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Building a Bluegrass Guitar Solo

Introduction and Simple Melody

1. Equipment


2. Simple Melody - Quarter, half, whole notes


3. Long Journey Home - Simple Melody


4. Long Journey Home - Slides, Hammer-ons, and Pull-offs


5. Find your own simple Melody - Blank Tab Paper

      a.) Red Rocking Chair

      b.) I've Been All Around This World


1. What is crosspicking? Crosspicking is a bluegrass flatpicking technique where more than two strings are played and the alternating picking style is maintained.


2. Crosspicking Patterns - G pdf - C pdf - D pdf - Combo pdf


3. Chord Shapes - G Chart pdf - C Chart pdf - D Chart pdf


4. Applying crosspicking - Find the simple melody using quarter, half and whole notes. Fill the eighth notes in with chord tone from crosspicking shapes.


5. Long Journey Home - Crosspicking Variation


6. Write your own crosspicking solo. Blank Tab Paper

Double Stops and Carter Style

1. What are double stops? In bluegrass music, playing two strings at the same time is called "double stops". Often they are played by fiddles and mandolins, but they have a place on the guitar as well.

2. Double Stop Shapes

3. Double Stop Progressions

4. Applying Double Stops

    a. Long Journey Home double stop variation


5. Carter Style

    a. Keep On The Sunny Side - Lyrics - Tab - Video

    b. On the Rock Where Moses Stood - Lyrics - Tab


    c. Blackjack Davey - Lyrics - Tab - Video


6. Modified Carter Style

    a. Last Train From Poor Valley - Lyrics - Tab - Video


7. Write your own Solo using Double Stops - Blank Tab Paper

See if you can pick out the basic melodies, and jam along with the tunes.

Click the link below to find the jam along songs. Look at the chord chart first to make sure you know the chord progressions. Then play along with the track and try to pick out the basic melody each time the break comes around. Good Luck!

Jam Along

Here are a few songs to jam along with. I have included videos, recordings, lyrics and charts. All the songs are in the key of G. Some of these songs have more complex chord progressions meaning they don't stick to just I-IV-V. Look through the chart first and make sure you know the chords. Then play along with the track and try to pick out the basic melody each time the break comes around. Good Luck!


Remember, upper-case roman numerals denote major chords, lower-case roman numerals denote minor chords. I have included the transposing chart to help you decipher the chords.


"Rolling In My Sweet Baby's Arms" - Lyrics - Video

"Blueridge Mountain Blues" - Lyrics - Video

"Memories of Mother and Dad" - Lyrics - Video

"I've Been All Around This World" - Lyrics - Video 

"Salty Dog Blues" - Lyrics - Video

Different Octaves, Re-Phrasing, and Alternate Melody

1. Find the melody in a different octave

2. Change the rhythm without changing the notes

3. Sing a different melodic idea and find it on the guitar

4. Long Journey Home - Different Octave

5. Bury Me Beneath The Willow

5. Bury Me Beneath The Willow - Re-Phrased

6. Bury Me Beneath The Willow - Alternate Melody

7. Write your own solo using these techniques. - Blank Tab Paper

Coordinating your hands and your ideas

1. Find the Phrase - (Recordings posted to the right) It is hard to develop ideas if you feel lost while you are playing. Learning how to find phrases on the guitar takes practice. Learning from tablature or notation does not help you learn to express your ideas musically, it allows you to interpret other people's ideas through your musical filter. Instead, you should learn to listen and to hear phrases. The faster you can memorize those phrases, the faster you can find them on the guitar. The following excercises are as much listening excercises as they are playing exercizes. Listen to the recordings, pause them in a logical spot, see if you can sing them, then see if you can find the phrase on the guitar. Try each one several times.

2. Find a familiar tune - You probably already know some melodies ("Twinkle, Twinkle little Star", "Row Row Row Your Boat", "This Land is Your Land" etc.) Choose a random note on your guitar and then try to find that familiar melody. Then choose another note and try to find that same melody. Try different songs. Don't look up tab, just try to use your ears.

