DVD Workshops Are Back In Stock!

By popular demand we are making our DVD workshops available again!

I am working on the web page as we speak, but you can call Dear Old Dad for special pricing on a set of three banjo workshops: Basic Frailing Banjo, Basic Frailing Techniques and Frailing The Blues.

Call (410) 968-3873 for more information.

Maryland Folk Retreat Instructors

Dear Old Dad here with a link to the Folk Musicians’ Retreat instructor page.
Workshops on fiddle, songwriting, dulcimer, ukulele, banjo and more.
http://www.marylandfolk.com/instructors/

I am really looking forward to Jared’s early banjo class. He also teaches dulcimer and ukulele. A great instructor.

Diana will host a workshop to help folks get comfortable in a jam (a lot of requests for this one). She will also lead a hootenanny on Friday evening in the dining room.

Guy and Karen will help out with country singing and jamming.
Believe me, Guy is a country music jukebox.

Joe and Rosa will lead a gospel sing-along/jam. You’ll love these folks.

Sarah is a brilliant musician and a gifted teacher. Your fiddle will thank you for spending time with her.

Pete will host workshops in songwriting and singing. You’ll love his creative and entertaining style. I hope that he will again host our Saturday evening open mike.

Lowell will be on hand to answer questions about your banjo, instrument building and woodcarving. He will also have some of his favorite builds on display.

Patrick and I will be doing our thing in groups and one on one as needed.

Call me if you have an idea for a workshop
410-968-3873

Easy Bluegrass Banjo

I was going to leave this workshop in my archives, but my friend Alex just posted on Twitter that he was getting back into bluegrass. So here it is, a introduction to playing three finger or “bluegrass” banjo. This document covers tuning, rhythm, a basic picking pattern or “roll”, chords, reading tab and ends up with the reader playing and singing several popular folk songs. I wrote this back in 2003.

Easy Bluegrass Banjo

In spite of whatever you may have been told to the contrary, bluegrass banjo isn’t all that difficult. Like any folk instrumental style, making music at home or jumping into jam session really only requires an understanding of a handful of techniques and concepts that you can learn in an afternoon.

We’re not going to look at playing lead breaks or fancy licks here. That stuff is a lot of fun, but in order for them to work you really have to be grounded in the basics. One of the reasons people give up on the banjo is they try to jump into the advanced material right away.

Look at it this way; Earl Scruggs didn’t play Foggy Mountain Breakdown the first time he picked up his banjo. It took him years to get his skills to that point. It’s going to be the same way for you.

Besides, what I’m going to share with you is a lot cooler than being able to play one song, we’re going to walk away from this workshop able to play and sing thousands of songs.

Stop shaking your head. I’m not kidding here. In fact, rather than just telling you what we’re going to be doing it would be much more interesting to just do it.

Come on, grab that banjo and let’s start making music.

The first step is getting in tune.

When you are tuning your banjo you should know how the strings are numbered. The short string is the fifth string. When you are holding your banjo the fifth string will be on top and the first sting will be closest to the floor.

Your banjo is tuned to an open G chord.

  • The fifth string is tuned to G.
  • The fourth string is tuned to D.
  • The third string is tuned to G.
  • The second string is tuned to B.
  • The first string is tuned to D.

Be sure to have the string ringing when you crank on your tuning pegs. This helps you avoid tightening the string past its breaking point.

To tune your banjo without a tuner just follow these steps:

  1. Assume that your first string is at least close to being in tune.
  2. Play your second string at the third fret. Tune it up or down so that it matches the sound of the first string played open.
  3. Play your third string at the fourth fret. Tune it up or down so that it matches the sound of the second string played open.
  4. Play your fourth string at the fifth fret. Tune it up or down so that it matches the sound of the third string played open.
  5. The fifth string played open should sound the same as the first string played at the fifth fret.

Sit down with your banjo in a straight-backed chair that doesn’t have any arms. I know, the sofa or the recliner is much more comfortable but for now go along with me on this. Posture is something you want to get right from the start because bad posture can make the right and left hand techniques we are going to be working on harder than they need to be.

Sit up straight.

I know, it’s our natural inclination to slouch- it’s more comfortable and it looks cooler- but until you can do this in your sleep you want to add a dash of ritual and discipline into your practice time.

So like I said, sit up straight.

Hold your banjo in your lap with the pot (or resonator) is flat against your belly. Not off to the side, not on your knee. I’d also suggest using a strap while you do this so your hands are not supporting the banjo.

Bring your banjo neck up so that the fifth peg is up by your ear. If you were facing a clock you’d want the neck up by 10 or 11.

Now let’s talk about your picking hand for a second. First off, I really wouldn’t suggest wearing picks right away. The last thing you need is volume right now and once you get a feel for the rhythm of the picking pattern it won’t be a big deal to put on picks later on down the road – and trust me, it’ll be a big advantage down the road to be able to work with and without picks because, in spite of what some folks may say, you are not always going to want to be loud.

Now with your forearm of your picking had resting lightly on the armrest – or, if you are like me and just hate armrests you can rest your forearm right on the edge of the tension hoop. I like working without an armrest because I can use the meat of my forearm on the banjo head to change the tone of the instrument while I’m playing. You can do this to get a softer sound or, if you mess around with it a bit, you can get a sort of wah-wah or rotating speaker effect . . .was I? Oh yeah, with your arm resting lightly on the rim or the armrest drop your hand down so that your thumb is on the fifth string, your index and middle fingers are on the first and second string and either your ring or little finger (or both) is/are resting on the head to steady your hand.

Notice I left the right, little or both option up to you – and also notice that I said to “support” your hand. You don’t have to apply any pressure on your banjo head. Just keep things light and kind of loose.

Got that? Cool, we’re almost ready to boogie, but first we have to talk a little bit about rhythm.

Rather than talk about rhythm, let’s actually experience it together. What I want you to do is to tap your foot on the floor four times.

No, we’re not doing an impression of an old Roy Rogers and Trigger routine. There is a method to my madness here so just trust me and tap your foot four times.

Tap . . . tap  . . . tap  . . .tap.

That was easy enough, right? Now we’re going to do the same thing but count out loud each time we tap. Count, “one” as your foot hits the floor for the first time. Bring your foot back up and then tap again and count,” two”. Keep that going until you get to four.

One    two   three   four      
Tap    tap    tap    tap

Now keep repeating that a few times. Count on each tap and after four go back to “one”. Try to keep the space between each tap the same.

What you are doing here is playing a quarter note rhythm in 4/4 time.

No, really. I’m not making this up, that’s really what you are doing here.

In music everything from the notes you play to the rests where you don’t play anything has a time value attached to it. That time value is defined as rhythm. Without rhythm the notes would have no context and everything would just come out like noise.

We break music up into measures with a specific number of beats. A beat is the term we use to describe the pulse of the music. The number of beats in a measure is dictated by the time signature.

The time signature tells us how many beats are played in a measure or group of measures. A time signature like 4/4 indicates that we will play four beats to a measure (4/) and that each beat will have the value of a quarter note (/4). If the time signature was 3/4 it would indicate three beats to a measure (3/) and that each beat will have the value of a quarter note (/4).

6/8 indicates that each measure will have six beats (6/) and that each beat will have the value of an eighth note (/8).

  • A whole note is a note that is counted for the whole value of the measure.
  • A half note has one half the time value of a whole note.
  • A quarter note has one half the time value of a half note.
  • An eighth note has one half the time value of a quarter note.

When you were tapping your foot and counting to four each tap was being given the value of a quarter note.

Nothing to it, right?

Now what I want you to do is repeat the tap & count exercise, but this time I want you to say “and” as your foot comes up after each tap. Count, “one” as your foot hits the floor for the first time. Bring your foot back up and say, “and”. Tap again and count,” two”. Bring your foot back up and say, “and”. Keep that going until you get to four.

One   and   two    and   three   and   four      
Tap         tap           tap           tap

Now keep repeating that a few times. Count on each tap and after four go back to “one”. Try to keep the space between each tap the same.

What you have just done is tap out an eighth note rhythm in 4/4 time.

Compare the two different counts. In the first example we were counting four beats and in the second example we were counting eight beats. By adding the “and” between each tap we were changing the count to cut the quarter notes in half.

Spend a little bit of time tapping and counting the eighth note rhythm:

One   and   two    and   three   and   four      
Tap         tap           tap           tap

In bluegrass banjo the basic picking pattern is made up of eighth notes. That, “one and two and three and four and” count is going to be the core of almost everything you do down the road. I don’t mean to imply that you will only be playing eighth notes. As you gain skill down the road you will be able to alter this rhythm using any convincible note value to phrase out melody lines, but for right now you’ll be sticking to an eighth note roll.

What’s a roll? A roll is just banjo slang for a repeating pattern of notes. The “sound” of bluegrass banjo is really created by playing a string of eighth notes – and as you get better you’ll find all kinds of ways to play that string of eighth notes. Starting out with a repeating roll just makes things easier when you are starting out.

Rather than talk about it, let’s play a roll.

Go back to where we were before we started talking about rhythm. You should be sitting with your arm resting lightly on the rim or the armrest drop your hand down so that your thumb is on the fifth string, your index and middle fingers are on the first and second string and either your ring or little finger (or both) is/are resting on the head to steady your hand.

The way we are going to be picking is really simple. Your thumb is going to pick ‘down’ towards the floor and your index & middle fingers will be picking ‘up’ towards your chin.

Relax; this is going to be easy.

Pick the third string with your thumb. Count “one”.
Pick the second string with your index finger. Count “and”.
Pick the fifth string with your thumb. Count “two”
Pick the first string with your index finger. Count “and”
“One and two and”. We’ve just played half of a measure. I told you this was easy.

Run through that a few times and then add in the second half of the measure.

  • Pick the fourth string with your thumb. Count “three”.
  • Pick the second string with your index finger. Count “and”.
  • Pick the fifth string with your thumb. Count “four”
  • Pick the first string with your index finger. Count “and”

“One and two and three and four and”
That’s a full measure.

Let’s play this all together:

  • Pick the third string with your thumb. Count “one”.
  • Pick the second string with your index finger. Count “and”.
  • Pick the fifth string with your thumb. Count “two”
  • Pick the first string with your index finger. Count “and”
  • Pick the fourth string with your thumb. Count “three”.
  • Pick the second string with your index finger. Count “and”.
  • Pick the fifth string with your thumb. Count “four”
  • Pick the first string with your index finger. Count “and”

Play through this a few times at a nice easy pace. Be sure to count out loud and tap your foot while you pick so you can keep the rhythm smooth.

Mess around with that for a while and, when you’re ready, we’ll look at this roll in tablature.

What’s tablature?

Tablature, “TAB” for short, is a teaching tool. If you look at the snippet of tab below you’ll see the five strings of your banjo with the D or “first-string” on top and fifth or the short string on the bottom.

Numbers on a tab line tell you what string to hit and on which fret to- you guessed it- fret the string. “0” tells you to play a string open and “1” would mean to play a string at the first fret.

Sometimes below a tab you will see symbols to tell you which finger you should use to pick a string.

T = thumb
I = index
M = middle

That roll we just played would look like this in TAB:

------------0-----------0--
------0-----------0--------
---0-----------------------
---------------0-----------
---------0-----------0-----
   1  &  2  &  3  &  4  &
   T  I  T  M  T  I  T  M

By the way, this is the only TAB I’m going to use for this workshop.

This isn’t the only roll. There are thousands of different rolls you can come up with. I just happen to like this one for a basic picking pattern.

Why do I like this roll?

Well, when you are playing in 4/4 time the emphasis is usually n the first and third beat. If you look at this roll you will notice that your thumb is alternating between the third and fourth string on the first and third beats. That makes it easier to keep a steady rhythm and put your emphasis in the right place without worrying too much about it.

The other cool thing going on is that alternating between the third and fourth strings gives a nifty alternating bass effect. When we start changing chords and singing in a little while that alternating bass effect is going to give the picking pattern a feeling of motion that sounds pretty cool.

Play this roll for a little while. Don’t stare at your picking hand and don’t get all tense and nervous about hitting the right string. Looking at your picking hand isn’t going to help your accuracy – in fact it’ll only throw off your rhythm because there will be a pause in your timing as your eyes send a signal to your brain to signal your fingers that your are on the right string. Being tense about screwing up and hitting the wrong string will only ensure that you do just that: screw up and hit a wrong string.

Relax. This is supposed to be fun. You’re playing the banjo, an instrument somewhere on the wonderful scale between puppies in a basket next to a sleeping baby on Easter Morning and eating a chunky peanut butter sandwich on a spring day under a maple tree. Don’t ruin the joy of making music by worrying and beating yourself up. If you hit a wrong string keep going. If your rhythm gets funky stop for a beat and start again on the next beat. The only things that really matters is that your rhythm is consistent and you are enjoying yourself.

Keep playing that roll for a while. Give yourself some time to get used to how this all feels. If you’re wearing picks try the roll without them. If your not wearing picks try it with them on.

As you are playing this roll over and over again mess around with where your hand is positioned between the bridge and the neck of your banjo.

When we started I left the “where” of the hand position up to you. My reason for this is simply because there really is no “wrong” place for your picking hand.

Let’s draw up a really simple diagram and say that the first “|” represents where the pot meets the fretboard, the “—-” represents the strings and the last “|” represents the bridge:

|---------------|

Got that?

Now position your hand so that your supporting finger/fingers are close to the bridge and play your roll.

|-------------x-|

You’ll notice that the roll sounds kind of crisp.

Now position your hand closer to the neck and play the roll again.

|-x-------------|

All of a sudden the sound isn’t quite so bright. It’s still loud, but it’s not as crisp as it is closer to the bridge.

As you play your roll over and over again (after all, repetition is part of practice) move your hand between the bridge and the neck until you find a spot that sounds good and feels good to you.

Play the roll for a while longer and then we’ll start working on chords.

Don’t panic. The chords we’re going to use here are really easy.

Your first step to making a chord is to position your fretting hand so that the pad of your thumb is on the centerline of the back of your banjo neck. Your thumb should be running straight across the back of your banjo neck not running parallel with it. Keep your arm relaxed. If your elbow is sticking out at a funny angle or if your wrist feels uncomfortable adjust your position until things feel right.

Lay your index finger across the fifth fret so that you are hitting all four strings.

Strum across all four strings with your picking hand. You want teach string to ring clearly.

Have you got it?

Congratulations. You’ve just made a C chord!

Now I want you to spend a little bit of time playing your roll out of the open G chord and then playing the roll while holding the C chord at the fifth fret. Your goal here should be to switch back and forth between a measure open G and a measure of barre-C without breaking the rhythm. It’ll feel awkward at first, but if you stick to it it’ll smooth out.

Now I want to your make another chord. This will be exactly like the C chord at the fifth fret, but this time you will be laying your finger across the seventh fret to make a D chord.

Now you know three chords.

Just like we did with the barre-C chord, spend some times rolling between G, C and D. Once you can play a measure of each chord consecutively without stopping the picking pattern it’s time to learn your first song.

In the diagram below I have broken the old song “Skip To My Lou” into measures with a number for the chord you need to play over the lyrics and the count for each measure under the lyrics.

