Fiddle tunes are a standard part of the bluegrass music vocabulary. These are instrumental tunes with no vocals. Also, while it’s always nice to have a fiddle, don’t let the name fool you – these can (and should) be played on any instrument.
Here’s some general guidelines to fiddle tunes.
- Most fiddle tunes have two parts. Generally these are referred to as the A part and B part (or “verse” and “chorus”). Usually the parts are played in an AABB format – meaning the A part is played twice followed by the B part being played twice. There are certainly fiddle tunes that have more parts (like Old Dangerfield which has three parts) and/or that don’t follow AABB.
- There’s a lot of variations. Since fiddle tunes are usually passed down orally instead of being written down, most fiddle tunes, especially the older ones, have many different variations that are all “correct”. Generally I recommend learning a few variations for common fiddle tunes as it can help you standout in a jam as well as provide some great soloing ideas.
- Most parts are made up of smaller phrases.. When learning fiddle tunes, I recommend breaking the parts into smaller phrases. Generally a “phrase” is where you’d take a breath if you were singing the melody instead of picking it. This has two main benefits – first it makes the tune easier to learn by breaking it up into smaller manageable parts and second it allows you to use a modular approach when there’s a lot of variations of the song. In Blackberry Blossom for example, the A part can be broken up into 4 phrases:
- Measures 1 and 2 make up the first phrase
- Measures 3 and 4 make up the second phrase
- Measures 5 and 6 make up the third phrase
- Measures 7 and 8 make up the fourth phrase
You can take a similar approach to the B Part (first two measures of the B part are the first phrase there etc).
- Fiddle tunes generally follow a scale pretty closely. Before starting to learn any fiddle tune, it’s a good idea to review the scale the song is based on. In the example of Blackberry Blossom, since the tune is in G Major, reviewing the G Major scale before playing the song can help get the notes “under your fingers” so to speak.
Here’s a few fiddle tunes that can help:
Blackberry Blossom Jack Tuttle version