The Fiddle Sessions Jazz Violin Project: Go Tell Aunt Rhody – Solo #1 Stacy Phillips
by Stacy Phillips
(photo by Marcia Goodman)
This first entry in The Fiddle Sessions Jazz Violin Project serves as an introduction and, so, is a bit different in scope to all other entries that follow. It is taken from my “Complete Country Fiddler”, a book designed to teach violinists how to create solos in the several styles in which modern country musicians must be conversant. Among the chapters are ones on blues, bluegrass, commercial country and country swing.
The following is an excerpt from the beginning of the Country Swing (a.k.a. Western Swing) section of the book. After a laundry list of basic attributes of this style of fiddle, it introduces the matrix for the solos that the great fiddlers will use for their creations in future issues of Fiddle Sessions. First up is the plain, unadorned melody of the folk song “Go Tell Aunt Rhody” in the key of Bb.
Following that is a country swing arrangement that sticks reasonably close to the melody. It is specifically arranged to be a teaching “etude”, composed to illustrate a few of the most basic qualities of this style of violin playing. The contributions by the other fiddlers in the series will range from instruction oriented to much closer to what great players commit at performances. Still, this serves the purpose of defining some ground rules and getting started with a relatively easy swing approach.
(From pages 73-4 of “Complete Country Fiddler – Terms that are unfamiliar to you are defined earlier in the book.)
Here are some things to look for as we go through illustrative country swing licks and solos:
1. Country swing is imbued with a strong vein of blues, so many licks from the “Blues, Country Boogie, and Honky Tonk” chapter can be enlisted in swing solos.
2. Swing eighths are often used but with much variation in the timing.
3. The music is highly syncopated, with weak and offbeats often accented. Hemiola-type passages are often employed. (See “Raw Materials” chapter.)
4. As in blues, rests are used very expressively, as a dynamic part of solos.
5. Passages of “vertical” soloing are common. This refers to arpeggiated motives featuring higher partials like the 9th, 11th, and 13th notes.
6. Double stops employing 6th notes of chords as well as more dissonant combinations are common.
7. Off bowing is a frequently used phrasing, though far from predominating. (See #121 and the “Commercial Country” chapter.) Single bowing is most common, with the notes held somewhere between staccato and legato.
8. Swing is a jazz form, and horns have been unrivaled rulers of jazz for a long time. Since horn players prefer keys with flats in their scales, swing fiddlers need to overcome their fear of such keys as F, Bb, and Eb.
9. Spurts of augmented and diminished (and related b9) licks are occasionally used over dominant chords.
10. Compared to mainstream, urban swing, country swing ordinarily uses simpler chord progressions, with less chord changes per tune and the individual chords containing less embellishing notes.
The folk tune “Go Tell Aunt Rhodie” will serve as an example of how to swing even the squarest song. For a jazz musician the melody and chords are embarrassingly simple, but they are often what must be faced during the now common Western swing portion of a country band’s song list or, for that matter, at jam sessions where old country swing standards are played. The basic melody follows:
Here is this tepid melody with its temperature increased quite a bit (but play it cool, man!) Check out the rhythm of the new melody line. Play at about MM = 104-120. This version begins with a V7 arpeggio resolving to the I chord in measure 1.
Notice how the basic melody has been displaced. The (a) short for “anticipated,” indicates pitches that are played earlier than in #241, and (d) (“delayed”) connotes pitches that are played later. If one of your own solos feels too square, anticipate or delay some notes with the help of eighth-note rests.
All the off-beat phrasing makes swing rhythms difficult to read, so take it slowly to make sure you catch the syncopations. The half-note triplet in measure 3 is played over two beats.
The recordings of the two music examples represent my callow attempts at country swing at an early stage of my violin career. Forgive my trespasses! In the first clip I really was trying to sound square.
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about the author
Besides acting as editor of Fiddle Sessions, Stacy Phillips is a Grammy award winning fiddle and dobro player. He is the author of more than 30 books dealing with various aspects of these instruments including “Western Swing Fiddle”, “Bluegrass Fiddle Boot Camp” dvd series, “Hot Licks for Bluegrass Fiddle” and “Bluegrass Fiddle Styles” (the famous “yellow book”). He has performed with many of the finest acoustic musicians, including Mark O’Connor, Eileen Ivers, Bela Fleck, Tony Trischka, and Peter Rowan.