Many fiddle tunes follow the same form. In addition to the popular AABB structure, almost every fiddle tune melody falls into a four phrase format: 2 bar question, 2 bar answer, repeat of the 2 bar question, and the final 2 bar statement (commonly referred to as the tag). This form can be seen in countless tunes such as “Old Joe Clark”, “Soldier’s Joy”, “Salt Creek”, and “Temperance Reel.” There is also an exact phrase length that seems to be favored. While there are endless rhythmic and melodic variations it is this phrase length that will enable you to hear, play, and improvise over fiddle tunes.
I’d like to show you some of the more creative ways to play major scale patterns. Every competent guitar player at some point learns scale patterns and uses them as building blocks for improvisation. There are literally countless scale patterns and countless ways to incorporate them into your playing. This lesson touches on playing all of the different interval possibilities that show up in a major scale. I chose to arrange these examples in open C position to relate them to bluegrass flatpicking. I find the guitar open position to be a worthwhile mystery to unpack. If you take the time to master scales, patterns, and licks in open position you will be able to incorporate the ideas into your existing bluegrass language. These ideas, for example, will remind you of C position fiddle tunes such as “Billy in the Lowground.”
Have you ever been told to learn a song in every key? It’s often talked about but rarely done. Few things can improve your knowledge of the fretboard more than working out all your favorite licks and tunes in as many keys as you can. For this article I’ve taken a simple melody version of “Whiskey Before Breakfast” and arranged it in literally EVERY key!
I’d like to share an incredible flatpicking style lick that can be used in countless songs and tunes. This is a phrase that opened up many doors for me as a flatpicking guitarist. Should you want to master this idea you will have to transpose these ideas into other keys and octaves. Each one of these variations showcases a different way of inventing the phrase. The ideas vary in length and note choice but are all based on this one idea. Once you work through the following variations I’m certain you will be able to come up with more of your own and find endless situations to use this classic phrase.
I’ve been attempting to play traditional jazz and bebop ideas in a bluegrass context for a long time. To me, these styles are very similar in that they both require improvising over chord changes. The differences are in the way the licks are played, the note choice, and where on the neck the ideas are played. For this article I’ve chosen to use the standard 12 bar “jazz’ blues form in the key of G to compose three jazz blues solos for you to learn. What makes these solos unique is the use of the open position on the guitar. Jazz players do not utilize the open position the way bluegrass flatpickers do.