but is glued together rhythmically by a very regular shuffle bowing. Bruce shows you how the melody fits with the shuffle bowing and how you can make shuffle bowing exercises out of the melodic phrases and give the shuffle pattern some syncopation by accenting the downstrokes.
FLANNERY’S DREAM The version of the great Kentucky fiddle tune “Flannery’s Dream” you’ll learn here comes from fiddler Santford Kelly, who was recorded by Peter Hoover in the 1970s. The second part of “Flannery’s Dream” is crooked, with an irregular number of beats, but Bruce suggests that you not try to learn it by counting beats but rather listening to the phrases of the melody. The A part can be playing with shuffle bowing, and Bruce also shows you an alternative syncopated variation on shuffle bowing, while the bowing of the B part is related to the phrasing of the crooked melody.
WAVERLEY Missouri fiddler Art Galbraith had a very soft, sweet style of fiddling. “Waverley” comes from him. It’s in the key of G, played in standard tuning, and has a nice vocal quality. Bruce walks you through the melody of “Waverley” and then shows you the bowing, which has a lot of saw strokes. He ends by playing Art Galbraith’s version of “Flowers of Edinburgh.”
FIVE MILES FROM TOWN Kentucky fiddler Clyde Davenport’s tune “Five Miles from Town” is what’s known as a “crooked” tune, with an uneven number of measures and an unusual structure. It’s in the key of D in ADAE tuning. The A part has two identical phrases followed by a different phrase, while the B part has a couple of five-beat phrases followed by an ending that’s almost identical to the ending of the A part. The bowing on “Five Miles from Town” combines shuffle bowing with some single strokes and three-note slurs to fit the melody.
SHAKING OFF THE ACORNS “Shaking Off the Acorns” (sometimes called “Shaking Down the Acorns”) comes from the great West Virginia fiddler Edden Hammons, who was recorded in 1947. “Shaking Off the Acorns” is in the key of A, but is in ADAE tuning, which is usually used for tunes in D. You’ll learn the melody and basic bowing for “Shaking Off the Acorns” as well as some different ways to embellish the bowing and punctuate the rhythm with double stops and drones.
BONAPARTE’S RETREAT This version of the classic old-time fiddle tune “Bonaparte’s Retreat” comes from Tommy Jarrell. It’s a two-part tune in DDAD tuning, with the highest and lowest strings tuned down to D and used primarily as drones. “Bonaparte’s Retreat” has a march feel, and the bowing matches the rhythm of the melody.