This is a collection of old-time fiddle tunes — most of them from Appalachia — that I collected for my own use and would like to share with other fiddlers who love this kind music. Clicking on the title of any tune below will take you to a page of sheet music in PDF format. As far as I'm concerned you may use this music in any way you like as long as you don't sell it. "Freely ye have received; freely give." To my knowledge all of these tunes are in the public domain; if not, I hope someone will correct me.
If you're one of the few people who don't already have some sort of PDF reader on your computer, you can download Adobe Acrobat Reader for free from Adobe's web site.
Sources and "Authenticity": I put the sheet music together by transcribing recordings, consulting printed versions of the tunes, and making my own adjustments. You should not treat any of these transcriptions as "authentic" versions or accurate reflections of any particular fiddler's playing. Two different fiddlers will almost always play the same tune differently, and the same fiddler will often vary his playing substantially between performances and between verses within the same performance. I have felt free to combine two different versions to suit my own preferences, and even to change notes to suit my taste and fiddling skills.
If you want something more authentic, one superb source I can recommend is Jeff Todd Titon's Old-Time Kentucky Fiddle Tunes (University of Kentucky Press). Another great (and bigger, and more diverse) source of American fiddle tunes is Stacy Phillips' Phillips Collection of American Fiddle Tunes, Vol. 1 (Mel Bay Pub.). You should also know about Andrew Kuntz's Fiddler's Companion, a massive online compendium of information about thousands of fiddle tunes.
A few comments on the transcriptions: The music is in standard notation. Some people prefer 'tabs', but I think traditional notation is much more useful, and well worth the small trouble of learning how to read it. Sometimes a source is listed in the "composer" slot below the title; this usually refers to the musician who was the main source for the tune — probably not the composer. These tunes usually evolved over many years, and trying to identify a 'composer' is useless. This style of fiddling makes liberal use of drone strings; usually I haven't tried to notate the drones. Which drones to use are in my opinion fairly obvious. Some old-time fiddlers 'keep a full fiddle,' using drones almost constantly; others (my preference) use them more selectively for emphasis. Experiment, listen to recordings, and enjoy yourself.
Usually you won't find any metronome markings or chords. Most of these tunes were originally played on solo fiddle, or with a banjo doubling the melody or playing a drone-like accompaniment, and were not composed with chord progressions in mind. A given tune might be played at very different speeds depending on circumstances, so providing a 'correct' tempo would be misleading. A metronome setting from about 96 up to about 120 will cover the usual range of tempos. In my opinion, today's 'festival' fiddlers tend to play many of these tunes too quickly to bring out the richness of the music. But maybe I'm just trying to rationalize my relative lack of skill.
In my efforts to transcribe tunes from recordings, I've gotten a lot of help from a program called Amazing Slow Downer, which allows me to slow a recorded tune to any speed without changing its pitch; to loop a few bars of a tune; or to adjust the pitch. Useful, recommended.
To contact me with questions or comments, email: hamartolos at gmail dot com.
The Tunes, listed alphabetically
- Betty Likens. From Virginia fiddler Henry Reed. Also known as 'Betsy Liken' etc. Shows the major/minor key ambiguity common in Appalachian tunes.
- The Big Mule. A crooked variation on another tune called 'Dubuque' or 'Old Dubuque' or 'Duck River'.
- Big Scioty. A West Virginia tune. Also 'Big Sciota'. The Scioto River runs through Columbus, Ohio and empties into the Ohio River.
- Big Sweet Taters in Sandy Land. From Clyde Davenport's version of a tune also called 'Great Big Taters in Sandy Land'. Nice use of bowed 'strumming' on the lower strings.
- Billy in the Low Land. This tune (in G) is unrelated to the well-known C tune of the same name (aka 'Billy in the Low Ground'). Henry Reed played this one and sometimes called it 'Franklin County Billy in the Low Land.'
- Black River. From John Hartford's Hamilton Ironworks CD. He says he grew up with the tune in Missouri, and that it's related to the breakdown 'Ladies in the Ballroom'.
- Blackberry Blossom. This was Kentucky fiddler Ed Haley's signature tune, according to Jeff Todd Titon. It's in the unusual (for old-time music) key of G minor. Ed Haley was unusual, too, among old-time fiddlers in his willingness to improvise and vary a tune with each repetition. The music here gives only a basic outline of the tune as he played it. Haley played this tune fast (about mm=128); John Hartford does it at a more moderate speed (about mm=96), which puts it within reach of us mortal fiddlers and, to my mind, fits the tune a little better. I know of three distinct tunes called 'Blackberry Blossom.'
- Boating up Sandy. One of several tunes with the same name; this one has a nice sense of major-minor confusion — I've seen it incorrectly notated in A minor. The Big Sandy River, source of so many fiddle tunes, is the 'Sandy' in the title.
- Briarpicker Brown. A tune from along the Big Sandy and Ohio Rivers.
- Brushy Run. This breakdown seems to have been popular in eastern Kentucky and West Virginia: It was in the repertoires of Ed Haley, Art Stamper, Wilson Douglas and French Carpenter. This version is transcribed from Ed Haley's recorded version, more or less. Bruce Molsky recorded a nice, somewhat different version on his Contented Must Be album.