In the first line you play two open G rolls and sing, “Lost my partner, what’ll I do?”

In the second line you barre across the seventh fret to make a D chord and sing, “Lost my partner, what’ll I do?”

In the third line you play two open G rolls and sing, “Lost my partner, what’ll I do?”

In the fourth and final line you play one measure barring across the seventh fret to make a D chord and sing, “skip to my lou my” followed by one measure of open G as your sing, “darling”

Go ahead and give it a shot. Don’t be bashful about singing. Keep the rhythm smooth and be sure to tap your foot.

Let ‘er rip!

0                |
 Lost my  partner | what'll I do?
  1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & | 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &
 7                |
 Lost my  partner | what'll I  do?
 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &  | 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &
 0                |
 Lost my  partner | what'll I  do?
 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &  | 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &
7                 | 0
Skip to my lou my | dar-   ling
 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &  | 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &
Hey! You just played a song!

Play through that a few times and then we’ll talk about why these barre chords work.

When you made a barre chord on the fifth fret you were making a C chord and at the seventh fret you were making a D chord. The way this works is actually pretty simple.

In Western music (and when I say “Western” I don’t mean cowboy music. It refers to Western civilization there are twelve different notes. The twelve notes are named after the letters A through G with a note or half-step between each pair of letters except between B and C and E and F:

A | B C | D | E F | G |

Your half step is either a sharp (#) or a flat (b.)

The half step between A and B can be called either A# or Bb.

A# means that the A note is raised one half step higher. Bb is the B note lowered one half step. A# and Bb are the same note and the other half steps follow the same pattern.

So with all twelve notes laid out you have the chromatic scale:

A A#/Bb B C C#/Db D D#/Eb E F F#/Gb G G#/Ab
1   2   3 4   5   6   7   8 9  10   11 12

Once you understand the idea of half steps you can just write out your chromatic scale like this to save space and make it a tad clearer.

The ” | ” symbol will be used to represent a half step.

A | B C | D | E F | G |

The frets on your banjo are laid out on half steps. When we tune a guitar to open G the barre chords wind up following the steps of a chromatic scale.

Fret: 0  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12 
      G  |  A  |  B  C  |  D  |  E   F   |   G |

With your banjo tuned to open G a barre chord at the first fret has to be G#/Ab and a barre chord at the second fret has to be A. If you look at how this is laid out your barre chord at the fifth fret is C and at the seventh fret you get D. Since everything repeats itself after twelve frets you can get another G chord by barring across the twelfth fret.

Now rather than just using fret numbers, let’s see what “Skip To My Lou” looks like with the chord names written in:

 G                |
 Lost my  partner | what'll I do?
  1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & | 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &
 D                |
 Lost my  partner | what'll I  do?
 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &  | 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &
 G                |
 Lost my  partner | what'll I  do?
 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &  | 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &
D                 | G
Skip to my lou my | dar-   ling
 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &  | 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &

It’s amazing how many chords you can make with one finger, but there are a lot of other ways to make chords. I’m going to go over a couple more songs with you using one-finger chords, but when you feel confident with that go ahead on your own and start looking for more chord forms on the Internet.

Okay, we know a two-chord song and that’s cool – but now let’s up the ante to three chords. I know, I know. You’ve got this wired now. No sweat, right?

In the next song, “Boil Them Cabbage Down” we are going to be playing barre chords just like we did with “Skip To My Lou”, but now we are adding a C chord into the mix and there is one other little twist in the seventh measure.

In the seventh measure we are playing half a measure of G and half a measure of D. In order to do that we have to change the chord after “two and”.

And easy way to remember when to change the chord is to make the change when your thumb plays the fourth string. I’ll mark the change using the tab example of the roll:

G           D
------------0-----------0--
---*--0-----------0--------
---0-----------*-----------
---------------0-----------
---------0-----------0-----
   1  &  2  &  3  &  4  &
   T  I  T  M  T  I  T  M

Ready? Let’s go!

G                  C
Went up on the   | mountain just to
1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &  | 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &
G                  D
give my horn a   | blow.       I
1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &  | 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &
G                    C
Thought I heard my | true love say,
1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &    | 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &
G       D          G 
Yonder comes my  | beau.
1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &  | 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &

Boil them cabbage down, down.
Turn them hoecakes down, down.
The only song that I can sing
Is boil them cabbage down.

Possum in a ‘simmon tree,
Raccoon on the ground.
Raccoon says, you son-of-a-gun,
Throw some ‘simmons down.

Someone stole my old coon dog,
Wish they’d bring him back.
He chased the big hogs through the fence
And the little ones through the crack.

Met a possum in the road,
Blind as he could be.
Jumped the fence and whipped my dog
And bristled up at me.

Butterfly he has wings of gold,
Firefly wings of flame.
Bedbug got no wings at all
but he gets there just the same.

Now take a look through the songs written out below and find one or two that you like. Sing the lyrics and try to work out where the chord changes fit into the roll. Sometimes the chord changes will be played halfway through a measure so remember how we worked around that in “Boil Them Cabbage Down”.

I know, I know. It seems kind of early to be setting you off on your own, but look at what you know at this point: You know a little bit about rhythm, you can play a roll, you can play a few chords, you can sing two songs and you even know a bit about the layout of the fretboard.

If that’s all you ever learn you can still spend the rest of your life finding songs to sing and people to sing them with. Go do it. If you decide to learn some other rolls and licks that’s great, but right now you can sit own with a guitar player and sing out on the front porch. For some folks that’s enough. It’s not up to me to tell you what to do next. Learn more chords, explore rhythms, go jam, mess around with ideas for playing melody from books or other free workshops on the web . . .

Just follow your heart.

All the best, Patrick Costello 2003

Mamma Don’t ‘low

G
Mamma don't 'low no
G
Banjo playin' round here
G
Mamma don't 'low no 
D
banjo playin' round here
        G
Well, I don't care what 
G
mamma don't 'low
      C
Gonna play banjo anyhow
G 
Mamma don't 'low no 
D                  G 
banjo playin' round here

Mamma don’t low no cussin’ and swearin’ ’round here etc.

Mamma don’t low no guitar playin’ round here etc.

Riley The Furniture Man\

G
When I was a poor boy, oh so sad
     C
That Riley from Virginia took
             G
Everything I had

Chorus:

G
Riley's been here
D                   G
got my furniture and gone!

Now it makes no difference to a rich man with all his fancy clothes
if you don’t pay Mr. Riley you got no place to go.

Riley come to my house and these are the words he said
throw that cracker driver out and load that poster bed.

Now Riley he’s a rich man off poor folks like me
every Sunday morning Riley gives to charity.

Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms

G
Ain't gonna work on the railroad
                         D
Ain't gonna work on the farm
G 
lay 'round this shack till the
C
mail train comes back 
         G          D           G
And I'll roll in my sweet baby's arms.

Roll in my sweet baby’s arms
Roll in my sweet baby’s arms
I’ll lay ’round this shack till the mail train comes back
And I’ll roll in my sweet baby’s arms.

Sometimes there’s a change in the ocean
Sometimes there’s a change in the sea
Sometimes there’s a change in my own true love
But there ain’t no change in me

Rosewood Casket

G                C   D   G
There's a little rosewood casket
G             C  D  G
Sitting on a marble stand
             C       G
And a packet of love letters
        D                G
written in my true love's hand

Come and read them to me, sister
come and sit beside my bed
lay your head upon my pillow
for tomorrow I’ll be dead

When I’m dead and in my coffin
and my shroud’s around me bound
and my narrow grave is ready
in some lonesome churchyard ground

Railroad Bill

  G
  Railroad Bill, Railroad Bill
  B                   C
  he never worked and he never will
           G        D        G
  and it's ride old Railroad Bill

Railroad Bill was a mighty mean man
he shot the midnight lantern out the breakman’s hand
and it’s ride old Railroad Bill

I’ve got a 38 special on a 45 frame
how can I miss when I’ve got dead aim?
and it’s ride old Railroad Bill

Going up a mountain going out west
38 special sticking out my vest
and it’s ride old Railroad Bill

(*note: to play a B chord just barre across the fourth fret)

Oh, Susanna

  G
  I come from Alabama 
                     D
  with a banjo on my knee
  G
  I'm going to Lou'siana   
               D      G
  my true love for to see
  G
  It rained all night the day I left
                     D   
  the weather it was dry
  G 
  The sun so hot I froze to death  
          D         G 
  Susanna don't you cry

Chorus:

  C             G               D
  Oh, Susanna, don't you cry for me
  G
  I come from Alabama with   
           D     G
  my banjo on my knee

I had a dream the other night
when everything was still
I dreamed I saw Susanna
A-coming down the hill
A red rose was in her cheek
A tear was in her eye
I said to her Susanna girl
Susanna don’t you cry.

Jessie James

G                          C             G
Jessie James was a lad who killed many a man
                        D
He robbed the Glendale train
G                             C          G
And with his brother Frank he robbed the Chicago bank
                   D          G
He'd a heart and a hand and a brain
Chorus:
C                                  G
Jessie had a wife to mourn for his life
                         D
Three Children they were brave
G                                C        G
But that dirty little coward who shot Mr. Howard 
              D             G
Has laid poor Jessie in his grave

It was Robert Ford, that dirty little coward
I wonder how he does feel
For he ate of Jessie’s bread
and slept in Jessie’s bed
And he laid poor Jessie in his grave

It was on a Wednesday night and the moon was shining bright
They robbed the Glendale train
And the people they did say
for many miles away
It was robbed by Frank and Jessie James

Jessie James was a man, a friend to the poor
He’d never see a man suffer pain
And with his brother Frank, he robbed the Chicago bank
And stopped the Glendale train

It was his brother Frank who robbed the Gallatin bank
And carried the money from the town
It was in this very place they had a little race
For they shot Captain Sheets to the ground

It was on a Sunday night and Jessie was at home
Talking with his family brave
Robert Ford came along like a thief in the night
And laid poor Jessie in his grave

The people held their breaths when they heard of Jessie’s death
And wondered how he came to die
It was one of his gang called Little Robert Ford
He shot poor Jessie on the sly

This song was made by Billy Gashade
As soon as news did arrive
He said there was no man with the law in his hand
Who could take Jessie James when alive

The Wreck Of The Old 97

G                                C
Well they gave him his orders in Monroe Virginia
G                                 D
Saying, "Steve you are way behind time
G                       C
This is not 38 but it's Old 97
G                          D           G
You've got to put her into Danville on time!"

Well he turned and he said to his black & greasy fireman
“Just shovel on a little more coal,”
and when we cross that White Oak Mountain
you can watch Old 97 roll!”

It’s a mighty rough road between Lynchburg and Danville
On a line with a three-mile grade
It was on this grade that he lost his air breaks
You can see what a jump that he made.

He was coming down that grade making ninety miles an hour
When his whistle turned into a scream.
He was found in the wreck with his hand on the throttle
He was scaled to death by the steam.

The Wabash Cannonball

G
From the great Atlantic Ocean
                    C
to the wide Pacific Shore
         D
From the Queen of flowing mountains
                          G
to the South Belle by the door
G
She's long and tall and handsome
 
                     C
well known by one and all
         D
She's a modern combination
                        G
called the Wabash Cannonball

Chorus:

G
Listen to the jingle
                   C
The rumble and the roar
D
riding through the woodlands
                       G
to the hill and by the shore.
G
Hear the might rush of engines
                       C
hear the lonesome hobo squall
D
riding though the jungles on
                 G
the Wabash Cannonball

The Eastern states are dandies so the Western people say
from New York to St. Louis and Chicago by the way
through the hills of Minnesota where the rippling waters fall
no chances need be taken on the Wabash Cannonball

Here’s to Daddy Claxton may his name forever stand
he will always be remembered by the ‘boes throughout our land
his earthly race is over and the curtain ’round him falls
we’ll carry him to victory on the Wabash Cannonball

The 2018 Maryland Folk Musicians Retreat

My father and I have been hosting retreats on Maryland’s Eastern Shore for over ten years.

We first hosted the gatherings down the street from where we live in Crisfield Maryland. We loved having the event close to home, but the location was not ideal. We looked around a bit and found an amazing place for the event in Centreville, Maryland.

The Centreville location is a million times more comfortable than Crisfield. In fact, it is so comfortable that we are expanding the event for the 2018 Retreat!

The 2018 Maryland Folk Musicians Retreat offers several levels of accommodation. The Riverside Retreat Center, Faith House and camping.

The Riverside Retreat Center is downright luxurious. Hotel-style rooms with big comfortable beds. Rooms are double occupancy with private bathrooms. Linens and towels are provided.

The Riverside Retreat Center also has sunrooms with 24-hour beverage service. You room is only steps away from the workshop rooms and the dining room.

Lodging at the Riverside Retreat Center also includes chef-prepared meals. The food is wonderful. We can accommodate most dietary needs.

Dear Old Dad and I will be the first to admit that the Riverside Retreat Center is a bit expensive. Faith House is a more affordable alternative. Faith House offers informal dormitory-style housing with bunk beds. There are separate bath & shower facilities and a kitchen where you can prepare your own meals. There is plenty of space to jam and you are a short walk from the workshops.

Another alternative is the campground. Bring your family, set up your tent and make yourself at home. Camping is close to the Retreat Center, so you won’t miss out on any of the fun. Bath facilities are nearby.

If you are staying at Faith House or camping you have the option of purchasing a ticket for meals in the dining room.

All accommodations include access to every jam and workshop.

We recruit instructors who are passionate about teaching. This event is about the music you make. Nobody will talk down to you or be condescending. This is not a banjo camp. There are no celebrities. This is a musician’s retreat. We are gathering together in fellowship to make music in a beautiful setting.

People contact us saying they feel that they are not playing at a high enough level to take part. I always tell them to stop worrying and come to the Retreat. If you have never been to a jam session the Retreat is a great place to start. If you have been playing for years you will find something to challenge and inspire you.

The Maryland Folk Musicians Retreat. A wonderful weekend of music and fellowship accessible to all skill levels and budgets. Register today at http:/marylandfolk.com or call (410) 968-3873. We can’t wait to make music with you!

Basic Frailing

Introduction
A few years ago I started messing around with the idea of putting together a plain-text introduction to frailing the five string banjo that I could use to answer the almost endless series of, how do I get started? posts on mailing lists and the Usenet.

Finding a way to explain the frailing stroke without pictures or sound files was a fun project to mess around with on rainy afternoons. After a while a couple of drafts started floating around the Internet. I decided that enough was enough and went on to other projects.

But some ideas take on a life of their own. I kept going back to the text file to tweak something. After a friend saw the file and asked if he could use it for an after school project he was involved with I wound up writing The How and the Tao of Old Time Banjo.

The How and the Tao of Old Time Banjo was (and is) a success, But the idea of a free document to introduce people to a way of making music that means a great deal to me wouldn’t get out of my head. So I sat down for one more Sunday afternoon of work and put the following document together.

This is by no means a compete overview of the art and craft of frailing the five string banjo. It’s just enough to get you started. Like any other art form old time banjo can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. Dear old Dad covers things much more thoroughly in the Old Time Banjo workshop..

