Mandolin Sheet Music and Song Breakdown: I Saw the Light

This week’s Mandolin Sheet Music and Song Breakdown focuses on the standard I Saw the Light. For many new bluegrass and folk players, this will probably one of (if not the) first songs you’ll learn.

It’s a pretty straight forward gospel tune with a basic melody – so nothing too complex at first. The idea of this breakdown is to take a relatively simple tune and fancy it up a bit without going overboard.

One issue you’ll run into with older standards like I Saw the Light is there’s no real “standard” key (or recording often). I’m going to provide 2 charts that are effective the same just different keys. One in G (a la Hank Williams) and one in A (a la Nitty Gritty Dirt Band). If I get enough requests / comments, I’ll write one up for B (a la Bill Monroe) as well.

Here’s a chart for this breakdown –

So this post doesn’t get extremely long, I’m just posting this in the key of A. No particular reason for that ke


The first step to learning any tune is to listen. Here’s a few recordings of this tune to help – but there’s probably thousands more. Use your favorite method to listen to music to find a few more.

Song Form

After the intro, this song starts with the Chorus then Verse. This is slightly different from most of the tunes I’ve covered so far which are Verse Chorus – but starting with the Chorus is not that uncommon, especially in Gospel music.

The A part (Chorus) and B part (Verse) are both 16 measures each. I like to break this tune up into smaller parts that match the vocal phrasing.

  • A1 = Measures 1 – 4
  • A2 = Measures 5 – 8
  • A3 = Measures 9 – 12
  • A4 = Measures 13 – 16

The B part is similar

  • B1 = Measures 17 – 20
  • B2 = Measures 21 – 24
  • B3 = Measures 25 – 28
  • B4 = Measures 29 – 32

You’ll likely notice there are two phrases that repeat exactly (or really close) in both the A and B parts. A2 and B2 are near matches as are A4 and B4. Since those phrases come up often, it’s a great idea to keep those phrases in mind for soloing ideas. I’ve posted these phrases side by side below to help illustrate this.

Mandolin Sheet Music: Chords

As with most gospel tunes, this is just a I IV V tune. In A, that’s A D E. In G, that’s G C D.

I’ve provided a few voicing options as usual. Once you get these down as written, start mixing them up a bit. Check out my Mandolin Chord Shapes Series for more options.

Mandolin Sheet Music: Melody

I love this tune because playing the melody is super easy in pretty much any key and any position. I’ve provided a few variations for the basic melody

Mandolin Sheet Music and Song Breakdown - Basic Chart 1
Mandolin Sheet Music and Song Breakdown - Basic Chart 2
Mandolin Sheet Music and Song Breakdown - Closed Melody 1
Mandolin Sheet Music and Song Breakdown - Closed Melody 2
Mandolin Sheet Music and Song Breakdown - up neck 1
Mandolin Sheet Music and Song Breakdown - up neck 2

Double Stops

Using double stops while playing a standard melody can be a great way to spice things up a bit. The below chart plays the melody completely in double stops to provide some ideas. Likely you wouldn’t play the entire song like this (though you could), but I find laying out all the potentials pretty helpful.

Finding double stops in songs you’re learning can be really helpful in crafting harmony lines as well. The two ideas are pretty similar since double stops are basically “self-harmonization” of sorts.

Mandolin Sheet Music and Song Breakdown - Double Stops 1
Mandolin Sheet Music and Song Breakdown - Double Stops 2

Mandolin Sheet Music: Harmony

Gospel tunes beg for harmonies. I’ve provide a basic idea for a harmony a major 3rd (4 semitones or 4 frets) above the melody.

While most of the harmony is a major 3rd above the melody, there are some notes that are a minor 3rd above (3 semitones or 3 frets). This is pretty common with harmonies.

Note the similarities and differences in the main melody as well as the double stop melody.

Mandolin Sheet Music and Song Breakdown - Harmony 1
Mandolin Sheet Music and Song Breakdown - Harmony 2

Wrap Up

If you like’d this post or have questions, feel free to leave a comment below.

To take a deeper dive on this song or any other tune 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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