As I’ve written in the How To Learn blog, learning and practicing fiddle tunes is a great way to improve your technique, plus, they are really fun to play. A lot of fiddle tunes are similar in structure and melody so once you learn one, it gets easier to learn others. You’ll start to recognize similar patterns and chord structures. Everybody plays fiddle tunes a little differently. They can be really simple or full of flourishes and fills. You want to find a version that seems manageable. That is usually the one that’s close to the “old-time” version where you get the skeleton of the tune or basic melody. If you listen to a few different versions, you’ll begin to understand what’s important and what is added color. Don’t get overwhelmed when you hear a ripping version with lots of notes. Just cut out the notes you can’t handle. As long as you keep the basic framework of the tune, that’s fine.
I mostly learn fiddle tunes by ear. Or, I’ll use a chart along with a recording so I can hear the correct timing. The Amazing Slow Downer app is an essential tool for me when it comes to learning fiddle tunes or licks from recordings. Youtube is also a really great resource. Any tune you want to find, you will most likely be able to find somewhere on the internet.
About The Capo
Fiddle tunes are generally played using a lot of open strings so that means you will often be using a capo on usually on the second fret. So a G shape chord becomes an A. The C shape chord becomes a D, etc. If you play with a capo, learn what key you’re REALLY in. Don’t say things like, “I’m in C capoed on 2.” The bass player, fiddler, mandolinist, may not know what you’re talking about. Just say, “I’m in D” and everybody will be on the same page.
Here are a few links below to help you get stared learning fiddle tunes.
Old Joe Clark
This is a great place to start. Old Joe Clark is a popular jam tune. It’s in A but it’s got this great old-time, modal quality to it which makes it really fun to jam on.
Here’s the definitive version by Doc and Merle Watson. It does not get much better then this . Players will often combine similar fiddle tunes. In this case they start with Bill Cheatum and go into Old Joe Clark. Listen how they harmonize toward the end. That is super cool.
Whiskey Before Breakfast
This is a very good lesson on flat picking technique and timing . It’s a note by not run through. ( He also includes the Lyrics in the comments section which you don’t often hear. The lyrics to Whiskey are really fun )
Here’s Bryan Sutton playing a very pretty version of Whiskey. This is the kind of video I would convert into an MP3 and import into the Amazing Slow Downer to learn. ( or pay the dough and sign up for his Academy Of Bluegrass course )
Red Haird Boy
Billy In the Low Ground
Angeline the Baker