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The Spitfire Grill – Detailed Notes on the Guitar/Mandolin Book

Music/Book: James Valcq
Lyrics/Book: Fred Alley
Year: 2001 (Off-Broadway)

In this article I take a detailed look at the Guitar/Mandolin book for The Spitfire Grill, the much loved 2001 chamber musical by James Valcq and Fred Alley. I examine the book itself (layout, page turns, level of detail) and my general approach to playing the material, before launching into a song-by-song review containing comments and tips on how I approached playing the score.

This article is most likely to be of use to players preparing to play the show, and who have a copy of the book to refer to; without the book, much of the article will be difficult to follow. In a separate article (Playing The Spitfire Grill – Guitar & Mandolin) I provide a general commentary on the show and what it’s like to perform the guitar parts, together with a review of the equipment I used. I also provide a perspective on this hidden gem of a musical and reflect on why audiences love it so much in a third article, The Spitfire Grill – A Perspective.

Composer James Valcq prepared the show’s orchestrations, and has done a great job, as this is a well written, accurate book, with a lot of detail. There is enough information to play the show properly. Slash marks are mostly used only where they really help make the book easier to read (instead of just being lazy drafting). For much of the book, guitar rhythms are explicitly written out, which is important because the guitar is the rhythmic foundation of the ensemble, in the absence of a percussionist. All page turns are good.

There are a few places where some vagueness creeps in (particularly in Act 2), probably because specific voicings and/or rhythms are less critical in such passages. I identify these areas in the detailed notes below and provide suggestions for playing them.

A few minor changes could be made to improve the book’s layout and readability. Most significantly, measure numbers are provided only for the first measure in each line, and at multi-measure rests. Numbering every measure would be a big improvement. The music could be magnified slightly so that so that it fills more of the page; page numbers could be added to the blank “V.S.” pages for completeness, and a full contents list would help. But these are small gripes. Overall this is a great book, which is easy to read and a pleasure to play.

The quality of the book notwithstanding, I do recommend listening to the excellent Off-Broadway cast recording, which can be obtained on CD from Playwrights Horizons. A YouTube playlist can be found here.

The Spitfire Grill Ensemble, May 2019. Image courtesy of SHOWTUNES Theatre Company and © Maggie Stenson Pherson 2019

The Spitfire Grill Ensemble, May 2019.  Image courtesy of SHOWTUNES Theatre Company and © Maggie Stenson Pherson 2019

Before diving into the details of the score, there are some general considerations which I believe are key to performing the show effectively. These are:

  1. The Guitar is the rhythm section: The Spitfire Grill has an unusual orchestration (keyboard, accordion, cello, violin, guitar/mandolin). There is no percussionist, and for much of the show the acoustic guitar provides the rhythm of the piece. It’s important to play percussively and with appropriate emphasis, even exaggerating the rhythm a little more than you usually might, to bring it out. Think of the guitar as one part chords, one part percussion.
  2. Follow the rhythms provided in the score: since the guitar has such a critical role in providing rhythm, the score spells out quite specific rhythm patterns in many places, and these should be followed reasonably closely. This requires practicing the score, so that you can play them fluently and not sound too “stiff”.
  3. Sforzando symbol (˄): this symbol is used extensively in the score to indicate strong emphasis. In most places, you should hit the chord hard, then mute it very quickly. The chord only just sounds and is more like a percussive hit. Listen to the cast recording for examples. This is an important rhythmic technique for the show, so it’s worth practicing it until you can do it fluently without thinking about it.
  4. Tempo is challenging: in the absence of a percussionist, it’s more difficult to keep tempos steady than normal. Again, the guitar-as-rhythm-section has a role in this. Practice with a metronome will help. The conductor (piano) will also help to keep things steady.
  5. Wide dynamic range: this kind of chamber ensemble is able to have a much wider dynamic range than if a full rhythm section was present, presenting great opportunities to make the music highly expressive. The Music Director will dictate the dynamics; the players need to listen to each other and be prepared to use this full dynamic range.
  6. Exposed playing: another effect of having no percussion and bass is that the parts are mostly very exposed. Playing crisply and accurately assumes a greater importance than usual in this ensemble.

Much of the book is organized in “musical sequences”, where several numbers run into each other, although there are standalone songs as well. These sequences are used to convey specific emotional context and simultaneously advance the storyline. Each sequence has a unifying musical and lyrical theme, but involves multiple tempo, key and feel changes. The use of musical sequences also means that there are relatively few long scenes of dialog; this show is mostly music. The sequences are:

  1. A Ring Around The Moon (#1)
  2. Something’s Cooking (#1-B, #2, #2-A, #2-B)
  3. Ice and Snow / Colors of Paradise (#8, #8-A, #9)
  4. This Wide Woods (#11, #11-A, #11-B, #11-C)
  5. Shoot The Moon (#13-A, #14, #14-A)
  6. Come Alive Again (#16, #16-A, #16-B, #16-C, #16-D)
  7. Shine (#19, #19-A, #20)
  8. Dear Mrs. Ferguson / Finale (#22, #22-A, #22-B, #23).

I used a combination of picks and fingerstyle to play this show, varying the picks used to suit the material. I used thin Dunlop 0.46mm nylon picks for lighter strumming and Herdim yellow 0.63mm picks when I needed a thicker, heavier sound. For the delicate slower numbers I mostly used fingerpicking. However, some numbers (such as #1) require strumming and fingerstyle, with no time available to change between fingers and pick. In these cases I used fingers, but hardened my nails with Sally Hansen Advanced Hard As Nails to get better tone and avoid breaking my nails. I identify which pick is used for each number in the detailed notes below. For the mandolin I used a Blue Chip CT55 pick throughout.

The book is acoustic guitar throughout, except where mandolin is played. In the following notes I identify numbers which include mandolin. The book has extensive and detailed dynamics markings throughout, and I recommend paying careful attention to them. I will revisit this topic several times in the notes. All numbers in the book are covered.


#1: A Ring Around The Moon.
Pick: fingers, except for m.178-187: Herdim yellow 0.63mm.
Mandolin: m.163-175 only.

Although it’s only one number, this is very much a sequence. A lot happens, and there are several changes in melodic theme, style and tempo. I played this number very much as written, with just a few adjustments, as indicated below. Pay special attention to the dynamics in this number. Use of a pick would have been appropriate in several sections, but the changes between fingerstyle and strumming mostly come too quickly to grab a pick, so I used fingers throughout except for the very loud strummed section in m.178-187.


  • m.18-39: the score indicates that the second note of each 1/8-note pair should be left to ring. I didn’t do so. I just played the 1/8-note at its full value, crisply.
  • m.68-88: for this verse, the second note of each 1/8-note pair is shown staccato. I played this section as written. At m.87, I recommend playing at the Bbm arpeggios at the 6th fret, to allow a clean, quick change to the Ebm chord at m.89.
  • m.89-90: I didn’t play the rhythm as shown. To get the “train” feel, I alternated 1/8-notes and 1/16 note pairs (see m.198-199 for an example).
  • m.131-158: this is an exposed guitar solo, even though it’s underscore. Play cleanly and accurately without too much emphasis. Just “play the ink”.
  • m.159-176: there’s a fast change to mandolin at m.159, and a fast change back to guitar at m,176. For the mandolin part I used a big “spacious” reverb – the only place it is used in the show (Percy is supposed to be travelling through the night into the unknown). This can be heard on the cast recording. It’s important to get the change back to the guitar right, because there’s a big moment at m.178 which you absolutely have to hit.
  • m.178-187: big, loud full voicings of the chords, played as written. Take care not to allow any glissando sound between the chords; the changes should be clean and crisp. I used a Herdim 0.63mm pick for this section only, then went back to fingerstyle.
  • m.203-218: another exposed guitar solo during underscore, which should again be played cleanly and accurately, without too much emphasis.

#1-A: Morning Prep
Pick: Dunlop 0.46mm nylon.

This number is a brief scene setting piece. It appears several times during the show, with slightly varying arrangements. It’s simple enough to play as written, but can sound a little bland. The Music Director had me play this with more of a rock ’n’ roll feel, which basically meant adding accents and ghosting 1/16 notes, as shown below. This modification makes the number more lively and interesting, and I think it conveys the morning bustle of the Grill nicely. Note the sudden drop in volume at m.3 where the dialog starts.


This sequence opens with Hannah, the Grill’s owner, berating Percy about her attitude, then moves through three further sections, depicting both Percy’s first morning working at the Grill, and the locals’ curiosity and mistrust of her. It’s a lot of fun to play. The four numbers run seamlessly end to end, so this feels like one number to the audience.

#1-B: Hannah’s Harangue
Guitar is TACET throughout. From the guitarist’s viewpoint, the important thing about this brief introductory number is that it establishes the tempo for the sequence. Be ready to play firmly and confidently right after m.16 (the start of #2: “Something’s Cooking”).

#2: Something’s Cooking
Pick: Herdim yellow 0.63mm.
Mandolin: m.84-91 and m.138-158.

This is a brisk and lively number, which should be played precisely and crisply. I played it almost exactly as written, except as noted below.


  • m.9-17: play the quarter notes firmly and evenly, allowing them to sound for their full duration. Don’t accent them or choke them off early.
  • m.37-56: I played the rhythm pattern for this section using alternating up- and downstrokes, as shown in the example below. I found this to be a more effective way of maintaining the steady rhythm required than using all downstrokes. Evenness is the key here; don’t accent particular notes. Just let it pulse along. The quarter notes should be allowed to sound their full length, while the 1/8 notes should not be allowed to ring through the rests (i.e. play it as written!).
  • m.72: change from guitar to mandolin. There’s plenty of time to make the change.
  • m.92: change back from mandolin to guitar. This is a very quick change. You have only 6 measures and you have to be ready to play the main guitar rhythm again at m.98.
  • m.111: The E5 chord voicing is very tricky to play. I omitted the bottom E and played it at the 4th fret.
  • m.112: change to mandolin. There’s plenty of time to make the change.
  • m.147: the first appearance of a little motif which occurs many times throughout the book. Play this crisply and observe the staccato markings.
  • m.158: segue directly into #2-A: “Something’s Cooking Part 2”.


#2-A: Something’s Cooking Part 2
Mandolin: m.1-28 (no guitar in this number).

The sequence continues with this brief interlude where the locals continue to gossip about Percy, while Shelby worries that she hasn’t made Percy feel welcome. The part is played on mandolin throughout, and I played it exactly as written.


  • Pay extra special attention to dynamics in this number.
  • Observe the staccato markings in every measure.
  • m.28: segue directly into #2-B: “Something’s Cooking Part 3”.

#2-B: Something’s Cooking Part 3
Pick: Dunlop 0.46mm nylon.
Mandolin: m.1-18.

This is the concluding section of the sequence. It begins on mandolin for m.1-18, which I played exactly as written. There’s a change to guitar at m.19-20, and although the score says there is “[TIME]”, it’s actually a quick instrument change. The guitar plays only for m.21-24, and I played the part exactly as written. Even though this ends the sequence, there’s an applause segue into the next number.

