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of Contents
From the Bow to the Pick
Translating Old Time Fiddle Techniques to the Mandolin
Notes on Technique
Picks & Strings
The Mandolins
Folding Down the Sheets
Kitty Puss/Frankie/9 Miles Outside of Louisville
Polly Put the Kettle On
The Cuckoo’s Nest
Bob Walker/ Lundy’s Durang’s Hornpipe
Big Hoedown
Georgia Belle
16 Days in Georgia
Chinquapin Hunting
Lost John
About the Author
The Tunes
Instructional MP3s
MP3 files of Adam Tanner playing the selections in this book can be obtained by sending
an email to He will email you a link to download the 11
tracks that are covered in this eBook.
Mandolin playing and Appalachian fiddle music have both been part of my life as long as
I can remember. I started to play the violin as a 9-year-old and soon after taught myself the
guitar and mandolin. Growing up in the San Francisco bay area of California I was
geographically far away from the source of the music I loved, but I was lucky to become
friends with a neighbor boy my age who played bluegrass banjo.
It wasn’t too long before I was constantly hearing music of all types by way of my older
brother, a budding musician trying to improve his guitar skills. As I reached my late
teenage years, rock music and electric guitars took over my world. It wasn’t until I
reached my mid 20s after 10 years of playing in rock bands, attempting to carve a career
out of recording and performing, that I rediscovered the mandolin and the fiddle and went
deep into investigating the first wave of commercial recordings made in the 1920s and
early 1930s as well as the music of amateur Appalachian musicians recorded in the field.
I moved to western North Carolina in 2001 where I
have been performing, teaching, and attending
fiddlers conventions. Over the last few years I have
been lucky enough to acquire a collection of archival
recordings of fiddlers from folks like myself who
enjoy collecting, listening to, and learning fiddle
tunes. The melodies in this collection come from all
over the southern United States. Some of them are
what one might have danced to at a square dance in
early rural America. Others are rhythmically
irregular and were created more for listening.
Learning to play all of the tunes in this collection on
the fiddle has given me inspiration to transfer some
of the ideas I have for the movement of the bow on
to the flat pick. I hope that the concept of applying
rhythmic and melodic subtleties accurately to the
mandolin from the fiddle will be of interest to others.
The role of the mandolin in a modern string band setting, which often but not always
includes a fiddle, clawhammer or pre-Scruggs finger picking style banjo, guitar, and
upright bass, is somewhat ambiguous. Verlin Clifton, mandolin player in the legendary
Camp Creek Boys, once told me that his band was often disqualified from entering band
contests under the “Old Time” category because one member was a mandolin player and
the band was therefore seen as a bluegrass band.
Although the Camp Creek Boys played with the rhythmic drive and fervor of a bluegrass
band, Verlin’s style did not borrow anything from Bill Monroe’s. He provided a
tremendous rhythmic push on his F-style Gibson mandolin. Verlin never played the fiddle
melody and did not accent the off-beat as is customary for the mandolin in bluegrass
music. Instead he hit both the on-and off- beats with rapid sweeping chord stabs.
In the years before World War II thousands of commercial recordings of rural musicians
playing fiddle music from the American South were released, but very few of these
recordings captured the sound of mandolinists playing more than rhythm and chords. The
lead mandolin recordings of Doc Roberts from Kentucky The Scottdale Stringband and
The Skillet Lickers with Ted Hawkins from north Georgia are some rare examples.
Now fast-forward to today’s thriving festivals, fiddlers conventions, music camps, square
dances, and concerts. Thanks to Mike Seeger, who published the first old-time mandolin
tutorial, the mandolin has become a more prominent voice in the genre. Some mandolin
players, like myself, started playing bluegrass music first and drifted into playing the
earlier music later in their musical journey. The music of Bill Monroe provided many
opportunities for mandolin players to dive in and try to hear the imagined connections
between the old-time fiddle style of his Uncle Pen with his “wonderful shuffle of the bow”
and Monroe’s interpretations of old fiddle numbers like “Paddy on the Turnpike” and
“Sally Goodin” on the mandolin. Bluegrass music grew away from its early format, which
included touches of blues, gospel, tin pan alley, and old time fiddling. It evolved into a far
more streamlined form, borrowing its aesthetic largely from sounds and styles that have
become common in the world of modern commercial country music, rock and roll, and
pop. The importance of fiddle tunes and the recording and performance of instrumental
fiddle music, old or newly composed, has largely disappeared from the modern bluegrass
As a fiddler, for many years I devoted all of my time to researching and learning melodies
from the older repertoire of American fiddle music. Learning to create a big full sound and
danceable rhythms with the fiddle and the bow led me to think about each fiddle tune as a
unique organism with its own distinct soul and heartbeat. I approach these tunes with the
viewpoint that the melody, by the nature of how it is executed, should stand entirely on its
own without the need for accompaniment.
Before guitars were available for purchase, in square dancing the fiddler was responsible
for providing melody, harmony, and rhythm simultaneously. In that context the schematic
for each fiddle tune has to be mapped out and determined, with each phrase carefully
engineered in order to execute the melody with all the propulsion necessary for dancing.
