Chord Cards for Old-Time Fiddle Tunes

This open-source project is dedicated to making it easier for back-up musicians (guitar, bass, ukelele, etc.) to not only participate in old-time jams, but to take them to a higher level.

Somewhat less than authoritative, and by no means complete, this work-in-progress endeavors to strike a suitable balance between hard-core traditional arrangements and modern sensibilities. Chord options are frequently suggested in an effort to satisfy the preferences of different fiddlers.

These cards were started by a fiddler in Lawrence, KS, as an intuitive way to quickly convey chords for his personal collection of tunes. It is growing from there into an open-source project open to all musicians. Below you will find information for ordering completed sets, or for downloading spreadsheet files that will enable you to modify existing selections, add your own tunes, and print your own updates or complete set. Suggestions for tunes to be added to the master set are welcome.

Using the chord cards

The image above shows various features of the cards. Each box represents one beat, typically one “bass-strum” on a guitar or one note on a bass. The tune on this card is a typical “square” fiddle tune with two 16-beat A parts, and two 16-beat B parts, totaling 64 beats. Each dash indicates that the chord it follows continues for another beat. Where there is no dash, move on to the next line or start again at the top.

Image of crooked fiddle tuneThis example features a “crooked” fiddle tune, or a tune that is not composed of regular 16-beat phrases. This unusual tune has three 10-beat A parts, and one 18-beat B part. The alternate B part suggests a way to adapt the chord structure to the preference of a given fiddler, or simply one option for mixing things up to help keep it interesting.

Here is the latest list of tunes for the chord card set. The cards are laid out 4 to a page for printing; the “Sheet” column below indicates the sheet number on which that tune is found. Tunes with no sheet number are tentative and not included yet. Please feel free to suggest tunes that you think should be included, and send chords and source information if you have them.

You can easily browse the actual cards by opening the PDF file below.

tune list

So as you can see at this time there are 40 sheets with 4 tunes on each, comprising around 160 tunes. The cards are printed on lightweight card stock (60# cover stock) to keep the bulk thickness of the card set down. Cutting the cards to size is a significant task and not to be underestimated. The cards are then punched 4″ center-to-center on an adjustable 3-ring punch, alphabetized, and bound with 2″ loose-leaf book rings from your local office supply store.

I have seen these cards make a dramatic, immediate effect on jams that include less-experienced players who are unfamiliar with the tunes and/or can’t yet “hear” the chords by themselves. Suddenly they are empowered and begin playing more confidently, helping others do the same by their example. I hope you enjoy this set, and perhaps participate in its expansion. Please feel free to suggest tunes, notes and sources, and do let me know if any of the information within can be corrected or improved. Adding to this tune collection will be an ongoing project — watch this space for updated versions.

Best regards,

Doug DuBois
Lawrence, KS

Ordering information

As soon as I figure out how much money and time will be involved in each set, I will post a price here. In the meantime, you may inquire by email:

DIY — File downloads

Current version: 2019.02.03. Right-click on link and select “Save Link As.”

Open Office ODS — spreadsheet file, master file native format (132 KB)

Microsoft Excel 97/2000/XP XLS — exported from Open Office, not guaranteed to format perfectly (1.14 MB)

PDF ready-to-print, full set (302 KB)

PDF ready-to-print update only, rev 2019.02, details below (85 KB)

last revision