#3: Coffee Cups and Gossip
Pick: Dunlop 0.46mm nylon.

This brief number features a theme that doesn’t appear anywhere else in the show, but it’s only a snippet of a song. The violinist in our ensemble liked it and said she felt cheated that there isn’t any more of it! This is one of the few numbers in the show where the score lacks detail. The part is also played with slightly different emphasis on the cast recording, using the “sforzando” percussive muted chords I described above (I recommend listening to the recording). I played something more like the cast recording. I provide an example below.


  • m.1-10 and m.19-24: I recommend playing D and Am7 voices at the 5th fret with a full barre, for easier muting of the chords.
  • m.11-16: I opened up the sound a bit, and let the F# and C#m7 chords ring a little more. I voiced the C#m7 at the first fret (C#, B, G#, B, E,).
  • The rhythm established in m.1-2 should be continued throughout the number, except for m.17-18, and m.25-27, where the rhythm should be played as written.
  • m.17: accent the G# and A chords. I recommend playing these as upstrokes.


#4: Hannah Fell Down
Mandolin: m.1-27 (no guitar in this number).

A brief reprise of the “Something’s Cooking” theme, as the gossip about Percy continues. This is all mandolin and I played it exactly as written. Take care to accent heavily the notes in m.21 and m.25.

#5: Into The Frying Pan
Pick: Dunlop 0.46mm nylon.
Mandolin: m.110-165.

This is a driving bluegrass-ish number. It start on guitar, then switches to mandolin, but the same rhythm is maintained throughout, except for a few measures where particular emphasis is specified. The score is filled with almost nothing but slash marks and provides no indication of what the rhythm should be. I followed the cast recording and played off-beat quarter notes, using upstrokes throughout. I provide an example below. This is also one of the few numbers in the score that has few detailed dynamics markings. Your conductor will doubtless provide these.


  • Chord voicings: I mostly used third and fifth-fret full barre voicings, so that I could mute the chords quickly after strumming; not quite as short as staccato, but getting there.
  • m.110: in this vamp, play 2 or 3 measures, them drop out, switch quickly to mandolin and fade back in before the end of the vamp. This is a fairly quick instrument change.
  • For the mandolin section, I kept playing upstrokes, using closed voicings which allowed me to mute the strings quickly after strumming (listen to the recording).
  • m.165: for this final measure, play big chords using downstrokes on the downbeats.


#5-A: Frying Pan Playoff
Mandolin: m.1-9 (no guitar in this number).

This is a very brief playoff number. Play the chords and rhythm exactly as written in m.1-3. It’s the same as m.154-156 of the previous number.

#6: Percy Leaves The Bread
Mandolin: m.4-14 (no guitar in this number).

This number marks the first appearance of the visitor, and is meant to convey a sense of mystery. The part has to be played as written, and is has a flowing, slightly rubato feel to it.

#6-A: Opening I-4
Mandolin: m.1-12 (no guitar in this number).

A short scene change piece, reprising “Something’s Cooking” theme from #2. Play exactly as written, and observe the staccato markings.

#6-B: Hannah Had A Son
Pick: fingers.

This short piece serves as an introduction to #7: “When Hope Goes”. It’s very expressive, and serves to set a mood, before the song begins. I played it exactly as written.


  • m.1-9: this section is in 3/2 time, but it’s really a Colla Voce – the singer dictates the beats. It’s worth marking the vocals over each chord, especially in m.2-4.
  • m.7-8: I used 4-string voicings at the first and third frets for the F and G chords respectively, so that they didn’t sound too full.
  • There a very fast page turn at m.13, segueing directly into #7, which opens with solo guitar, so you have to make it. You do have time to make the turn, as you’re holding a chord over two measures and a fermata, but you need to be ready to make the turn quickly and hit the downbeat of #7 cleanly.

#7: When Hope Goes
Pick: fingers.

This is the first really big emotional moment of the show, and it opens with 20 measures of solo guitar and vocal, so you have to nail it. The 1/8-note arpeggios have to be played cleanly, evenly (no accents!) and exactly as written. It’s OK to let the notes ring on slightly. The vocals are slightly free, so don’t follow them; just play like a metronome!

Although this is a ballad, the tempo is faster than you might think. The production I played had this at 140 beats per minute. It’s all too easy to start dragging so paying attention to tempo here is very important. The “slowness” of the song comes from the vocal, not the guitar.


  • m.1-20: solo guitar. I played this precisely as written.
  • m.21-27: the score has slash notes, but you keep picking 1/8ths as indicated (i.e. arpeggios). I voiced D and Bm7 at the 2nd fret, and C#m7 at the 4th fret.
  • m.30-43: I strummed the chords in the rhythm as written, except that in m.35 (the 6/4 measure) I tied the down beat of beat 5 to the 1/8 note before (see below). I used low voicings except for m.31, 31 and 34, where I voiced the A chord at the 5th fret.
  • m.39: I voiced the Dm/B chord as a straight Dm at the 1st fret, for ease of fingering.
  • m.44-81: more arpeggios. I played these precisely as written.
  • m.82-91: this is the emotional climax of the song. There’s a transition from picked arpeggios to full, strummed chords, and some dramatic changes in dynamics, which are very important. At m.83 there’s a rapid crescendo to fortissimo, followed by a gradual decrescendo starting at m.88. This whole section of the score is filled with slash marks, so I provide the rhythm patterns and voicings I used below.
  • m.92-99: more arpeggios, which I played precisely as written, ending with a rallentando at m.99.
  • m.100-107: I played the chords as written, and rolled them slowly. This slow section follows the vocals, which are very slow, so the chords will probably be dictated by the conductor. If not, you just have to know which words correspond to the downbeats of the chords.
  • m.108-111: the song closes with more arpeggios. Although it indicates a return to the original tempo, this section is likely to be considerably slower, with a final rallentando at m.110-111.




