What the Reviewers Say


As a bluegrass mandolin picker who has recently been playing a lot of "northern" music for New England style line dances ("contra" dances), I welcomed this fine little book authored by Phil Williams.

"Mandolin Player's Pastime" is definitely a "northern" collection. Given the new vitality of the northern dance music scene and the ways in which it complements southern traditions, this book not only stands on its own merits but is quite timely. Southern players will love many of these tunes and it's even fun just reading their names (my favorites: "The Disappointed Coquette" and "Go To The Devil And Shake Yourself").

This paperback has several virtues. It's a good value, a concise but surprisingly complete collection (some 140) of widely played northern-style dance tunes. Williams also includes valuable tips on playing the mandolin, alone or for dances.

And because each tune is written in both standard notation and mandolin tablature, the book is accessible to "readers" and "non-readers" of music plus an excellent way for the latter to start deciphering those funny little dots and flags hanging on those five long telephone lines. Williams shows you how in his introduction. I have nothing against playing by ear - that's how I started. But the fact is that pickers who stubbornly refuse to learn to read music in the name of "tradition" are cutting themselves off from a world of great material.

This book has something many fiddle/mandolin collections sorely lack - chords. The highly accurate chord suggestions over the measures make the book valuable for guitar and piano players.

Vivian Williams, Phil's wife, is credited for music setting, editing and assistance on chording. Here's a tip of the hat to her. (Bluegrass Unlimited)


This is a nice collection of 140 dance tunes for the mandolin, heavy on the "northern style" music, compiled and arranged by Williams. Phil Williams has given clear mandolin tablature to go along with the music, as well as a mandolin fretboard illustration with all the notes marked and a treatise on music in general and the mandolin in particular. He states that many of the tunes are simple while others are challenging ("President Garfield's Hornpipe" is a bear), and I was inspired to haul out my turn-of-the century Orville Gibson and pick along. The moments turned to hours, as I was hooked. You probably will be too. And my favorite Happy Hayseeds' tune is included: "Cottonwood Reel"! Nicely done. (Victory Review)


Philip Williams' selection of tunes has a broad appeal to other instruments; by using just the melody line, it can be used to enlarge the repertoire of fiddlers, flute players, etc. He also includes guitar chords, but the plus from a mandolin player's point of view is the mandolin tablature.

The book opens with a brief discussion of music theory, how to read the tablature, something on the instrument, string and pick selection, and a mandolin fingerboard chart. The tunes include jigs, reels, hornpipes and some miscellaneous tunes (marches, polkas, etc.), and range from the familiar to those less so. What they do have in common is that most of them are interesting to play on the mandolin - particularly in these settings.

Traditional music isn't written in stone (when it's written down at all), but what many players fail to do is make adjustments for their particular instrument and end up struggling over some tune where they needn't. A tune that's perfect for the flute doesn't always play as well on a fiddle, say, without some adjustment. In some of the cases here, Williams has made those adjustments for his readers and the settings are the better for it - if you play the mandolin. Otherwise, don't be shy: adjust as necessary. (Dirty Linen)


Another publication with national interest is "The Mandolin Player's Pastime: Reel, Hornpipes, Jigs & Other Dance Tunes for Mandolin", compiled and arranged by Phil Williams, who with his wife Vivian (who has a slug of great fiddle books out), heads up Voyager Recordings and Publications. (Folk Alliance Newsletter)


The music is desktop computer set and laser printed and is clear, neat and easy to read. The tablature is also very legible.

It's a tune book, 140 tunes in all, easy on the eyes to read. Within each dance form (reel, hornpipe, jig, etc.) the tunes are grouped in keys - all the A tunes, then all the D or Bm tunes, G/Em, through C and F to B flat. Most are in D, G, and C, with surprisingly few in A Major - 7 tunes, the same number as in F and in B flat. (The Mandocrucian's Digest)


We were impressed by Phil Williams' comments concerning this book in the press release we recently received from Voyager Publications. Phil indicated that,

"On a winter evening when the wind is blowing outside and a fire is burning in the fireplace, I love to relax by playing the mandolin. Over the years I have found a lot of fiddle tunes that play well on the mandolin. I put together this collection of 140 tunes. Many of these tunes cannot be found in other collections currently available. I picked the tunes that gave me a lot of satisfaction just playing by myself, and even more satisfaction when my wife, Vivian, or friends back me up on guitar or piano. Some of the tunes I use at public performances and old-time dances, but the most fun comes from playing them at home. The tunes can be read from the standard music notation or the tablature without having to memorize them. I included tips on reading music, and a mandolin fingerboard chart, so when you know how to play the tunes in this collection, you can read through other tune books that don't have tablature.

