Billy In The Low Ground is a very popular old time tune.
And it’s on my list of tunes to work on this weekend! The version of Billy in the Low Ground that I’ll be learning is in C major and the sheet music is below. The sheet music is from the North Atlantic Tune List which is an amazing resource for old time and Appalachian music. You can find out more about the NATL here. Ok, let’s get learning.
It’s a very popular tune that’s played in old-time and bluegrass circles across the country. This tune is also used as a competition tune. I think that is due in part to the very natural way it travels across all 4 strings if you’re learning this on fiddle or mandolin. It’s also a great tune to write some variations for, and be able to display your various skills and techniques well. And the syncopation in the B section is a nice change of pace. I’ll primarily be learning this on my mandolin this weekend, but it’ll also go into my fiddle set list as well.
Some tips to learning Billy in the Low Ground
So a couple of things to point out. In the Billy in the Low Ground sheet music above, I’m choosing to start with a pick up triplet of G-A-B on the G string (TAB:0-2-4) rather than the G-A (TAB:0-2) that is printed. In bars 1 and 4, instead of the quarter note C (TAB: 5), I’m actually playing C-B (TAB: 5-4) as eighth notes.
Another thing to point out is the repetitive nature of this tune. For instance, in the A section, the first three bars of each 4 bar phrase are exactly the same, leaving that fourth bar as a transition into the next section. This means you only have to learn five different measures of music. It also underscores the importance of learning how to improvise even some basic variations.
Here’s Benny Thomasson playing Billy in the Lowground on his fiddle.