Mandolin Sheet Music and Song Breakdown Big Sciota

There was a time where I heard this tune called at every jam in San Diego without fail. I only realized I hadn’t heard it at jam for a while when I moved up to Seattle and started hearing it again.

Today’s Mandolin Sheet Music and song breakdown focuses on Big Sciota (aka Big Scioty). We’re going to go through the fiddle tune version of this song – but I’ve posted the lyrics as well since I used to hear it all the time with the lyrics!

Fun fact – this song was written about the Scioto river in Ohio by fiddler Burl Hammons from Marlinton, West Virginia. Here’s some wiki stuff about that.

Mandolin Sheet Music and song Breakdown

Here’s the mandolin sheet music and chord chart for Big Sciota – Big Sciota full mandolin sheet music song breakdown. I’ve provided a few different variations as usual and a harmony idea.


There’s tons of variations on this tune so you can take your pick. The below are the ones that I like, but definitely explore other recordings. One note, the Burl Hammons version definitely different than most of the recordings or jams on this tune.


Big Sciota has a standard fiddle tune form of AABB. That means for each “full turn” of the song, you’ll play the A part twice, followed by the B part twice.

Breaking larger parts into smaller parts is a helpful practice for any song – but doubly so for Big Sciota. Check out the A1 and A2 parts I listed out for example. They start and end the same but the second and third measures are completely different.

If your having trouble with this tune, try practicing each part (A1, A2, B1, B2) separately until you get those down. Then combine the like parts – so play A1 A2 | A1 A2 etc until you have that down. Then try playing the full form.

Chord Variations

Learning different voicings is a great way to spice up your playing. I’ve listed out about 4 variations for the chord voicings for Big Sciota. Start with either the Full Chords or the Open Chords. Once you have those down, try playing the other voicings I have listed out.

One note, I’ve decided to included open chords for this tune which I don’t normally provide. Because these chords use open notes, they have a different timbre or quality than closed note chords. The longer sustain from these open notes can work great when playing solo or in a small group (like a trio). However, in a jam or larger group, the open strings ring too much and it can get messy quickly. I really don’t recommend using open chords at a jam except in very specific cases.

Melody and Variations

I often hear a slight variation on the A part that I decided to include as an “alternate melody” variation in the PDF. It’s a little less notey than the standard version (or at least, what I consider standard) which can be fun to play around with. I mainly use the first variation for subsequent position changes.

When playing the head or main melody, I often just play in the open position. The open notes sound great for introducing the song in my opinion. If you’d like, you could totally play this entire tune in the open / first position (including solos). However, learning the melody in different positions will give you a lot of great ammo for soloing and is great for “twin mandolinin'”. Quoting the melody at different pitches sound great and can help the listener know where you are in the instrumental piece (helping them stay engaged).

Mandolin Sheet Music and Song Breakdown - Big Sciota - Basic Melody
Mandolin Sheet Music and Song Breakdown - Big Sciota - Altnerate Melody
Mandolin Sheet Music and Song Breakdown - Big Sciota - Low melody
Mandolin Sheet Music and Song Breakdown - Big Sciota - High Melody

Harmony Idea

Harmonies are a fun way to add some spice to a song without really doing too much different. Basically, a harmony is simply the melody played start at a different degree. Usually harmonies are built off the 3rd, 5th, or 6th – but that doesn’t mean they can’t be built off other degrees.

The below is a harmony idea based on the 3rd degree. Something to note, that harmonies often aren’t an exact science. Sometimes you’ll need to slightly alter the harmony to fit the melody better. In the below example, most of the harmony is four half steps (aka frets, or “semi-tones”) away from the main melody which is an interval of a major 3rd. However, some notes (like the A in the lead in) are only three half steps away from the main melody which is just a minor 3rd interval. Try replacing that A with Bb instead (which is a major 3rd from the F# in the many melody) and it’ll sound weird – at least it does to me. These small alterations are not uncommon when writing a harmony out.

Mandolin Sheet Music and Song Breakdown - Big Sciota - Harmony

Scale and riff ideas

Big Sciota is in G, so the G Major and G Major pentatonic scales are great.

A great practice is to play the melody in different positions like I’ve provided. Try to move from one melody to the other and back again. Use some “off melody” notes to help you move back and forth. These notes will create some interesting ideas.

Another great idea for building a good bag of tricks for this (or any) song is to limit yourself. I strongly believe the more limitations you put on yourself, the more creative you have to be to make it work – leading to interesting ideas and phrases. I’ll be diving into this in a future technique / skill post, but pick two strings (like the A and E) and limit the number of frets you’re allowed to play (like open to the 5th fret). Then turn on a backing track and try to play the melody or near melody only using those notes.

Wrap up

The more I play Big Sciota, the more I like the tune. The triplet intro and riff in the main melody give a great sense of motion which I love. The fact that it also has vocals is perfect when you’re jamming with folks that don’t know the melody. You can still play this tune, just more as a vocal tune than a fiddle tune.

If you’d like to take a deeper dive into this song or any other tune click here for information on private coaching. Do you like the free content I’m providing? If you do, considering donating to my site here – donations really help keep things going!

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