Acoustic Classic: New River Train

If you’re unfamiliar with mountain music—the traditional sounds of the southern Appalachians and Ozarks—then “New River Train” is a good place to dive in. This arrangement is based on the version of the old tune that the Monroe Brothers made famous in the 1930s, as well as an interpretation that the clawhammer banjoist Wade Ward recorded in the early 1960s.

As with many mountain songs, “New River Train” lends itself well to a boom-chuck accompaniment approach—bass notes, lots of root-and-fifth action on beats 1 and 3, and chordal strums on 2 and 4. The notation that precedes the tune here gives you an eight-bar sample of that approach. Try playing it all in downstrokes, making sure that the chords do not overwhelm the bass notes.


The melody of the tune, notated after the accompaniment part, is fairly straightforward, with notes falling mostly in second position—remember, use your first finger on the second-fret notes, second finger on the third fret, third finger on the fourth fret, etc.

While the tune is played in the key of D major, note the occasional appearance of the note C natural. This gives the tune a modal flavor—specifically, D Mixolydian (D E F# G A B C)—a common melodic source for folk music. In this arrangement, whenever the D chord appears, the lack of its third, F#, reinforces the modal quality.

Another technique that gives the arrangement an old-timey vibe is the slides, like in bars 10, 12, and elsewhere, inspired by fiddle playing. The fretted destination note of each slide is followed by an open string at the same pitch—a device that, while easy to play, adds color and texture to the proceedings.




Adam Perlmutter
Adam Perlmutter

Adam Perlmutter holds a bachelor of music degree from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and a master's degree in Contemporary Improvisation from the New England Conservatory. He is the editor of Acoustic Guitar.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *