It’s a breakdown of a breakdown!! Today I’m going to be looking at the great Bill Monroe fiddle tune Brown County Breakdown. Specifically, I’m looking at the Kenny Baker plays Bill Monroe recording for this breakdown – but there’s so many great version.
Here’s mandolin sheet music for this breakdown – Brown County Breakdown
Some of my favorite recordings of this song are below. Remember, listen to the tune a lot before you even pick up your mandolin. Having a good grasp of the melody in your head will make learning this (and really any song) so much easier.
- Bill Monroe
- Kenny Baker
- Noam Pikelyn
- The Grass is Greener
- Dreadful Snakes
- Bryan Sutton
- Mark Johnson and Emory Lester
The form is pretty straight forward AABBCC which means you’ll play the A part twice, the B part twice, and the C part twice before repeating.
Solo breaks on this vary depending on the recording. Some (like the Kenny Baker recording) have each instrument playing a full A B C break. Others (like the Noam Pikelyn recording) pass the breaks around so one instrument takes the A and B while another takes the C and A of the next round. Given the variety of “standard” recordings of this tune, if you are calling it – make sure you clearly indicate how the breaks work.
Mandolin Sheet Music: Melody & Chords
The three parts are pretty different from each other which is one reason I love this tune.
- A Part – mostly double stops or just chord tones
- B Part – more fleshed out version of the A part
- C Part – gets a little weird with the b7 (D)
Kenny Baker’s fiddle melody is a little more “notey” than Bill Monroe’s break that follows and Bill’s break is more “bluesy” (especially in the C Part) than Kenny’s. Also, on the B part, Kenny plays a slightly different melody the first time through. I think this was probably a mistake that they just left in, but it’s something to note. Either way, they’re both good versions of the melody to learn with a few small differences, so I’ve included both variations.
Bill Monroe’s break comes right after Kenny Baker’s in the recording has a lot of variations to what Kenny played. Since it’s Bill’s tune, I guess better said that Kenny had a lot of variations in his tune though.
Mr. Monroe’s mandolin breaks often have a “machine gun” style feel to them with lots of notes (including some tremolo or just repeated notes) – which stand in great contrast to what Kenny Baker played just before.
It’s easiest to talk about the chords for each part in this tune
- The A Part starts off with just hits on the E chord for 6 measures, then a quick turnaround of E A B E (I IV | V I).
- The B Part has three measures of E followed by a measure of B (I V) then repeats this, but instead of a full measure of B you just play B for two beats then two of E (I | V I)
- The C Part also starts with E for two measures this time, then moves to the flat 7th for one and a half measures followed by two beats of E. The next 4 measures are the same as the last four measures in the B part.
In my charts, I focused on what I normally play but I recommend fleshing out your own variations of this song. Use the Chord Shape series to get some ideas on different voicings if you need.
The reason I really love this song is because of the double stops. The main melody is basically a series of double stops or notes that can be turned into double stops easily. This gives you the ability to create a slightly more complex sound especially if you were playing solo or in a small group.
Below are a few variations on the A Part using double stops (you can download the PDF here too). Depending on the group / arrangement, you can use these either as your rhythm chops or as the basis for a solo break. I recommend working up the same thing for the B and C parts.
If you’d like to take a deeper dive into this song or any other tune click here for information on private coaching. If you like this free content and would like more of it, considering donating to my site here – donations really help keep things going!
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