Check out these songs featured in the The Advancing Mandolinist course.
Learn the basics of pick technique on the mandolin, including down/up or alternating picking, in which you play downstrokes on the 1, 2, 3, and 4 beats of every measure (of 4/4), and upstrokes on the ands between those beats. One of the trickiest things to get right is the crossing of strings, the motion of the pick as it moves from string to string, so you’ll also learn some simple exercises to practice string crossings.
The melody of Bill Monroe’s popular “Kentucky Waltz” is a great vehicle for working on tremolo and adding double stops to a melody. You’ll learn a few different approaches to tremolo as well as a good way to stay in time while you’re playing tremolo by ending the tremolo right on the downstroke of the next beat.
The blues is a big part of bluegrass. In this lesson you’ll learn the classic bluegrass blues tune “Tennessee Blues,” which is the first tune Bill Monroe wrote. You’ll also learn a classic slide lick that doubles an open-string note, some variations on the melody, and how to find the “blue notes” in relation to the major scale.
David Grisman’s simple version of the traditional song “Banks of the Ohio,” which he recorded on Tone Poems, is a great example of how to enhance a simple melody with tremolo and double stops. You’ll learn the basic melody of “Banks of the Ohio” as well as Grisman’s rendition, including how he combines hammer-ons, double stops, and tremolo to play a single melody note.
The old-time fiddle tune “Chinquapin Hunting” has become quite popular on the bluegrass jam scene in the last few years. In addition to the melody, you’ll learn how to add a backbeat to the steady stream of eighth notes in fiddle tunes and get advice on backing up another musician in a duet setting, with ideas on varying the chord voicings of simple chords, using different rhythmic approaches, and mining the melody for ideas to fill out the accompaniment.
The fiddle tune “Cuckoo’s Nest” is a good tune for working on triplets, as well as being a jam session favorite. While learning the tune you’ll also learn a great technique for playing eighth-note triplets: picking the first note of the triplet with a downstroke, slurring the second note (with a hammer-on or pull-off), and picking the third note with an upstroke.
Bill Monroe’s “Lonesome Moonlight Waltz” has a unique chord progression and uses some atypical triplet rhythms in the melody. You’ll learn to play it in closed position with tremolo, as well as how to play triplets with a down-up-down pattern. Joe also talks about targeting the chord tones of each chord when you’re improvising a solo.
Learning to play melodies and solos in closed-positions allows you to play in any key. You’ll learn to play a solo to the gospel classic “I’ll Fly Away” in a closed position in the key of G. You’ll also learn how to play the melody with double stops, how to move the closed-position melody to any key, and how to find the “blue notes” in closed position.
Learn a bluegrassy version of the traditional tune “Cluck Old Hen” as recorded by Alison Krauss and Union Station. Joe talks about using “anticipation” to change the phrasing of a tune and about how to improvise melodically by boiling a melody down to its important notes and creating variations that target those notes.
Double stops are a huge part of bluegrass mandolin vocabulary. Learning them can give you roadmaps for finding things all over the fingerboard. Joe shows you three double-stop shapes you can play for any major chord all over the neck and how to use them to play a solo on the folk standard “Irene, Goodnight.”
Circle of fifths progressions occur in many tunes, including “Salty Dog Blues,” “Sweet Georgia Brown,” and “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down.” Learn what circle of fifths progressions are and how to negotiate these kinds of progressions. You’ll also learn the Mixolydian scale, which you can play over dominant seven chords, as well as some movable Mixolydian melodic ideas you can use over any dominant seven chord.
Bill Monroe’s “Road to Columbus” was recorded by the great bluegrass fiddler Kenny Baker on his album Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe. Joe explains how to pick some of the syncopated lines in the A part and how to play the slides and triplets. The B part has some long held notes, which fiddlers can sustain with their bow. You’ll learn the way Kenny Baker plays the B part and the way Joe has adapted the melody to the mandolin to fill out the long melody notes.
Fiddler Brittany Haas recorded a beautiful version of the Texas fiddle tune “Dry and Dusty,” which you’ll learn here, including the vamp intro and her arrangement’s unusual chords. You’ll also learn some of the fiddlistic ornaments Joe adds and some subtle variations using slides.
Bill Monroe’s haunting instrumental “Cheyenne” has been recorded by many people. The version you’ll learn here is based on the way Kenny Baker played it on Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe. The A part of “Cheyenne” is in the key of G minor, while the B part is in Bb. You’ll learn some cool double stops you can add to the melody of the B section and which minor scales you should use when playing over the Gm chord in the A part.
