Song Breakdown: Salt Creek

Salt Creek is a good ol’ standard tune. I think I’ve played this tune at nearly every jam or festival I’ve ever attended. It’s truly a standard to get down and generally a pretty fun tune even for a big jam.

Here’s a basic chart for this breakdown. I included the alternate chords as well – Salt Creek.

There’s lots of great versions of this tune out there – some are pretty standard, some can get a little weird. If you search any streaming platform or YouTube you’ll find a lot of different versions to check out. Pick one and listen to it a lot until you can essentially sing it in your head. That’ll really help you get the song under your fingers quickly and give you some ideas for solos. Here’s a few versions I like for reference:

Suggested Scales / Practices
This song is in A but involves the G natural which is the b7 for A. This lends itself to playing A Major or G Mixolydian generally. I generally add the b3 and b7 in a lot on this tune to give it a bite.

I recommend playing to a backing track at slow speeds to start. Here’s one at 110 bpm. You can search “Salt Creek backing track” for other speeds and versions too. Grass Trax has some good stuff too

This song commonly starts off with a “potatoes” intro which is simply sliding into the octave of the A on the D string (going from the 6th fret on the D to the 7th on the D) while playing the open A string. These types of intros are common and are designed to help set the tempo for the band. Below is a good example for what you can use on this tune:

Like most fiddle tunes, Salt Creek has 2 main parts and is in the AABB format which means the A part is played twice, then the B part is played twice and repeat.

  1. The A part is basically two parts. Measures 1 – 4 are one part (or A1) and measures 5 – 8 in another (or A2).
  2. The B part is also two parts. Measures 9 – 12 are one part (or B1) and measures 13 – 16 in another (or B2).

Learn to play the melody in one position first and get that down well. I recommend using the version (and fingering) I have in my chart below as a good start. Once you get that first position down, try learning the melody in another position on the neck. Once you have the 2nd position down, start blending between them.

A and B Parts

Playing a Harmony
Everyone loves a good harmony solo! Fiddle tunes like Salt Creek seem to just beg for a harmony solo too – so it’s a good idea to get one down in my opinion. Essentially playing a harmony simply means one instrument is playing the melody an interval above or below the natural key while another is playing the straight melody. It’s pretty common to hear harmonies a 3rd or a 5th above a melody for example. Here’s a great example of a Salt Creek harmony by the man himself Chris Thile (when he was 12). I believe that’s with John Moore – by the way, you should listen to John Moore. Aside from teaching a young Chris Thile, he’s an amazing musician and super nice guy. Here’s a fun sample of John Moore playing with the late Dennis Caplinger.

Below is an example of harmony line I use from time to time. Instead of starting on the A like the melody, I start on the C# or the 3rd. The rest of the harmony follows that same general rule (moving up a 3rd). The trickiest part in the below example are measures 13, 14, and 15 in the B section. If that gets too tough, you could always play the same part using the phrasing I have in measures 6, 7, and 8.

Salt Creek Harmony Example

Learning to play the chords in a few different positions is another great idea. Aside from giving you some range when playing the rhythm, they provide “guardrails” of sorts for soloing. The notes in a chord (“chord tones”) will always sound good when you play them when that chord is being played. Said another way, if you play the note F# when rhythm is playing a D (or D7 etc), it will sound like it belongs because the note is in the chord.

With that in mind, below are 3 1/2 different ways to play Salt Creek. The last chart (“position 3”) has one type of chords for the A part and another for the B part – so it’s 1/2 😉

Position 1
Position 2
Position 3a and 3b

You can use the above suggestions or check out my chord shapes posts for more variations and create your own.

Wrap up
This song is a great one to work up as it’s really popular at jams. You’ll find it’s often played pretty fast – so make sure you use a metronome or a backing track when practicing to stay on tempo.

If you’re interested in a more deep dive on this song or any other tune, check out my personal coaching page.

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