#8: Ice and Snow
Pick: Dunlop 0.46mm nylon.
Mandolin: m.69-169.

After a few opening E5 chords on guitar, you change to mandolin at m.13 for the rest of the number. The driving rhythm of the piece is provided by the strings and keyboard. Like almost all the mandolin parts in the book, this is written out note for note, and I played it exactly as written.


  • m.74-90: the melody lines should be played with a lively, spirited feel, and plenty of attack.
  • m.139-169: play the chords as written and accent the notes where shown in the score.
  • m.169: make a quick change to the guitar. You have only 10 measures, and it’s a segue into solo guitar and voice at the top of the next number, so you absolutely have to make it.

#8-A: Shelby’s Ad
Pick: Dunlop 0.46mm nylon.

This brief number is solo guitar and voice for the first seven measures. The chords need to be in sync with the vocal line, which is helpfully included in the score. I played the obvious chord voicings at 2nd fret, except for the A chords, where I put a high A at the top of the voicing. On the recording, the chords are short and crisp, whereas for the production I played, the Music Director asked me to roll them very slightly.

#9: The Colors of Paradise
Pick: Dunlop 0.46mm nylon.

This song is the most important musical theme in the show, and crops up several times after this first airing. It’s an uplifting singalong number, about the joy of belonging somewhere. The guitar is emphatically the rhythmic driver, more than any other number in the show. After the quieter first verse, the rhythm kicks in at m.47, where the score helpfully points out “[You are the BACKBEAT]”. Good advice.

I recommend listening to the cast recording to understand the rhythmic feel of the piece better. It’s all about hitting the “2” hard in each measure (we’re in split common time here) then muting really quickly, so that it’s really percussive and only barely a chord (see notes above on the use of sforzando markings in this book). I tried to lay back on the beat ever so slightly, without letting the tempo start to drag. It’s worth practicing to get this feeling natural.


  • m.47-60: hit the backbeat chords (marked staccato) and mute quickly, as described above, but not quite as heavily as later in the song.
  • m.69 onwards: I followed the rhythm as written, emphasizing and muting those marked “sforzando” as described above. I added in ghosted 1/8-notes as I felt the need, to spice up the rhythm. Just play with it and see what works. I generally voiced the chords using whole barre voicings, avoiding open strings to help with the muting (e.g. A chords at 5th fret, C#m and E at 4th fret and so on).
  • m.88-95 and m.155-162: I did voice the Db chords with a descending root note, as written. It’s a little awkward, and you don’t really have to do it – just play Db throughout. I did it by playing a 4th fret voicing for Db, Db/C and Db/B, shifting to a 1st fret voicing for Db/Bb and Db/A.
  • m.175-184: at the end of the song, I switched to lower voicings (1st & 2nd frets) with more open strings, to let the chords ring a little more.
  • As usual, pay attention to the dynamics, making the most of the quieter passages to give the louder passages more emphasis.
  • There’s a direct segue into the following scene change music.

#9-A: Opening I-6
Pick: Dunlop 0.46mm nylon.

This short piece is a precursor to the “This Wide Woods” theme of #11. I strummed big, ringing, low-voiced chords (1st and 2nd frets), following the rhythm and emphasis shown in the score.

#10: Digging Stone
Pick: Dunlop 0.46mm nylon.

This is another exposed solo moment for the guitar, but of a completely different type from the delicate picking of #7: “When Hope Goes”. It’s all about big voicings, with clean, crisp muting of chords throughout. It’s easy to start rushing in this one. The trick is to keep it slow and even, with a leaden, weary feel, to match the lyrics. I recommend listening to the recording, as usual, although I played this a bit more aggressively than the recorded version. I used the lighter of my two picks, because it gave a brighter attack than the thicker Herdim pick.


  • m.1-4: low Em and Esus4 voicings. These involve lots of open strings, so take care to mute the staccato notes properly. In m.2 and m.4, play the unaccented chords as upstrokes. All others are downstrokes.
  • m.5-20: play the rhythm as written, again taking care to accent and mute the staccato notes. The score calls for “[High register]” chords. I used 7th fret for Em, 3rd fret for Cmaj7 (it sounds too thin if you play it higher), 3rd fret for G, 5th for Am and 7th for Bsus4. All were full barre voicings.
  • m.13: the score calls for a return to “[Normal Voicing]”, but I found it more effective to stay with the voicings used in the first verse (high Em etc.).
  • m.33-34 and m.61-62: the score calls for a fill over the D chord here, but the strings are providing the fill, so I just played open ringing D chords at the 2nd fret to keep the rhythm going.
  • m.75-78: play more quietly and let the chords ring, then re-establish the main rhythm of the song at m.79.
  • m.79-84: build the volume and intensity through these measures.
  • m.85-88: play fortissimo as shown, really dig in. Use a low Em voicing, playing the main rhythm pattern and letting the chords ring. Mute hard on the very last note. At this point, if the singer is good, cue rapturous applause – this is a really dramatic number!
  • There’s an applause segue into the following scene change number, which continues the rhythm of this piece.

#10-A: Opening I-7
Pick: Dunlop 0.46mm nylon.

A brief scene change number. The score shows mostly slash marks, but you should continue the heavy backbeat rhythm from #10: “Digging Stone”. Play the final C chord in m.13 more gently.