You don't have to be an expert to play most of these tunes, but will find some of them challenging. My wife and I even put in the chords we use to back up the tunes so your accompanist can back you up right away. The music and tablature was professionally typeset and printed, making it good looking and easy to read.

This collection is for every mandolinist who enjoys a quiet evening playing great tunes alone or with friends, as well as those who want new tunes to perform in public or at dances. Of course, they also play well on the fiddle and other instruments. I know others will get as much fun and enjoyment playing these tunes as I do."

Now, as you can see from these comments, this is a specially selected collection of personal favorites by the author. There should be something of considerable interest for everyone who enjoys working out and playing the old-time style tunes on the mandolin.

The mandolin is, of course, a very close musical relative of the fiddle. In fact, if we took our fiddle and added frets to the fingerboard and played it with a pick, we would have the equivalent of a four-string mandolin that was shaped like a violin. I mention this relationship just to point out the fact that it can be very helpful to the beginning fiddler if they will practice and learn their tunes on a mandolin at the time they are working them out on the fiddle.

Having said all of this, I'm going to pick up my own mandolin (which incidentally is an old Fender 4-string electric) and proceed to play through some of the tunes contained in this collection. As we've mentioned before, it's always a very special occasion to browse through and play tunes for the very first time from a fine book such as this one.

On the first page there's a beautiful arrangement of one of my personal favorites, "Miller's Reel" (Key of A). Going on over several pages, here's another old colorful number, "Wind That Shakes The Barley" (Key of D). As we proceed to play through more tunes, we run across still another old favorite, the "Ivy Leaf" hornpipe (also in the Key of D). Still further over, here's an easy to play, but very effective, arrangement of "The Keel-Row" (or "Twin Sisters") reel (Key of G). Moving right along, we have just played through two more Key of G tunes, "The Temperance Reel" and "Rakes of Mallow". Both of these tunes are excellent! Still further over in this book here's a great arrangement of the "Lamplighter's Hornpipe" (Key of A). Since I first heard this tune in the early 1940's it has been a special favorite of mine.

Now, here are some great Key of D tunes, "Liverpool Hornpipe", "Great Western Clog" (a beautiful technical workout!), "Danny Flannigan's Clog" (composed by the great Joe Pancerzewski) and "Sarah Brown" (a superb original number by Vivian Williams). All of these tunes are delightful to play.

Now, as I turn over a page, I can't resist playing through the "Queen of the West Hornpipe" (Key of D). I recall the legendary fiddler, Robert (Georgia Slim) Rutland, playing this tune over the radio back in the 1940's.

Now, let's move on to the jigs. Some of my favorites here would be "Smash the Windows" (Key of D) and "Off She Goes" (Key of D). Also, a couple of great originals in this category are: "Fittro's Folly" (Key of G) by Vivian Williams, "Half 'N Half" (Key of G) by Phil and Vivian Williams.

Now, in the triple jig section (nine eight time) I played through several fine numbers including "Pin Money Jig" (Key of D) and "The Old Dutch Churn" (Key of G minor).

I want to conclude by mentioning just a few more random titles from this great collection of tunes. These titles are: "Going to Boston" (Key of G), "White Cockade" (Key of G), "Prairie Schottische" (Key of D), "Steamboat Waltz" (Key of G), "Whistler's Waltz" (Key of D), "Red Fox Waltz" (Key of D), "Grant Lamb's Polka" (Key of D), "Look At That" strathspey composed by Vivian Williams (Key of G) and "Will Ye No Come Back Again" (Key of G).

From this random sampling of the titles, you should be able to tell that there is an amazing variety of material to be found in this superb collection of tunes.

This book is, of course, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. (The Devil's Box)

Return to Book Catalog