Mandolin Sheet Music Song Breakdown: Old Joe Clark

Today’s mandolin sheet music song breakdown covers the standard fiddle tune, Old Joe Clark. The simple melody and chord progression make this great tune for beginners and more advanced players alike. Today I’ll be focusing more on the basics of this song and providing a few different melody options. In a future post, I’ll provide more advanced ideas – so consider this Part 1.

While this is usually played as a fiddle tune with no lyrics, there are actually lyrics to the song. They vary a lot between recordings, but throwing a lyric or two in can be a fun way to spice up the jam. Check out the Sam Bush recording of Ol’ Joe Clark below for more on that.

Here’s the full chart for today’s breakdown – Old Joe Clark Sheet Music and Breakdown


The first step to playing is always listening. There are thousands of different recordings of this song and each may have slight variations to the form or melody. With standards like this it’s important to listen to a variety of recordings and then pick one to start as your base.

Here’s a few recordings to get you started:


Old Joe Clark is a standard AABB form. That means you’ll play the A part twice followed by the B part twice. The song is in A, but uses the G natural or b7 instead of the G sharp or natural 7.

You can divide both the A and B parts into two smaller parts as well.

  • A1 = measures 1 to 4
  • A2 = measures 5 to 8
  • B1 = measures 9 to 12
  • B2 = measures 13 to 16

I like breaking songs down like this because it makes it a lot easier to learn. The only real difference between A1 and A2 are the last two measures in each part. This is the same for B1 and B2.

Scales & practices

The A major scale is a great starting point for getting playing this tune. Once thing you’ll note is that the G natural is the b7 of A major – meaning it’s not part of the A Major scale (which is spelled A B C# D E F# G#). While you can still play the A Major as is, swapping out the G# for a G natural can be nice too. If you played the A Major with the G natural instead of G#, you’d be playing the A mixolydian scale – another great scale for this song.

Two others that work in different ways are the A Major Pentatonic and A Minor Pentatonic. The A Major Pentatonic will provide a nice “major” sound – a happier more open sound in general. The A Minor however will give you more of a bluesy feel due to the C natural and G natural in that scale. Since Old Joe Clark includes a G natural, the only “odd” note really is the C natural which is the b3rd of A Major.


I’ve provided four variations for the main melody here.

  • The first melody option is the easiest and best for beginners to start with.
  • The second melody is the “closed” position which swaps all the open strings with their “closed” counter part (the 7th fret on the string before)
  • The third melody is also closed, but starts with the third finger
  • The fourth melody is closed, but starts with the second finger

The last two melody options will shift your hand position up the neck which can be really helpful for finding solo ideas.

Old Joe Clark Mandolin Sheet Music song Breakdown - variation 1
Open / Basic Melody
Old Joe Clark Mandolin Sheet Music song Breakdown - variation 2
Closed / Basic melody
Old Joe Clark Mandolin Sheet Music song Breakdown - variation 3
3rd finger start
Old Joe Clark Mandolin Sheet Music song Breakdown - variation 4
2nd finger start


The main chords in this song are A, G, and E which are the I, VII, and V in the key of A. Most of the song really just sits on the A chord with the E and G chords peppered in. When a song uses the same chord over many measures, I often cycle between different voicings for that chord to keep it a little more interesting. Another fun trick is to do a half step (or one fret) slide into the chord (like playing Ab then sliding into A).

I’ve provided a few variations including the “open” chords that use open notes when possible. These can be fun additions to this song, but keep in mind that “open” chords generally ring out longer and you have less control over the note decay – so they are usually not the best for a jam setting in my opinion.

Wrapping up

Old Joe Clark is a great standard tune that, while potentially over played, provides beginners and even more advanced players with something to enjoy.

If you like’d this post or have questions, feel free to leave a comment below. If you’d like to take a deeper dive into your playing look click here for more 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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