Newgrass mandolin star Sam Bush’s roots in Texas fiddling are displayed in his ornate version of the three-part contest fiddle favorite “Brilliancy.” The tune also illustrates how Sam embellishes a fiddle tune, as well as how he shifts positions on the mandolin. You’ll learn Sam’s version in this lesson, the basic melody as well as some of his variations.
The old-time fiddle tune “Farewell Trion” is in the key of C and comes from the fiddling of James Bryan. Joe recorded it on a record with Darol Anger called E-And’ A. “Farewell Trion” has three parts, the second of which has an extra half measure, or a measure of 6/4, depending on how you want to think of it. Joe walks you through each part and also talks about how Darol Anger arranged “Farewell Trion” for the recording on E-And’ A.
The traditional Scottish Tune “Golden Eagle Hornpipe” is a great workout for both hands, with long arpeggios and tricky string crossings. The A part is based on a G major arpeggio pattern that ascends through the different notes of a G chord while the B part has a much more complex chord progression that starts on a B7.
The three-part fiddle tune “Homer the Roamer” comes from John Hartford. Joe recorded it on Darol Anger’s E-And’ A album. The melody has some unusual syncopation/anticipations and ornaments, but very little repetition. Joe walks you through all three parts of “Homer the Roamer” in this video, making sure you understand the syncopation/anticipations and ornaments.
There are many versions of the old-time fiddle tune “Cumberland Gap.” Joe recorded this three-part version in the key of D on his album Borderlands. He learned it originally from the playing of clawhammer banjoist Adam Hurt and he was also influenced by Bruce Molsky’s version. In addition to showing you the basic melody he also shows you how to flesh it out a bit with chord tones below the melody.
The Canadian fiddle tune “Grey Owl” has become popular in bluegrass circles lately, in part because of the recording Joe did with Darol Anger on the E-And’ A album. The A section of “Grey Owl” has a couple of extra beats and is one long melodic line with no repetition, while the B part is more straightforward.
“Crockett’s Honeymoon” is an old-time fiddle tune that likely originated in Ireland as “The Honeymoon Reel” and was introduced to the bluegrass world via Scott Nygaard’s recording Dreamer’s Waltz. It’s a fairly straightforward fiddle tune in the key of G, but it can be a challenge to play at the fast tempo it’s often played at.
The A major fiddle tune “Crazy Creek” comes from Nashville fiddler Tommy Jackson. It has an AABA form and a couple of unusual modulations: the A section goes to the key of C for a while, and the B section is in the key of F. The A section is also ten bars long instead of the usual eight.
“Elzic’s Farewell” is a three-part old-time fiddle that is popular in old-time music circles, but has also made its way into the bluegrass and contemporary string band world via recordings by Scott Nygaard, Rob Ickes, Darol Anger and Mike Marshall, and others.
The old-time fiddle tune “Lost Girl” has become popular in bluegrass jam circles lately. It originally comes from Kentucky fiddler John Salyer, and the version you’ll learn here owes a lot to Bruce Molsky’s playing.
“Old French” is, as the title implies, an old French-Canadian fiddle tune, but it has become popular among American bluegrass and old-time musicians. It's in the key of D, with a B part played over A and G chords. It’s a great tune with a lot of arpeggios and is also a good jam tune. Joe shows you the melody as well as a harmony part.
Learn how to make a simple melody swing, using the western swing classic “Roly Poly.” You’ll also learn a swing-style solo, a cool intro from the original 1946 Bob Wills recording, some swing chords for backing up another soloist, and ideas on improvising and making melodies (and your rhythm playing) swing.
The minor-key melody “Dark Eyes” is a Gypsy jazz standard, and a great “blowing” tune for working on playing in minor keys. Joe gives you tips on phrasing and syncopating the melody, ideas on what scales to play over the chord progression, and some new chords you can substitute for the basic chords when playing rhythm.
The Bob Wills song “Faded Love” makes a great instrumental tune for mandolin and fiddle. Bobby Hicks’ fiddle version includes some cool double stops and intricate voice leading. It’s a great example of how to use different contrapuntal lines and harmonies to add some harmonic motion to your playing.
The Bob Wills Western swing classic “Panhandle Rag” has become a bluegrass jam session favorite. Learn a swingin’ version of “Panhandle Rag,” the melody of which can be interpreted in a number of ways. You’ll learn how to make the melody swing by using syncopation and emphasizing upstrokes and Joe gives you some soloing ideas based on reinterpreting the melody, playing the melody in a higher octave, and using Mixolydian scales to solo over the chords.
