This weeks mandolin sheet music breakdown is going back to the classics with Rocky Top. A great tune easy enough for beginners to get quickly and a jam favorite at many festivals.
Here’s the sheet music for this week’s mandolin sheet music breakdown – Rocky Top sheet music.
As always, playing starts with listening. There’s a ton of recordings on this tune, and likely your favorite mandolin player has a recording of this tune somewhere. Below are a few options to help get started
Rocky Top follows an AAB AAB AB pattern. This means you’ll play the A part (or verse) twice, followed by one B part (or chorus). You’ll play the AAB set twice, followed by an AB set (just one verse before the chorus instead of two).
Rocky Top is a slightly crooked tune. A crooked tune is simple a tune that doesn’t have the standard number of beats for that style of tune. In this example, the A Part has 8 measures but the B part has 10. The two extra measures here make the tune crooked.
Rocky Top Chords
The main chords used in this song are G, C, D, F, and Em. I’ve provided a few voicing variations on these chords in my charts. Remember to look for efficient ways to move from chord to chord. I have a lesson on Guide Fingers coming out on Monday 10/3. I’ll update this post when that lesson is available.
The Rocky Top melody is fairly simple and follows the G Major Pentatonic scale for the most part. Since the melody includes the F natural (the flat 7th of G) you can think of this as a dominant pentatonic really.
I have a lesson on Pentatonic Scales coming out on Monday 10/10. I’ll update this post when that lesson is available.
While Rocky Top is considered a “banjo tune”, it’s not uncommon for a mandolin, fiddle, or guitar player to kick the tune. Even if you don’t kick off the tune, the intro can be a fun way to start your solo break.
The intro is a pretty standard pickup line. A pickup is often a partial measure that comes at the start of the song. In this case, the pickup starts on the And of 3 – meaning you’d count “1 + 2 + 3 +” and start playing when you could the + after 3.
The image to the left here shows the idea pretty clearly. Start off with an open G chord with your first finger on the second fret of the A string and your middle finger on the third fret of the E string. Strike that on the “and” of 3. Then use your first finger to play the 3rd fret of the A string (C note), then use your 3rd or ring finger to play the 4th fret (C# note), and finally use your 3rd finger again to play the fifth fret (D note) while adding back the three fret on the E (G note) using your middle finger.
The Outro is a little weird but super fun. Basically it just extends the last line of the Chorus a bit while singing the “ee” in Tennessee. The very last measure of G usually ends with some type of G run as well.
One Note, if you’re playing in a group, it’s a good idea to either have one person play that riff or have everyone play the same riff.
I’ve provided a couple voicing options for this melody. I suggest starting with the open melody, but the fun stuff happens in the other positions (at least in my opinion!).
Considering how popular this song is at jams, having a harmony line ready for this tune is a great idea. The easiest ways to create a harmony is to essentially move the melody a 3rd, 5th, or 6th up or down. The 3rd and 6th usually sound best – but the 5th works too. While most notes will move exactly up or down the same interval (i.e. a 3rd), some notes may need to be moved a semi-tone (or fret) more / less than the others. I’ll likely do a whole lesson on creating harmonies in the future – but for now, if a harmony note doesn’t fit with the melody, simply move it up or down one semi-tone (or fret). Most often, that’s all you need.
I’ve provided two harmony options for the tune – one “low” and one “high”.
Since the melody starts off with the 5th of G (which is D), I based the Low harmony is roughly around the 3rd of G (which is B).
I based the high harmony roughly around the Root (which is G).
I love Double Stops. Check out my lesson on Double Stops here when you get a chance. Below is a simple way to add double stops to Rocky Top in the open position. I often use ideas like this as the base for some solo break ideas. For the chords on this variation, I just used chord boxes to frame the double stop in case that was easier to read.
Once you have the below variation down, try moving the double stops to other positions around the neck.
If you like’d this post or have questions, feel free to leave a comment below.
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