2. Make up your own phrases - The goal is for you to be able to hear something and then play it. Choose a note on your guitar and then sing a phrase that starts with that note. After you sing the phrase, play it on the guitar. Try different phrases, and try to shorten the length of time it takes you to find it. Eventually, you will get good enough at this that you can sing the notes you are playing. Doing this will make your ideas more cohesive and your improvisation more fluid.

Learning a Tune Phrase by Phrase

Since we have been thinking in phrases I thought it would be useful to apply this principle to learning a tune. Luckily, most bluegrass tunes are fairly predictable. Usually, the tunes have an A-part, consisting of sixteen bars and a B-part consisting of sixteen bars. Often, the A-part is an eight-bar section that is repeated. Two eight bar sections makes the sixteen bar A-part. Similarly, the B-part is often the same, an eight bar section that is repeated, forming the sixteen bars. This form is used often (though not always) in bluegrass songs, and in fiddle tunes.

There are more useful consistencies in the tunes than just the predictable measure arrangement. Usually, phrases will be divided out over two or four measures. Furthermore, phrases are often repeated, so if you learn one phrase, it may be likely to appear again in the section, and, of course, it will appear in the repeat of the section. It is common for the section to be divided into four short phrases with the first and third phrase being the same, or very similar. Meaning, if you can learn to play the first phrase, you have already learned 50% of the section. Often, though not always, the second and fourth phrases will be similar with a small variation that changes the resolution. Paying attention to these phrasing arrangements can be helpful because they will guide you to be more accurate with your improvisation. If you know two phrases are similar, and you can play one of them, you will have less guesswork to do on the other, and your solo will sound more cohesive.

In the excercises posted to the left, I have broken a tune into seperate phrases. You will find eight short phrases that form the A-part and B-part of a tune. Then, I recorded them in longer phrases by joining the previous short phrases. Putting the long phrases together forms the A-part and B-part as sections. Repeating the secions and joining them together makes up the tune. Dividing the tune into small phrases like this and then pasting them together simplifies learning tunes, and makes even the most difficult music approachable.

Finally, I posted a rhythm track that you can practice playing the tune with. Of course, once you have learned the tune, it's time to play with it, improvise and have fun.

Remember, try to get the melody in your head first, then transfer it to the guitar. Don't go note by note, try to think in phrases. The more you practice this the easier it will become.

Fiddle Tunes

Now that we have built several solos, I think it is important for us to look at some fiddle tunes in different styles. It is important to understand that the flat picking style guitar comes from playing fiddle tunes on the guitar. Moreover, bluegrass music itself is heavily influenced by old-time fiddle music. All this meaning, it is impossible to play bluegrass lead guitar without reckoning with some fiddle tunes.

In the last lesson you learned a fiddle tune phrase by phrase from a series of recordings. In this lesson, I have given you three standard fiddle tunes that will be widely known throughout the bluegrass world, they vary in style, and they incorporate some techniques you have already learned (crosspicking, slides, etc.) Additionally, These tunes have good strong melodies that are easy to keep track of. Many fiddle tunes are overly repetitive, or sound like other tunes. These tunes have strong phrases that are easier to remember, and improvise around.


Red Haired Boy - Variation

Beaumont Rag

Cherokee Shuffle

Learn the basic melodies and then start to apply the techniques we have discussed in this course. Ask yourself:

Can I use slides or Hammer-ons?

Does Crosspicking Work here?

Can I hear a different way to play this phrase?

Can I change the phrasing?

Can I hear an alternate melody?

and so on...

There are many volumes of written fiddle tunes, but, remember, this music has traditionally been passed down by ear. Find a good recording, or a good player, listen closely to the phrases, and try to find them on your guitar. If you can get the tune in your head, you can get it onto your instrument.

Good Luck!

Scales and Arpeggios - Exercises - Hot Licks

1. Key of G-major - PDF

2. Key of C - Major - PDF

3. Exercises

4. Hot Licks - Video

Welcome to the Building a Bluegrass Solo Class with Martin Gilmore, brought to you by Swallow Hill Music Association.