After spending so much time working on my fiddling I returned to the mandolin and tried
to apply what I had learned from bowing to the rhythmic cadences created by my pick and
the drone notes, double stops, and graces notes I learned on the fretless fiddle to my
fretting hand on the mandolin. Of course some limitations are inherent, and much of the
microtonal element employed by fiddlers is not available on the mandolin.
I have created a book for intermediate and advanced mandolin players who are hoping to
broaden their repertoire and techniques and enter the world of southern Appalachian
music that predates bluegrass music. My hope is that some fallacies about the earlier
music and its players will also be wiped away, especially the notion that these early
fiddlers and their music should be perceived only as an evolutionary step towards music
that is more “complex” or “complete” and that players who did not make music centered
solely around melodic improvisation were any less important and valid than the great
players of jazz and bluegrass who came later.
I have purposely omitted guitar chords from my transcriptions. I’ve listed the source
recordings for these tunes, and some of them were in fact recorded with fantastic
accompaniment. I recommend using the links I provide to seek and listen to these
recordings. I am of the mindset that at least some of these melodies existed before the
advent of the guitar, and I wanted to put the mandolin player squarely in charge of
determining what sort of accompaniment he or she would like to hear.
I have stayed away from focusing on specific dates and other historic aspects in my
musings about the fiddler players I present here since this is not my speciality or purpose.
I have provided links to online information that contain the work of folklorists who are the
most qualified to provide this kind of information.
This book is as much an opportunity for me to share a personal approach to learning and
playing as it is a mandolin tutor.
Over the years I have developed a simple process to
translate tunes I play on the fiddle to the mandolin,
with the goal of trying to capture the same feel,
pulse, or rhythmic cadence implicit in the bowing.
My first step in adapting bow phrasing to the
mandolin is to subdivide the tune into complete
phrases to get the right feel.
If I am playing the mandolin as part of a group and
am following a tune I am familiar with, I will
certainly use my past experience fiddling the piece to
help me blend in to the groove. If it is a tune I don’t
know or if the fiddler is playing a familiar tune in a
manner that is very different than what I am used to,
I have to try a different approach.
It is actually better to understand and internalize the feel or groove of each tune before
learning each specific note. It is as if each fiddle tune is a living organism with its own
unique heartbeat. If I ignore this heartbeat and focus primarily on the notes, I will have
only a superficial understanding of the bigger picture. A fiddle tune is more than a
collection of notes. Just learning (and playing) the notes is not the same as learning (and
playing) the tune.
When sitting in with a group I am always delighted when the fiddler calls a tune that I
already know. Yet sometimes when I start to play along on the mandolin, things sound out
of sync. Although the notes I am playing are essentially the same as those being played on
the fiddle I am not blending in well with the overall music.
I abandon the melody notes for a bit and instead switch to simple two-or three-finger
chords. Listening carefully to the phrasing of the bow, I try to sync my wrist motion to that
rhythm using the downbeat as my primary focus. As the tune goes through several cycles
and I become more and more familiar with the phrasing I slowly re-introduce some
melody notes, but never at the expense of the rhythm. Rhythm is the focus.
After listening to fiddle music with a deeper perception of each tune’s respective
heartbeat, the mandolin player will never feel the need to limit themselves to the role of
just rhythm or just melody. I believe that achieving a marriage of both can be a very
creative and satisfying approach.
Mandolin players coming from other styles of music might benefit from some
examination of common playing techniques utilized in old time fiddling. The mandolin
presents a unique set of challenges in approximating or simulating the sounds heard on the
fiddle. Responsiveness is much slower and of course the ability to create sustain with a
single picked note is extremely limited in comparison. Here is a brief glossary of common
techniques that are a part of my vocabulary on the fiddle and descriptions of how I have
adapted each to the mandolin.
Closed double stops:
I have heard other mandolin instructors call these two fingered chords. Two fingered chord
technique translates from fiddle to mandolin with no difficulty. Players of bluegrass music
will be familiar with closed double stops as they are a huge part of Bill Monroe’s style of
mandolin adapted from fiddling.
Generally this technique involves two notes played at once for example an F# played on
the E string and the D note played on the A string will create a D chord. A closed double
stop D chord can be heard in the second measure of part B in “Chinquapin Hunting”. A
closed double stop for the key of G can be heard in the 3rd measure of “Lost John”,
involving a D note on the A string and a B note on the D string.
As you listen to the tunes in this book follow along with the written music and take note of
all the moments when you hear two fretted notes at once and try those positions in other
songs or tunes that you already know. This will help put you on the road to creating a
more fiddle-like sound from your mandolin.
Drones are essentially double stops with one fretted note and one open note in harmony or
