Whenever I have a new mandolin student, I always recommend they purchase the fabulous Skaggs and Rice album: The Essential Old-Time Country Duet Recordings Remastered. It’s one of the best bluegrass albums I’ve heard. Ricky Skaggs is just a fantastic mandolin player and you can ask for a better guitarist than Tony Rice.
On that album, by far my favorite tune is their version of Bury Me Beneath the Willow. Skaggs’ intro riff is just spot on, tasteful and interesting but not overdone.
This song is a basic AB song – meaning there’s an A part (Verse) and a B part (Chorus). That said, the A and B parts have the same chords and roughly the same melody, so really that distinction is more to help highlight the verse vs. the chorus.
Skaggs and Rice play this song in G major, though some folks play it in A or E. Personally, I like playing this in G. Brush up on your G Major scale before diving into this tune.
In addition to learning the major scales in a song, learning the arpeggios for the chords can be really helpful. Arpeggios are simple playing each note of a chord one at a time – like for a G chord, you’d play the G B and D notes. Knowing where these are on the fretboard can be really helpful – especially if you get lost in a solo! This exercise takes you through all the arpeggios of Bury Me Beneath the Willow in time with the song.
The melody of this song follows the chord changes pretty closely – which is fairly common for bluegrass tunes. Here’s a simple version of the melody.
Learning the basic melody is really important for any song. It can help keep your rhythm in time as well as give you a solid foundation for a solo. Once you know the melody, it becomes really easy to embellish it for your solos.
I’d recommend learning the basic melody in at least two positions.
At the start of the tune, Skaggs plays the back half of the A part which would be measures 5, 6, 7, and 8 on my chart. The intro riff is mostly double stops moving through the G, C, and D chords. I would recommend reviewing my Double Stops Lesson to get some ideas here. This riff is used somewhat as a motif through the song in little breaks as well.
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