I started learning flatpicking (if you didn’t know, it’s bluegrass lingo for melody playing on the guitar) last year in June. The first fiddle tune I started learning was Whiskey before breakfast, and the second one was Beaumont rag. Not really a beginner tune, right?! I posted about it on Twitter recently and received a comment a while later “That Beaumont rag, it’s quite difficult isn’t it?”.
This isn’t a beginner tune, but who cares? It’s fun. And it only needs to be as difficult as you make it. I play a simplified version of this. It took me a long long time before I had figured out a version of the second part that I was happy with and that was easy enough to play. But honestly, the first part is quite easy once you’re comfortable with the C scale and have some picking experience. I’ve played the mandolin for many years, so getting into playing melody on the guitar has mainly been about getting used to the scales, the larger frets and the distances between strings. That’s not to say it’s easy – but the picking technique hasn’t been any particular challenge.
I’ve been playing chords for years and then some simple bass runs (small melody “walks” between chords). Real melody playing was new to me. After a lot of fiddling about and a lot of frustration, I finally started learning the C scale and then the G scale. After learning the C scale, I started playing variations of it, and all of a sudden I recognised the beginning of Beaumont rag. That’s the main reason why I started playing the tune in the first place – and of course that I had it in my head already because my husband already played it.
Why didn’t I learn scales earlier, you may wonder? I was exploring, but still not sure how much effort I wanted put into it. It wasn’t until later that I made the decision to start learning flatpicking for real.
This tune is very popular among fiddlers and flatpickers in country and bluegrass circles. It’s described as a Texas rag, named after the East Texas town Beaumont, and was first recorded in 1929 by Smith’s Garage fiddle band. It’s then been recorded by many but the most famous version is probably that by Doc Watson, and it’s from him that I’ve been inspired to play it although I’ve picked up pieces from here and there to put together a version that suits me and my playing level. I’ll try to pick up Doc Watson’s crosspicking patterns and other details later, but for now that’ll have to wait.
I started on the first part in June or early July 2020, but didn’t really have the second part ready until the autumn. Then I’ve been practicing it now and then but let it be for a while, until I picked it up again recently. My hands had lost a couple of details in it so I’ve done quite a bit of work to get it back on track. Still, when I play it up to speed (which in my case means less slowly!) I get lost sometimes. But that’s not only bad – lately I’ve found that when I make a mistake and can’t get back to what I usually play, I improvise something instead and many times end up playing it better than my original version. Being able to do that is a great achievement to me!
That’s the charm of learning the scale and be comfortable with the notes in it – it’s a good start for being able to improvise, people!
I thought I’d kick off the Easter weekend by being couragous and post a video of myself playing. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching and work to help myself get a better life – the main key to that is self confidence – to believe in myself, and to not take myself so seriously. So here’s me and my guitar, having fun with Beaumont rag (but there’s no improvisation here, I’m still way too self conscious when I record myself). Another time I’ll post it when I do it with my husband.