unison. This technique is achieved in exactly the same manner on the fiddle as on the
mandolin. An example of a harmony drone can be heard on “Big Hoedown” in the second
measure, where I play an open E string along with a D note fretted on the A string. Some
harmony drone notes sound a bit unusual out of context but in the big picture of the music,
droning gives Appalachian tunes a lot of their personality and soul.
Many other fiddle styles from around the world utilize droning techniques. Celtic styles
come to mind immediately, as well as various Scandinavian traditions.
A unison drone is a fretted note and an open note playing the same pitch. Many tunes I
like to play require the use of unison drone notes, which can be created by holding down
the pinky finger and simultaneously playing the corresponding unison note on an open
string. In measure 11 of the A part of “16 days in Georgia” I play an open E string and
simultaneously also fret the E note on the A string.
Development and increased use of the pinky finger will certainly give the mandolin player
a broader palette of tonal colors, and if one makes the choice to play unison notes as
opposed to single notes, it is possible to achieve more sustain and a fiddle-like sound from
your instrument. Unison drones are a wonderful way to add dynamics to your playing by
creating a thicker sounding note.
A shuffle is a syncopated rhythmic figure within a tune that involves a series of bow
strokes formulated to create a circular and repetitive pattern. The best example of a shuffle
is in the first measure of the B part in “The Cuckoos Nest”. I play a pattern consisting of E
F# D E D F# D.
On the fiddle I play these notes with short alternating sweeps of my bow, toggling back
and forth between the E and the A strings, my wrist kept very loose. I experimented with
this shuffle on the mandolin and found it easier to make it sound like the fiddle by playing
this part in second position, fretting the E and F# notes on the A string while
simultaneously droning the open D string. While I do use the open E for this shuffle the
passage sounded a bit messy and not as rhythmically articulate as choosing the closed E
fretted on the A string. Another component of the shuffle that transfers directly from fiddle
technique is the looseness of the pick grip. A loose grip on the pick can simulate a loose
bow wrist.
A Slur describes the technique in which a fiddler pulls the bow in either direction for more
than one beat. Slurring is as much a stylistic element as a functional element in the music.
This works well in old time music, as square dance tunes are designed to be a steady and
continuous flow of rhythm and notes.
I typically engineer phrases in a fiddle tune with a combination of back and forth
movements widely known as “sawing”. Slurs are placed in strategic locations in order to
create a smoother sound; this also allows me to end a complete phrase with the frog of my
bow up by the bridge, poised and ready for the next down bow.
Slurring in not really necessary on the mandolin. The mandolin player can create the same
seamless stream of sound by utilizing an extremely loose wrist and alternating the pick
back and forth.
The mandolin player also has the ability to create highly syncopated phrases using the
palm to employ muting techniques in order to create brief silences, an option not available
on the fiddle.
Bow Rock:
A bow rock is similar to a shuffle; a syncopated rhythmic figure which involves moving
the bow back and forth between two strings. There are several tunes in the Old Time tune
canon in which an entire part of a tune consists of just a bow rock. The same thing cannot
be said of the shuffle.
Rocking the bow only sounds correct if the elbow is loose, not quiet touching the side of
your body but extremely relaxed. Here is a video of fiddler Tommy Jarrell.
The video consists of Tommy playing several tunes with Mike Seeger and Blanton Owen
on public television. The third tune is called “Jimmy Sutton” and is a bow rocking tour de
force. Pay close attention to the relaxed manner in which he holds the bow and moves his
This book does not have a tune in which bow rocking is prominent. The B section of
“Kitty Puss” has a brief bow rock built into it, however.
The Mandolin player can approach the feel of the bow rock by holding the pick in a loose
manner, moving the wrist rapidly back and forth and trying to focus the motion in the area
of the instrument where the neck meets the body.
String tension near the end of the fingerboard is looser and will provide a richer tone and
more sustain.
Rhythm Patterns:
Appalachian fiddle tunes in 4/4 time require that the rhythm players accent the 1st and 3rd
beat of a measure. It is important to make this distinction since accents in bluegrass, jazz,
country, rhythm & blues and rock music usually place the emphasis on the 2nd and 4th
beat of a measure.
A mandolin rhythm I highly favor is one Ella, Ed Haley’s wife, employs frequently on the
recordings where she is accompanying her husband. It is counted like this: 1-2 and 3 and 4
and 1-2 and 3 and 4 and etc.
I recommend this pick direction pattern: down-down up down up down up etc.
I have a very simple approach to chording on the mandolin when I play in a group setting.
Most of the time I use two moveable chord shapes. A moveable chord gives the player the
option to change key using the same shape all the way up the fingerboard.
I settled on these shapes because of how simple they are to navigate, but the main reason
they work so well is that they add a percussive component that blends well with other
instruments. At the same time these chord positions also allow for a healthy amount of
sustain. I have found it important to control the sustain by resting my fingers on the notes
with a lighter touch as to mute the chord slightly on every other beat.