Django Reinhardt’s “Daphne” has a simple melody over standard swing-style “rhythm changes” in the keys of D and Eb. You’ll learn the melody and some variations in two octaves as well as some closed voicings for the I–vi–ii–V progression in D and Eb. Joe also talks about soloing in Eb, showing you a closed-position Eb major scale as well as some scale exercises you can use to get more comfortable in Eb and some arpeggio exercises for the chord progressions in both keys.
The Django Reinhardt tune “Swing 42” was recorded by David Grisman and Tony Rice, and besides having a cool melody, is another good vehicle for practicing improvising. The chord progression of “Swing 42” uses repeated I–vi–ii–V progressions in the key of C in the A part and in the key of E in the bridge. Joe talks about soloing over “Swing 42” using closed positions for the bridge in the key of E and using the notes of the E major scale in different ways. He also talks about emulating the phrasing of the melody in your soloing.
The jazz standard “Lulu’s Back in Town” was first made popular by Fats Waller, and Thelonious Monk also recorded a great version that inspired Joe’s arrangement. In this lesson, Joe uses his arrangement of “Lulu’s Back in Town” to show you how to flesh out a melody with double stops and chord tones. Most of the chords in the song are dominant seven chords, so it’s a good song for working on dominant arpeggios and scales.
Blues progressions appear in all sorts of music, of course, and you can often apply ideas from one kind of blues to another. In this lesson you’ll learn the Charlie Parker blues “Now’s the Time,” and get some ideas about using some more advanced harmonic concepts when playing the blues.
The jazz standard “Russian Lullaby” was written by Irving Berlin and has been recorded by numerous musicians, including, most significantly for acoustic string musicians, David Grisman and Jerry Garcia. It’s a simple melody with a somewhat complicated chord progression that moves between D minor and F major, and has four distinct sections. You’ll learn the basic melody, the “line clichés” you can use with the chord progression, and how to flesh out the melody with chord tones. Joe also talks about some different ways to solo on the chord changes using the line clichés.
David Grisman dedicated his tune “Steppin’ with Stéphane” to the great jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli. It’s a jazz waltz with some unusual chord changes, including a few diminished chords. Joe walks you through the melody phrase by phrase and gives you ideas on backing up a waltz and using different chord voicings. He also shows you a diminished scale you can use when improvising on diminished chords.
As well as being half of the country comedy duo Homer and Jethro, Jethro Burns was one of the greatest jazz mandolin players ever, and he influenced generations of mandolinists. He wrote this swingy minor key tune, which you can hear on the record Back to Back with Tiny Moore, and named it after himself. It features a “super pull-off”—five notes with one pick stroke—and has a fun chord progression to improvise over.
Learn two Béla Fleck tunes from his classic bluegrass instrumental album Drive: “Up and Around the Bend” and “Down in the Swamp.” These are great tunes to play and also to jam on. Joe also includes his transcription of a live Chris Thile solo to “Up and Around the Bend” recorded in 2000.
This jazzy “new acoustic” tune comes from fiddler Darol Anger. The melody has some odd timing, with phrases that start in the middle of the measure and interesting syncopation. Joe shows you where to add tremolo and explains some of the harmonic ideas in the melody. You’ll also learn the chords and rhythm to the tune, including the vamp used as an intro. Joe also talks about improvising on the chord changes of the “blowing” section, which are different than the main melody.
Mandolinist John Reischman’s tune “Salt Spring” has become a modern standard, played at jam sessions by many people who think it’s a traditional old-time fiddle tune. You’ll learn the basic tune and a version that imitates a clawhammer banjo, something that John does a lot, filling in basic melodies with strums and chord tones.
Chris Thile’s “Jessamyn’s Reel” has become a modern solo mandolin classic and illustrates his style of combining quick arpeggios and melodies with slides and chords. Joe gives you tips on fingering some of the chord voicings and playing the up-the-neck arpeggios in the second part, with suggestions on when to shift positions and when to stay in the same fretting-hand position.
David Grisman’s “Dawg’s Waltz” is a great tune from his album with Jerry Garcia, Garcia/Grisman. You’ll learn the basic tune and some of the different ways Grisman phrased the melody, with some syncopated rhythms, slurred grace notes, tremolo, and hammer-on/pull-off embellishments. Joe also talks about how the chords relate to the melody, and about how he improvises a solo based on the melody. He also gives you some arpeggio exercises in which you play an arpeggio for every chord of the song starting on different notes of the chord.
Mike Marshall’s tune “Scotch and Swing,” from his album Gator Strut, is another classic modern mandolin tune from one of the great modern mandolin players. The A section includes a couple of nice “Celtic” ornaments and a melodic reference to Bill Monroe’s tune “Scotland,” while the B part has a number of chromatic lines and some syncopation that gives it a swing sound.