SEQUENCE D – THIS WIDE WOODS (#11, #11-A, #11-B, #11-C)
In this scene, Joe and Percy talk about the woods around Gilead (#11). Joe expresses disillusionment (#11-A), then Percy counters with a reflection on the beauty of the woods and what she would do if they were hers (#11-B). Finally, they sing together, Percy continuing her daydream and Joe, inspired by Percy, harking back to his childhood and looking again to the future. The musical sequence uses three distinct themes.

#11: This Wide Woods Part 1
Mandolin: m.1-18 (no guitar in this number).

This number is underscore to Percy and Joe’s conversation. The mandolin has the melody. Play quietly, exactly as written. The important thing about this number is that the tempo is very slow, to the point where it’s easy to come in early in m.9 and m.14. Count carefully and watch the conductor.

#11-A: This Wide Woods Part 2
Pick: fingers.
Mandolin: m.1, m.42-47.

This number is driven by the piano. For the guitarist, there are multiple instrument changes, but not much playing, just a few flourishes! I played this piece exactly as written.


  • m.1: play the whole G note on the mandolin then switch to guitar. There’s plenty of time for the change.
  • m.28-30: I rolled the whole note chords slightly.
  • m.31 change back to mandolin. There is plenty of time for the change.
  • m.42-47: play the mandolin part exactly as written.
  • m.48: change back to guitar. There is plenty of time for the change.
  • m.59-60: play and hold the chord (I rolled the chord slightly). Turn the page while holding the chord to be ready for the downbeat of #11-B: “This Wide Woods Part 3”.

#11-B: This Wide Woods Part 3
Pick: fingers (m.1-43), Dunlop 0.46mm nylon (m.43-45).

The tempo of this number is very slow, and it’s easy to start playing too fast from beginning. Watch the conductor carefully, and stay together with the accordion part in the early measures.


  • m.1-12: play as written. A slight backbeat emphasis helps provide a “heavy” feel staring at m.5.
  • m.13-36: the score calls for picking 1/8th notes, but provides only slash marks. I provide an example of how I played this below. I tried to maintain a very slight backbeat emphasis, even during the picking. Measure 27 should be played exactly as written.
  • m.44: the style switches from picking into heavy strumming, and segues directly into #11-C: “This Wide Woods Part 4” after m.46. I kept my pick ready so that I could grab it quickly to hit the C#m chord in m.44.


#11-C: This Wide Woods Part 4
Pick: Dunlop 0.46mm nylon.

The climax of the sequence is all heavy strumming, with a strong backbeat. I used big, broad, low chord voicings throughout.


  • m.1-8: I emphasized the backbeat, but without the “sforzando”-style muting used in many other parts of the score (I provide an example below).
  • m.9-14: I replaced the accents written with sforzando marks, and started muting strongly on the backbeat (see example below). I also played somewhat louder in this section. These changes add to the drama of the piece.
  • m.15-16: play exactly as written.
  • m.17-23: I reverted to the “non-muted” rhythm used in m.1-8. Pay close attention to the dynamics in this section.


#11-D: Opening I-8
Pick: Dunlop 0.46mm nylon.

A short scene change number, using the “Colors of Paradise” theme. Strum big, broad, low chord voicings freely.

#11-E: The First Letter (U/S)
Pick: fingers.

This short underscore piece uses the verse of “Colors of Paradise”. I strummed the chords gently with my fingernails, using full, low voicings and rolling the chords slightly. For the final Em chord (m.11-12) I used a 7th fret voicing.

#11-F: Before ‘Lullaby’
Pick: fingers.

A 6-measure “pre-intro” to #12: “Forgotten Lullaby”. Play gently, and exactly as written. There’s a segue directly into #12, but you have a 6-measure rest to make the page turn.

#12: Forgotten Lullaby
Pick: fingers.

This number is a somber lament. It opens with a reprise of the “pre-intro” phrase from the previous number, but played by the keyboard. Starting at m.7, the guitar plays more or less solo under the vocals until m.18, so it is very important to play cleanly and accurately.

The 1/8-note finger-picking patterns should be played exactly as written. I found that using very specific fingerings for the chords allowed me to make the changes quickly and cleanly. I provide these below.


  • m.1-25: play exactly as written.
  • m.26-33: keep finger-picking arpeggios in the same pattern using low chord voicings for each chord.
  • m.34-41: play exactly as written.
  • m.42-49: I was a little unclear whether pick or strum this section. I decided to keep picking, switching to strumming briefly for m.50-52.
  • m.50-52: the score says “(Strum hard)”. I used a low voicing of A7sus4. The rhythm should be played exactly as written, because the rest of the band is playing the same rhythm pattern.
  • m.61: the chord voicing (A7 with no 3rd) should be played as written, although it’s a little tricky. I played it at the 5th fret (A, E, A, G, x, E), muting the B-string with my middle finger. I provide the chord diagram below.


#13: Percy Sees The Visitor
Mandolin: m.12 (no guitar in this number).

The mandolin plays only one note in this underscore number, a long B flat tremolo with fermata in m.12. The note usually gets held for a long time; an actor putting a feather down is the cue to move on.

SEQUENCE E – SHOOT THE MOON (#13-A, #14, #14-A)
In this final sequence of Act 1, the essay contest to sell the grill takes off, and the townspeople throw their support behind the idea. The sequence is filled with excitement and a strong sense of enthusiasm.

#13-A: Effy’s Got Mail
Mandolin: m.1-12 (no guitar in this number).

A brief reprise of the “Something’s Cooking” theme. It’s a scene change. I played the part exactly as written, crisply and brightly.

#14: Shoot The Moon Part 1
Pick: Herdim yellow 0.63mm.
Mandolin: m.2-13, m.105-136.

