Whiskey Before Breakfast

One of my favorite tunes to play both as a warm up and at a show or jam. There’s lots of fun stuff buried in this fiddle tune (or song if you feel like singing the lyrics). Like most fiddle tunes, there’s no “right” way to play this song.  There’s plenty of variations by some amazing musicians as well – take the time to listen to a few before tackling the tune.

When learning this tune, I would focus on the below steps in order:

  1. Chord progression – learn to play the chords in at least 3 different positions
  2. Scale – review the D major scale to start, then the arpeggios for each chord
  3. Melody – learn the main melody in at least 3 different positions
  4. Double Stops – learn to play the double stops for the chords in at least 3 ways. There’s a lot of fun descending lines when you play the song with all double stops!

Chord progression

As with most tunes, I suggest learning the chords for this song in at least 3 different positions.  For example, all the “open” chords are one positions, then the closed positions near the headstock, then the closed positions in the middle of the mandolin.  Here’s a PDF that shows 4 different positions for the chords Whiskey Before Breakfast – Mandolin Chord Variations. Note that this song is in an AABB format (meaning you play the A part twice, followed by the B part twice).

The idea with this chart first to learn the chords in individual positions.  Once you can play the progression in each position, it’s time to start moving between positions.  You can start this by moving parts (so playing A1 A2 B1 B2 from the PDF) but ultimately you’ll want to be able to move between chords on demand.


Learning the scale a tune is based on is really helpful to better understand the melody and chords used.  Whiskey Before Breakfast is in the key of D Major, so you’ll want to brush up on the D Major scale.  Here’s a PDF with a few D Major scale practices – D Major Scale Studies.

There are two goals with these studies.  First is to really learn the notes and where they are on the fretboard.  Like where are all the D notes, F# notes, and A notes for example (note, these are the 1 3 and 5 notes of the D Major Scale which are important to know).  The straight major scales and arpeggios are great for this part.  Second is to get used to moving around in that key and playing non-sequential notes.  Playing the scales and arpeggios in 3rds can be a great help here.


Similar to the chords, learning how to play the melody in multiple positions is a key to improving your soloing (and rhythmic) techniques.  With that in mind, I would suggest learning the melody in at least two positions.  Here’s a PDF that shows 2 different melody variations – Whiskey Before Breakfast – Mandolin Melody Variations.

Start off by learning the basic melody in the open position.  Once you have that down, learn the second melody in that closed position.  Once you have that as well, it’s time to combine them.  I’d suggest starting off by playing the variations by section – so A1 would be the “open melody” while A2 would be the “closed melody”.  Similar for B1 and B2.  Then flip it (so A1 is the “closed melody” and A2 is the “open melody” etc).  Once you have that down, try to shift positions mid section.

Double Stops

These can really spice up your solos and rhythmic lines a lot.  For one, knowing how and where to play double stops can really help you move around the fretboard.  So, for example, if you’re playing the melody or chords in two different positions, you can use some double stops to more seamlessly change positions.

In this particular song, the chord changes make using Double Stops really fun and easy – especially on the second half of the B part.  I have a few double stop variations written up for this tune, however those are not part of the free lessons (gotta keep something in reserve right??).  But you can check out my Double Stop Workshop to help get started – or feel free to Contact Me if you’d like to schedule some Private Coaching lessons 🙂

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