What This document covers is picking up a five-string banjo, tuning it up, learning the basic strum and playing a couple of songs. If you want to go beyond that you can pick up a copy of The How and the Tao of Old Time Banjo, or just do what I did and live with the basics for about twenty years.

That’s enough talking. Let’s pick.

Tuning

The first step is getting in tune.

The exercises in this document are played out of G tuning.

When you are tuning your banjo you should know how the strings are numbered. The short string is the fifth string. When you are holding your banjo the fifth string will be on top and the first sting will be closest to the floor.

Your banjo is tuned to an open G chord.

  • The fifth string is tuned to G.
  • The fourth string is tuned to D.
  • The third string is tuned to G.
  • The second string is tuned to B.
  • The first string is tuned to D.

Be sure to have the string ringing when you crank on your tuning pegs. This helps you avoid tightening the string past its breaking point.

To tune your banjo without a tuner just follow these steps:

  • Assume that your first string is at least close to being in tune.
  • Play your second string at the third fret. Tune it up or down so that it matches the sound of the first string played open.
  • Play your third string at the fourth fret. Tune it up or down so that it matches the sound of the second string played open.
  • Play your fourth string at the fifth fret. Tune it up or down so that it matches the sound of the third string played open.
  • The fifth string played open should sound the same as the first string played at the fifth fret.

Basic Frailing

If we were face to face I could show you how to get this down in less than half and hour. But we’re not- and while text is a poor substitute for an in-person workshop this is the Internet and it’s free.

Let’s boogie.

Sit down with your banjo in a straight-backed chair that doesn’t have any arms. (I know, the sofa or the recliner is much more comfortable but for now go along with me on this).

Sit up straight.

I said sit up straight.

I know, it’s our natural inclination to slouch- it’s more comfortable and it looks cooler- but until you can do this in your sleep you want to add a dash of ritual and discipline into your practice time.

So like I said, sit up straight.

Hold your banjo in your lap with the pot (or resonator) is flat against your belly. Not off to the side, not on your knee. I’d also suggest using a strap while you do this so your hands are not

supporting the banjo.

Bring your banjo neck up so that the fifth peg is up by your ear. If you were facing a clock you’d want the neck up by 10 or 11.

With me so far?

For right now you left hand isn’t going to have too much to do. Support your banjo neck if you want, or feed yourself pizza while you practice your frailing stroke with the left. Chords come later, and then your left hand is going to hoping around all over the place. So for right now send that puppy off to Club Med or something.

Let’s put your right hand to work.

Stick your right arm our and make a fist.

Now stick out your index finger and thumb- just like when you were a kid playing cops and robbers you want that sort of ‘gun’ shape. Don’t clench your remaining three fingers to your palm but rather try to relax and keep everything kind of loosey-goosey. Tension just slows things down.

The middle finger should be a hair extended.

Look at your hand. You’ve got your thumb up, your index finger straight out, your middle finger loosely curled and the last two fingers lightly touching your palm.

I know- it looks kind of goofy.

You should see yourself with that banjo.

Now that you’ve got your hand into a rough frailing shape that that whole arraignment of fingers down to your banjo.

Put your thumb on your banjo head so that you are just a little but shy of touching the rim with the tip of your thumb. The pad of your thumb should be against the fifth string. (And this is where text kind of sucks for this- if you were here you’d see a sort of greasy spot where my thumb has been hitting over the years. And no, I’m not that much of a slob it happens to just about everybody’s banjo at some point)

Now rest your middle fingernail on the first string.

Allrighty. We’re almost there.

Take a look at your hand and where it’s at on the banjo. You’ll see that you can just raise it up a hair and drop that middle fingernail down to strike the first string. Do that.

Don’t flail around or open and close your hand or flick your fingers. Just use your thumb as a sort of pivot point to rear back (you won’t have to go very far) and swing in down to strike the string with your nail. Let the string pop off of the fingernail. Try it hard. Try it light. Try it in between and try it just right.

(Sorry had a Suess moment there. Shouldn’t happen anywhere . . .arrgh)

Once you get comfortable with the idea of just dropping your hand down to strike the first string try the same thing on your second, third and fourth. To hit those inside strings – well, look at your hand again. Your thumb is lying on the fifth string. If you close that webbing between your index finger and thumb you should see that you can swing you hand so that it’s over the string you want to hit.

We’re not talking big motion here. It’s just a hair this way and a hair that way. Don’t bee all stiff and rigid. Relax. Mess with it a while. You’ll drive everybody in the house nuts, but that’s why you wanted to play the banjo, right?

After the strike the next step is the strum.

Hit a string. Any string.

After you do that close the webbing between your thumb and index finger so that you hand comes back over the strings and your middle fingernail is over the third or fourth string.

While all of this is happening your thumb is staying in place.

Once you’ve reared back enough (and what that is is up to you but three strings is a safe bet) strike down across the strings with your middle fingernail.

So it’s pick, rear back, strum.

Do that a few times. Get used to it. Keep the thumb in place. As you pick and as you strum it’s a good idea to keep a sort of straight wrist. Your forearm is doing all of the work here using your thumb as a pivot point.

After you extend your hand for the strum you’ll see that your thumb is putting pressure on the fifth string. Roll your thumb off of the fifth string, bring it up to your hand and then drop it back in place on the fifth string. It’s sort of a rolling motion.

Once your thumb drops back (and you might get a nifty THUMP here and you might not- either way is cool) your hand swings your middle fingernail down (remember- there isn’t any finger motion here- it’s all in the forearm) on a a string (your choice) and the process starts over again.

Pick- Strum- Thumb.

Bump Dit- Ty.

A quarter note and two eighth notes.

In TAB it’s like this:

D---0-0-----------0-0-----|
B-----0-------------0-----|
G-----0-------------0-----|
D-----0-------------0-----|
G-------0-------------0---|

Reading TAB

TAB is a teaching tool. If you look at the snippet of tab above you’ll see the five strings of your banjo with the D or first-string on top and fifth or the short string on the bottom.

The numbers on the tab tell you what string to hit and on which fret to- you guessed it- fret the string.

The lines going down through the TAB are used to mark out measures .

A measure is a term used to describe how the rhythm of a song is laid out. The examples in this workshops are all in 4/4 time. 4/4 time is a rhythmic pattern where you are playing four beats to a measure. Without going into a lot of music theory (this is covered extensively in The how and the Tao of Old Time banjo ) you can think of 4/4 time as two bump dit-ty strums for each measure.

The example above is the basic strum in open G so all you have is zeros because there isn’t any fretting going on. For the same measure in C you’d get this:

D---2-2---2-2---|-|
B-----1-----1---|-|
G-----0-----0---|-|
D-----2-----2---|-|
G-------0-----0-|-|

Nothing to it, right?

One thing about the TAB used for this document: I used CSS to set the tab in a mono-spaced font. Without the CSS the TAB might be hard to read. You may want to copy this document and view it in a simple word processing program like Notepad with the font set to Courier-.)

I’m not a huge fan of TAB , but in a text setting it’s the only option. I’ll stick a few tunes at the end of this, but PLEASE keep in mind that this is a folk style and as such only really works when you play the song as YOU think it should sound, not how it’s written down!

Important:

A lot of the nitty gritty details of the stroke change from person to person. Our bodies all work in unique ways. I’ve got a buddy who adds this freaky little wrist flip after each downstroke. He can play very well so I figure there’s no real point in asking him about it. It works for him, what I do works for me.

You can use the index fingernail, and a lot of folks find it easier in the beginning (shoot I’ve been playing long enough that I can get pretty much the same sound with my pinky) but from what I’ve seen you can get a cleaner, and in some cases faster, attack with your middle fingernail. Try it for a while.

Another thing to keep in mind is that for the basic explanation of the frailing stroke I told you to keep your index finger straight out. I do this for the simple reason that it helps to keep that finger out of the way when you are just starting out. Once you get used to the motion your index finger will curl or straighten on it’s own (it really will) so don’t fret about it.

There’s also been a lot of debate about bending/not bending the thumb. The stroke described here works- the tip of the thumb playing the fifth technique works for others. Your best bet is to pick one now and stick to it. 99% of the problems most folks have with old time banjo is changing techniques and tunings over and over again.

Pick one, do it until the action becomes almost unconscious and worry about the unimportant stuff when you can play the banjo.

Chords

Let’s get a couple of chords down so we can get you playing a couple of tunes.

Creating a chord diagram is kind of tricky in plain text- so I just set up a tab for the first five frets on your banjo neck The numbers on the staff show you where to put your fingers to make the chord, and the recommended finger to use.

You already know one chord- open G- so there is no need for a G chord diagram.

C chord:
 D-------|--3---|-------|------|-----|
 B----1--|------|-------|------|-----|
 G-------|------|-------|------|-----|
 D-------|--2---|-------|------|-----|
 g-----------------------------|-----|
F chord:
 D-------|------|---3---|------|-----|
 B----1--|------|-------|------|-----|
 G-------|--2---|-------|------|-----|
 D-------|------|---3---|------|-----|
 g-----------------------------|-----|
D7 chord:
 D-------|------|-------|------|-----|
 B----1--|------|-------|------|-----|
 G-------|--2---|-------|------|-----|
 D-------|------|-------|------|-----|
 g-----------------------------|-----|

When you are making your chords keep in mind that you don’t have to press too hard. A lighter touch will also help you in the speed department down the road.

For hand position, draw an imaginary line down the back of your banjo neck and keep the ball of your thumb right about there. You’ll want to get a nice arch to your fingers so that you don’t hit two strings at the same time.

If your hand hurts stop. Walk away for an hour and come back.

There’s a lot more to chording- but this isn’t the time or place to cover that.

Mess with your chords. Try to get them sounding nice and clean.

Playing A Tune

Now, let’s play a tune.

Boil Them Cabbage Down is a neat old tune you can play using your C, F and open G chords. The song follows your basic strum all the way through. It’s a LOT easier to get if you sing while you play.

Let’s take a look at the TAB file:

Boil Them cabbage Down

C             F             C             G
D---2-2---2-2---|-3-3---3-3---|-2-2---2-2---|-0-0---0-0---|
B-----1-----1---|---1-----1---|---1-----1---|---0-----0---|
G-----0-----0---|---2-----2---|---0-----0---|---0-----0---|
D-----2-----2---|---3-----3---|---2-----2---|---0-----0---|
G-------0-----0-|-----0-----0-|-----0-----0-|-----0-----0-|
C             F             C     G       C
D---2-2---2-2---|-3-3---3-3---|-2-2---0-0---|---2-----2---|-|
B-----1-----1---|---1-----1---|---1-----0---|-1-1---1-1---|-|
G-----0-----0---|---2-----2---|---0-----0---|---0-----0---|-|
D-----2-----2---|---3-----3---|---2-----0---|---2-----2---|-|
G-------0-----0-|-----0-----0-|-----0-----0-|-----0-----0-|-|

The TAB is telling you to:

  • Play two bump dit-ty strums starting on the first string holding a C Chord.
  • Play two bump dit-ty strums starting on the first string holding an F Chord.
  • Play two bump dit-ty strums starting on the first string holding a C Chord.
  • Play two bump dit-ty strums starting on the first string holding a G Chord.
  • Play two bump dit-ty strums starting on the first string holding a C Chord.
  • Play two bump dit-ty strums starting on the first string holding an F Chord.
  • Play one bump dit-ty strum starting on the first string holding a C Chord.
  • Play one bump dit-ty strum starting on the first string holding a G Chord.
  • Play two bump dit-ty strums starting on the second string holding a C Chord.

That’s not too hard to do. Getting the rhythm smooth might be tricky at first but there isn’t all that much going on with this song. The tricky part comes when you start to sing along.

Playing and singing is a great thing to do because it makes even the most simple banjo tune sound pretty impressive. It can fell a little awkward at first- but that has more to do with being embarrassed about singing in public than anything going on with the banjo. My advice here is to just ask yourself something like, if I can’t stand having people look at me, why the hell am I playing the banjo? and then throw back your head and sing your heart out.

In order to play and sing Boil Them Cabbage Down you will want to break the lyrics up to fit the measures of the tune. That’s pretty hard to lay out in HTML without flooding the code with non-breaking-space symbols so we’re going to do this without using TAB .

I can hear you asking yourself, Without the TAB ? Surely, you must be joking.

No I’m not, and don’t call me Shirley.

Let’s take a look at the lyrics for Boil Them Cabbage Down .

Went up on a mountain to give my horn a blow
Thought I hear my true love say, “Yonder comes my beau!”

Now let’s break up the lyrics into measures.

Went up on a | mountain | to give my horn a | blow

Thought I heard my | true love say | yonder – comes my | beau!

So as you are playing your two bump dit-ty strums for the first measure you sing, Went up on a and sing, mountain as you are going into the F chord.

Take another look at the tab and see if you can work out the rest of the tune on your own.

Boil Them cabbage Down

C             F             C             G
D---2-2---2-2---|-3-3---3-3---|-2-2---2-2---|-0-0---0-0---|
B-----1-----1---|---1-----1---|---1-----1---|---0-----0---|
G-----0-----0---|---2-----2---|---0-----0---|---0-----0---|
D-----2-----2---|---3-----3---|---2-----2---|---0-----0---|
G-------0-----0-|-----0-----0-|-----0-----0-|-----0-----0-|
C             F             C     G       C
D---2-2---2-2---|-3-3---3-3---|-2-2---0-0---|---2-----2---|-|
B-----1-----1---|---1-----1---|---1-----0---|-1-1---1-1---|-|
G-----0-----0---|---2-----2---|---0-----0---|---0-----0---|-|
D-----2-----2---|---3-----3---|---2-----0---|---2-----2---|-|
G-------0-----0-|-----0-----0-|-----0-----0-|-----0-----0-|-|

Lyrics:

Went up on the mountain
Just to give my horn a blow.
Thought I heard my true love say,
Yonder comes my beau.

CHORUS:
Boil them cabbage down, down.
Turn them hoecakes down, down.
The only song that I can sing
Is boil them cabbage down.

Possum in a ‘simmon tree,
Raccoon on the ground.
Raccoon says, you son-of-a-gun,
Throw some ‘simmons down.

Someone stole my old coon dog,
Wish they’d bring him back.
He chased the big hogs through the fence
And the little ones through the crack.

Met a possum in the road,
Blind as he could be.
Jumped the fence and whipped my dog
And bristled up at me.

Butterfly he has wings of gold,
Firefly wings of flame.
Bedbug got no wings at all
but he gets there just the same.

After you have spent some time with Boil Them Cabbage Down you can give Cripple Creek a shot.