This is the climax of Act 1. The essay contest has really taken off and everyone is getting excited about it. It should be played brightly, with drive, a sense of enthusiasm and building excitement. The part jumps back and forth between guitar and mandolin.


  • m.2-13: the mandolin part duplicates the vocal melody. Listen to the vocal as you play to keep together.
  • m.14-36: switch to guitar. There is plenty of time to make the change.
  • m.37-51: I played the staccato chords with plenty of attack, muting them fairly quickly. I used voicings on the top 4 strings: E,B,E,F# for the E2 chord, and D,A,D,E for the D2.
  • m.73-104: switch to mandolin. There is plenty of time to make the change.
  • m.105-118: once again the mandolin is playing the vocal melody (the accordion is too). Listen carefully to stay with the vocals.
  • m.129-136: I played the chords exactly as written, brightly and staccato.
  • At m.136, there’s a direct segue into #14-A: “Shoot The Moon Part 2”.

#14-A: Shoot The Moon Part 2
Pick: Herdim yellow 0.63mm.
Mandolin: m.1-11.

The number continues, rising to a fever pitch of excitement, and the big finale of Act 1. The guitar comes in fortissimo at m.23, and ends up double fortissimo (fortissississimo if you like your Latin), so just dig in and play out.


  • m.5-10: the mandolin plays a sustained tremolo high D through these measures. The first two measures (m.5-6) are in split common (counted in 2); the following four measures (m.7-10) are in 6/8. The time change is for the benefit of the keyboard part. For the mandolin, just keep counting in 2 through all 6 measures, at the same tempo.
  • m.11: switch to guitar. There is plenty of time to make the change.
  • m.25-26 and m.29-30: the G chords sound slightly dissonant, because the keyboard has an F# root. Don’t worry, the G is correct. I tried adding an F# root myself, but it isn’t necessary.
  • m.31-44: it’s important to play the rhythm part crisply enough to express the 1/8-note rests clearly. So play loud, but keep it clean and crisp in this section.
  • m.46-52: this is the point where you can really let go. Keep the rhythm going strongly, but let the chords ring – no muting – for a bigger feel as the end of the song approaches.
  • m.58: mute the last note of the song sharply.

#15 – Entr’acte
Pick: Dunlop 0.46mm nylon.

A reprise of the “Colors of Paradise” theme, but with the slight feel of a march. Play the accented chords as written in m.1-16, then strum the chorus section freely (m.17 onwards).

SEQUENCE F – COME ALIVE AGAIN (#16, #16-A, #16-B, #16-C, #16-D)
In this sequence, the essay contest continues to capture the imagination of the whole town and is the catalyst for a renewal of the spirit of Gilead, while Hannah starts to realize that Percy and Shelby are the key to everything…

#16: Come Alive Again Part 1
Pick: fingers.

I played this number as written from m.1 to m.58. The guitar solos m.13-20, m.37-44 and m.54-58 should be played cleanly, without much emphasis. From m.59 onwards the tempo slows, and the guitar picks 1/8-note arpeggios to the end of the number. Unhelpfully, the score has only slash marks. I played arpeggios fairly similar to those on the recording, which I provide below. At m.75, attach a capo at the 3rd fret for #16-A.


#16-A: Come Alive Again Part 2
Pick: Herdim yellow 0.63mm.
Capo: 3rd fret throughout.

In this number the guitar part is transposed due to use of the capo, to make it easier to read. The number actually starts in G major, but is written in E major. In these notes I refer to the transposed chords and pitches, not the actual concert pitches, to remain consistent with the guitar score. I used the thicker of my picks (the Herdim), for a fuller, warmer tone.

The rhythm of the piece is established in the first eight measures (it’s actually just a 4-measure phrase) and is maintained throughout the piece. The rhythm should be even and steady, rather than driving. Take care not to rush or push the tempo. Slash marks are used throughout from m.9 onwards, for ease of reading, but the same rhythm continues unchanged. As m.1-8 make clear, rich full chord voicings are required. You will also notice that the chord changes have a simple internal melody to them, and voicings should be chosen to let the melody come through clearly.


  • m.4: in the Esus2 chord, omit the higher E in the middle of the chord (voicing is E,B,F#, B). It’s not possible to play both the E and F#, and the F# is more important. This applies to all instances of Esus2 in the number.
  • For the G-based series of chords starting at m.25, I played a G,x,D,G,B,G voicing (i.e. A-string is muted). Gsus 4 is voiced G,x,D,G,C,G, and Gsus2 is voiced G,x,D,A,D,G.
  • m.31 and m.89: I added a 9th at the top of the voicing (F,A,C,G) to give an Fadd9 chord.
  • m.66: I used x,B,F#,A,B,E voicing for the B7sus4 chord.
  • Remove the capo at m.135 for the next number. There is plenty of time for the change.

#16-B: Come Alive Again Part 3
Pick: fingers.

The guitar provides delicate picked arpeggios through most of the number (except for m.53-87, where the part is simpler and explicitly written out. For the arpeggios (m.27-52 and m.88-125) only slash marks and chord names are provided, plus a guide to the required rhythm pattern in m.27 and m.92.

While this is pretty unhelpful in letting you know what to play, it does give you some flexibility. After studying the cast recording (which I recommend doing), I worked out a series of satisfying voicings and a very slight variation on the rhythm, for which I provide a full transcription here. My version adds a steady bass pulse to the required picked rhythm. The part also works nicely if you omit the last 1/8 note in each pattern, because it gives you more time to make a clean chord change, and is a little easier to play.

At m.126, attach a capo at the 2nd fret for the next number. There is plenty of time to make the change.

