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 How to Embelish a Fiddle Tune

Soldier's Joy

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Soldiers Joy is a great tune that is played often at Bluegrass and Old Time jams everywhere.  Since it is played so much, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to embellish the tune but still have it recognizable as the melody?  This article and video demonstrate how to do that.  You can then take this approach and apply it to any fiddle tune.


The first thing to know is a very basic melody.  Strip the tune down to the simplest notes that seem to define how the melody goes.  This is shown here, called “Soldier’s Joy – Basic”

Soldiers Joy Basic Version


Look at the first phrase of Soldiers Joy.  This is done in example 1.

 Soldiers Joy Example 1

Notice the basic melody is mostly quarter notes (1 note per beat).  The first and easiest thing to do is fill in the scale notes around these quarter notes to make them eighth notes (2 notes per beat).  This is done in example 2

 Soldiers Joy Example 2


Notice how the melody notes in example 1 are in the same place in the measure in example 2?  This is just the same melody, just embellished.  Play example 1 and 2 back to back and hear how they are essentially the same. 


Now, we can embellish this phrase as well.  Look at example 3.

 Soldiers Joy Example 3


Play examples 1, 2 and 3 together.  Example 3 has enough of the original simple melody found in example 1 to make it very similar in melodic scope.  It will serve us well, as we will see when we put the final arrangement together.


Look at the ending of the A part of Soldier’s Joy (the B part ending is identical), shown in example 4.

 Soldiers Joy Example 4


Very simple melody.  Now let’s add eighth notes to this original, but keep the original notes in place.  This is shown in example 5.

 Soldiers Joy Example 5


Just as before, play examples 4 and 5 back to back and hear how they are really the same melody, just with more notes.  As before, example 6 tweaks the line a bit, but has enough of the original melody notes to sound very similar.

 Soldiers Joy Example 6


Jumping to part B, Example 7 has the original simple melody.

 Soldiers Joy Example 7


Example 8 is how a lot of people play more notes for the B part melody, but once again note how similar it sounds to example 7.

 Soldiers Joy Example 8


We now have enough to make a complete arrangement of Soldiers Joy.  Find this under the title “Soldier’s Joy – Embellished”. 


Soldiers joy Embellished 



This process can be used for any tune, especially fiddle tunes.  To review:


·       Find the simplest melody notes

·       One phrase at a time add scale notes that have enough of the original melody in pretty much the same place

·       Listen and see if they make sense to you







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