CRIPPLE CREEK

G           C    G       G          D7   G
D----5-5---5-0-|---2--0-0---|---0-------|-------0---|
B------0-------|-1------0---|-0-0-------|-------0---|
G------0-------|--------0---|---0---2-0-|-----0-0---|
D------0-------|--------0---|---0-------|-0-2---0---|
G--------0-----|----------0-|-----0-----|---------0-|
G           C    G       G          D7   G
D----5-5---5-0-|---2--0-0---|---0-------|-------0---|-|
B------0-------|-1------0---|-0-0-------|-------0---|-|
G------0-------|--------0---|---0---2-0-|-----0-0---|-|
D------0-------|--------0---|---0-------|-0-2---0---|-|
G--------0-----|----------0-|-----0-----|---------0-|-|
(chorus)
    G                                      D   G       
D------0-------|---0---0-0---|---0-------|-------0---|
B----0-0-------|-0-0-----0---|-0-0-------|-------0---|
G------0---2-0-|---0-----0---|---0---2-0-|-----0-0---|
D------0-------|---0-----0---|---0-------|-0-2---0---|
G--------0-----|-----0-----0-|-----0-----|---------0-|
G                                      D   G   
D------0-------|---0---0-0---|---0-------|-------0----|-|
B----0-0-------|-0-0-----0---|-0-0-------|-------0---*|-|
G------0---2-0-|---0-----0---|---0---2-0-|-----0-0---*|-|
D------0-------|---0-----0---|---0-------|-0-2---0----|-|
G--------0-----|-----0-----0-|-----0-----|---------0--|-|

Lyrics

I’ve got a gal at the head of the creek
Going to see her about the middle of the week

chorus going up cripple creek going in a run
Going up cripple creek to have some fun

Girls on cripple creek about half grown
Jump on a boy like a dog on a bone

That’s enough to keep you busy for a little while. As you get more comfortable with the bump dit-ty strum you can check out he other free workshops on the Funkyseagull web site .

Be patient. Don’t rush things. Give yourself time to get used to the basic skills and don’t every be afraid to give your own ideas a shot. It’s your banjo and it’s your music.

Patrick Costello
9/17/03

Calloused Ears: Tips on how to play the banjo “by ear”

This is a workshop on developing improvisational playing skills for frailing banjo players. Topics covered include chord progressions, scales and licks. This was typed out in Notepad back between 2003 and 2004.
-Patrick

Introduction

You hear a lot of banjo players talking about playing by ear nowadays. The popular vision of what’s involved in playing a tune off the cuff or on the fly at a jam session is kind of convoluted. People who don’t know how it really works almost always describe it as something difficult to do.

It really isn’t. I think a big part of the confusion stems from how people approach the idea. Most of the people I know who are totally tab-dependent (I like to call them “tab monkeys”) are fixated on playing lead breaks or instrumental tunes. While playing lead is fun and, to some peoples eyes, a bit cooler than playing rhythm it’s awful hard to make sense out of anything if you are only playing notes- even more so if you are reading tab and thinking of songs in terms of individual finger movements.

We rush things today. In this world of mass media and digital technology we are used to things coming to us at the snap of our fingers. I think that outlook bleeds into folk music sometimes and people start thinking that with the right formula playing at a professional level is as simple as writing a check or hoping naked on one foot in a circle by the light of a full moon in the backwoods of West Virginia.

For me, getting a grip on the skills and concepts involved in making music was and has been a combination of a journey and a growing process. I started out playing everything simply, picked up a lot of tricks and concepts from cool old dudes to get to the point where I could play really complex stuff and nowadays I’m back to playing things simply again. The things that seemed so important twenty years ago don’t mean as much to me now as having a chance to sit on the front porch and sing folk songs with my dad.

Besides, one thing I have learned over the years is that the player who can play lead for a couple of songs really only fits into groups that play those specific songs – and those songs have to be played exactly the same way as the lead player is used to playing them.

A solid rhythm player can make music anywhere with anybody.

Think about that for a second. Making music anywhere with anybody. Is that cool or what?

Rooting yourself in rhythm not only gives you the flexibility to wander from old time music to punk rock at will, it also gives you a foundation for playing really effective lead breaks down the road. It’s kind of like instead of learning one song you wind up learning thousands of songs.

Keep in mind that there isn’t any specific road map to learning the banjo or any other folk instrument. Everybody is going to have to blaze their own trail and find the route that works best for them but the process or trip is a little bit easier if you don’t rush things in the very beginning. Take the time to develop some basic skills.

No, you really won’t wind up sounding just like anybody else- but you will wind up sounding like yourself.

Most of the folks reading this will have spent, hopefully, at least a little bit of time working on some kind of basic picking pattern and chord changes- but there is another set of skills in the area of basic musicianship that usually get overlooked in favor of memorizing banjo sound effects like Foggy Mountain Breakdown.

Over the next few months, starting with the following workshop, I am going to present some of these basic skills starting with this workshop on understanding chord progressions. A lot of this material is covered in greater detail in my book The How and the Tao of Old Time Banjo and The How and the Tao of Folk Guitar, but there will be enough information presented here to get you started. Don’t rush this stuff. Take the time to really get a feel for how chord progressions work (and as you will be reading a little further down it really is a matter of “feel”) before you move on to the next workshop. This isn’t a race- and besides, when you drive too fast you can’t enjoy the scenery. You’ll be speeding through the countryside telling your kids, “That red blur was a barn and the brown blur was a cow.”

Getting Started
I am going to assume that you can play some kind of basic picking pattern in 4/4 and 3/4 time. If not, you may want to check out the free basic frailing workshop available here at Funkyseagull.com or pick up one of our CD ROM workshops. We’ll get into other time signatures like 6/8 down the road (God forbid we don’t go into some Irish fiddle tunes) but for right now we’re going to stick to playing in 4/4 and 3/4 time.

I know, right now some of you are thinking “time signatures?”

When I say that a song is in 4/4 time that four slash four or four over four is a time signature. Up to now we have just taken for granted that 4/4 means four beats to a measure and 3/4 time was three beats to a measure.

We’ll go into this subject in more detail a couple of workshops down the road, or you can pick up some of the material we have available on CD ROM.

If you can play a bump dit-ty for 4/4 time and a bump ditty-ditty for 3/4 time you’ve got the picking hand down enough to start messing with this stuff.

At this point I should add that this stuff isn’t frailing-specific. I just happen to really like frailing banjo. A boom-shuck and boom shuck-shuck on the guitar or some find of 4/4 and 3/4 finger picking patterns for bluegrass and other styles of banjo will work just fine. Music is music. A G note on the mandolin is the same as a G note on the banjo- they just sound a little different because the instruments have different voices

Building Chord Progressions
I think the first step to really being able to use chord progressions is learning how they are built. If I just say, “In the key of C you usually can count on the song using the C, F and G chords” if doesn’t give you the whole picture. As soon as you play a song like Freight Train in C and run into the E chord you’ll be thinking, “where the hell did that come from?”

So what “makes” a chord progression?

It’s built on scales.

Now, don’t freak out and run away here. I know that some goomer at a bluegrass festival might have convinced you that music theory is either hard or not applicable to the banjo but neither of those old wives tales is true.

Oh yeah, if you bring up that, “there aint no notes on a banjo,” quote I’ll spank you like a circus monkey.

Where were we? That’s right, scales.

A scale is just a sequence of notes. The formal term is something more along the lines of “the key of E is a major mode with a root of E,” but we won’t be getting into modes for a while so thinking of it as a sequence of notes makes things easier for now.

In Western music we are only working with twelve notes. The twelve notes are named after the letters A through G with a note or half-step between each pair of letters except between B and C and E and F:

A | B  C | D | E  F  | G |

Your half step is either a sharp (#) or a flat (b.)

The half step between A and B can be called either A# or Bb.

A# means that the A note is raised one half step higher. Bb is the B note lowered one half step. A# and Bb are the same note and the other half steps follow the same pattern.

So with all twelve notes laid out you have the chromatic scale:

A  A#/Bb  B  C  C#/Db  D  D#/Eb  E  F  F#/Gb  G  G#/Ab

Once you understand the idea of half steps you can just write out your chromatic scale like this to save space and make it a tad clearer. The ” | ” symbol will be used to represent a half step.

A | B  C |  D  |  E  F  | G | 

To hear this on your banjo play the third string at the second fret (an A note) and play that string on each fret all the way through twelve frets for each note of the chromatic scale.

To figure out the notes of the C scale we need to lay out the string of notes starting with our root note. In this case the root note is C so we start with the C note. Because we are only working with the letters A through G the notes after the G note is going to be A. It might help to think of the notes as being laid out in a loop or circle.

C | D | E F | G | A | B C

Now if you notice we started on C and ended on C. That second C is called the octave. It is the same note as the root but higher in pitch. What we have here now is a chromatic scale starting on C and ending on C. Root, whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, whole step, half step.

C is the root. 1. a whole step from C is D. 2. a whole step from D is E. 3. a half step from E is F 4. a whole step from F is G 5. a whole step from G is A 6. a whole step from A is B 7. a half step from B is C

So your C scale is C D E F G A B C

Now, try writing out some scales on your own.

Once you have a scale laid out- and it might be a good idea to sit down and work out A couple of scales here for keys you will be using a lot on the banjo like A,D and G andd keeping them handy to use in the next step- go ahead and number each note:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
C D E F G A B C 

The notes numbered 1, 4 and 5 (C, F and G) will be your major chords for the key of C.

Go back and look at all the songs in the key of G that know (that is, if you are already playing a couple of songs.) You will notice that almost all of them use some combination of G, C and D. Some songs will only have two of the chords but most of the time you will see all three.

The note numbered 6 is going to be your relative minor. In this case Am.

Every root chord has a relative minor chord. We’ll go into this in more detail later on, but every key has a unique number of sharps and flats. The key of C has no sharps or flats and the key of G has one sharp (F#.) The same rule applies to minor keys. Any minor key that has the same number of sharps and flats as a major key is the relative minor of that major key.

The key of Am has no sharps or flats. Therefore it is the relative minor of C. It is good to know your relative minor chords (the 6 chord in the number system) because you can swap them around in some situations. If you are playing a song and cannot remember how to make an Am chord you can just play a C chord. It is different but it is close enough that you may get away with it.

The note numbered 2 is going to be both a minor chord and a major chord. In this case Am and A.

Number 3 is where it gets kind of neat because in folk music this is often referred to as an “off chord.” In the key of C your off chord is E (remember in the introduction when I mentioned Freight Train?.)

Your 6 chord can be played as a major chord as well. But it is kind of funky. You will really only use the major 6 once in a great while. In some songs like “Little Maggie” you might run into what some players call a mountain seven. That is when you flat the 7 chord. That is why “Little Maggie” goes from G to F rather than G to F#. We talked about this in the last New Time banjo workshop.

The slang term for numbering a scale like this is “The Nashville number System.” It didn’t come from Nashville (you don’t really think the people who brought us gems like “Achy-Breaky Heart” were responsible for something like a musicial concept, did you?) but they got the credit for it. Don’t as me why, it’s as much of a mystery as why there isn’t a half step between B and C.

Now take the other scales you worked out earlier and come up with the 1-4-5 progressions for each.

Now take a really simple song like Boil Them Cabbage Down (the tab is for frailing banjo so if you play another style or instrument you’ll have to come up with something else. If you need help drop me a note.)

Boil Them cabbage Down

    C             F             C             G
D---2-2---2-2---|-3-3---3-3---|-2-2---2-2---|-0-0---0-0---|
B-----1-----1---|---1-----1---|---1-----1---|---0-----0---|
G-----0-----0---|---2-----2---|---0-----0---|---0-----0---|
D-----2-----2---|---3-----3---|---2-----2---|---0-----0---|
G-------0-----0-|-----0-----0-|-----0-----0-|-----0-----0-|

    C             F             C     G       C
D---2-2---2-2---|-3-3---3-3---|-2-2---0-0---|---2-----2---|-|
B-----1-----1---|---1-----1---|---1-----0---|-1-1---1-1---|-|
G-----0-----0---|---2-----2---|---0-----0---|---0-----0---|-|
D-----2-----2---|---3-----3---|---2-----0---|---2-----2---|-|
G-------0-----0-|-----0-----0-|-----0-----0-|-----0-----0-|-|

Now they way the song is tabbed out here you are playing a chord progression that runs: C / F / C / G / C / F / C G / C

If we compare that chord progression to our scale and the number system:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
C D E F G A B C

It’s easy to see that we are working with the 1, 4 and 5 chords.

Now how would you play Boil Them cabbage Down in the key of G? How would you play the song in D, A or even E?

What I want you to work on until the next New Time Banjo workshop is just taking simple songs and listening to what the chord progressions sound like in other keys.

I recommended picking up a good songbook like Rise Up Singing or The Folksingers Wordbook and messing around with songs you like. If you don’t have a songbook there are a lot of places on the web to find folk song lyrics.

You also want to start listening to as much music as you can get your hands on. Web radio is a great free resource with sites like www.hober.com and Sugar In The Gourd providing you with a ton of great music.

When you listen, don’t listen to the notes. Listen to the rhythm (it’ll help you get ready for the next workshop) and most of all listen for the chord changes.

I’m not kidding. If you pay attention you’ll be able to hear where the song changes chords. If you get bold and adventurous start strumming along with the music and see if you can work out the chord progression on your own.

Until next time, have fun.

And never step in anything soft.

Part Two: Interesting Backup
By now you know how to figure out a basic chord progression in a major key. Hopefully you have spent a little bit of time just singing and playing a simple rhythm on your banjo in the past few weeks because now we’re going to expand on that basic rhythm and start building up our hands and our ears by learning to play some interesting backup.

Playing backup “stuff” is one of those topics that seems to be overlooked by a lot of old time banjo players and it’s kind of a shame because its not only an almost essential skill to have if you want to jam and interact with other musicians, it also is a great way to get used to the structure of songs.

The trend today is to learn individual tunes and just have everybody bang out the melody and that’s kind of a limiting way to jam.

Good backup gives you time to pick up the melody and it also gives you some pretty cool results when you are playing and singing.

It also has a neat way to expanding your repertoire without trying to remember a whole lot of individual notes. If you can play even the simplest backup technique and sing people will think you are the greatest thing since frozen orange juice because our ears have a weird way of “completing” what we hear. While you might just hear yourself singing along with a bum dit-ty strum people will think you are doing sixteen different things at once.

Is it traditional?

It is, but a lot of players (usually tab monkeys) will tell you otherwise.

Banjo players have been playing and singing for a long time. Some really amazing players like Buell kazee (http://www.archive.org/audio/audio-details-db.php?collection=opensource_audio&collectionid=Dyingsoldier) did some really neat stuff working with ideas that at least followed the same lines as what’s presented here.

For this workshop I am going to focus on the keys of G and C just to keep thins reasonable. While we are going to cover a lot of ground here this is really just the tip of the iceberg. This workshop is only intended to get you thinking and messing with stuff on your own. Take the ideas presented here and start finding the best way to back up the music you want to play.

In our last workshop we ended up playing a simple version of Boil Them cabbage Down in C and I asked you to mess around with the Nashville number system to figure out the chord progression in other keys.