- Catlettsburg. Famed Kentucky fiddler Ed Haley seems to have written this tune. The version here is basically a transcript of J. P. Fraley's version on his "Maysville" CD, which is a bit simpler than other recorded versions by John Hartford and by Ed Haley himself. Catlettsburg is in Kentucky where the Big Sandy River joins the Ohio; the original settlement there was called "Mouth of Sandy."
- Dandy Jim. A typically rhythmic-but-twisty Clyde Davenport tune.
- Devil's Hornpipe. A Missouri tune that John Hartford learned from Gene Goforth. Related to 'Speed the Plough'.
- Falls of Richmond. At one time this tune was only known among the Hammons clan of West Virginia. I've attempted here to get an impression of Edden Hammons' version; as usual, he plays it using A and E drones throughout. The shifts between minor and major modes make the tune especially interesting. The high c-sharp is rare in old-time tunes: the fiddler actually has to leave first position! Two theories have been offered about the title. It may be a corruption of 'Fall of Richmond' and refer to the fall of Richmond, VA in the Civil War; or it might refer to the rapids on the James River near Richmond.
- Fine Times at Our House. From West Virginia fiddler Edden Hammons. He played it at moderate speed, using A and E drones throughout; though not notated here, the drones are essential to this tune's somewhat spooky sound.
- Five Miles from Town. A Clyde Davenport tune from central Kentucky.
- Flannery's Dream. An unusual tune probably from Northeastern Kentucky.
- Flatwoods. A Clyde Davenport tune, probably named for Flatwoods, Kentucky — though there's also a Flatwoods in West Virginia.
- Frosty Morning. Also known as 'Cold Frosty Morning'. From Virginia fiddler Henry Reed. Reed played a few different versions of the B part; this is close to the one that Alan Jabbour made known by playing it with his Hollow Rock String Band.
- Hawk Got the Chicken. Eck Robertson played this. One of my favorites.
- Henry Reed's Breakdown. Alan Jabbour learned this exuberant tune from Virginia fiddler Henry Reed, and recorded it on his Southern Summits disc with Ken Perlman. It didn't have a name, so he gave it this unassuming title.
- Henry Reed's Favorite. Yet another Henry Reed tune collected by Alan Jabbour. As with 'Breakdown,' Reed didn't give it a name — Alan gave it this title because Reed played it for him twice.
- Here Come Jack with a Fiddle on His Back. A central Kentucky tune.
- High Up on Tug. Transcribed from a recording of Edden Hammons' playing. The Tug Fork of Sandy, usually just called Tug Fork, forms most of the border between West Virginia and Kentucky.
- Hickory Jack. From a recording of the great Southeast Kentucky fiddler Luther Strong.
- Home with the Girls in the Morning. Odd name, nice modal tune. AKA 'Go Home with the Girls in the Morning.' According to the Fiddler's Companion, the tune goes back to the 1800s and was originally an Appalachin tune. Texas Swing fiddler Bob Wills played it (but where did he get it?). Kentucky old-timer Owen 'Snake' Chapman apparently picked it up from the radio and introduced (re-introduced?) it to the old-time repertoire. Complicated.
- Intemperance Breakdown. This is the popular 'Temperance Reel,' with some borrowings from the Missouri tune 'Rocky Road to Denver,' a very close cousin. 'Temperance Reel' began its life in Ireland but became a popular fiddle tune in America in the 19th century, appearing under many names and spawning many variants.
- Jake's Got the Bellyache. From West Virginia fiddler Edden Hammons. A version called "Kate's Got the Bellyache" has been collected in southeastern Kentucky.
- Jimmy in the Swamp. A Kentucky tune that (according to Wilson Douglas) was part of the great Ed Haley's repertoire.
- Kentucky Winder. A John Salyer tune. A winder is a kind of dance; several other tunes are called 'winders'.
- Kitchen Girl. Another from Virginia fiddler Henry Reed's trove of tunes, collected and popularized by Alan Jabbour.
- Knockin' at Your Door. A Missouri Tune transcribed from John Hartford, who says (on his Hamilton Ironworks CD) that he learned it from Gene Goforth and Walter Alexander. Has three distinct parts instead of the usual two.
- The Last of Sizemore (1). This is based on Hiram Stamper's version. There are a number of musically unrelated 'Last of' tunes: Last of Callahan, Harris, etc. Usually they go along with a story of the last tune played by a fiddler on his deathbed or at the gallows.
- The Last of Sizemore (2). This is based on a version by Kentucky fiddler Santford Kelly. A little more conventional than Hiram Stamper's, almost different enough to be considered a separate tune.
- Little Liza Jane. A Standard, found in many versions. This is transcribed from J. P. Fraley's recording. Use lots of drones on the A and E strings.
- Lonesome John. A good example of the non-standard scales used in many mountain tunes. This is notated as if it's in A dorian, but in practice the Cs are played 'half-sharp', making the key ambiguous between a major and minor feel. Scholars of folk music sometimes call this a 'neutral third'.