“Black’s Fork” is a three-part tune in A from Matt Flinner, which you can hear on Matt’s album The View from Here. The A part includes some important position shifts while the C section begins with a couple of extra beats and a syncopated strum figure on the E chord.
John Reischman’s “Itzbin Reel” is another contemporary mandolin classic. John first recorded it in the early ’80s and recently re-recorded it with Chris Thile playing harmony mandolin. You’ll learn John’s version of the melody as well as Chris’s harmony. Joe talks a bit about how to start finding harmony parts (starting a third above the melody) and points out some of the interesting rhythmic and harmonic choices Chris made in creating his harmony part.
Darol Anger’s wild fiddle tune “Ride the Wild Turkey” is a contemporary bluegrass instrumental classic. It’s a complex three-part tune (the form is ABCA) with a different number of measures in each part and some particularly unusual timing in the third part. “Ride the Wild Turkey” is almost “through composed,” meaning that there are very few repeated parts, and when there are repeats, usually the shape of the repeated part is similar to the first, but the details are different.
The contemporary mandolin tune “Baltimore Jonny” comes from the great Ronnie McCoury and was recorded by the Del McCoury Band. It’s a three-part tune in G dorian and shows hints of Ronnie’s two biggest influences, Bill Monroe and David Grisman.
Tim O’Brien’s great mandolin tune “Land’s End” can be heard on two recordings: one by the group New Grange (with Mike Marshall, Darol Anger, Alison Brown, and others) and one on Tim’s album Fiddler’s Green. It’s a three-part tune in the key of D in 3/4 time, and is a good tune for working on picking-hand technique. The B part of “Land’s End” can be played in two octaves, and you’ll learn both versions here.
Béla Fleck’s tune “The Open Road” comes from his groundbreaking recording Drive, where it starts with Sam Bush’s mandolin, so it has the feel and sound of a mandolin tune. It has three parts and some unusual melodic phrasing, where certain phrases can sound like they start on a different beat than they actually do. The A part is melodically fairly simple but the first phrase anticipates the downbeat and the last phrase has a tricky three-over-two syncopation. The B part involves some shifts between closed-position fingering for C and B chords, while the C section is played over one chord (D7) but uses a lot of notes that aren’t just the three or four main notes of the underlying chord, including some three-note arpeggios and some syncopated phrasing.
Joe’s tune “Pogo Big,” from his Borderland album, owes a debt to a number of fiddle players, including Darol Anger, Brittany Haas, and Bruce Molsky. It’s a happy fiddle tune in the key of G and includes some melodic lines you can use in other tunes. The chords to the B part of “Pogo Big” are a bit unusual for a traditional-sounding fiddle tune and you’ll also learn an alternate way to play the chords, using a descending line between changes. Joe also gives you ideas for soloing on “Pogo Big” using the diatonic scale.
Tim O’Brien’s fiddle tune “The Crossing” is a great tune to play and is also great for working on your right-hand precision. It’s in the key of A major, but occasionally includes some G naturals in a melody with lots of G#’s. You’ll learn the melody, chords, and melody to the B part in the upper octave, which is a common variation.
The contemporary mandolin tune “Montgomery Ball” comes from fiddler/mandolinist Aubrey Haynie. It has some great “chop chord” vocabulary and is played almost entirely over a C chord. After showing you the melody, Joe shows you how to add double stops to the basic melody and how to move the melody to other keys, including G and D.
David Grisman wrote his great Gypsy-jazz influenced tune “Tipsy Gypsy” for the movie King of the Gypsies, and it was included on Grisman’s DGQ20 album. It’s in the key of D minor but there are a lot of accidentals, with some G#s, C#s, and F#s in the melody as well as the notes of the D natural minor scale. This requires some fingering choices, and as Joe walks you through the melody of “Tipsy Gypsy” he shows you his fingering. Joe also shows you the intro used on Grisman’s original recording and talks about how to use some of the chromatic notes in the melody in your solos.
The three-part tune “Buck’s Run,” which comes from the great but under-recognized mandolin player Buck White, has become a bluegrass mandolin jam session favorite lately. It’s a fairly simple melody but uses some open strings and double stops in unusual ways. The melody of the A part is based around a B–C# hammer-on played up the neck on the D string, instead of the A string, which allows the A and E strings to ring with the melody line. The C section of “Buck’s Run” also uses some interesting double stops high up on the neck, played with a rhythm similar to the A part.