For the key of C we had:

Boil Them cabbage Down in C

    C             F             C             G
D---2-2---2-2---|-3-3---3-3---|-2-2---2-2---|-0-0---0-0---|
B-----1-----1---|---1-----1---|---1-----1---|---0-----0---|
G-----0-----0---|---2-----2---|---0-----0---|---0-----0---|
D-----2-----2---|---3-----3---|---2-----2---|---0-----0---|
G-------0-----0-|-----0-----0-|-----0-----0-|-----0-----0-|

    C             F             C     G      C
D---2-2---2-2---|-3-3---3-3---|-2-2---0-0---|---2-----2---|-|
B-----1-----1---|---1-----1---|---1-----0---|-1-1---1-1---|-|
G-----0-----0---|---2-----2---|---0-----0---|---0-----0---|-|
D-----2-----2---|---3-----3---|---2-----0---|---2-----2---|-|
G-------0-----0-|-----0-----0-|-----0-----0-|-----0-----0-|-|

And for the key of G (where the 1-4-5 chord progression would be G C D) we could get something like:

Boil Them cabbage Down in G

    G             C             G            D7
D-----0-----0---|---2-----2---|---0-----0---|---0-----0---|
B---0-0---0-0---|-1-1---1-1---|-0-0---0-0---|---1-----1---|
G-----0-----0---|---0-----0---|---0-----0---|-2-2---2-2---|
D-----0-----0---|---2-----2---|---0-----0---|---0-----0---|
G-------0-----0-|-----0-----0-|-----0-----0-|-----0-----0-|

    G             c            G     D7       G
D-----0-----0---|---2-----2---|---0-----0---|---0-----0---|-|
B---0-0---0-0---|-1-1---1-1---|-0-0-----1---|-0-0---0-0---|-|
G-----0-----0---|---0-----0---|---0---2-2---|---0-----0---|-|
D-----0-----0---|---2-----2---|---0-----0---|---0-----0---|-|
G-------0-----0-|-----0-----0-|-----0-----0-|-----0-----0-|-|

As I said before, if all you ever learn you can go on to sing thousands of songs. But since we’re here let’s take a quick look at things we can do to “dress up” the tune.

Instead of figuring out the melody line note-by-note the easiest way to make your playing more interesting is to start messing around with the rhythm and the chord forms and picking up a few licks.

The easiest way to back up a tune is to frail a sort of alternating bass pattern by playing the fourth and third strings alternately as the “bump in the bump dit-ty strum.

For G you would get something like this:

Example One: Simple G Backup Pattern

D-----0-----0---|---0-----0---|---0-----0---|---0-----0------|-|
B-----0-----0---|---0-----0---|---0-----0---|---0-----0-----*|-|
G-----0---0-0---|---0---0-0---|---0---0-0---|---0---0-0-----*|-|
D---0-----------|-0-----------|-0-----------|-0--------------|-|
G-------0-----0-|-----0-----0-|-----0-----0-|-----0-----0----|-|

Not to make this even more interesting we can cut the “bump” in half for on or both of the strums in each measure.

When I say cutting a note in half I mean just that. Hammer-on’s, pull-off’s and similar techniques are nothing more than a way to break a single note apart. In this case we are breaking the first quarter note in each measure into two eighth notes. The neat thing about this pattern is that you get a cool kind of country guitar sound.

Example Two: “Country” G Backup Pattern

   G
D-------0-----0---|-----0-----0---|-----0-----0---|-----0-----0------|-|
B-------0-----0---|-----0-----0---|-----0-----0---|-----0-----0-----*|-|
G-------0---0-0---|-----0---0-0---|-----0---0-0---|-----0---0-0-----*|-|
D---0^2-----------|-0^2-----------|-0^2-----------|-0^2--------------|-|
G---------0-----0-|-------0-----0-|-------0-----0-|-------0-----0----|-|

For a C chord you could play the same pattern, or mess with the idea and get something like:

Example Three: C Backup Pattern

    C
D-----2-------2---|---2-----2----|
B-----1-------1---|---1-----1---*|
G---0-0---0^2-2---|-0-0-----0---*|
D-----------------|-------2-2----|
G-------0-------0-|-----0-----0--|

There are an almost infinite number of ways you can mix in some pull-off’s, hammer-on’s, slides and bends into a simple backup pattern.

What makes this so cool is that you don’t really have to worry that much about playing the specific melody of a song. If you can frail a chord progression and keep the rhythm smooth while you sing a song people will be impressed. If you add in some licks people will think you’re doing something amazing.

See, even if you can do a whole bunch of melodic stuff it’s really only going to work in the context of a banjo break or solo. The trick to backing up your voice or another instrument is to play simply so that the banjo sound effects don’t fight the voice or the instrument playing lead.

Let’s look at another couple of licks before we move on.

Example Four: Third String Slide (G chord)

    G
D-------0-----0---|-----0-----0----|
B-------0-----0---|-----0-----0----|
G---2^4-0---0-0---|-----0---0-0----|
D-------0-----0---|-0^2------------|
G---------0-----0-|-------0-----0--|

Once you get comfortable with this lick try it on the fourth string/

Example Five: Third String Bend (G chord)

  G
D----0-------|-----0-----0-----|
B--------0---|-----0-----0-----|
G-2^---0-0---|-----0---0-0-----|
D------------|-0h2-------------|
G----------0-|-------0-----0---|

I use this lick a lot. The timing can be tricky at fist, but it works so well for adding a little bit of an emphasis to a word or phrase in the lyrics of a tune.

Example Six: “Phantom” Hammer-on (G chord)

    G
D-------0-----0---|-----0-----0----|
B---0^--0-----0---|-----0-----0----|
G-----2-0---0-0---|-----0---0-0----|
D-----------------|-0h2------------|
G---------0-----0-|-------0-----0--|

Like the last lick we talked about this lick in the “Frailing Around Foggy Mountain” workshop. Like the third string bend lick I use this at some point with almost everything I play in 4/4 time. It’s just a neat effect.

Example Seven: G Tag (G chord)

  G
D-5^0-0---2^0-0---|---------0----|
B-----0-------0---|-1^0^----0----|
G-----0-------0---|-----2-0-0----|
D-----------------|--------------|
G-------0-------0-|-----------0--|

This is one of those really flexible licks. I do something different with it every time I use it, but this will at least give you something to work with. Try sliding into the first note.

Example Seven: C Chord Run (C chord)

  C        
D-----2-----2---|-----2-----2----|
B-----1-----1---|-----1-----1----|
G-----0---0-0---|-2^0-0-----0----|
D-2^3-----------|---------2-2----|
G-------0-----0-|-------0-----0--|

The only thing that might trip you up with this one is using your pinky. We don’t use our little fingers much and as a result they tend to be kind of weak. Make this lick part of your daily practice routine for a while and build up your hand strength a bit.

Now licks are a lot of fun to mess around with- but you don’t want to rely on anybody else to come up with them for you. Part of finding yur own voice on the banjo is going to revolve around just messing chords and playing with sounds.

A good way to get started on this is to take a basic song you already know and start experimenting with ways to spice things up.

If we go back to Boil Them Cabbage Down there are a lot of things you can do to change the way the song is presented without losing the songs identity.

For example, we could play Boil Them Cabbage Down in C, but instead of just using the fist string for the “bump” we could try the second string. We could even take things further and add in a hammer-on.

Here is the first few measures of Boil Them Cabbage Down in C trying that idea:

Example Eight: Boil Them Cabbage Down In C

   C                F               C               G
D-----2-------2---|---3-------3---|---2-------2---|-0-0-------0---|
B---1-1---0^1-1---|-1-1---0^1-1---|-1-1---0^1-1---|---0---1^0-0---|
G-----0-------0---|---2-------2---|---0-------0---|---0-------0---|
D-----2-------2---|---3-------3---|---2-------2---|---0-------0---|
G-------0-------0-|-----0-------0-|-----0-------0-|-----0-------0-|

Try working the rest of the tune out on your own.

If the second string works why not try the fourth string?

Example nine: Boil Them Cabbage Down In C

    C               F               C               G
D-----2-------2---|---3-------3---|---2-------2---|---0-------0---|
B-----1-------1---|---1-------1---|---1-------1---|---0-------0---|
G-----0-------0---|---2-------2---|---0-------0---|---0-------0---|
D---2-2---0^2-2---|-3-3---0h3-3---|-2-2---0^2-2---|-0-0---2^0-0---|
G-------0-------0-|-----0-------0-|-----0-------0-|-----0-------0-|

If just adding a hammer-on works, why not try adding a lick? The “FMB Lick” might sound interesting.

Example Ten: Boil Them Cabbage Down in G with the “FMB Lick”

     G                C             G                 D
D-------0-------0---|---2-----2---|-----0-------0---|---4-----4---|
B---2h3-3---2h3-3---|-1-1-----1---|-2h3-3---2h3-3---|---3-----3---|
G-------0-------0---|---0---0-0---|-----0-------0---|-2-2-----2---|
D-------------------|---2-----2---|-----------------|---0---0-0---|
G---------0-------0-|-----0-----0-|-------0-------0-|-----0-----0-|

(Note that I’m using the D chord here instead of the D7. If the D chord gives you any trouble feel free to use the D7 instead)

Or we could try the third string slide.

Example Eleven: Boil Them Cabbage Down in G with the third string slide

    G                 C               G                 D
D-------0-------0---|---2-------2---|-----0-------0---|---4-----4---|
B-------0-------0---|-1-1-------1---|-----0-------0---|---3-----3---|
G---2^4-0---2^0-0---|---0---2^0-0---|-2^4-0---2^0-0---|-2-2-----2---|
D-------4-----------|---2-------2---|-----4-----------|---0---0-0---|
G---------0-------0-|-----0-------0-|-------0-------0-|-----0-----0-| 

Or we could put the two licks together . . .

Example Twelve: Boil Them Cabbage Down in G with two licks

    G                 C               G                 D
D-------0-------0---|---2-------2---|-----0-------0---|---4-----4---|
B-------0-------0---|-1-1-------1---|-2h3-3---2h3-3---|---3-----3---|
G---2^4-0---2^0-0---|---0---2^0-0---|-----0-------0---|-2-2-----2---|
D-------4-----------|---2-------2---|-----------------|---0---0-0---|
G---------0-------0-|-----0-------0-|-------0-------0-|-----0-----0-|

The really amazing thing here is that in spite of everything we’re doing the song is still coming across as Boil Them Cabbage Down. In other words, you can do an awful lot to a song without losing the melody.

You also want to be aware that less usually is more. Don’t start going ape with this stuff. Use these ideas for seasonings rather than the main course.

Spend some time playing some simple folk songs and start messing with things to see how you can spice you your back up playing. It’ll do wonders for your lead playing later on.

Now for most of this workshop I have been sticking to G and C and I’m sure that some of you are getting ready to write me asking, “what about D or A?”

Well, a lot of what you already know can be easily applied to the D and A chord forms- and if that seems to difficult at first you can always use a capo.

The easiest way to understand how a capo works is to go back and take a look at the chromatic scale.

A  A#/Bb  B  C  C#/Db  D  D#/Eb  E  F  F#/Gb  G  G#/Ab

Now your banjo is tuned to open G, so let’s lay out the chromatic scale starting with G:

G  G#/Ab A  A#/Bb  B  C  C#/Db  D  D#/Eb  E  F  F#/Gb  G

The fretboard (on your banjo or any other fretted instrument) is laid out in half steps just like the chromatic scale. That means if the banjo is tunes to open G and you lay your finger across all four strings at the first fret you get a G# or Ab chord.

To get an idea about just how cool this is try running this little sippet of a G scale:

D-----------0---------|
B-------0-1---1-0-----|
G---0-2-----------2-0-|
D---------------------|
G---------------------|

Now lay your finger across the first fret and play the same thing we just played:

D-----------1---------|
B-------1-2---2-1-----|
G---1-3-----------3-1-|
D---------------------|
G---------------------|

And that piece of scale goes from G to G#/Ab. If we play the same thing pver again but with our finger across the second fret:

D-----------2---------|
B-------2-3---3-2-----|
G---2-4-----------4-2-|
D---------------------|
G---------------------|

It becomes an A scale.

Everything on the fretboard can be moved up or down to play in another key. By putting a capo on the second fret everything you know in G is all of the sudden in the key of A.

Chords are no different. When we capo at the second fret the songs we know in the key of C wind up being in D. Why? Take a look at the chromatic scale starting on C:

C C#/Db D D#/Eb E F F#/Gb G G#/Ab A A#/Bb B C
So get your capo out and start messing around with Boil Them Cabbage Down in G and C. See if you figure out how to play it in E or F.

We are also going to look at playing “up the neck.” Here are two examples of the first two measures of Boil Them Cabbage Down in G to mess with:

In this example we are playing around with the fact that your D chord moved down to the ninth fret becomes a G chord (look at the chromatic scale again) and that you can blend the “high” G with the “open” G:

D-------0---7^0-0---|-5-5-----5---|
B---7^8-8-------8---|---5---5-5---|
G-------0-------0---|---5-----5---|
D-------------------|-------------|
G---------0-------0-|-----0-----5-|   

If you don’t want to use the C at the fifth fret you can always jump all the way back up to your basic C chord. In the next example we are playing the whole chord as a hammer-on to make it interesting, and to give us a moment of breathing room to make that long run down the fretboard:

D-------0---7^0-0---|-0^2-2---2p0-0---|
B---7^8-8-------8---|---1-1-------1---|
G-------0-------0---|---0-0-------0---|
D-------------------|--^2-2-------2---|
G---------0-------0-|-------0-------0-|

Next month we are going to dig a lot deeper into movable chord positions and start looking at finding scales on the fretboard.

One thing I would suggest when it comes to picking up new ideas for your backup playing is to listen to, and hang out with, as may guitar players as you can find. Guitar players as diverse as Riley Pluckett and Robert Johnson hade a lot of cool ideas that can be reshaped to fit into the frailing banjo framework. Listen to Jhonny Cash and Hank Williams. Lonnie Johnson and Mississippi John Hurt. Then listen to some mandolin players like Bill Monroe. Good backup is everywhere because it adds so much to the music without overwhelming anything.

And don’t forget to sing. Banjo solos get boring.

Until then play and sing a whole bunch of songs. Don’t play any faster than you can sing. Teach a kid to play the banjo- and never step in anything soft!

-Patrick 1/19/04

One Finger Guitar

Another plain-text workshop I wrote back in 2004. This was so popular that I carried this idea into The How and the Tao of Folk Guitar.
-Patrick

One Finger Guitar

People are always asking me if the guitar is more difficult to learn than the banjo. It’s a tough question to answer because any instrument will have idiosyncratic techniques that by themselves can be challenging for people to master- but overall it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other. All fretted instruments operate under a fairly simple set of rules. Most of the difficulty people have in learning to play the guitar or the banjo usually stem from how you approach the instrument. If you start off trying to bypass the basics and jump right into advanced stuff right away making real progress will be pretty difficult. It takes time. Not just to learn the right and left hand techniques, it takes time and experience to learn how to use those techniques. I don’t think this is a bad thing because the journey involved in becoming a musician is full of wild adventures. Don’t be in such a rush to play that you miss out on the fun.

For this first workshop I am going to share some easy tricks you can use to start playing out on the front porch almost immediately- but I am going to balance out the ‘quick fix” with some basic concepts so that you’ll actually be able to build on these ideas and concepts down the road. In upcoming workshops in this series I am going to start looking at building basic skills in more detail. Some of the material covered in these workshops is also presented in my Basic Folk Guitar CD ROM workshop available at http://www.funkyseagull.com as well as my soon to be released second book The How and the Tao of Acoustic Guitar.