#16-C: Come Alive Again Part 4
Pick: Herdim yellow 0.63mm.
Capo: 2nd fret throughout.

Once again the guitar part is transposed due to use of the capo, to make it easier to read. The number actually starts in B major, but is written in A major. In these notes I refer to the transposed chords and pitches, not the actual concert pitches, to remain consistent with the guitar score. I used the thicker of my picks (the Herdim), for a fuller, warmer tone.

This number returns to the strummed rhythm of #16-A: “Come Alive Again Part 2”. The rhythm is established in the first 4 measures and maintained throughout, except in m.52, 56, 64 and 68, where the required rhythm is indicated.


  • m.1-4: the notes shown are the top notes of the voicings. Full chord voicings should be played using the rhythm shown.
  • The guitar is the driving rhythm of this piece. Keep it moving along, but be careful not to rush.
  • As ever, pay careful attention to the dynamic changes in this piece to maximize its expressiveness.
  • At the end of the piece, remove the capo very quickly for the applause segue into #16-D: “Picture Postcard”.

#16-D: Picture Postcard
Pick: Herdim yellow 0.63mm.
Mandolin: m.22-23.

This number starts as a playoff for “Come Alive Again”, then segues into a short scene. The rhythm of the previous number is resumed for m.1-8, and breaks down in m.9-12. Switch to mandolin, then play m.22-23 as written. The tremolo note at the end is held until for quite a long time, until cut off on a dialog cue.

16-E: Ten Acres
Guitar is TACET throughout this brief number. The piano plays a 1-measure figure 6-times, then there is a direct segue into #17: “Forest For The Trees”. Listen carefully and be ready to hit that downbeat, which is a guitar solo.

#17: Forest For The Trees
Pick: fingers.

This number has the deserved reputation of being one of the more difficult numbers in the show for guitar. It opens with an exposed, fingerpicked guitar solo, which is all 16th note arpeggios at a tempo of about 108. While this is not particularly challenging in itself, matters are complicated by the fact that every ¼-note downbeat is tied to the preceding 16th note. Put simply, you’re trying to maintain a steady 4 rhythm, while never actually playing any downbeats, and this is quite tricky (see the excerpt below, where I’ve marked the downbeats). It’s slightly disorientating to play, and it’s easy to lose the feel of the rhythm.


However, it is possible to get it right, and when you do, the off-beat picking pattern has the effect of driving the song forward quite effectively. I offer the following suggestions to help learn and play this number:

  1. Practice (a lot!) with a metronome. Start with a slower tempo and work up the required 108.
  2. Playing along to the cast recording is a great way of internalizing the feel of this number.
  3. When playing in the ensemble, listen for the bass part played by the keyboard, which has the downbeats.
  4. If you feel your hold on the rhythm slipping, “reset” at the next measure by actually playing a downbeat on either beat 1 or beat 3 of a measure (or both). The guitarist on the cast recording does this, usually at chord changes. I provide an example below. As you get more used to playing the piece, you’ll need to “reset” the rhythm less often.



  • m.46-47: I played this rhythm precisely as written.
  • m.48-52: I played a busier 16th-note rhythm than written, using the written part to guide my choice of emphasis.
  • m.56: the use of 32nd-notes in beat 4 is correct. The recording also has them on beat 2 and I followed the recording.
  • m.58-59: I played a 5th fret voicing of the A sus chord, with a rapid crescendo and more 32nd notes on the offbeats. The score says “Go for it!” and you can really dig in here before coming to a dramatic stop in m.59.

#18: Wild Bird
Pick: fingers.

My favorite number in the show, and one of my favorite songs in any musical. This is an intensely emotional moment, reducing many people to tears. The guitar is very exposed and you have the opportunity to play very expressively. The Piano-Conductor score has the following note: “WILD BIRD should be sung in strict tempo, with the printed vocal rhythm precisely observed”. The vocal is very off-beat and irregular, so it’s important to resist the temptation to stretch the tempo.

My approach was to play warmly, while cleanly articulating each note and keeping to tempo, but never allowing my playing to assume a “robotic” feel. I added expression by making very slight variations in picking force and volume where appropriate. It’s a fine line between expressiveness and melodrama: you mustn’t distract attention from the vocal.

I played the number precisely as written, and used simple 1/8 note arpeggios at m.46-55, the only section where the part is not fully written out.

#18-A: Opening II-3
Pick: Dunlop 0.46mm nylon.

This scene change music is a reprise of the “This Wide Woods” theme of #11. I strummed big, ringing, low-voiced chords (1st and 2nd frets), following the rhythm and emphasis shown in the score. This number is identical to #9-A: “Opening I-6”.

SEQUENCE G – SHINE (#19, #19-A, #20)
In this sequence, The Visitor takes Percy to watch the sunrise, and Percy makes peace with the ghosts of her past. It’s an uplifting moment.

#19: Before Sunrise
Pick: Fingers

The guitar plays only measures 1 and 2, which should be played as written.

#19-A: Sunrise U/S
Pick: Dunlop 0.46mm nylon.
Mandolin: m.29-34.

This is the moment where Percy sees the sunrise. I played the piece exactly as written, using obvious, low voicings for the chords in m.9-18. The idea in this number is to build volume and intensity steadily to the climax at m.17-18, which is like a release. Change quickly to mandolin at m.19.

Starting at m.29, the mandolin plays a sustained tremolo “E” for the last 6 measures, which continues for a further 14 measures into the next number. Steadiness of the tremolo is more important than speed.

#20: Shine
Pick: Dunlop 0.46mm nylon.
Mandolin: m.1-14.

