I remember first hearing Southern Flavor at the Summergrass festival in Vista, CA. It immediately was a song I fell in love but one I rarely heard after that for a long while. I decided to make this the Feature Song for one of my jams and figured it was worth doing a deeper dive.
One of my favorite recordings of this song is from the Bill Monroe album Live From Mountain Stage: Bill Monroe which is the version my breakdown will focus on. You can download my simple transcription of this song for mandolin and fiddle here. I used the first mandolin break for the transcription which is from ~1:30 to 2:15 on the track. For those guitar players out there, here’s a similar version with guitar tabs instead (note, I’m mostly a mandolin player these days haha) – Southern Flavor Guitar Tabs
This song can get fast! It’s in Cut Time which is 2/4 rather than 4/4. Without diving into the theory here, you can just think of it as a fast 4/4 song. It basically makes reading and writing the sheet music easier since a quarter note in cut time is equal to a sixteenth note in standard or 4/4 time. Most fiddle tunes (especially the fast ones) are written in Cut Time.
There are two main ways to play this song – either as AABA (usually played around 140bpm) or AB (usually played around 110 bpm). The track this breakdown is based on (the Bill Monroe: Live from Mountain Stage album) plays the song AABA at 140bpm, so that’s what I’ll be focusing on here. Just note, both versions are popular (Mr. Monroe played the song both ways – check out the AB recording on Bill Monroe: Country Music Hall of Fame album).
A song in “AABA” format just means that there are two of the same parts (the “A” part) followed by a different section (the “B” part) played once and finishing with the same part as the beginning (repeating the second “A” part). This is commonly called “AABA” form.
Within the A parts, there are two phrases that I would focus on. The first 4 measures is part 1 which ends on an E and the next 4 measures is part 2 which ends on a B. The first 2 measures of both parts are nearly identical while the next 2 measures are different in each part. This is pretty common with fiddle tunes and it can make the song easy to learn since there’s less “new” material with each phrase.
Keep in mind that as you repeat the song, you’ll end up playing three A parts in a row. What I mean is you’ll play A A B A | A A B A| A A B A | etc (meaning you play A | A A all in a row). This can be confusing when first learning the song as it can seem like you’re over playing the A part. To avoid this confusion, I often group the parts into sections – so Section 1 is A A and Section 2 is B A. Each complete turn of the song will involve Section 1 followed by Section 2 and etc.
E Major or Minor
For the most part, the E chords in this song could be played either as E major or as E minor provided everyone playing chords agrees in advance. Personally, I prefer using fifth chords instead to keep things somewhat ambiguous. A Fifth chord (E5 for example) is just the 1 and 5 of a chord, omitting the 3 (so for E, that’d be E and B). Since there’s no 3rd in the chord, it’s not “major” or “minor” which can be great on a tune like this that has a lot of minor 3rds (G natural) in the main melody.
The main reason I like playing the E5 instead of E major or minor is because of those G naturals. If you play an E major over the G natural, it can sound odd since the G# and G are a dissonant pair. Playing the E minor can be fun, but I feel brings down the song a little. Using the E5 chord basically avoids this choice and, at least in my opinion, provides more flexibility to the soloist – which in a song like this is great!
The main melody to Southern Flavor involves a lot of double stops (I’d suggest checking out my Double Stops lesson here if you are not familiar with them) which you can use to your advantage to move the song around the fretboard. In this case, the double stops are nearly play at a tremolo. Remember to play through both notes at once!
I’ve included a second version of Southern Flavor that moves the melody up the neck somewhat.
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