The ‘C shape’

The first chord shape I call the C shape. Most intermediate and advanced players will
already be familiar with this position.
The 3rd finger is on a C note fretted on the G string.
The 1st finger is on an E note fretted on the D string.
The 2nd finger on a C note fretted on the A string.
I recommend resting the pinky on the open E string to silence the string, unless you are
playing an E chord that fits with this shape.

The ‘G shape’

The second shape is also a moveable chord form. I call this the Old Time moveable G
shape. This position may be unfamiliar to some players.
The 1st finger is on a B note fretted on the A string.
The 2nd finger is on a B note fretted on the G string.
The 3rd finger is on a G note on the D string.
Again, I recommend muting the E string with the little finger while using this shape.
Pick Grip and Relaxation Tips:
A photo of my pick grip before I engage my thumb:
A photo of my pick grip with my thumb engaged:

As I have alluded in the previous section, intermediate and advanced players who do not
already do so may be able to benefit from the use of an extremely relaxed, loose wrist
allowing one to fluidly hit the root note, a drone, and perhaps a harmony note
In order to keep your pick grip light and your hand and wrist relaxed, I suggest raising the
knuckle of your middle finger just slightly higher than the rest of your fingers. You will
find it impossible to tighten your wrist if your hand is in this position:
I suggest a heavy pick with a large surface area. A pick with a decent amount of surface
area helps keep my hand from becoming tense. I try to achieve the smooth drive of the
fiddle bow with my right hand and want to avoid any clicking sound from the pick, and
yet at the same time I do not want to compromise articulation.
I use a Clayton rounded triangle 1.27 gauge pick. I use the tip of the Clayton and still get a
very dark tone with no clicking sound. When I have just changed strings and want to de-
emphasize the treble frequencies during the break-in period, the Clayton pick comes in
especially handy.
Just recently I discovered the Jim Dunlop Primetone Sculpted Plectra, which sounds like
tortoise shell to my ears and is a bit brighter than the Clayton. The Primetone has a
beveled edge and grips the strings better than most picks I have tried.
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to keep an extremely light grip and loose
wrist when using very heavy picks otherwise it will be easy to fall into the habit of
utilizing the arm instead of the wrist, which is inefficient and can lead to excessive fatigue
and even injury.
I also recently discovered Roger Siminoff ’s Straight Up Strings (SUS). Siminoff has
configured string gauges differently than any other mandolin string manufacturer on the
market with the idea of gauging string tension across the mandolin in a more balanced
way. I use the heavy gauge SUS on my F4 and F5 and the medium set on my A1. The
SUS are deep and full sounding and they last quite a while. The best thing about SUS is
they unify the volume of all the strings of any instrument I put them on. If Roger made
mandola strings I would buy them in a heartbeat, but for now I am using D’Addario J76
Mandola Strings.

We are currently living in a renaissance of mandolin lutherie. It is not uncommon to attend

a fiddlers convention or Bluegrass festival and see, play, and hear several incredible
sounding and beautiful hand-built mandolins at a broad variety of price points. I feel
fortunate to benefit from the evolution of knowledge, building techniques, materials, and
hardware that luthiers have access to today. My small collection of mandolins (and one
mandola) are representative of some of the modern advancements merged with the
undeniably wonderful voices and designs I enjoy from American vintage instruments of
the teens and twenties. Here is a breakdown of the instruments I used on each specific tune
in this book:

1915 Gibson blackface A1: “Folding Down the Sheets” “Bob Walker”
“Lundy’s Durangs Hornpipe”
1928 Gibson F4: “Chinquapin Hunting” “Kitty Puss/Frankie/5 Miles Outside of
Louisville” “The Cuckoo’s Nest” “Big Hoedown”
1926 Gibson H1 mandola: “Polly Put the Kettle On” “Georgia Belle”
2010 Gail Hester F5 Fern 022: “16 Days in Georgia” “Cattletsburg” “Lost

The oval-hole mandolins made by Gibson before 1930 have characteristics that make
them well suited for playing fiddle music. Many of my mandolin-playing friends agree
that the sustain and clarity that ‘ovals’ produce just seem perfect.
Gibson offered a different mandolin top graduation for each decade starting at the
company’s inception, resulting in distinctly different tones from each respective period.
The mandolins from 1910–1920 have extraordinary sustain, and my A1 is clear and
balanced across the strings. Many A1s I have played have an overemphasized bass but
mine does not, making it easier to play at more rapid tempos without excessive resonance
from the G string.
I had luthier Lynn Dudenbostel fit tuning machines made by Nicolo Alessi on my A1, my
F4, and my Gail Hester F5. Unfortunately, before discovering Alessi’s machines I had
previously tried just about every kind of tuner manufactured, always with unsatisfying
results. Nicolo lives in Varese, Italy and is the most respected maker of tuners for the
classical guitar. The mandolin tuners he makes have an 18-to-1 ratio and not surprisingly
they operate like the very best guitar tuners, with no slack or slop at all. These exquisite
tuning machines get me exactly to the note I am tuning to and continue to hold that note
even after long periods of hard playing. At the time of this writing a set of Alessi
mandolin tuners costs $450.
Some vintage instrument connoisseurs and dealers would probably be horrified at the idea
of someone modifying an older Gibson instrument. I believe the ability to get in tune
easily and stay there is perhaps the most important setup challenge in becoming a good
player. I purchased my 1928 F4 eight years ago and upon receiving it I took it to my
luthier friend James Condino for adjustment. After close examination James informed me
that the frets on the original fingerboard were in the wrong place after the fifth fret.
Apparently these accidents in the Gibson workshop were more common in the period after
1924. I was faced with the decision of either leaving the F4 the way it was and returning it
to the seller for a refund, keeping it and suffering with poor intonation, or replacing the
I was able to purchase the mandolin at a reasonable price and was satisfied with its overall
condition, and most importantly I really liked its complex tone. James was excited about
the prospect of creating a tastefully designed replacement for the Gibson fingerboard. I
opted for James to create a fingerboard without the decorative ‘tongue’ area located at the
bottom of the original F4 board (yes, the one that’s shaped like the state of Florida) and
had him give the new board a slight radius. I replaced the original Gibson tailpiece with a
Bill James tailpiece and recently had EVO fret wire installed. My hot-rodded F4 is loud
and has an extremely complex tone, and I am very pleased with the modifications I have
made to the instrument.
1915 Gibson blackface A1
1926 Gibson H1 mandola

