Today’s mandolin song breakdown focuses on another classic, Soldier’s Joy. While this is a bluegrass staple, it’s roots are mostly Scottish from around 1760 or so. Like a lot of older fiddle tunes, there are lyrics that have been added – but we’ll be ignoring those for this review.
As with many old standards, it’s seems there’s a million different ways to play this tune. I’ve provided two variations on the melody that I hear often in recordings. The first form is more simplified while the second is slightly more complicated. I like blending these forms – so I included both in the below.
Here’s the chart for the main melody.
BTW – this is the Song (Tune) of the Week for 11/15/2023 at my Machine House Brewery Jam. So bonus content for Seattle based folks 😉
Before you learn, listen. Here’s a few recordings I like of this tune:
- Fiddle Fiddle (main melody based off this version)
- Rice Brothers
- Doc Watson and David Grisman
- Billy Strings and Don Julio
- Mark O’Connor
- Joy Roland White, Mike Compton and Sierra Hull (video)
Soldier’s Joy is about as traditional as you can get. The form is a simple AABB form – so play the A part twice and then the B part twice. Something to note, which is common for fiddle tunes, is the slight differences within the parts.
In the A Part, measures 1 and 5 are the same. Measures 2 and 6 are almost the same with the exception of the last note. Measures 3 /4 and 6 / 7 are completely different.
The same is true with the B Part. Measures 11 /12 and 15 / 16 are the same while measures 13 / 14 and 17/ 18 are different. But, notice how the first ending of the B part is the same as the second ending for the A part while the second ending of the B part is the same as the first ending for the A part. This is pretty common in fiddle tunes and worth remembering.
As with most standard fiddle tunes, Soldier’s Joy has a lot of variations that are standards for certain people. So, it’s a good idea to listen to a few variations to get the gist. Below versions of the melody. I tend to vary between these two forms.
Soldier’s Joy is a great tune to analyze from a melody standpoint. While you may not be able to do this on the fly in a jam, reviewing how the melody notes interact with the chords can help spawn some solo ideas. For those new to taking breaks, it should help highlight that even just playing the basic arpeggio notes can work as a simple break.
Looking at the A Part, all the notes of the basic melody fit perfectly.
- In measures 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6 the notes are just D F# and A – the arpeggio notes for the D chord. Note in measure two the C# and the E in measure 6 are passing tones which is optional and could be ignored for this purpose – but the C# also fits this overall idea as the C# makes the D a DMaj7.
- Measure 4 plays mostly A notes (the G and E). The D note is on the & of 2, so that can be considered a “passing tone” as well.
- Measure 7, the phrase starts with D arpeggio notes (F# A D) then moves to A7 arpeggio notes (E G C#).
- Measure 8 is mostly D arpeggio notes (all D) except the the C# and B notes. Since both of those are on the & of 2 and 4 respectively – they are also passing tones and can be ignored for this analysis.
The B Part is a bit different.
- Measures 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15 are D Major scale runs that focus on the chord tones for the chord being played. In measure 10 for example, the first few notes establish a D feel, while in measure 11 the walk up establishes a G feel.
- Measure is an arpeggios over D and A chord.
- Measures 17 and 18 are just the D note with a pick up note at the end of 18.
When soloing, you can use this information to make things easier. For example, beginners can literally just play arpeggios notes over the chords and have a decent sounding break. As you get more advanced, you can mess around with timing a bit to syncopate your break and create some dynamics. In addition, using common slides (like sliding from the b3 to 3) can be really useful in these types of songs.
You can repeat the same analysis for the second version.
One of the best reasons to learn Soldier’s Joy is because of the practice potential. In the second form above, there’s a LOT of pedaling going on which is one of the best ways to get faster on certain pieces. The B Part is the most obvious place to start. Pedaling is when you keep one or more fingers down while playing different notes. Pedaling can be done on the same string or between strings. The best way to play these phrases is to keep your fingers planted on the notes that don’t change. Doing that will help increase both your speed and accuracy since you eliminate some moving parts.
At the start of the B Part (measure 10), the tune pedals from F# to D a few times and ends the measure with a quick scale run on D. The next measure (11) is similar with a pedal on E and C# before a scale run on G. The exercise here is to keep your fingers in place unless you must move them to play a note.
For example, in the second form there’s no reason to move your first finger off F# at all in the first measure. Similarly, you don’t need to move your ring finger off D until scale run. The exercise is a little more difficult with the closed position as now the first 3 measures of the B part involve pedaling
In addition, using a closed position you can practice both playing up the neck and get some use from your pinky! Below is the second form in a closed position.
Soldier’s Joy is a must-know for any jam session enthusiast, offering a great balance of tradition and practice potential. I hope this breakdown provides valuable insights for your playing.
If you found this topic interesting, drop a comment below with any questions or feedback. For a deeper exploration, click here for more information on private coaching.
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