The simple melody of Béla Fleck’s tune “Big Country” combined with its unusual phrasing and interesting chord changes, makes it a great tune for improvisers of all stripes, and it sounds particularly good on the mandolin. Béla recorded “Big Country” in the key of E, but you’ll learn it here in the key of G. Joe walks you through the simple melody phrase by phrase, giving you a few suggestions of subtle rhythmic variations and double stops you can try.
Chris Thile’s instrumental “Stumptown” was a highlight of Nickel Creek’s 2005 album Why Should the Fire Die? It’s a bright tune in the key of E major, and it has some unusual approaches to shifting and fingering.
“The High Road” comes from Tim O’Brien who recorded it on his 1983 solo album Hard Year Blues with lyrics. These days it’s usually performed as an instrumental and Bryan Sutton and Casey Campbell have recorded it that way. The instrumental version has also become popular at bluegrass jam sessions. “The High Road” is in the key of E minor and features an unusual chord progression with an F# chord in the B part.
Learn some improvised solos from contemporary mandolin greats like David Grisman, Sam Bush, Mike Marshall, and more.
Contemporary mandolin guru David Grisman recorded the tune “Telluride” on his 20th-anniversary recording DGQ20. You’ll learn the melody, a harmony part (played by fiddler Mark O’Connor), and Grisman’s solo to “Telluride,” which is very illustrative of his soloing style. Joe shows you how Grisman constructs some of his typical lines to fit the chords he’s playing over and explains some of Grisman’s quirky phrasing, in which he ends or begins phrases on unexpected beats.
Learn guitarist Scott Nygaard’s tune “Where to Now?,” both the melody and Mike Marshall’s solo on Scott’s recording. The melody is very syncopated and includes some triplets and other ornaments, so Joe makes sure you get the timing right and shows you the right pick strokes to use for the syncopated lines. He also talks about different approaches to soloing over “Where to Now?” For example, because of the tune’s tempo and feel, you can play all the eighth notes as downstrokes and use alternate picking for double-time 16th-note runs or triplet phrases.
David Grisman’s tune “Dawgma” appeared on his Quintet 80 album in two forms, one as a swing tune and one as a slow bossa nova called “Dawgmatism.” In this lesson, you’ll learn the swing version of “Dawgma”: the melody, some cool chord voicings, and Grisman’s solo from Quintet 80.
David Grisman’s tune “Bow Wow,” from his recording Quintet 80, is one of his most accessible tunes, a fun medium tempo tune in A minor that’s easy to jam over. The A part has a signature phrase that gets repeated numerous times and the B part has a simple pentatonic melody, but with some tricky timing. As an intro to the tune, Grisman plays a melody that Beethoven wrote for the mandolin and you’ll learn that as well as the solo Grisman plays, which is a good example of how he uses a minor pentatonic scale with a flatted fifth to solo on minor-key tunes.
The two-mandolin tune “Macedonia,” written by Sam Bush and Mark O’Connor and recorded on Strength in Numbers, is a classic of contemporary mandolin. The tune starts with a call-and-response intro, and the first part features a simple melody with repeated notes, a motif that is continued in the second part, with modulations and rhythmic variations. In addition to the intro and melody of both parts, you’ll learn Mark O’Connor’s mandolin solo.
“Slipstream” comes from Béla Fleck’s groundbreaking 1988 album Drive. It’s a fast bluegrass tune in 4/4 with some syncopated accents and measures of 3/4, which give it a cool and complex rhythmic feel. You’ll learn the melody and Sam Bush’s solo from the album in this lesson.
“Shenandoah Breakdown” is a Bill Monroe tune that he recorded in 1963 with Bill Keith on banjo and Kenny Baker on fiddle, and it’s popular in bluegrass jam sessions. In this lesson, Joe shows you the melody as well as Dominick Leslie’s solo on “Shenandoah Breakdown” from the Russ Carson record Last Chance.
“Innisfree” is a song Joe wrote in which he set a William Butler Yeats poem to music. It’s in the key of E and has a bluesy, medium-tempo, straight-eighths feel that is different from a bluegrass feel, although you can play a lot of the same phrases you’d play on a bluegrass song in the key of E. Joe shows you how he plays the melody and some of the ways he embellishes it.
The opening (and title) track from Alison Krauss’s incredibly influential Every Time You Say Goodbye album opens with an immaculately crafted mandolin solo by Adam Steffey, which you’ll learn in this lesson.
Joe’s band Mr. Sun recently recorded a version of the Beatles’ song “Blackbird” on their album Extrovert, inspired to some degree by jazz pianist Brad Mehldau’s version. In this lesson, Joe shows you how to approach playing the song on the mandolin, including learning the melody, voicing the chords, and improvising over the chord changes.