These workshops are not intended to be anything but something to help you get started. There is a wealth of information available on the Internet, your local library and, most importantly, your own community just waiting for you to go out and get it. Playing the guitar isn’t something you pick up in the afternoon. It’s a lifelong pursuit. Hopefully the material covered here will give you the tools to get out on the front porch to pick a couple of folks songs and maybe even get out to a jam- but after that you have to sort things out on your own. Get a chord or two from one of your friends and a bass run from some stranger at a festival. I’m not a big fan of formal lessons for a lot of reasons- but I think the main reason is that my best “lessons” happened when I ran into other guitar players by accident.

The following is a true story from “The How and the Tao of Old Time Banjo.” It pretty much illustrates how that finding teachers by accident idea works.

Tuning Up
The one thing about learning how to tune that has caused a lot of frustration for teachers and students in how the strings are numbered. The nice thing about a plain-text guitar workshop is that you are not here to argue with me or ask me, “Why do they number them like that?” (And my only reply would be something along the lines of “just because.”) There is a hilariously grumpy rant by the late guitar wizard John Fahey at to one of his students about this confusion (and some pretty good advice on playing in C tuning) at http://johnfahey.com/CTuning.htm.

The way I usually explain it is that if you look at your guitar strings you will see (usually) four wound strings and two plain steel strings. When you are holding your guitar correctly (“correctly” being a relative term when you stop to think that players like Elizabeth Cotten did just fine playing upside-down and backwards) the two plain steel strings are closest to the floor and the last wound string is on top- closest to your chin. The first plain steel string on the bottom is your FIRST string and the last wound string is your SIXTH string.

In order to get off to a quick start we are going to mess around in Open G tuning for the first part of this workshop. See, I can remember all too well what I went through learning to play the guitar and I see a lot of folks give up on the instrument because it takes a while before you really start doing anything that sounds like music. By starting out in an open tuning you’ll have a chance to work up some kind of basic right hand technique and start singing songs on your front porch in an afternoon.

Starting out in an open tuning is kind of traditional and nontraditional at the same time. A lot of great music has been made in open tunings over the years but there are a few drawbacks to using them exclusively. Standard tuning was developed for a few reasons- but the main reason is that playing chords just works better under standard tuning. We are going to look into open tunings to get you started on some basic skills- but after this workshop I’m going to go right into standard tuning and stay there for a while.

Ok, enough talking. Grab your guitar and lets get that puppy in tune!

In open G tuning:

  1. Your SIXTH string (the wound string closest to your chin) is tunes to D
  2. Your FIFTH string is tuned to G
  3. Your FOURTH string is tuned to D
  4. Your THIRD string is tuned to G
  5. Your SECOND string is tuned to B
  6. Your FIRST string (the plain steel string closest to the floor) is tuned to D
6 5 4 3 2 1
D G D G B D

Note: Never just crank on your guitar tuners. Always play the open string THEN tune it up. It’ll save you from changing a lot of broken strings.

I strongly recommend that you pick up a chromatic tuner. A standard guitar tuner won’t help with alternate tunings- but a decent chromatic tuner can help you with open G and some of the other tunings I’m going to talk about at the tail end of this workshop. Chromatic tuners can be picked up for as little as fifteen bucks so shop around and find you like. Also look around http://www.google.com for tuners you can either download or use online with a microphone attached to your computer.

If you don’t have a tuner you can tune the guitar to itself by following these steps:

  • Assume (I know, makes an ASS out of U and ME) that the first string is in tune.
  • Tune the second string so that when you fret the second string at the third fret you get the same note as the open first string.
  • Tune the third string so that when you fret the third string at the fourth fret you get the same note as the open second string.
  • Tune the fourth string so that when you fret the fourth string at the fifth fret you get the same note as the open third string.
  • Tune the fifth string so that when you fret the fifth string at the seventh fret you get the same note as the open fourth string.
  • Tune the sixth string so that when you fret the sixth string at the fifth fret you get the same note as the open fifth string.

Take this slow and easy. Tuning a guitar is a skill you have to develop over time.

Once you get in tune strum down (from the sixth string to the first) across the strings. If you are in tune you’ve just played an open G chord.

Now let’s get together on some kind of rhythm pattern.

Strumming
Hopefully you are holding your guitar so that it’s balanced and your left and right hands don’t need to support the neck or the body to keep it from falling out of your lap.

Place your right hand- or, to keep lefties from feeling left out, your “picking hand”- so that your thumb is resting on the sixth string and your little finger is resting on the top of the guitar after the first string. I usually plant my ring and little finger when I am strumming; some folks just plant the little finger. Either way works as we’re only using the little finger to give us a little bit more stability. Don’t press down with your hand or your fingers and don’t get all tensed up. Get comfortable and set things up so that if you draw your thumb over towards your little finger you wind up strumming across all six strings.

Make sure the strings all ring out. If your little finger is hitting the first string readjust things to that your fist string is freed up.

When you draw your thumb across the strings don’t move your arm or your wrist around that much. The movement here is more from your thumb than anywhere else.

Try is lightly a few times and then give it a good hard strum once or twice. Now strum across the strings four times fairly slowly. When I say “slowly” I don’t mean to drag your thumb across the strings so that each string rings out individually. Make the brush fairly crisp and count out loud each time your strum.

Count:  "One . . . two . . . three . . . four."
        strum     strum      strum       strum

In order to make that a bit smoother start tapping your foot each time you count and strum.

Count:  "One . . . two . . . three . . . four."
        strum     strum      strum       strum
Foot:    tap       tap        tap         tap

Run through that five or six times in a row without stopping. Make an honest effort to keep your speed the same all the way through.

Now run through the same exercise again, but this time lay the index finger of your left (or “fretting hand” for lefties) across the fifth fret. You might have to move your finger around a little bit to get all six strings ringing clearly so take your time with this. I’ve found this is easier if you position the ball of your thumb directly on the centerline of the back of your guitar neck. You don’t need a death grip on the guitar. Just apply enough pressure to get a clean note.

Bar across the fifth fret:
Count:  "One . . . two . . . three . . . four."
        strum     strum      strum       strum
Foot:    tap       tap        tap         tap

Open strings:
Count:  "One . . . two . . . three . . . four."
        strum     strum      strum       strum
Foot:    tap       tap        tap         tap

Bar across the fifth fret:
Count:  "One . . . two . . . three . . . four."
        strum     strum      strum       strum
Foot:    tap       tap        tap         tap

Open strings:
Count:  "One . . . two . . . three . . . four."
        strum     strum      strum       strum
Foot:    tap       tap        tap         tap

Run through this a few times and get things to the point where you can make that barre chord (which is what you are making when you lay your finger across the fifth fret) without slowing down the tempo of the strum.

Once you can go back and forth from playing open strings to the fifth fret at an even speed add in another chord by fretting across the seventh fret.

Bar across the fifth fret:
Count:  "One . . . two . . . three . . . four."
        strum     strum      strum       strum
Foot:    tap       tap        tap         tap

Open strings:
Count:  "One . . . two . . . three . . . four."
        strum     strum      strum       strum
Foot:    tap       tap        tap         tap

Bar across the seventh fret:
Count:  "One . . . two . . . three . . . four."
        strum     strum      strum       strum
Foot:    tap       tap        tap         tap

Open strings:
Count:  "One . . . two . . . three . . . four."
        strum     strum      strum       strum
Foot:    tap       tap        tap         tap

Now let’s play through this again- but now I am just going to give you the count and the open or barre chords. 0 = open strings 5 = bar the fifth fret 7= bar the seventh fret

0                   7                
1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 
0                   7         0
1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4

What this is telling you to do is play two sets of four strums with the open G chord, two sets of four strums with the barre chord at the seventh fret and so on.

The “|” symbol is separating each set of four strums into measures. We are going to get into measure and note values later on in this workshop but for right now all you really need to know is that we are playing four beats to each measure.

Run through that a few times. Keep the rhythm steady from measure to measure. Sometimes beginners will make the mistake of resting for a moment between measures and it plays holy hell with the rhythm of the music. Think of the four count as a loop repeating itself over and over again: 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4.

Believe it or not you’ve been playing the old folk songs Skip To My Lou. Now try playing your strum and the chord changes while you sing. Rather than write out the 1234 count I just used a “/” to lay out the rhythm.

 0                |
 Lost my  partner | what'll I do?
  /   /   /   /   |  /   /   /   /   
 7                |
 Lost my  partner | what'll I  do?
 /   /   /   /    |  /   /   /   /   
 0                |
 Lost my  partner | what'll I  do?
 /   /   /   /    |  /   /   /   /   
7                 | 0
Skip to my lou my | dar-   ling
/   /   /   /     |  /   /   /   /  

So it’s two measures of the open chord, two measures barring across the seventh fret, two measures of the open chord, one measure barring across the seventh and one measure of the open chord.

Work on this for a while until you can strum and sing the tune without too much trouble.

What’s Going On?
The question running through your mind right now is probably something along the lines of, “what the heck am I doing?” Well, you have been playing a one-four-five chord progression as a series of quarter note strums.

No, I’m not making this up. Let me explain starting with the chords.

When you made a barre chord on the fifth fret you were making a C chord and at the seventh fret you were making a D chord. The way this works is actually pretty simple.

In Western music (and when I say “Western” I don’t mean cowboy music. It refers to Western civilization there are twelve different notes. The twelve notes are named after the letters A through G with a note or half-step between each pair of letters except between B and C and E and F:

A | B C | D | E F | G |

Your half step is either a sharp (#) or a flat (b.)

The half step between A and B can be called either A# or Bb.

A# means that the A note is raised one half step higher. Bb is the B note lowered one half step. A# and Bb are the same note and the other half steps follow the same pattern.

So with all twelve notes laid out you have the chromatic scale:

A A#/Bb B C C#/Db D D#/Eb E F F#/Gb G G#/Ab
1   2   3 4   5   6   7   8 9  10   11 12

Once you understand the idea of half steps you can just write out your chromatic scale like this to save space and make it a tad clearer.

The ” | ” symbol will be used to represent a half step.

A | B C | D | E F | G |

The frets on your guitar are laid out on half steps. When we tune a guitar to open G the barre chords wind up following the steps of a chromatic scale.

Fret: 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
      G | A | B C | D | E  F |  G |

If your guitar is tunes to open G a barre chord at the first fret has to be G#/Ab and a barre chord at the second fret has to be A. If you look at how this is laid out your barre chord at the fifth fret is C and at the seventh fret you get D. Since everything repeats itself after twelve frets you can get another G chord by barring across the twelfth fret.

G-C-D is the I IV V chord progression for the key of G. To understand that we have to take a quick look at how scales are constructed as well as a little musicians trick called the Nashville number system.

Scales
A scale is nothing but a series of notes pulled out of the chromatic scale. Because we are working out of open G tuning for this workshop we are going to build a G major scale.

To figure out the notes of the G scale we need to lay out the string of notes starting with our root note. In this case the root note is G:

G | A | B C | D | E F | G

Now if you notice we started on G and ended on G. That second G is called the octave. It is the same note as the root but higher in pitch. If we wrote this out to work the C scale it would look like this with C as the root note:

C | D | E F | G | A | B C

What we have here is a chromatic scale starting on G and ending on G and a second scale in C. In order to make the first one a G major scale we need to pick seven notes out of the twelve notes in the chromatic scale. In order to do that we just follow a simple formula: Root, whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, whole step, half step

Here we go:

  • G is the root. A whole step from G is A.
  • A whole step from A is B.
  • A half step from B is C
  • A whole step from C is D
  • A whole step from D is E
  • A whole step from E is. . .F# or Gb. Weðll call it F#
  • A half step from F# is G which gives you the octave.

So your G scale is:

G A B C D E F# G

The Nashville Number System
Once you have your scale figured out number each note:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7  8
G A B C D E F# G

The notes numbered 1, 4 and 5 (G, C and D) will be your major chords for the key of G.

Go back and look at all the songs in the key of G that know (that is, if you are already playing a couple of songs.) You will notice that almost all of them use some combination of G, C and D. Some songs will only have two of the chords but most of the time you will see all three.

The note numbered 6 is going to be your relative minor. In this case Em.

Every root chord has a relative minor chord. We’ll go into this in more detail later on, but every key has a unique number of sharps and flats. The key of C has no sharps or flats and the key of G has one sharp (F#.) The same rule applies to minor keys. Any minor key that has the same number of sharps and flats as a major key is the relative minor of that major key.

It is good to know your relative minor chords (the 6 chord in the number system) because you can swap them around in some situations. If you are playing a song and cannot remember how to make an Am chord you can just play a C chord. It is different but it is close enough that you may get away with it.

The note numbered 2 is going to be both a minor chord and a major chord. In this case Am and A.

Number 3 is where it gets kind of neat because in folk music this is often referred to as an “off chord.” In the key of C your off chord is E and you’ll run into it in songs like Freight Train- if you play it in C.

Your 6 chord can be played as a major chord as well. But it is kind of funky. You will really only use the major 6 once in a great while. In some songs like “Little Maggie” you might run into what some players call a mountain seven. That is when you flat the 7 chord. That is why “Little Maggie” goes from G to F rather than G to F#. Some songs like Cluck Old Hen do the same thing. The “weird modal tuned banjo thing” is just that, a “weird modal banjo thing” that probably came about more by accident (somebody is messing around with a banjo with an out of tune second string and thinks, “Dude! That’s kind of cool”) than anything else.

What’s cool about all of this is that if you go to a jam session with a Post-It note or something on your heel or the back of your headstock with the number system laid out for a few keys you’ll have an easier time playing along with new songs because if the song is in C you can run through the number system in your head:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
C D E F G A B C

and say to yourself, “Ok, in C my three most often used chords are C, F and G.” Right away you can start off in C with everybody else and figure the next chord is probably going to be G or F.

So if we know that G is our open chord and D is the chord at the seventh fret our version of Skip To My Lou could be written out like this:

 G                |
 Lost my  partner | what'll I do?
  /   /   /   /   |  /   /   /   /   
 D                |
 Lost my  partner | what'll I  do?
 /   /   /   /    |  /   /   /   /   
 G                |
 Lost my  partner | what'll I  do?
 /   /   /   /    |  /   /   /   /   
D                 | G
Skip to my lou my | dar-   ling
/   /   /   /     |  /   /   /   /

Capos
One interesting thing about open tuning and bar chords is that you can play in a new key by using a capo. A capo acts just like your finger making a bar chord. You can pick them up in any music store.

If you capo on the second fret your open chord changes from G to A and the chord at the fifth fret (it’s actually the seventh, but we are now counting the second fret as if it was the first fret) becomes D and your chord at the seventh fret becomes . . . if you said “E” we’re on the right track.

Then again, you don’t have to use a capo for that if play the starting with a bar chord rather than the open G:

A (second fret)  |
 Lost my  partner | what'll I do?
  /   /   /   /   |  /   /   /   /   
 E (ninth fret)   |
 Lost my  partner | what'll I  do?
 /   /   /   /    |  /   /   /   /   
 A (second fret)  |
 Lost my  partner | what'll I  do?
 /   /   /   /    |  /   /   /   /   
E (ninth fret)    | A (second fret)
Skip to my lou my | dar-   ling
/   /   /   /     |  /   /   /   /

What frets would you use to play this tune in C? Or D?

