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April 2006 · Bimonthly

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Wendy playing Washburn Mandolin

Building a Traditional Tune Repertoire

by Wendy Anthony

Over The Waterfall

(Key of D)

The Tune:

The popularity of this instrumental is credited to begin with West Virginian fiddler Henry Reed, who learned the tune as a child in the late 1800's from performers in a travelling show. The same melody is also used for a number of Irish/British/American "bawdy" folk ballads, one of which is called "Eggs and Marrowbones", about an old woman who, loving another man, feeds her old husband eggs and marrowbones to make him blind & takes him to the mill pond waterfall to push him in, though somehow she falls in, and he, being blind is unable to save her. Over The Waterfall is popular in both Bluegrass & Old-Time repertoires.

Over The Waterfall music transcript

Listen to the Midi


  • Overview of Tune: Over The Waterfall can be played in a variety of ways: by picking mostly 1/4 notes, to hear the basic simplicity of the melody or to assist in increasing speed; by adding more 1/8 notes, for tonal variety; or by using chord tones, to round out the melody. The Major 3rd interval is well represented in almost every measure of this tune, for example: Part A Intro: scale run from D up to F#; Measure 2: from F# up to A and from G down to E; Measure 3: from D down to B; how many others can you identify?

  • Chords: In Part A, the D(I) & A(V) chords are each played for 2 beats in a measure, followed by a measure of D(I), until measure 8, where the flatted 7th, C(VIIb) chord is used, before ending on the G(IV) chord. In Part B, the D(I) & G(IV) chords are alternated with the D(I) & A(V) chords, where each are played for 2 beats in a measure, followed by & ending with a measure of D(I)

  • Pick Strokes: Pick all 1/4 notes with Downstrokes & all paired 1/8 notes with Down/Upstrokes. In measure 14, the first 1/8 note (open E) is picked with a Downstroke. The second 1/8 note is created without the pick, using a Hammer-On, by firmly placing the left index (second) finger at the 2nd fret (F#) of the E strings to make the note ring. Keep the same note fretted to pick the third 1/8 note with another Downstroke


  1. Part A Variations: Add chord tone notes to the melody line to create a full, rich sound.

  2. Over The Waterfall  Variations

  3. Part B Variations: Use Hammer-Ons; change the direction of an 1/8 note run; replace 1/4 notes with 1/8 notes; replace 1/8 notes with another note in the same key.

  4. Over The Waterfall Part B Variations

  5. Simplify the Melody: By using 1/4 notes instead of paired 1/8 notes, you can hear the simple beauty of this melody. Playing at faster speeds is also easier with less notes.

  6. Over The Waterfall Part A Variations

    Over The Waterfall Part B Variations

Comments or Suggestions?

Keepin' tuned ...
Wendy Anthony

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