The number segues directly from #19-A: “Sunrise U/S”, with the tremolo “E” on mandolin continuing to m.14. Change to guitar at m.15.

The main part of the song has a slow, slightly bluesy rock feel to it. The number builds steadily in intensity throughout, so it’s important not to play to heavily from the beginning, as that gives you nowhere to go. Start fairly lightly at m.41 (the score says “[Easy strum]”) and build from there.

There’s a particular off-beat emphasis to the number, that helps create a sense of heaviness. The rhythm as written should be followed reasonably closely, and (as always) I recommend listening to the cast recording to help internalize the feel of this song.


  • Pay careful attention to dynamics markings throughout, especially between m.68-87, as the number builds steadily in volume and intensity to a powerful climax.
  • m.103: I played a low Db voicing at the first fret.

#20-A: After ‘Shine’
Pick: Dunlop 0.46mm nylon.

This scene change is identical to #1-A: “Morning Prep”. I played this with a more “rock ’n’ roll” feel than written. See the notes on #1-A above for details.

#20-B: End Effy-Joe Scene
Mandolin: m.1-8 (no guitar in this number).

This is the same tune as #20-B: “After ‘Shine’”, but with the mandolin playing the strings’ part. I played this exactly as written. It’s also the last appearance of the mandolin in the score.

#20-C: Broken Plate U/S
Pick: fingers.

In this brief piece of underscore, the Guitar reprises the “Ring Around The Moon” melody for 4 measures. I played the piece exactly as written.

#20-D: Way Back Home Intro

This is an 8-measure cello solo. Guitar is TACET throughout, but there is a direct segue into the top of #21: “Way Back Home”, so be ready to hit the downbeat on cue after the fermata in m.8.

#21: Way Back Home
Pick: fingers.

Another beautiful, emotional moment: Hannah reconciles with her estranged son. Unlike #18: “Wild Bird”, this number lends itself to being more free with the tempo. Our Music Director followed the vocalist somewhat – the whole thing gets a little rubato.

The guitar is prominent in this number, and I played it warmly and delicately, with clearly articulated picking, but not too crisply. As always, attention to dynamics is important.


  • m.27-44: the score has only slash marks in these measures. I played a simple rhythm, which I reproduce an example of below.
  • m.59-66: once again the score has only slash marks. I played rolled whole note chords, as shown below.
  • m.89-90: harmonic, 12th fret on B string.
  • m.90-91: harmonic, either 5th fret on B string or 7th fret on high E string.


SEQUENCE H – DEAR MRS. FERGUSON (#22, #22-A, #22-B, #23)
This final sequence wraps up the plot quite briskly and brings the show to a happy conclusion. As you might expect, it’s mostly reprises.

#22: Dear Mrs. Ferguson
Pick: fingers.

A reprise of #16-B: “Come Alive Again Part 3”, this is mostly picked 1/8-note arpeggios. Like #16-B, the score has only slash marks. I provide a complete transcription of what I played here.

#22-A: The Scene Continues
Pick: fingers.

This brief underscore reprises the melody of #17: “Forest For The Trees”, then jumps back into the 1/8-note arpeggio pattern of the previous number, before it segues into the next.


  • m.1-6: this is an exposed guitar solo. Play simply, cleanly and accurately. Count m.69-12 in 4, as indicated.
  • m.9-12: back to the 1/8-note picking pattern. The score has only slash marks. I provide a transcription of what I played below.
  • There is a direct segue into the next number.


#22-B: The Last Letters
Pick: fingers (m.1-29), Dunlop 0.46mm nylon (m.30-39).

I played this number exactly as written, except that m.1-11 (which is a continuation of the 1/8-note picking pattern from the previous two numbers) has only slash marks. I provide a transcription of what I played below. At m.30 I switched from fingers to a pick (the measure is marked “[Strum BIG]”).


#23: Finale
Pick: fingers (m.1-35), Dunlop 0.46mm nylon (m.36-70).

The show wraps up with a big reprise of #9: “The Colors Of Paradise”. It builds from whole-note chords, into a finger-picked pattern and finally to a big strummed chorus at the end. I played the number as written.


  • m.30-34: this section has only slash marks. I continued the rhythm of the preceding measures (I provide a transcription below).
  • m.36: I switched from fingers to a pick at m.36, because it was a convenient place to do so, ready for the big final chorus.
  • m.65-70: the piece slows down a lot here and these measures are pretty much conducted. Watch the conductor carefully.
  • There is an applause segue into #24: “Bows”.


#24: Bows
Pick: Herdim yellow 0.63mm.

The Bows is a reprise of the last section of #14-A: “Shoot The Moon Part 2”. Just dig in and go for it with this number. See my notes on #14-A for more detail. I played the number mostly as written, but from m.25 onwards let the chords ring out more (similar to m.47 onwards in #14-A), for a bigger finish. There is an applause segue into the exist music, #25: “Out March”.

#25: Out March
Pick: Dunlop 0.46mm nylon.

The exit music is a reprise of “The Colors Of Paradise”. The number is mostly slash marks, but by now the rhythm should be pretty familiar! Where there were specific rhythm markings I followed those. Chords are low, obvious voicings throughout.

The Spitfire Grill – A Perspective
Playing The Spitfire Grill – Guitar & Mandolin

The Spitfire Grill (Musical) Wikipedia page
Official site for the musical
Licensing (Concord Theatricals)
Off-Broadway Cast recording CD
YouTube playlist of cast recording
Showtunes Theatre: website and Facebook page
Herdim picks
Blue Chip Mandolin Picks
Sally Hansen Advanced Hard As Nails (Nail Hardener)

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