My 1926 Gibson H1 mandola is the latest arrival to my

collection, and I feel very fortunate to have a Gibson
mandola that has a great singing tone and plenty of
volume. Many of the mandolas I have tried over the years
have suffered from lack of sustain and power. Most
Gibson mandolas lack a strong fundamental tone,
especially in comparison to mandolas being made today.
The mandola hales from the days of the mandolin
orchestra craze of the teens and twenties, and it has yet to
be truly repurposed in today’s music, making it appealing
to me. There are few or no expectations for what one is
“supposed” to do with it. As the mandolin continues to
rise in popularity perhaps we can expect to hear more
from its big brother the mandola in years to come!
Gail Hester lives and builds mandolins in Poulsbo, Washington, and concentrates
exclusively on the building and restoration of all the various Gibson mandolin family
instruments. In a relatively short period Gail has earned a
considerable reputation for building some of the most
Gibson-looking and Gibson-sounding mandolin family
instruments around. I had not actually played a Hester
instrument before receiving mine in a trade I arranged
through the Mandolin Cafe. After months of
consideration I took a chance and ended up with a Fern
F5 with a quality of tone and playability above some of
the original Gibson Lloyd Loar F5 mandolins I have had
the privilege to try. The voice of the F5 mandolin is really
stretching out these days!
The F5 model mandolin
has for many years been
associated only with
bluegrass music. The F5
was a product of the
1920s and intended to be
used for classical music.
I have never viewed it as
a “bluegrass only” model
mandolin. As of late you
are likely to hear its
unique tone used for
classical, Brazilian
choro, jazz, contemporary folk, old time and even modern country music. I find my F5
quite versatile but used it on these recordings for the tunes that require the most
articulation or when I decided to add a Monroe-esque touch to a tune.
Tied Notes: combines rhythmic value of the same pitched note.
Occurs when crossing the bar line and invisible bar line (beats 2-

Pull off: slurring two notes by pulling the

finger off the first note. No pick stroke is
needed for the second note.

Hammer on:
slurring two notes
by hammering the
finger onto the
second note. No
pick stroke for the
second note.

Hammer on, pull off: slurring three notes by hammering onto the
second note then pulling off the second note (onto the third). No
pick stroke needed for the second and third note.

Slide: slurring two notes by sliding from

the first to the second note. No pick stroke
needed for the second note.

Grace note: short

note that doesn’t
change the
rhythmic duration
of the principle
note. Grace notes
are used to slide
into, hammer onto,
or pull off to the
principle note.
I first heard fiddler Frank George play this arrangement and was drawn to the strong
syncopation and phrasing in his bowing. As of this writing Frank is still alive; I highly
suggest hearing him play!
Henry Reed is another source for this tune. Musician and Folklorist Alan Jabbour spent
years with Henry collecting tunes and documenting his incredible life. The information is
available at the Henry Reed Collection.
I played this tune on the fiddle for several years
before adapting it to the mandolin and transferred the
phrasing from one instrument to the other. Not unlike
another common old time tune “Forked Deer”,
“Folding Down the Sheets” is in a family of tunes
that feels like the key is changing key in the B
section but in actuality it is not.
My 1915 black top Gibson A1 is a wonderful solo
instrument because of its enormous sustain. When
developing my arrangement for this tune I was
inspired to find places to let the sympathetic
overtones ring out.
MP3 Track 1 Traditional
Adam Tanner
This is a three-tune medley from Kentucky fiddler Buddy Thomas. All three of these
pieces are from Buddy’s Rounder Records recording Kitty Puss. I first learned to fiddle
these pieces from a field recording of Buddy playing the tunes solo, recorded before the
release of the record.
Buddy’s repertoire has been especially rewarding to develop for the mandolin; his tunes
have remarkable clarity, syncopation, and unusual tonality.
All three of these pieces have very intricate melody lines. The solo fiddle versions are
slower but still contain incredible forward motion and drive, which translate pretty well to
my style of mandolin playing.
Apparently Buddy played some pretty inspiring bluegrass music on the fiddle but was in
love with the archaic tunes he learned from older players in his community. He arranged
many of these pieces to fit his refined technique, yet they retain a lot of the primitive
charm that drew him to them in the first place.
Artist Greg Kroleck, also known as Buffalo Hoynas Jr., insisted on including the image of
guitarist Leona Stamm when he sketched his portrait of Buddy for this book. Her guitar
accompaniment on Kitty Puss is a great example of impeccable timing. Her chord choices
on many of the tunes are unusual and creative, but never at the expense of her steady,
driving, unstoppable rhythmic pulse.
A note of credit is due to the late Jonathan Beckoff, curator of the Old Time Party website.
MP3 Track 2 Traditional
Adam Tanner
MP3 Track 2 Traditional
Adam Tanner
MP3 Track 2 Traditional
Adam Tanner

