End-of-Year Tune and Song Sprint

I recently took inventory of the bluegrass and oldtime tunes and songs that I know. While it is a huge increase from the 4 fiddle tunes I “knew” in July of this year, it just isn’t a very big list. Nothing compared to the pile of jazz standards I know, and not anywhere near enough to have the same kind of literacy in bluegrass/oldtime as I enjoyed on the piano with the body of jazz music. I want to know more, have a better vocabulary, and be all-around more fluent in speaking bluegrass (musically, that is) on my mandolin.


Tunes I Know

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Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

I started back in July of this year knowing 4 fiddle tunes (if I am very generous with the meaning of “know”). I have generally been keeping track as I’ve added new ones over the last months. Presented here is the list of tunes I know to date.* Some of the tunes have resource pages here on the site, so I have linked to them.

  1. Bag of Spuds
  2. Bonnie Tammie
  3. Soldier’s Joy
  4. Liberty
  5. Cold Frosty Morning
  6. Clinch Mountain Backstep
  7. Whiskey Before Breakfast
  8. Blackberry Blossom
  9. John Stinson’s
  10. Old Favorite
  11. The Wind that Shakes the Barley
  12. Goodbye, Liza Jane
  13. Bill Cheatham
  14. Old Joe Clark
  15. Cluck Old Hen
  16. Chinquapin Hunting
  17. Angeline the Baker
  18. Boil Them Cabbage
  19. Cripple Creek

As you can see, the list is not very large, but it is what it is. I have two initiatives – one underway and the other planned – to boost the amount of material in my tune vocabulary. During the month of December, I am doing a end-of-year tune and song sprint (which I will post about separately) to add an additional 12 tunes and 6 sings to my repertoire. Then next year, I have planned out a Tune of the Week, with a designated TOTW and a bonus tune each week (because I try to always learn at least two tunes a week). I also have a Song of the Week plan, with a SOTW and bonus song each week (because I am trying to increase the number of songs that I actually know the melody and lyrics to). There will be posts about the TOTW and the SOTW plans closer to the end of the month.

* I also know two or three Hungarian fiddle tunes from my book, but I can’t pronounce or spell their names, which really gets in the way of talking about them.

Practice Plan, Week of 06 November 2022

I know that I already posted that I won’t be posting a practice plan for this week, but I can’t sit around and not practice just because I’m sad. (I mean, I totally could, and I fully support a person’s right to just be sad and do nothing. But not practicing is actually doing the opposite of help).

One difference this week, I am also indicating practice for the guitar, which I really should be keeping as sharp as I can, even though I am not principally a guitarist and have no intention of becoming one. And this has little to nothing to do with a crush on Molly Tuttle.

You may notice that a lot of my practice list is very similar to two weeks ago. One of my big goals this week is to move this material off of my practice plan (by learning it). It’s just been a hard couple weeks. 🤷🏻‍♂️

Practice Plan for 06 November 2022


Mandolin: 09 November 2022

Guitar: I don’t currently take guitar lessons. But if I could find someone to teach me bluegrass styles – especially claw hammer guitar – I would totally jump at that.

Playing With Others:

Other than lessons, I haven’t made it out to play with others in a couple of weeks. I intend yo go to the Wake Up Rounder jam at Tomorrow’s Verse Taproom (4605 NE Fremont St in Portland)

1) New Material

  • Mandolin Tune: Road to Columbus
  • Mandolin Tune: Cripple Creek
  • Guitar Tune: Cripple Creek
  • Guitar Song: Amazing Grace

2) Developing Material

  • Mandolin: Bluebirds Are Singing for Me
  • Mandolin/Guitar: Bury Me Beneath the Willow

3) Performance Material

  • Jenny Jenkins
  • Clinch Mountain Backstep

4) Techniques

  • Mandolin: LH position
  • Mandolin: Double stops
  • Mandolin: Bluegrass box
  • Guitar: Intro to Bluegrass Rhythm Guitar (Banjo Ben)

5) Musicianship

  • Transposing (using the key signature dice)
  • Standing while playing
  • Ear training

Mandolin Progress, Week of 24 Oct 2022

I record myself fairly regularly to give myself an opportunity to step back and listen. It is a great way to look for places that I need to make improvements, but is also a good opportunity to compare how I’m doing and the progress I’ve made.

To facilitate this, in addition to whatever I am working on in my practice plan for the week, I often record the same songs over again. Bonnie Tammie is a good example. I have a recording of myself playing it from right after I first started lessons, the first time, in 2016. I was even worse than I am today, if that can be imagined.

A few other of my regular check-in recordings are Clinch Mountain Backstep and Whiskey Before Breakfast, because I know them pretty well AND they are fun to play.

So this is my first week posting some of my progress videos here. They are confounded here because I am also trying out the tone on my Epiphone mm50e. I bought it to use for a punk folk project (it has a neat pickup system), but right now it is also standing in while I am between primary instruments.

Clinch Mountain Backstep

I still have some notes that fall out of time because of things like incorrect pick direction, but this was a good one to hear the tone of the Epiphone. Still deciding on that.

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Make Me Down a Pallet, Mandolin

I worked this out first on guitar. Gillian Welch sings this in E flat (in C but capoed up 3), I believe, and that fits my voice best, but was a devil on the mandolin (where we don’t use capoes) at first. Figuring this out was not only a topic at my last lesson, using a key signature dice and transposing to whatever key comes up was one of my assignments.

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Make Me Down a Pallet, Guitar

And then the same on guitar.

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The Wind that Shakes the Barley/JohnStinson’s

I learned this a few weeks ago and have been working on them. Getting close(ish).

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Whiskey Before Breakfast

The double stop potatoes at the beginning are new. In my lessons right now I am working on the transition from rhythm to lead, and you can see that it is still an early work in progress – especially with how disorganized my fingers are for the first A part.

And that, is where I am at the end of this week of practice. I probably won’t get this week’s practice plan up until tomorrow, because I haven’t made it yet.