Changing the strum
The four strums to each measure pattern we have been playing is probably getting a little boring by now. Let’s take a look at how the strum works and then we’ll be able to mess around with it a little bit.

I have been breaking up your strums into groups of four for a reason. Each set of four strums is a measure in 4/4 time. When I say that a song is in 4/4 time that four slash four or four over four is a time signature. A time signature tells us how many beats are in each measure and the type of note that gets the beat.

Notes can be divided in a lot of ways. A whole note in 4/4 time would be one strum you hold for a count of four.

Strum
  1    2   3   4

A half note is just that- half of a whole note. So you would hold a half note for a count of two.

Strum        strum
  1      2    3    4

A quarter note is, you guessed it, half of a half note. This is what you’ve been playing up to this point.

Strum  strum  strum  strum
   1     2      3      4

An eighth note is half of a quarter note and a sixteenth note is half of an eighth note.

The cool thing about all of this is that you can use any combination of note in a measure ass long as the beats add up to the time signature. In other words in 4/4 time you could play four quarter notes, a half note and two quarter notes, three quarter notes and two eighth notes or any other combination as long as the values of the measure adds up the same as four quarter notes.

For right now strumming four times in each measure is a good way to go simply because it will force you to get used to the rhythm. As you get more confident there are other picking patterns you can mess around with.

Let’s take a quick look at two other picking patterns- but first we have to talk about reading tab

Reading Tab
Tab is just a way to illustrate fingerings on a fretted instrument. You have six lines. Each line represents a string on your guitar. The sixth string is at the bottom and the first string is on top. When any string has a zero you play that string open. The numbers on a string tells you what fret to play. So in this example you would play your sixth string at the sixth fret, your fifth string at the fifth fret, your fourth string at the fourth fret, your third string at the third fret and so on.

|------------------1-|
|---------------2----|
|------------3-------|
|---------4----------|
|------5-------------|
|---6----------------|

A chord diagram is just a picture of the fingerboard. The “x” over some strings tells you not to play that string and the “o” means to play that string open. In the D chord above you don’t play the sixth string. The fifth and the fourth strings are played open. In plain text I usually just write out all strings of the guitar with “0” for open strings, numbers for fretted strings and an “x” for string that are not played. Here are the three chords you have been using in open G tuning:

      D             C              G
 7-7-7-7-7-7   5-5-5-5-5-5    0-0-0-0-0-0

New Picking Patterns The easiest way to start is to let your thumb roll off the sixth string on “one” and strum from the fifth string down on “two”:

|-----0-------0-----|-----0-------0-------|
|-----0-------0-----|-----0-------0-------|
|-----0-------0-----|-----0-------0-------|
|-----0-------0-----|-----0-------0-------|
|-----0-------0-----|-----0-------0-------|
|--0-------0--------|--0-------0----------|
   1  2    3  4        1  2    3  4

We are still playing quarter notes, but by playing the one and three as bass notes we make things more interesting. If you practice that for a while you can get an alternating bass by playing a different bass note for the one and the three:

|-----0-------0-----|-----0-------0-------|
|-----0-------0-----|-----0-------0-------|
|-----0-------0-----|-----0-------0-------|
|-----0-------0-----|-----0-------0-------|
|-----0----0--0-----|-----0----0--0-------|
|--0----------------|--0------------------|
   1  2    3  4        1  2    3  4

Or:

|-----0-------0-----|-----0-------0-------|
|-----0-------0-----|-----0-------0-------|
|-----0-------0-----|-----0-------0-------|
|-----0-------0-----|-----0-------0-------|
|--0--0-------0-----|--0--0-------0-------|
|----------0--------|----------0----------|
   1  2    3  4        1  2    3  4

Once you get this down with your thumb try messing around with a flatpick.

Try playing The Wabash Cannonball on your own. Strart with the simple four strums to measure pattern and change the pattern as you get used to the feel of the song.

I have broken the first verse into measures with a rough count. You will have to listen to the song a few times (look around for a recording- it’s been recorded about a million times or more) to get the phrasing of the lyrics right.

In the first like {from the} is only a partial measure to “kick off” the tune. Your best bet is to sing “from the” and then start strumming.

Take your time with this and have fun with it.

The Wabash Cannonball
4/4 Time Key of G

             G
{From the} | great Atlantic | Ocean    to |
   1   2      1   2   3   4   1  2  3  4
                   C
the wide Pacific | Shore from the |
1    2    3   4    1   2   3   4
D
Queen of flowing | mountains to |
1    2    3   4    1   2   3   4
                          G
the South Belle by the  | door      she's
1      2      3    4      1   2   3   4
G
long and tall and | handsome    well
1     2    3   4    1    2   3   4
                   C
known by one and | all       she's a
1    2    3   4    1   2   3   4
D
modern combin- |- ation   called
1    2    3   4    1   2   3   4
                      G
the Wabash Cannon- | -ball
1    2    3   4       1   2   3   4

Chorus:

G
Listen to the jingle
                   C
The rumble and the roar
D
riding through the woodlands
                       G
to the hill and by the shore.
G
Hear the might rush of engines
                       C
hear the lonesome hobo squall
D
riding though the jungles on
                 G
the Wabash Cannonball

The Eastern states are dandies so the Western people say
from New York to St. Louis and Chicago by the way
through the hills of Minnesota where the rippling waters fall
no chances need be taken on the Wabash Cannonball

Here’s to Daddy Claxton may his name forever stand
he will always be remembered by the ‘boes throughout our land
his earthly race is over and the curtain ’round him falls
we’ll carry him to victory on the Wabash Cannonball

Give that some time. We have covered a lot of information pretty quickly here. In the next workshop we will go over some new chord forms for open G tuning, and take a look at other alternate tunings.

-Patrick Costello
3/21/04

Frailing Banjo Backup Patterns and Licks

A workshop on creating interesting backup patterns and licks for frailing banjo.
I wrote this back in 2004.

Have fun!
-Patrick

Frailing Banjo Backup Patterns and Licks

The basic backup pattern I use the most is just a banjo version of the alternating bass run used by guitar players. It’s the basic frailing strum played of the third and fourth strings:

D------0-----0---|---0-----0---|---0-----0---|---0-----0------|-|
B------0-----0---|---0-----0---|---0-----0---|---0-----0-----*|-|
G------0---0-0---|---0---0-0---|---0---0-0---|---0---0-0-----*|-|
D---0------------|-0-----------|-0-----------|-0--------------|-|
G--------0-----0-|-----0-----0-|-----0-----0-|-----0-----0----|-|

The tab above is showing the fourth and third string but you can mix up the pattern anyway you want like starting off on the third string:

D------0-----0---|---0-----0---|
B------0-----0---|---0-----0---|
G---0--0-----0---|-0-0-----0---|
D----------0-----|-------0-----|
G--------0-----0-|-----0-----0-|

If you want to start using licks to emphasize phrases in songs or tunes it’s a good idea to get really used to playing a run like this because it gives you something to play between the licks that wont interfere with the singer or whoever is taking a break- and the back and forth between the third and fourth strings has a nifty way of creating the illusion of motion. The folks listening “feel” the song moving- which is why this sort of thing has been used so effectively in blues and country guitar.

Here is a simple version Banks of the Ohio using this pattern. It’s just the basic bump dit-ty strum but I’ve spaced out a couple of the measure to fit the lyrics into the flow of the song.

Banks of the Ohio

           G                               D7                                                            
D-------|----0-----0---|---0---------0---|---0-----0---|---0-----0---|
B-------|*---0-----0---|---0---------0---|---1-----1---|---1-----1---|
G-------|*-0-0-----0---|-0-0---------0---|-2-2-----2---|-2-2-----2---|
D-------|----0---0-0---|---0-------0-0---|---0---0-0---|---0---0-0---|
G-------|------0-----0-|-----0---------0-|-----0-----0-|-----0-----0-|
Darling  say                  you'll be   mine                in our

   D7                               G 
D-----0-----0---|---0----------0---|---0-----0---|---0--------0---|
B-----1-----1---|---1----------1---|---0-----0---|---0--------0---|
G---2-2-----2---|-2-2----------2---|-0-0-----0---|-0-0--------0---|
D-----0---0-0---|---0--------0-0---|---0---0-0---|---0------0-0---|
G-------0-----0-|-----0----------0-|-----0-----0-|-----0--------0-|
   home               we'll happy    be                  down be-

   G                                    C 
D-----0-----0---|---0-------------0---|---2-----2---|---2---------2---|
B-----0-----0---|---0-------------0---|---1-----1---|---1---------1---|
G---0-0-----0---|-0-0-------------0---|-0-0-----0---|-0-0---------0---|
D-----0---0-0---|---0-----------0-0---|---2---2-2---|---2-------2-2---|
G-------0-----0-|-----0-------------0-|-----0-----0-|-----0---------0-|
  side              where  the waters  flow               down on the

G               D7             G
D-----0-----0---|---0-----0---|---0-----0---|---0-----0----|-|
B-----0-----0---|---1-----1---|---0-----0---|---0-----0---*|-|
G---0-0-----0---|-2-2-----2---|-0-0-----0---|-0-0-----0---*|-|
D-----0---0-0---|---0---0-0---|---0---0-0---|---0---0-0----|-|
G-------0-----0-|-----0-----0-|-----0-----0-|-----0-----0--|-|
  banks          of the  Ohi-   o               

It’s a really good idea to get used to playing this pattern before you start getting fancy with it. Pick up a good songbook and spend some time just playing and singing folk songs. I think one of the main reasons old time banjo is such a mess today is that everybody jumps into fiddle tunes right away without giving themselves time to build up the basic right and left hand skills.

This also has a neat way to expanding your repertoire without trying to remember a whole lot of individual notes. If you can play even the simplest backup technique and sing people will think you are the greatest thing since frozen orange juice because our ears have a weird way of “completing” what we hear. While you might just hear yourself singing along with a bump dit-ty strum people listening will think you are doing sixteen different things at once.

Once you are comfortable with the basic pattern throw in a hammer-on. In this example we’re playing the fourth string at the second fret.

Simple G run

e+e e e q e e   e+e e e q e e    e+e e e q e e   e+e e e q e e       
D-------0-----0---|-----0-----0---|-----0-----0---|-----0-----0------|-|
B-------0-----0---|-----0-----0---|-----0-----0---|-----0-----0-----*|-|
G----h--0---0-0---|--h--0---0-0---|--h--0---0-0---|--h--0---0-0-----*|-|
D---0^2-----------|-0^2-----------|-0^2-----------|-0^2--------------|-|
G---------0-----0-|-------0-----0-|-------0-----0-|-------0-----0----|-|

e=eighth note q=quarter note +=any eighth note combination

Try this run out of a C chord:


Simple C run

e+e e e q e e   e+e e e q e e   e+e e e q e e   e+e e e q e e       
D-------2-----2---|-----2-----2---|-----2-----2---|-----2-----2------|-|
B-------1-----1---|-----1-----1---|-----1-----1---|-----1-----1-----*|-|
G----h--0---0-0---|--h--0---0-0---|--h--0---0-0---|--h--0---0-0-----*|-|
D---0^2-----------|-0^2-----------|-0^2-----------|-0^2--------------|-|
G---------0-----0-|-------0-----0-|-------0-----0-|-------0-----0----|-|

Then mess with the idea. You might get something like:

There are an almost infinite number of ways you can mix in some pull-off’s, hammer-on’s, slides and bends into a simple backup pattern. What makes this so cool is that you don’t really have to worry that much about playing the specific melody of a song. If you can frail a chord progression and keep the rhythm smooth while you sing a song people will be impressed. If you add in some licks people will think you’re doing something amazing. See, even if you can do a whole bunch of melodic stuff its really only going to work in the context of a banjo break or solo. The trick to backing up your voice or another instrument is to play simply so that the banjo sound effects don’t fight the voice or the instrument playing lead. When it comes to adding licks the big trick is to build up your ability to match the phrasing of a lick to the phrasing of the melody line. It’s not just a matter of inserting “lick A” into “measure B.” You want to be able to add emphasis and emotion to the phrase without changing the structure of the song. In order to do that you have to think of licks as little more than ideas that you reshape to fit into the song in question. For example, a lick like this third string slide is pretty easy and it can fit into a lot of situations:

Third String Slide (G chord)

e+e e e q e e   e+e e e q e e
D-------0-----0---|-----0-----0----|
B----s--0-----0---|-----0-----0----|
G---2^4-0---0-0---|--h--0---0-0----|
D-------0-----0---|-0^2------------|
G---------0-----0-|-------0-----0--|

(Once you get comfortable with this lick try it on the fourth string)

It’s cool- but sometimes you will need to change the emphasis of the lick. This can be accomplished by sliding on the fourth string at the second fret to the fourth fret- or even sliding the second string from the first to the third fret. That’s easy to do because the timing isn’t changing- but in some cases you might want the sound of the original lick but the timing has to be changed:

Third String Bend (G chord)

q  q  q e e  e+e e e q e e
D----0-------|-----0-----0-----|
B--b-----0---|-----0-----0-----|
G-2^---0-0---|-----0---0-0-----|
D------------|-0h2-------------|
G----------0-|-------0-----0---|

What we’re doing here is pretty close to the first lick, but by bending the string rather than playing a slide we can hold the note for a quarter note value and completely change the phrasing of the lick.

Other lick ideas can revolve around the idea of playing against open strings.

“Phantom” Hammer-on (G chord)

e+e e e q e e   e+e e e q e e
D----h--0-----0---|-----0-----0----|
B---0^--0-----0---|-----0-----0----|
G-----2-0---0-0---|--h--0---0-0----|
D-----------------|-0h2------------|
G---------0-----0-|-------0-----0--|

The trick here is to play the second string and while the string is still ringing hammer on the third string at the second fret.

Here’s another easy one:

G Tag (G chord)

D-5^0-0---2^0-0---|---------0----|
B-----0-------0---|-1^0^----0----|
G-----0-------0---|-----2-0-0----|
D-----------------|--------------|
G-------0-------0-|-----------0--|  

This is one of those really flexible licks. I do something different with it every time I use it, but this will at least give you something to work with. Try sliding into the first note.

C Chord Run (C chord)

D-----2-----2---|-----2-----2----|
B-----1-----1---|-----1-----1----|
G-----0---0-0---|-2^0-0-----0----|
D-2^3-----------|---------2-2----|
G-------0-----0-|-------0-----0--|

The only thing that might trip you up with this one is using your pinky. We don’t use our little fingers much and as a result they tend to be kind of weak. Make this lick part of your daily practice routine for a while and build up your hand strength a bit.

Licks are a lot of fun to mess around with- but you don’t want to rely on anybody else to come up with them for you. Part of finding your own voice on the banjo is going to revolve around just messing chords and playing with sounds.

A good way to get started on this is to take a basic song you already know and start experimenting with ways to spice things up.

Let’s take a look at Boil Them Cabbage Down in G and C with a basic frailing stroke.

