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Texas Style fiddle tune chord progressions

Pete Martin is a musician and private-lesson music teacher living in Seattle who has won or placed near the top in many great regional and national instrumental competitions. In 1983, he placed in the top five at the Walnut Valley Mandolin Contest in Winfield, Kansas, and, in 1994, he was Adult Division National Fiddle Champion, at Weiser, Idaho. Pete was a columnist for the now defunct Mandolin Magazine and owner of Petimar Press, publisher of mandolin and fiddle instructional materials.

To my ears, there is a difference between Western Swing and Texas Style Fiddling. The Texas fiddling is an old time fiddle style, Western Swing is basically big band type swing played on country style instruments. Because they are different music styles, there is some difference in how they are played.

First, the melodies to the tunes in the fiddle style are heavily embellished, but good players still have the melody in those variations. A tune like Sally Goodin has upwards of 12 parts, but the original thread of A and B is in all those sections. In Western Swing, the solos are usually improvisations leaving the original melody far behind, much more jazz like.

Also different is how the chords are used and what type of chords. I have broken down how I play a key of A breakdown progression (ala Sally Goodin) and a key of D breakdown progression (ala Soppin the Gravy). The chord types I use are major, minor, dominant seventh, diminished and augmented. Major, minor, and augmented chords contain 3 different notes, dominant seventh and diminished contain 4 different notes (the voicings I use here just have 3 different notes). The fiddle tune backup is a simpler sound, using these 3 and 4 note sounds.

Western Swing, on the other hand, usually substitutes sixth chords for majors, ninth and sometimes thirteenth chords for dominant sevenths, minor seventh for minors, etc. These chords have at least 4 different notes (ninth chords have five different notes, thirteenth chords 6 different notes). Western Swing music therefore uses "thicker", more complex chord sounds.

The chord forms I am using are drawn upon the chord voicings of tenor guitarists, mostly Benny Thomasson's son Jerry. There are 2 good CDs of Benny and Jerry on Voyager Records that show just how good Jerry is as an accompanist. As the tenor guitar is tuned a fifth lower than the mandolin (CGDA), but still tuned in fifths, we can steal the voicings and move them to the mandolin. This is what I've done here.

Enjoy these chords. You can email me with any questions through my web site, Petimar Press, where I also have a book and CD of Texas style fiddle tunes arranged for mandolin. Also check out my regular column in Mandolin Magazine for melodies to these great tunes arranged for the mandolin.

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