Mandolinist Andy Statman’s tune “Flatbush Waltz” is a contemporary mandolin classic. In addition to having a great melody, it features some interesting double-stop movement in the B part and some unique embellishments and tremolo.
Norman Blake is probably best known as a guitarist and songwriter, but he has also written a lot of great mandolin tunes, including the “New Chance Blues,” a midtempo tune with a unique chord progression. Norman recorded it with Tony Rice and it’s also been recorded by Punch Brothers.
Joe’s original tune “Emily’s Welcome to Portland” (recorded on his album Sweet Loam) is a Celtic-sounding melody that Joe wrote in honor of his sister Emily’s move to Portland, Maine, which was Joe’s hometown at the time. It’s in the key of F and has some challenging string crossings and tricky left-hand fingering.
David Grisman’s tune “Dawg Patch” is also known as “Dawg Wood.” It’s a fast tune in the key of C, with a bridge in G and an AABA form, and it features some of Grisman’s characteristic syncopated phrasing. The B part uses some of the same syncopated phrases as the A part, and the last A part begins the same as the first two A parts, but the last four measures are different and there’s a different chord progression.
A four-part fiddle tune in the key of E major, “Cazadero” was composed by fiddler Paul Shelasky and recorded by both John Reischman and Chris Thile. The version you’ll learn here is based more on Chris’s recording. The first two parts are very notey, with a lot of phrases with continuous eighth notes, so the picking is pretty basic, but some of the fingering in the key of E can be tricky. The C section of “Cazadero” includes a number of triplets, including two that come back to back. Joe shows you how Chris Thile picks these triplets by using alternating picking, reversing the usual pick orientation for a couple beats.
The David Grisman tune “Janice,” from the album Hot Dawg, has a challenging chord progression, with a number of non-diatonic chords (chords that aren’t all in the same key). It’s also a great two-mandolin tune, so, in addition to learning the melody and getting advice on soloing over the chords, you’ll learn the harmony mandolin part.
Andy Statman’s “Roots Waltz,” from his East Flatbush Blues recording, is a simple melody in the key of D but with some tricky tremolo and triplet phrases. Joe shows you the basic way that Andy plays the tune, but Andy varies the way he plays the melody continuously, so Joe shows you a few of Andy’s variations as well.
David Grisman’s triple mandolin tune “Dawg’s Bull,” which he recorded in the late 1970s on Hot Dawg, is one of the most idiosyncratic mandolin tunes ever. It’s in the key of A major and the melody of the A part is based on arpeggios of the chords, but played up the neck (at the seventh fret or above) with some open strings and an unusual rhythmic syncopation. In this lesson you’ll learn the melody and both harmony parts.
Chris Thile’s tune “The Eleventh Reel” (recorded on How to Grow a Woman from the Ground), is a beautifully constructed but very challenging tune. The A part features a continuous flow of eighth notes and includes some tricky fingerings and articulations, while the B part is much simpler than the A part, with long open sections for improvising.
David Grisman’s “Opus 38” is one of his early tunes, and can be heard on Early Dawg and DJQ20. On some live recordings, Grisman plays “Opus 38” on the mandola while Mike Marshall plays mandocello, but the D minor tune works equally well on the mandolin.
“Tuning Tune” (or “Stämlåten”) comes from the Swedish folk trio Väsen, and it was written by the group’s guitarist Roger Tallroth and recorded on their album Trio. “Tuning Tune” has some similarities to the American fiddle tune “Blackberry Blossom,” with a similar chord progression in the A part. It also has some tricky melodic phrases and shifting, particularly the last phrase of the B part, which finishes up the neck.
Matt Flinner’s tune “Sam I Am,” from his album Latitude, pushes the boundaries of contemporary bluegrass mandolin composition. It has some interesting chordal movement, tricky melodic passages, and an A section with a lot of space. Unlike the A part, the B melody consists of a steady stream of eighth notes with some interesting harmonic displacement and very unusual chords in the last four bars.
“Amanda’s Reel” comes from the great bluegrass guitarist Kenny Smith, who recorded it on his album Studebaker. It’s in the key of G with an unusual form, two 16-bar A sections followed by one 16-bar B section, and all the parts end with a nice syncopated hook.
Sarah Jarosz’s beautiful instrumental “Peace,” which she recorded on her album Follow Me Down, is a great solo mandolin piece. On her album, she’s joined by Edgar Meyer on bass and Stuart Duncan on fiddle, but Joe’s version is based on a video of Sarah playing “Peace” as a solo mandolin piece at the 2017 Marshall Mandolin Summit.