- Maggie Gray. This nice, rare, peculiar Kentucky tune switches tonality a couple of times. I found it in Titon's Old-Time Kentucky Fiddle Tunes; the Phillips Collection of American Fiddle Tunes has another version called "Maggie Grey".
- Maysville. J. P. Fraley played this; his father might have invented it. The town of Maysville is on the Ohio River in Kentucky.
- Muddy Creek. A John Salyer tune from SE Kentucky. There's another unrelated 'Muddy Creek' in D. This one is more like a very distant cousin of 'Hawk Got the Chicken'. It's played a little more slowly than the average fiddle breakdown — which is good thing, since I find it pretty difficult.
- Old Christmas. An old Appalachian tune, played with a gentle, lonesome sound. When Britain changed to the Gregorian calendar in the 1750s, many backwoods people in the American colonies continued to celebrate Christmas at the former time (which had become January 6 on the new calendar). In Appalachia, a few people still kept this custom in the 1950s; for all I know, some still do. Another tune, 'Old Christmas Morning,' is unrelated.
- Quail is a Pretty Bird. John Hartford learned this from Missouri fiddler Gene Goforth. Edden Hammons' 'Sandy Boys' sounds a lot like it, so the basic tune was probably widespread.
- Robinson County. Origin very unclear: I've seen it attributed to Missouri and western Virginia, and nobody seems to know what 'Robinson County' is being referred to.
- Sally Ann. Very well-known and widespread. (Several different tunes go by this name, and this tune is sometimes found other other names.) This version is transcribed from J. P. Fraley's sweet version on his "Maysville" CD. He plays it in A, though it's usually in G.
- Salt River. Also called 'Salt Creek'. Played throughout Appalachia in many versions. The Fiddler's Companion recognizes three groups of tunes with this name; This version would fall in the third group. To my ear it sounds like a distant cousin of the Irish tune 'Red Haired Boy'. Bruce Molsky plays a similar but more syncopated version that he picked up in Tommy Jarrell's neighborhood.
- Sandy River Belle. One of several tunes with this name. The Big Sandy River marks the border of Kentucky and West Virginia, and appears in many tune names.
- Santa Anna's Retreat. A 'listening tune' like the well-known 'Bonaparte's Retreat,' it's played at a stately, march pace, not the usual breakdown speed. Alan Jabbour learned it from Henry Reed, who learned it from Quince Dillion, who was actually a fifer in the Mexican War. Alan Jabbour's original transcript of Henry Reed's playing shows the C's as half-sharps; in this version I just showed a natural or a sharp as seemed to sound best.
- Shelvin Rock. As usual, several unrelated tunes have this name. This one is from Virginia/West Virginia, probably from the late 1800s. The first part sounds a bit like 'Brushy Fork of John's Creek'.
- Sourwood Mountain. I heard this on a video that featured West Virginia fiddler Lester McCumbers. He plays it at moderate speed with a good bounce. After I started figuring it out in G, I learned that all published versions are in A or D. Oh well — here it is in G anyway. The fiddle tune is based on a once-popular song. According to Fiddler's Companion, there's a Sourwood Mountain in Massachusetts, and the tune may have originated there.
- The Squirrel Hunters. An Appalachian tune collected by Samuel Bayard in Southeastern Pennsylvania. John Hartford made the only recording of it that I've heard, on his Wild Hog in the Red Brush.
- Steptown. A delightful original by J. P. Fraley, from his "Maysville" CD.
- Tater Patch. A nice tune of the 'Old Joe Clark' family. Highwoods String Band did a typically raucous version of it.
- Ways of the World (1). This is Luther Strong's version. He and William Stepp, who played the version shown next, lived not far from one another in eastern Kentucky, but apparently never played together or even met — such was the isolation of mountain life.
- Ways of the World (2). William Stepp's version. It's not really a 'version' but an entirely different tune of the same name. "Local fiddlers told Bruce Greene that the real name of Stepp's tune was 'Who's Been Here Since I've Been Gone'..." (Titon, Old Time Kentucky Fiddle Tunes, p. 191)
- Whiskey before Breakfast. Sounds like an Irish tune that was taken over pretty much intact by the old-timers. AKA 'Whiskey for Breakfast.' Which is more unwholesome, whiskey for, or before, breakfast?
- The Wild Horse. This is a composite of versions by West Virginia fiddlers Edden Hammons and Leland Hall. Stacy Phillips' American Fiddle Tunes includes three versions.
- The Wild Rose of the Mountain. A pretty, crooked Kentucky tune in J. P. Fraley's repertoire. Fraley plays it at moderate speed. Not obviously related to the Irish tune of the same name.
- Woodchopper's Breakdown. Also called "Woodchopper's Reel." Two versions here. The one you get if you click the title is a New England/French Canadian number with a polka-like feel. The second, which you get by clicking here, is a Missouri variation that I learned from John Hartford's great Hamilton Ironworks CD.
Most recent update: October 9, 2007.
Current tune total: 58