North Carolina fiddler Marcus Martin’s recordings of this piece (recorded separately by
folklorists Alan Lomax and Artis Moser) were my inspiration here. I consider “Polly Put
the Kettle On” to be the Appalachian tradition’s equivalent of an Irish aire. This is
essentially a listening piece, and it allows the fiddler to play with a rhythmic and tonal
freedom unavailable in more conventional square dance tunes.
The Gibson H1 mandola has a deep reedy timbre, perfectly suited for slow solo pieces
such as this one. Both source recordings feature Martin playing his fiddle tuned lower then
A440 concert pitch, so the moment I tried “Polly” on the alto-voiced mandola I was
immediately sold.
Marcus Martin’s fiddling has a very dignified gait to it that I am quite drawn towards.
His bowing is never more or less than is necessary to express the melody, and there is a
very gentle and clean aspect to the sound of his music. After hearing an interview with
Martin by Alan Lomax, I got the impression that he was not much of a social musician
later in his life and sought refuge from the rigors of hard work and raising a large family
during hard times by playing old dance tunes, listening tunes, hymns, spirituals, and songs
whose lyrics were too old to be remembered - all played on a fiddle he built with his own
The music of Marcus Martin can be purchased HERE.
MP3 Track 3 Traditional
Adam Tanner
This is the first of two tunes in this collection adapted from the fiddling of Kentucky
fiddler Ed Haley. Parts one and three are rendered by Haley on the E and A strings in a
fairly linear fashion with a minimal amount of double stops or drone notes, so I decided I
needed the focused tone of my F5 to give it the “sting” it required. Density builds
noticeably in part two, which includes double stops and drone notes. The added dynamics
create a perfect contrast to the other two sections.
Ed’s wife, Ella, played fantastic rhythm mandolin to accompany her husband’s fiddling on
the legendary home recording released on Rounder Records. Ella did not play melody
notes, but she could follow her husband’s syncopated bowing by playing rapidly stroked
open chords accentuating the downbeat. I often hear Ella’s style of rhythmic
accompaniment banging away in my head as I am fiddling a Haley tune.
On “Catlettsburg” I recorded with an F5 Fern mandolin made by luthier Gail Hester from
Washington State. I occasionally have to remind myself that the F5 was developed for the
soloist in the mandolin orchestras of the 1920s, a fact which has often been forgotten since
the rise in popularity of Bill Monroe’s music over the many years he played a Gibson F5
mandolin. The Hester F5 is responsive everywhere on the neck and has enough sustain to
play Bach and enough growl to produce some very Monroe-like aural flavors.
When I listen to Ed Haley’s fiddling I think of it as the kind of fiddle music designed for
survival. Ed and Ella were both blind and raised a large family solely on the money they
earned playing on street corners in Kentucky and West Virginia. I imagine Ed’s reputation
as a virtuoso was due in part to his commitment to his family. He wanted to blow the
minds of everybody who listened to him in order to maximize his income stream.
Aggressive and with something to prove is the way I interpret Ed Haley’s music. He was
dexterous, fearless, and ambitious.
MP3 Track 4 Traditional
Adam Tanner
This is the second tune in this collection from Ed Haley. This melody is one of two pieces
Haley called “The Cuckoos Nest.” The other is in the key of A and is an entirely different
I had a difficult time emulating Haley’s microtonal approach to some of the melodic
phrases which come to me so easily on the fiddle, so I decided to focus on creating as
much rhythm as I could. There is nothing quite like the sound of a Gibson oval-hole
mandolin playing a fiddle tune in the key of D!
If you have the occasion to listen to all of Ed Haley’s home recordings at one time you
will come away feeling tense and more than a little edgy, but the scope of his repertoire is
indeed wide, ranging from strathspeys and breakdowns to laments, waltzes and ragtime.
He had a stylistic turn for every taste, and the massive tone he pulled from his fiddle is
obvious even on the low-quality home recordings that captured his art.
Brandon Kirk has done more research on Ed Haley than anyone else that I am aware of.
For more information press HERE.
MP3 Track 5 Traditional
Adam Tanner
Bruce Greene has collected a large body of tunes and songs from dozens of native
musicians, primarily in the state of Kentucky but also in North Carolina. “Bob Walker” or
“Bobby Walker” is one of these tunes.
Bruce’s fiddling is a distinctive composite of archaic, beautiful, and mainly extinct styles
of bowing and note ornamentation that come directly from the elder players he met over
the course of his life. I am lucky to call Bruce a friend, and here is what he told me about
“Bob Walker” and its source, Ellis Voorhies:
I got it from a fiddler named Ellis Voorhies, from Battle, Washington County,
Kentucky, about 1973. I used to visit him while living near Harrodsburg, Kentucky,
playing for an outdoor drama, The Legend of Daniel Boone. He lived a few miles
down the road where I was squatting for the summer in an abandoned schoolhouse.
His date of birth would likely have been in the 1890s. He called the tune “Bobby
Walker.” It is a version of what is more widely known in that part of the state as
“Old Voile.”
Fiddler Emmett Lundy’s recordings from the Library on Congress archives were the
inspiration for the first few tunes I learned to play on the fiddle. The Library of Congress
recordings of Emmett Lundy give us an opportunity to hear some aspects of old Scottish
music through the filter of someone who spent a life in the rapidly changing cultural
landscape of a younger America. Lundy played slowly in a dignified, intentional manner.
His phrasing is clear, and the endings of his phrases are powerful and definite.
Recently I came back to Lundy’s recordings and rediscovered his version of “Durang’s
Hornpipe.” Part one is not that dissimilar to other versions I have heard of “Durang’s”.
Part two, however, is entirely its own animal with a Scottish flavor and over-the-bar
I think the ringing sound of the Gibson A1 is the perfect voice for this mid-tempo medley,
providing the ample sustain required for this piece to work really well.
As of this writing there are no recordings of Emmett Lundy available for purchase. There
was a rare, out-of-print LP released in 1977 entitled “Emmett Lundy: Fiddle Tunes from
Grayson County VA” published by Topic Records Ltd London, England.
HERE is an interesting biography of Emmett Lundy, thanks to David Lynch.
Bruce Greene is one of the greatest resources alive for the old time fiddle music of
Kentucky. I highly recommend visiting Bruce’s site, seeking out his music and attending
any of the classes he teaches at various music camps around the US.
MP3 Track 6 Traditional
Adam Tanner
MP3 Track 6 Traditional
Adam Tanner
This Edden Hammons tune is in the key of A and is meant to be played with the fiddle
tuned in AEAE tuning. I have a strong aversion to raising the G and D strings up to A and
E on the mandolin as I do on the fiddle. It can be bad for the neck of old instruments, and
it is often difficult to keep the pairs of strings in tune with each other.
There are some great ways to create A chords in standard tuning that I find easier on the
mandolin than the fiddle, however, inspiring this arrangement of “Big Hoedown.” I put
my first finger over the G and D string on the second fret to recreate the low fiddle drone
and play the melody with my third finger. I was interested in keeping as many strings
ringing out as possible for the duration of the tune.
The 1928 Gibson F4, with its maple back and sides, truss rod, and lacquer finish has the
best balance between the strings compared to my other mandolins. It is perfect for creating
just enough sustain to fill the air with sound but not enough sustain to make it difficult to
play clearly at rapid tempos.
A major inspiration on my arrangement of “Big Hoedown” was Don Pedi, a fantastic lap
dulcimer player who arranges fiddle tunes with equal parts rhythm and melody.
MP3 Track 7 Traditional
Adam Tanner
From fiddler Manco Sneed of Western North Carolina, this is the second solo fiddle tune
from the region of the country where I make my home. “Georgia Belle,” like “Polly Put
the Kettle On” has a dark and brooding mood.
The mandola really suited this tune perfectly as the field recordings I used as my source
featured Manco playing his fiddle well below concert pitch. Sneed spent many years of his
life in Cherokee, North Carolina, where he was isolated from other people who made
mountain dance music, and this is why a good part of his repertoire consists of
idiosyncratic solo tunes with irregular forms and unusual keys.
I must admit that some of my fascination with Manco Sneed’s music revolves around the
knowledge that he was part Cherokee. I cannot say whether Sneed’s music contained
perceivable Native American musical influences, but my imagination runs wild thinking
about a world where fiddle tunes and playing techniques were swapped between all
musicians regardless of their heritage.
MP3 Track 8 Traditional
Adam Tanner