This class is an in-depth look at methods to develop a simple melody and incorporate guitar techniques to create a solo in the bluegrass flatpicking style.

This class is fairly fast-paced, and we cover a lot of material. However, learn the materials at your own speed. This eight week class should provide you with materials and ideas for months worth of practice. Do not feel pressured to keep up, this class is just meant to present you with ideas that you can use to develop your own playing. I realize that people who take this class are often at different levels of playing ability, and there should be something for everyone in this course.

Please feel free to ask questions at any time, even if the course is over. I am always happy to help former students with questions about materials I have presented.

Thanks for signing up, I am looking forward to the class!

Right Hand Photo.jpg

Class 1 - July 11, 2023 - Introduction & Simple Melody

Class 2 -  July 18, 2023 - Crosspicking, Double Stops, Carter style, & other embellishments

Class 3 -  July 25, 2023 - Finding the phrase

Class 4 - August 1, 2023 - Improvisational ideas

Class 5 -  August 8, 2023 - Fiddle Tunes

Long Journey HomeArtist Name
00:00 / 04:13

Jam Along Tracks

Rolling in my Sweet Baby's ArmsMartin Gilmore
00:00 / 03:58
Blueridge Mountain BluesMartin Gilmore
00:00 / 03:45
Memories of Mother and DadMartin Gilmore
00:00 / 04:35
I've been all around this worldMartin Gilmore
00:00 / 03:05
Salty Dog BluesMartin Gilmore
00:00 / 03:37

Find the Phrase Recordings

Find the phrase 1Martin Gilmore
00:00 / 00:27
Find the Phrase 2Martin Gilmore
00:00 / 00:23
Find the phrase 3Martin Gilmore
00:00 / 00:39
Find the phrase 4Martin Gilmore
00:00 / 00:54
Find the Phrase 5Martin Gilmore
00:00 / 00:35
Find the Phrase 6Martin Gilmore
00:00 / 00:15
Find the phrase 7Martin Gilmore
00:00 / 00:16
Find the Phrase 8Martin Gilmore
00:00 / 00:14
Find the phrase 9Martin Gilmore
00:00 / 00:13
Find the phrase 10Martin Gilmore
00:00 / 00:11
Find the phrase 11Martin Gilmore
00:00 / 00:13
find the phrase 12Martin Gilmore
00:00 / 00:17
Find the phrase 13Martin Gilmore
00:00 / 00:18
Find the phrase 14Martin Gilmore
00:00 / 00:13

Learn a Tune Phrase by Phrase

Short Phrases

First PhraseMartin Gilmore
00:00 / 00:11
second phraseMartin Gilmore
00:00 / 00:09
third phraseMartin Gilmore
00:00 / 00:10
fourth phraseMartin Gilmore
00:00 / 00:10
fifth phraseMartin Gilmore
00:00 / 00:09
sixth phraseArtist Name
00:00 / 00:08
seventh phraseArtist Name
00:00 / 00:09
eighth phraseArtist Name
00:00 / 00:09

Long Phrases

1 first long phraseMartin Gilmore
00:00 / 00:12
2 second long phraseMartin Gilmore
00:00 / 00:12
3 third long phraseArtist Name
00:00 / 00:12
4 fourth long phraseArtist Name
00:00 / 00:12


A SectionMartin Gilmore
00:00 / 00:21
B SectionArtist Name
00:00 / 00:20

Full Song

Full MelodyMartin Gilmore
00:00 / 01:03

Rhythm Track

Rhythm TrackMartin Gilmore
00:00 / 03:12
Congratulations, now you can play "Red Prairie Dawn"
Fiddle Tune Videos

Here are some videos of great guitar players playing familiar fiddle tunes.

David Grier

Red Haired Boy -


Soldiers Joy - 0:55


Beaumont Rag – 1:00 -


Bryan Sutton


Cherokee Shuffle -


Beaumont Rag -


Tony Rice


Red Haired Boy -


Beaumont Rag -

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