One evening at a place called Ka Tiki on Sunset Beach, I was performing with the redoubtable Pete Gallagher. A man in the audience called out for Shady Grove.
It’s a short, simple tune, but that’s what he really wanted to hear so we played it as an instrumental. We didn’t know the words. It is satisfying to play: mostly pentatonic, a little bluesy, what’s not to like?
I believe we played in the key of E minor, which is easy for guitar players, and no problem for fiddlers, either. The version here is in B minor, a key that is easier, arguably, for beginners.
When I was up at the Florida Folk Festival last Memorial Day weekend, I heard a band do it in B minor. If you can sing it in that key your voice is either a little higher than average or lower. The middle range is better in E minor.
The fingers go where they normally would on an A scale. The notes equal the pentatonic A scale. As a minor key it would be Dorian mode. Folk fiddle tunes use that frequently for minor keys.
The Amazing Grace fiddle notes are comments I make here, not musical notation. Fiddle notes might be tablature, but not musical notation targeted for fiddle.
Dale Morris had a very interesting approach to Amazing Grace. He talked about this when I attended the Texarkana Fiddle Camp way back when. (It was the first year of the Mark O’Connor Camp, whenever that was. I attended both.)
He said that he liked to slur notes together if they represented one word. The first word in the song is ‘amazing’. It is given one note for each syllable. Usually you hear this played with three bows. And that’s the way I’ve published the tune.
His reasoning is good and musical. If you are a beginner, though, it’s a little awkward to get the three notes together in one bow. Since I give this tune to beginners, I make it easier and more conventional.
If you are an intermediate or advanced player, you can stretch this first part out in one bow. In fact, you may choose to do a juicy shift to third position on the third note.
I’m showing the three ways of handling this beginning of the tune in the tabs below. Further along is a link to an mp3 file demonstrating the sound.
You will see an ornamented version of the song in the first fiddle tab chart. Even beginners are encouraged to push into new territory.
Now here is a fragment to show the beginning with the slur covering the first three notes.
And finally, moving into third position for during first three notes.
This has been a popular bluegrass tune since David Grisman’s Hot Dawg, if not earlier. It’s also showed up in a few movies.
Chocolat featured a Gypsy band playing the tune. Even in Julie & Julia, there was a moment of one and a half bars that had the tune playing at the cut to the wedding scene. Then, the music cut again to something else. It was an awkward moment in the film. Maybe it just slipped by.
The tune should be played with a swing feel. I’ve indicated some of the syncopation. Use more if you like.
The way I have the tune here is close to how I play it. I can make no other claim.
With the 4th of July and Bastille Day approaching, we will be thinking of our personal liberty.
They say it’s not how much food you have on the table, or how many shoes in the closet that gives you liberty, it’s how free you are from the government poking its armed nose into your business. (Imagine a giant nose with rifles bristling from the nostrils instead of nose hairs.)
The fiddle reel celebrating personal freedom is Liberty. This is a straight ahead way to play it.
One occasion when I got to observe Vassar Clements was when he was promoting his new album at a record store. He was mainly holding his fiddle and chatting with fans, when suddenly Mike Marshall breezed into the store, pulled out his fiddle and got into a hot twin fiddle version of Old Joe Clark with Vassar.
I was astounded, both by the virtuosity displayed, and by the unrehearsed excellence of the performance. It was a clear clue for me of the high musical potential of fiddling.
In my book, 43 Fiddle Tunes in Tab, I have a beginner version of this tune. This chart is a little more advanced, and more typical of how you hear it played.