Continuing the series of “songs I should know, but don’t” today I’m covering the classic mandolin fiddle tune Big Mon by Bill Monroe. This tune is a pretty straight forward, and fast, bluegrass jam favorite. If you have a mandolin or fiddle playing buddy – this can be a great tune for some “twin” parts or harmony lines too.
Here’s the mandolin song breakdown sheet music for Big Mon –
The first step of playing is listening. There are tons of recordings of this tune so you can probably find a version done by your favorite mandolinist somewhere. Below are a few recordings to help get you started.
Big Mon is a pretty standard tune with an AABB form. You’ll play the A part twice followed by the B part twice.
I always find it useful to break songs down into smaller phrases to help with memorizing them. Similar to talking, a phrase in a piece of music ends where you feel you’d need to take a breath. Looking at the sheet music for Big Mon for example, measures 1 – 4 could be “A1” while measures 5 – 8 are “A2”.
- Breaking down the A1 and A2 parts, you can see that measures 1 – 3 and measures 5 – 7 are identical with only measures 4 and 8 being different.
- Similarly in the B1 and B2 parts, measures 9 – 11 and 13 – 15 are identical and only measures 12 and 16 are different.
Recommended Scales / Practices
Big Mon is in the key of A major and it’s not common to play it in other keys in my experience. The progression uses the 7b chord (G) as well which is similar to songs like Old Joe Clark and Salt Creek. Below are some scales you and practice ideas ideas
- A Major Scale
- A Major Pentatonic
- A Major Arpeggio set
- A Mixolydian (basically A Major scale with a G instead of G#)
I’ve included a few variations on the chord voicing in the Chord Voicing chart for Big Mon. In songs like this, especially in a decent size jam with other mandolin players, the percussive chord voicing is often the best to avoid infringing on the soloist and muddying up the rhythm. When playing that voicing, you’re mainly focused on keeping time, not so much on the notes. If you like that idea, check out Sam Bush – he’s the percussive chop master! Here’s a link to a great video he did too.
The chords for Big Mon are fairly similar for the A and B parts. The main difference is the A part has the G natural (bVII) where the B part just plays through the A. The ending of the first B part is also different. That said, these differences are small which can make it a little easy to get lost in this tune – especially if the soloist isn’t playing a straight melody solo.
To avoid losing your spot in songs like Big Mon, I recommend silently signing / humming the melody to yourself while you’re playing the chords.
I’ve included 3 voicing variations for Big Mon in the mandolin song breakdown sheet music. The open variation is a great start as it’s easier to bring up to speed. While you are working on bringing the open variation to speed, use closed position and high melody variations to help get ideas for solo breaks.
Below is the standard melody for Big Mon in the open position:
If there’s a tune that begs for a harmony line, it’s Big Mon. Often you’ll hear fiddles or mandolins playing higher harmony lines over the main melody – especially at the end of this tune. A good harmony line can really help break up this song and keep things a bit more interesting.
I’ve included harmony line a 3rd above and a 5th below in the Harmony Breakdown. Below is the harmony for the 3rd above.
Big Mon is a great jam standard and a lot of fun to play! While it’s usually played really fast, don’t get sucked in to playing it at high speeds right away. It’s a good idea to practice songs like this slowly at first and hit every note correctly before speeding up.
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