“Tree King Creek” comes from fiddler Darol Anger, who recorded it on the Psychograss album Like Minds. It’s a fiddle tune in G with some tricky fingering, triplets, and phrases that will probably be new to you. The B part of “Tree King Creek” is 16 bars long with few repeating phrases. It has a twisty melody with some odd phrasing, landing on a C chord on the fourth beat of one measure, for example.
Joe’s new tune “When It’s Over” came out of a tune-writing class that he teaches at Berklee College of Music. It’s a contemplative tune that Joe originally wrote on the mandola, but it sounds just as good on the mandolin. Joe walks you through the A part of “When It’s Over” in this video, showing you the basic melody as well as how he fills it out with chords.
Chris Thile recorded his instrumental tune “Raining at Sunset” on his third solo album, Not All Who Wander Are Lost. There’s also a great version of him playing it on his radio show Live from Here. It’s in the key of A, and while there is a developmental part later on in the tune, it’s basically an AABA tune, and that’s how you’ll learn it here. It has a simple melody that Chris fills out with a banjo-style approach similar to John Reischman’s playing on “Salt Spring.”
Mandolinist John Reischman (who teaches Peghead Nation’s Melodic Mandolin Tunes course) wrote “Birdland Breakdown” and recorded it when he was a member of the Tony Rice Unit on the album Still Inside. It’s in the key of D minor and includes a passage that uses the D harmonic minor scale, a sound that is unusual for bluegrass but common in Gypsy jazz.
David Grisman recorded his beautiful waltz “Mill Valley” on Tone Poems with Tony Rice. It’s not a challenging tune for the fretting hand; the challenge will be to maintain a graceful, expressive tremolo for long passages. Grisman plays the melody differently on every recording, but the version you’ll learn here is based on Tone Poems.
“Pigeon Roost” is a David Grisman tune that comes from the recording Bluegrass Reunion, which features bluegrass singer Red Allen. “Pigeon Roost” was named for Allen’s home town and it’s a good way to learn some of Grisman’s more accessible bluegrass vocabulary. The first part has a standard eight-bar form that repeats, and it starts with a two-bar phrase on a G chord that is repeated a string down for the C chord. The B part has a circle-of-fifths progression and the second B part is different from the first.
“O Santo de Polvora” is a three-part from Galicia that Chris Thile recorded on his influential recording How to Grow a Woman from the Ground, which features the first incarnation of the band Punch Brothers. “O Santo de Polvora” includes a lot of triplet phrases, and as he walks you through the melody, Joe shows you a few different ways to play them.
“Charlie’s Song” was written by bassist Greg Garrison, who was a founding member of Punch Brothers and also plays with Leftover Salmon. It’s a fast waltz in A minor and D minor and was recorded by Greg on his record Low Lonesome as well as by Noam Pikelny on his record Into the Maze. “Charlie’s Song” has a circular 28-bar form with one long part that doesn’t seem to want to end. In addition to learning the melody of “Charlie’s Song,” Joe gives you ideas on improvising on the chord changes and melody.
This jazz waltz was written by guitarist Tony Rice, and his recording of the tune on his album Acoustics features Sam Bush on mandolin. Joe first heard the tune at a concert by Tony, Mike Marshall, Darol Anger, and Todd Phillips.
With “Musette in A Minor,” Joe pays tribute to one of his mentors, the great mandolinist Peter Ostroushko. “Musette in A Minor” comes from Peter’s recording with guitarist Dean Magraw, Duo. In addition to being a great tune, it’s a great display of different approaches to tremolo and includes triplets and crosspicking. It has three parts and follows the AABBACCA form used in musettes and choros.
“Sliding Down” was written by bassist/pianist Edgar Meyer and appears on his Uncommon Ritual recording, which features Mike Marshall and Béla Fleck. It’s a simple melody in the key of A and in 3/4 time, but the challenge is how to flesh out the melody with chord tones.
The Béla Fleck tune “Dawg’s Due” is a tribute to the playing of David Grisman, and Béla’s Natural Bridge recording of the tune features Grisman’s playing. “Dawg’s Due” has a fiddle tune–like melody in the key of G but with a couple of non-diatonic passages that are harmonized more like a jazz tune.
Matt Flinner’s tune “Red Shift” isn’t particularly difficult technically, but it’s a challenge to solo on because the phrases of the melody are unusual lengths, with long pauses between them and anticipated downbeats. It also shifts between G major, G minor, and G Mixolydian tonalities.
“Ah, Spring!” is the leadoff track on Chris Thile’s second album Stealing Second. It’s a moderate tempo tune in the key of G that sounds like a bit of an exercise, with repeated patterns and arpeggios that you can apply to other tunes.
