Bluegrass music is filled with songs borrowed from other genres – especially Irish folk. Red Haired Boy, also know as Little Beggar Boy, is a great example of an Irish tune that made its way into the bluegrass cannon. As a standard of many bluegrass jams, it’s a great tune to work on.
Here’s a detailed chart for this breakdown. This chart contains 3 variations on how to play this song in different positions on the neck.
Like most fiddle tunes, Red Haired Boy is an AABB form song. That means one full pass through the song involves the A part repeated twice, followed by the B part repeated twice. There is a pickup that starts the tune on the 4th beat of the pickup measure.
It can be helpful to break down those A and B parts into smaller pieces. On pages 5 and 6 I’ve broken down the Form of the 1st variation as an example. As you can see, there’s a lot of repetition in the form – for example, measures 1 and 2 mirrors measures 5 and 6 in the A part as well as measures 14 and 15 in the B part. I would suggest practicing each sub-part (i.e. A1, A2, A3, A4, B1, etc) separately until you have the timing down for each part. Once you have them down separately, start to combine them.
The song is in the key of A, so you have a few options including (but not limited to) the below:
- A Major – A, B, C#, D, E, F#, G# – the G# here can sound a bit off on the B part especially, so adding the G natural in can be helpful.
- A Major Pentatonic – A, B, C#, E, F#
- A Minor Pentatonic – A, C, D, E, G – the natural C in this scale can produce a cool “bluesy” type sound as well. You can use the C natural as a passing tone to get to C# as well.
- A Mixolydian – A, B, C#, D, E, F#, G – basically the Major scale where the 7th degree is flatted. Since the melody hits the G natural (7b of A) often, this scale works pretty well.
- A Bebop Scale – A, B, C#, D, E, F#, G, G# – Basically the Major Scale with the 7b added to the scale (so it’s 8 tones total).
If you aren’t familiar with the Mixolydian or Bebop scales or if that’s just a bit out of reach for your playing now, you could also simply add a G natural to the A Major Pentatonic and get a similar feeling.
As always, I suggest learning the melody in multiple positions around the neck. The more places you can play the melody of a song, the easier it becomes to embellish the melody and write out interesting solo ideas. I’ve provided 3 alternative ways to play the melody.
If you have any questions on this song, feel free to contact me here.
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