By Tristan Scroggins
In the introduction to his instructional book for mandolin, Old Time Fiddle Tune Favorites, Tristan Scroggins discusses an issue that many bluegrass players face when they attend a jam session and someone calls out an old-time fiddle tune. Tristan writes, “I grew up playing bluegrass music so I was always intimidated when people would call old-time tunes in a jam. It felt like trying to have a conversation with someone speaking the same language but with an accent too thick to understand.”
Add to this the fact that many of the old-time tunes have been around for so long that people from different regions of the country, or who have studied different eras of fiddling, play the tunes differently. After spending years living in the mountains of Virginia, I encountered this problem when I moved to Missouri. They played things differently here…beats or measures are added or removed, C parts are added, and melodies can differ.
In a book that teaches tunes, you’d expect to see arrangements of those tunes and Tristan supplies clear and simple arrangements. He has written out melody-based arrangements of the 15 tunes in both standard music notation and in mandolin tablature. Beyond arrangements, important information that he adds to this book are notes about the origins of each tune, regions of the country where the tune originated or is prominently played, where and from whom he learned the tune and alternate names for the tunes. He also discusses variation resources based on old and traditional renderings of the tune versus more modern approaches.
Although the book does not come with a recording of the printed arrangements, Tristan has put together a Spotify playlist that features several versions of each tune as played by noted professional musicians and bands. This is a wonderful resource. In the book, he also lists recorded sources of the tunes and provides You Tube links so that you can watch the tunes being played (usually on fiddle) by various artists.
Although the book is only 26 pages in length, I found that the arrangements provided, combined with the source recordings on Spotify, enabled me to easily get the tunes in my head and learn them on the mandolin. The book is available as a hardcopy comb-bound book or as a digital download PDF on bandcamp via a link on Tristan’s website (www.tristanscroggins.com). The tunes included are: Booth Shot Lincoln (AKA “Booth”), Breakin’ Up Christmas, Chinquapin Hunting, Dry and Dusty, Farewell Trion, Greasy Coat, John Brown’s Dream, Julianne Johnson, Lost Girl, Midnight on the Water, Old Grimes (AKA Dubuque), Seneca Square Dance, Shove That Pig’s Foot (a Little Farther in the Fire), Squirrel Hunters, and Tennessee Mountain Fox Chase. The digital download version is $15 and the hard copy version is $20.
If you are new to old-time music and want to start building your repertoire on mandolin, this book is a great place to start.