*Standard notation to be played an octave lower than written.

A recording of the Kessinger Brothers is my inspiration for this tune. Part one of “16 Days
in Georgia” has some interesting and unpredictable timing. I remember how much
difficulty I had understanding exactly how it worked. Once it sunk in, I played it for
several hours just to make sure I wouldn’t forget it. Part two of the tune is a very
memorable melody that makes me think of some of the music you might hear playing at a
carousel in an old-fashioned amusement park.
The records made by Clark and Luches “Luke” Kessinger in the 1920s are particularly
notable as they featured some of the most driving, sophisticated, and complex
arrangements of fiddle tunes ever waxed, executed with the highest degree of technical
proficiency and emotion. Bluegrass and Texas contest fiddlers alike were highly
influenced by the widely circulated 78s recorded by the Kessingers.
Tales of Clark’s reemergence at fiddlers conventions in the 1960s and 1970s are legendary.
He was a special guest on the Flatt and Scruggs portion of one of their regular Grand Ole
Opry shows playing with more spontaneity, energy, and technical brilliance than
professional fiddlers half his age.
Here is a nice web page at titled The Legend of Clark Kessinger that
contains sound files and links to various video clips of Clark Kessinger.
MP3 Track 9 Traditional
Adam Tanner
The source for this tune is fiddler Norman Edmonds from Wythe County, VA. As a young
man Edmonds recorded two wonderful pieces for the Victor label in 1927 with banjo
player/singer JP Nestor: “Train on the Island” and “Black Eyed Suzie”. On these early
recordings his fiddling is powerful and smooth.
Fortunately Edmonds lived to be in his 80’s and played music up until the end of his life.
Over the many years he was active, he introduced several unique fiddle tunes into the old
time fiddling repertoire. A radio station in Galax, Virginia featured 15 minute radio
segments of Edmonds and his band The Old Timers in the 1950’s
In the 1980s, tapes of these radio shows circulated among old time musicians and
“Chinquapin Hunting” became very popular and was played frequently at fiddlers
This tune is another one adapted from AEAE tuning on the fiddle to GDAE on the
mandolin. I play several closed double stops and drones in my solo arrangement in an
attempt to make it as full-sounding as possible without a guitar. Over the years it has been
a pleasure to play “Chinquapin Hunting” in an ensemble setting as well.
The live radio shows of Norman Edmonds and The Old Timers can be purchased from
The Field Recorders Collective.
MP3 Track 10 Traditional
Adam Tanner