Sarah Jarosz recorded her Grammy-nominated instrumental “Mansinneedof” on her debut album Song Up in Her Head. Mike Marshall also played mandolin on the recording, and you can see them play it together in this video from the 2017 Marshall Mandolin Summit.
Norman Blake’s tune “Blake’s March” was recorded on Original Underground Music from the Mysterious South (available now on the compilation Natasha’s Waltz), by the Rising Fawn String Ensemble: Norman Blake, Nancy Blake, Peter Ostroushko, Carl Jones, and Larry Sledge. It’s a sprightly fiddle tune in the key of G.
Joe wrote “Traveler’s Prayer” with guitarist Grant Gordy and recorded it on the recent album Extrovert by their band Mr Sun. “Traveler’s Prayer” is in the key of C minor (the relative minor of Eb), an unusual key for the mandolin. Joe played it on mandola on the album, but it also works well on the mandolin, with one phrase moved up an octave.
“Kissimee Kid” comes from bluegrass fiddle icon Vassar Clements. Vassar’s tunes tend to have fairly loose, non-specific melodies, and he never really plays the melody the same way twice. In this lesson, Joe shows you a version of the melody on the A parts and then talks about how to create your own version of the B and last A parts based on what Vassar tended to play.
The beautiful, mellow instrumental tune “Nowthen” comes from the great mandolinist/composer Matt Flinner, who recorded it on his album A View from Here.
“Go Jake” comes from the great iconoclastic guitarist Bill Frisell and was recorded on his album Nashville, which features bluegrass stars Ron Block, Jerry Douglas, Victor Krauss, and Adam Steffey. It’s a very simple melody but it makes a great bluegrass jam tune. Joe recorded “Go Jake” on the album Bluegrass and the Abstract Truth with Grant Gordy, Alex Hargreaves, and Greg Garrison. In this lesson, Joe shows you the melody and gives you ideas on improvising on the chords.
John Reischman recorded his beautiful, mellow tune “Greenwood” on the album Up in the Woods. John uses a lot of slides, hammer-ons, and pull-offs so it’s a great tune for working on those techniques.
Joe’s original tune “Madison” comes from his new album If Not Now, Who? It’s a shuffle in the key of G, with just two chords: G7 and Bb. Joe shows you the melody and talks about how to solo on the chords.
John Reischman’s tune “The Eighth of February” is a fast fiddle tune in the key of A. The first part is pretty much a constant stream of eighth notes that follows a pretty chord progression, while the B part is more rhythmic and syncopated.
“Hamish’s Morphine Pill” comes from Canadian dobro and clawhammer banjo player Ivan Rosenberg, who recorded it on his album Clawhammer and Dobro playing the clawhammer. It’s a three-part tune in Bb, and Joe has adapted it from the clawhammer banjo version.
“The Tobogganist” comes from the band Hawktail and was written by bass player Paul Kowert. It’s a bright, playful fiddle tune in the key of F and has some surprising resolutions.
“O Vôo Da Mosca” is a Brazilian choro composed by the great choro mandolinist Jacob do Bandolim. It’s a three-part tune in 3/4 time and it has a typical choro form of AABBACCA, with non-stop eighth notes. It’s a huge project (the sheet music is more than 100 measures long), so expect to spend a good amount of time with it.
“Cody Road” comes from mandolinist Andrew Marlin, who plays with the bands Mighty Poplar and Watchhouse (formerly Mandolin Orange). “Cody Road” is in the key of E minor and comes from his record Buried in a Cape. It has an AABA form, with a third A part that has a couple of different chord changes than the previous A parts.
“Goldbrickin’” is a three-part tune in A minor written by Ronnie McCoury and recorded on the Del McCoury Band album Del and the Boys. Ronnie fingers the melody in some unusual ways and uses some cool syncopated rhythms.
The Prelude of Johann Sebastian Bach's Cello Suite in G Major, No. 1 is one of the most well-known pieces in Western music. Violinists (and mandolinists) usually play it in the key of D so that the fingerings are the same as on the cello, and that’s where you’ll learn it. It's a great piece of music that will get your fingers to do things they don't often do, and there are some fingering challenges, especially when you want a note to sustain through another note. Joe walks you through the Prelude measure by measure, giving you advice on fingering choices as he goes.
Johann Sebastian Bach wrote a series of two- and three-part inventions for the piano that can be very fun to play on the mandolin with another mandolin player (or two). The parts interlock in an unusual, contrapuntal way, often mirroring or answering the other part, so it may be a challenge if you’re used to playing fiddle tunes in parallel harmony, for instance. In this lesson, you’ll learn both parts of the first two-part invention.