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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.

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

Open / Basic Melody
Closed / Basic melody
3rd finger start
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.

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