0:56 Lower Octave

I have multiple sources for my version of “Lost John”, Leonard Rutherford and Kenny
Baker among them, but mainly I asked myself the question “How would Bill play this?”
Yes, the father of bluegrass had a brilliant approach to fiddle tunes, which has always
inspired my right-hand technique.
One aspect of Bill’s genius can be heard in his mandolin arrangements of fiddle tunes,
when he chose notes and phrases that differed from the fiddle. For example, his parts on
the tunes “Panhandle Country” and “Scotland”.
My arrangement on this tune, however, is inspired by hearing Monroe play the melody
“straight” and closely approximating the rhythm of the fiddle, as he does on tunes like
“Soldiers Joy” or “Fire on the Mountain”.
Throughout this tune I slide closed double stops up and down the fingerboard, with my
first and second finger imitating the fiddle as Monroe also might have done.
Since I had Monroe on my mind I used my Hester F5 to better imagine how he might have
used the more focused sustain of his F5.
MP3 Track 11 Traditional
Adam Tanner
Adam Tanner grew up in northern California, and was
exposed to old-time and bluegrass music in his early teens.
Proficient on fiddle, mandolin, and guitar, he spent countless
hours slowing down records trying to pick out every detail of
the traditional music he loved. Adam’s approach to playing
reflects the diversity of styles heard on the early 78 rpm discs
and field recordings from which he draws his greatest
inspiration. Over the last 12 years, Adam has toured in both
the United States and Europe as a member of The Crooked
Jades, The Hunger Mountain Boys, and The Twilite
Adam makes his home in Weaverville, North Carolina, and
teaches private lessons in old-time fiddle, mandolin, and
guitar, and is currently on staff at East Tennessee State
University’s Bluegrass, Old-Time, and Country Music
Here are some websites that I recommend for a variety of things related to mandolin
and/or Appalachian music.
I highly recommend The Old Time Herald for learning more about the history of
Appalachian music as well as keeping up with today’s vibrant old time music scene.
The Field Recorders Collective identifies rare, noncommercial recordings of traditional
American music; curates them, edits them, and produces CDs and music downloads that
are available to all.
For everything related to the mandolin there is no better place to go online than The
Mandolin Cafe, a highly functional and well-designed website that has found a way to
explore every nook and cranny of the mandolin universe.
The Berea College Archive has a wonderful collection of traditional music to listen to
including many field recordings by Bruce Greene.
“Slippery Hill” is a website created by Larry Warren which contains a multitude of sound
files of fiddle tunes for streaming, some of which are included in this collection.
John Schwab has written the definitive book for anyone learning to play old time guitar,
“Old Time Back Up Guitar, Learn from the Masters”. John inspires musicians to embrace
the art of old time back up guitar with the concern and integrity it deserves and requires.
Roger Siminoff is the ultimate resource for parts and accessories for mandolin and
mandola including “Straight Up Strings”.
Lynn Dudenbostel is one of today’s premiere makers of mandolins and guitars.
The Swannanoa Gathering is has one of America’s best traditional music camps with
several mandolin classes offered.
Mars Hill University Blue Ridge Old Time Week is a fantastic summer program to
study Appalachian music including the mandolin.
East Tennessee State University is home to The Bluegrass Old Time and Country Music
program offering instruction in vocals, string band instruments, songwriting and
Folkstreams is a website contain hundreds of free documentary films and is an amazing
resource for anyone interested in any aspect of Folk culture including traditional music.
Mike Compton is one the greatest proponents of the Bill Monroe style mandolin. Over
the years Mike has offered valuable guidance regarding my own playing. Anyone
interested in having a fiddle style approach to your mandolin music will benefit from
attending Mike’s Monroe Mandolin Camp.
Mandolin Camp North is an annual mandolin education program featuring a wide
variety of great players and instructors.
James Condino is a maker of fine mandolin family instruments and an expert on the
repair and set up of Kay basses.
Nicolo Alessi makes the finest handmade guitar and mandolin tuners I have ever used.
Adam Tanner Last but not least is my website. A digital copy or CD of the recordings
that appear in this ebook will be accessible from, as well as
any information or correspondence related to this book. I can also be reached here for
private or group instruction.
I will consider producing a video tutorial for this ebook in the future if there is sufficient
interest. Please drop me a note and let me know what you think!
Special Thanks to Ron Reed, John Schwab, and Roy Andrade.
Portraits of Ed Haley, the Kessinger Brothers, Edden Hammons, and Buddy Thomas by
Buffalo Hoynas Jr., aka Greg Krolick: (828) 450-5233
Portraits of Marcus Martin, Manco Sneed, and Emmett Lundy by Phil Blank
Photos by Adam Tanner, and Jen Lepkowski
Design by Ron Reed:, Kindle production by Annie Erbsen:
Editing by Ron Reed
Music mastered by Michael Hynes for Nomatic Studio
All music recorded and engineered by Adam Tanner. Transcriptions by Nick DiSebastian
MP3 files of Adam Tanner playing the selections in this book can be obtained by sending
an email to He will email you a link to download the 11
following tracks that are covered in this eBook.
Folding Down the Sheets
Kitty Puss/Frankie/9 Miles Outside of Louisville
Polly Put the Kettle On
The Cuckoo’s Net
Bob Walker/ Lundy’s Durang’s Hornpipe
Big Hoedown
Georgia Belle
16 Days in Georgia
Chinquapin Hunting
Lost John