Boil Them cabbage Down in C:

    C             F             C            G
D---2-2---2-2---|-3-3---3-3---|-2-2---2-2---|-0-0---0-0---|
B-----1-----1---|---1-----1---|---1-----1---|---0-----0---|
G-----0-----0---|---2-----2---|---0-----0---|---0-----0---|
D-----2-----2---|---3-----3---|---2-----2---|---0-----0---|
G-------0-----0-|-----0-----0-|-----0-----0-|-----0-----0-|

    C             F             C     G      C
D---2-2---2-2---|-3-3---3-3---|-2-2---0-0---|---2-----2---|-|
B-----1-----1---|---1-----1---|---1-----0---|-1-1---1-1---|-|
G-----0-----0---|---2-----2---|---0-----0---|---0-----0---|-|
D-----2-----2---|---3-----3---|---2-----0---|---2-----2---|-|
G-------0-----0-|-----0-----0-|-----0-----0-|-----0-----0-|-|

Boil Them cabbage Down in G:

    G             C             G            D7
D-----0-----0---|---2-----2---|---0-----0---|---0-----0---|
B---0-0---0-0---|-1-1---1-1---|-0-0---0-0---|---1-----1---|
G-----0-----0---|---0-----0---|---0-----0---|-2-2---2-2---|
D-----0-----0---|---2-----2---|---0-----0---|---0-----0---|
G-------0-----0-|-----0-----0-|-----0-----0-|-----0-----0-|

   G             C             G     D7       G
D-----0-----0---|---2-----2---|---0-----0---|---0-----0---|-|
B---0-0---0-0---|-1-1---1-1---|-0-0-----1---|-0-0---0-0---|-|
G-----0-----0---|---0-----0---|---0---2-2---|---0-----0---|-|
D-----0-----0---|---2-----2---|---0-----0---|---0-----0---|-|
G-------0-----0-|-----0-----0-|-----0-----0-|-----0-----0-|-|

There are a lot of things you can do to change the way the song is presented without losing the songs identity.

For example, we could play Boil Them Cabbage Down in C, but instead of just using the fist string for the “bump” we could try the second string. We could even take things further and add in a hammer-on.

Here is the first few measures of Boil Them Cabbage Down in C trying that idea:

Boil Them Cabbage Down In C

   C               F               C               G
D-----2-------2---|---3-------3---|---2-------2---|-0-0-------0---|
B---1-1---0^1-1---|-1-1---0^1-1---|-1-1---0^1-1---|---0---1^0-0---|
G-----0-------0---|---2-------2---|---0-------0---|---0-------0---|
D-----2-------2---|---3-------3---|---2-------2---|---0-------0---|
G-------0-------0-|-----0-------0-|-----0-------0-|-----0-------0-|

If the second string works why not try the fourth string?

Boil Them Cabbage Down In C

   C               F               C               G
D-----2-------2---|---3-------3---|---2-------2---|---0-------0---|
B-----1-------1---|---1-------1---|---1-------1---|---0-------0---|
G-----0-------0---|---2-------2---|---0-------0---|---0-------0---|
D---2-2---0^2-2---|-3-3---0h3-3---|-2-2---0^2-2---|-0-0---2^0-0---|
G-------0-------0-|-----0-------0-|-----0-------0-|-----0-------0-|

If just adding a hammer-on works, why not try adding a lick? The “FMB Lick” might sound interesting.

Boil Them Cabbage Down in G with the “FMB Lick”

    G                C             G                 D               
D-------0-------0---|---2-----2---|-----0-------0---|---4-----4---|
B---2h3-3---2h3-3---|-1-1-----1---|-2h3-3---2h3-3---|---3-----3---|
G-------0-------0---|---0---0-0---|-----0-------0---|-2-2-----2---|
D-------------------|---2-----2---|-----------------|---0---0-0---|
G---------0-------0-|-----0-----0-|-------0-------0-|-----0-----0-|

(Note that I’m using the D chord here instead of the D7. If the D chord gives you any trouble feel free to use the D7 instead)

Or we could try the third string slide.

Boil Them Cabbage Down in G with the third string slide

   G                 C               G                 D
D-------0-------0---|---2-------2---|-----0-------0---|---4-----4---|
B-------0-------0---|-1-1-------1---|-----0-------0---|---3-----3---|
G---2^4-0---2^0-0---|---0---2^0-0---|-2^4-0---2^0-0---|-2-2-----2---|
D-------4-----------|---2-------2---|-----4-----------|---0---0-0---|
G---------0-------0-|-----0-------0-|-------0-------0-|-----0-----0-| 

Or we could put the two licks together . . .

Boil Them Cabbage Down in G with two licks

D-------0-------0---|---2-------2---|-----0-------0---|---4-----4---|
B-------0-------0---|-1-1-------1---|-2h3-3---2h3-3---|---3-----3---|
G---2^4-0---2^0-0---|---0---2^0-0---|-----0-------0---|-2-2-----2---|
D-------4-----------|---2-------2---|-----------------|---0---0-0---|
G---------0-------0-|-----0-------0-|-------0-------0-|-----0-----0-|   

The really amazing thing here is that in spite of everything we’re doing the song is still coming across as Boil Them Cabbage Down. In other words, you can do an awful lot to a song without losing the melody.

You also want to be aware that less usually is more. Don’t start going ape with this stuff. Use these ideas for seasonings rather than the main course.

Spend some time playing some simple folk songs and start messing with things to see how you can spice you your back up playing. It’ll do wonders for your lead playing later on.

When it comes to playing up the neck the only trick is that in order to understand where to find stuff you need to understand the relationship between chord forms and scales,

In this example we are playing around with the fact that your D chord moved down to the ninth fret becomes a G chord and that you can blend the “high” G with the “open” G:

D-------0---7^0-0---|-5-5-----5---|
B---7^8-8-------8---|---5---5-5---|
G-------0-------0---|---5-----5---|
D-------------------|-------------|
G---------0-------0-|-----0-----5-|

If you don’t want to use the C at the fifth fret you can always jump all the way back up to your basic C chord. In the next example we are playing the whole chord as a hammer-on to make it interesting, and to give us a moment of breathing room to make that long run down the fretboard:

D-------0---7^0-0---|-0^2-2---2p0-0---|
B---7^8-8-------8---|---1-1-------1---|
G-------0-------0---|---0-0-------0---|
D-------------------|--^2-2-------2---|
G---------0-------0-|-------0-------0-|

One thing I would suggest when it comes to picking up new ideas for your backup playing is to listen to, and hang out with, as may guitar players as you can find. Guitar players as diverse as Riley Pluckett and Robert Johnson hade a lot of cool ideas that can be reshaped to fit into the frailing banjo framework. Listen to Jhonny Cash and Hank Williams. Lonnie Johnson and Mississippi John Hurt. Then listen to some mandolin players like Bill Monroe. Good backup is everywhere because it adds so much to the music without overwhelming anything.

And don’t forget to sing. Banjo solos get boring.

Before I toddle off let’s look at happens to Banks of the Ohio when you stick in a few simple licks:

Banks of the Ohio in G

    G                                     D7 
D-------|------0-------0---|---0---------|-----0-------0---|
B-------|*--s--0---0h--0---|---0---------|-----1-------1---|
G---0-2-|*-2^4-4-----2-0---|-0-0-------0-|-0h2-2-------2---|
D-------|------0-----------|---0---4p0---|-----0---0h4-0---|
G-------|--------0-------0-|-----0-------|-------0-------0-|

    D7                                      G 
D-----0-------|-----0-----0---|---0---0---|---0-------0---|
B-----1-----0-|-0h1-1-----1---|---1-----1-|-0-0-------0---|
G---2-2---2---|-----2---2-2---|---2-------|---0-------0---|
D-----0-------|-----0-----0---|-0-0-------|---0---0h2-----|
G-------0-----|-------0-----0-|-----0-----|-----0-------0-|
  
   G                                        C 
D-----0---0-2-|-0-0-------0---|---0-------|---2-----2---|
B-----0-------|---0---0h--0---|---0-----0-|-1-1-----1---|
G---0-0-------|---0-----2-0---|-0-0---2---|---0---0-0---|
D-----0-------|---0-------0---|---0-------|---2-----2---|
G-------0-----|-----0-------0-|-----0-----|-----0-----0-|

    C           G             D7          G 
D-----2---0---|---0---------|---0-------|---0-------0---|
B-----1-----1-|-0-0-------0-|---1---0---|---0-------0---|
G-----0-------|---0---0h2---|-2-2-----2-|-0-0-------0---|
D---2-2-------|---0---------|---0-------|---0---0h2-----|
G-------0-----|-----0-------|-----0-----|-----0-------0-|

   G 
D-----0--------|-|
B-----0-------*|-|
G---0-0---0-2-*|-|
D-----0--------|-|
G-------0------|-|

A few more things to mess around with with:

Half thumb:

    e+e e e e+e e e   e e+q q e e  
D---------0-------0---|-0-------0---|
B---------1-------1---|---1^----1---|
G---------0---0^3-3---|-----3-0-0---|
D-----0^3-3-----------|-------------|
G-----------0-------0-|-----------0-|  

This one is laid out in a quasi-modal setting with your index finger fretting the second string at the first fret. You can play it out of G modal tuning just as easily, but I have yet to find a real reason to retune for this sort of thing.

The “lick” is in the second measure. It starts out like a drop-thumb. You play the first string with your middle fingernail and drop your thumb down to play the second string- the change comes when you play a phantom hammer-on on the third string at the third fret. As indicated above the lick the phantom hammer-on is given a quarter note value.

This is most commonly used in modal-ish settings but once you understand the idea behind the lick it’s easy to drop into other places.

This major key version of House Of The Rising Sun uses drop thumb, double thumb and half thumb licks in 3/4 time. It’s kind of freaky if you are used to the arpeggio-based minor-key version the Animals played in 4/4 time, but it’s kind of banjo-bluesy in a cool sort of way. It’s also an easy way to mess around with licks in 3/4 time.

House Of The Rising Sun
3/4 Time Key of G
(I picked this one up from Paul Schoenwetter ages ago and I’m not sure where he learned it)

      G                              C           C7
      e+e    q e e e e   q e e e+e   q e e e e   q e e e e  
D----------|----0---0---|-0-0---2p0-|---2-------|---2---0---|
B---3:-0h--|*---0---0---|---0-------|-1-1---0---|---1-------|
G---4:---2-|*-0-0---0---|---0-------|---0-------|-3-3-------|
D----------|------------|-----------|-----------|-----------|
G----------|------0---0-|-----0-----|-----0---0-|-----0---0-|

    G            G7           G
    q e e e e   e+e e e e e   q e e e e   q e e e e  
D---5-5---0---|-2^3-3---0---|-0-0---0---|-0-0---0---|
B-----0-------|-----0-----0-|---0---0---|---0---0---|
G-----0-------|-----0-------|---0---0---|---0---0---|
D-------------|-------------|-----------|-----------|
G-------0---0-|-------0-----|-----0---0-|-----0---0-|

    G            G7           C           C7
    q e e e e   e+e e e e e   q e e e e   q e e e e  
D---5-5---0---|-2^3-3---0---|---2-------|---2-------|
B-----0-------|-----0-----0-|-1-1-------|---1---1---|
G-----0-------|-----0-------|---0---0---|-3-3-------|
D-------------|-------------|-----------|-----------|
G-------0---0-|-------0-----|-----0---0-|-----0---0-|

    G           D7          G
    q e e e e   q e e e+e   q e e e e   q e e e+e       
D-----0-------|---0-------|---0---0---|---0----------|-|
B-----0---0---|---1---0h--|---0---0---|---0---0h----*|-|
G---0-0-------|-2-2-----2-|-0-0---0---|-0-0-----2---*|-|
D-------------|-----------|-----------|--------------|-|
G-------0---0-|-----0-----|-----0---0-|-----0--------|-|

Back to 4/4 . . .

Tickle Lick:

    e+e e e e+e e e   e+e+q q e e  
D---5^0-0---2^0-0---|--p------0---|
B-------0-------0---|-1^0^h---0---|
G-------0-------0---|-----2-0-0---|
D-------------------|-------------|
G---------0-------0-|-----------0-|

The lick is in the second measure. It’s just pull-off mixed with a phantom hammer-on.

More picking patterns:
These are a lot like the ones covered earlier. I just added some more to get you all thinking about the possible variations you can squeeze out of these ideas. You can use these in all sorts of ways. They work as repeating patterns or as stand alone licks.

G patterns:

    e+e e e q e e   e+e e e q e e  
D-------0-----0---|-----0-----0---|
B-------0-----0---|-----0-----0---|
G-------0---0-0---|-----0---0-0---|
D---0h2-----------|-0h2-----------|
G---------0-----0-|-------0-----0-|

    e+e e e q e e   e+e e e q e e  
D-------0-----0---|-----0-----0---|
B-------0-----0---|-----0-----0---|
G-------0---0-0---|-0h--0-----0---|
D---0h2-----------|---2-----0-----|
G---------0-----0-|-------0-----0-|

    e+e e e q e e   e+e e e q e e  
D--------0-----0---|-----0-----0---|
B----0h--0-----0---|-----0-----0---|
G------2-0---0-0---|-----0---0-0---|
D------------------|-0h2-----------|
G----------0-----0-|-------0-----0-|

    e+e e e e+e e e   e+e e e q e e  
D-------0-------0---|-----0-----0---|
B---0h--0---0h--0---|-0h--0-----0---|
G-----2-0-----2-0---|---2-0---0-0---|
D-------------------|---------------|
G---------0-------0-|-------0-----0-|

    e+e e e e+e e e   q e e e+e e e  
D--------0-------0---|---0-------0---|
B--------0-------0---|---0-------0---|
G--------0-------0---|-0-0-------0---|
D----2^5-----2p0-----|-------2p0-----|
G----------0-------0-|-----0-------0-|

     e+e e e q e e    e+e e e q e e  
D----0h--0-----0---|------0-----0---|
B--------0-----0---|------0-----0---|
G------2-0---0-0---|------0---0-0---|
D------------------|--0h2-----------|
G----------0-----0-|--------0-----0-|

C Patterns:

    e+e e e q e e   e+e e e q e e  
D-------2-----2---|-----2-----2---|
B-------1-----1---|-----1-----1---|
G-------0---0-0---|-----0---0-0---|
D---0h2-2-----2---|-0h2-2-----2---|
G---------0-----0-|-------0-----0-|

    e+e e e q e e   e+e e e q e e  
D-------2-----2---|-----2-----2---|
B-------1-----1---|-----1-----1---|
G-------0---0-0---|-----0---0-0---|
D---2p0-2-----2---|-2p0-2-----2---|
G---------0-----0-|-------0-----0-|

    e+e e e e+e e e   e+e e e e+e e e  
D-------2-------2---|-----2-------2---|
B-------1-------1---|-----1-------1---|
G---0h2-2---0h--0---|-0h2-2---0h--0---|
D-------------2-2---|-----------2-2---|
G---------0-------0-|-------0-------0-|

    e+e e e e+e e e   e+e e e e+e e e  
D-------2-------2---|-----2-------2---|
B-------1-------1---|-----1-------1---|
G-------0---2p0-0---|-----0---2p0-0---|
D---0h2-2-------2---|-0h2-2-------2---|
G---------0-------0-|-------0-------0-|

    e+e e e e+e e e   e+e e e e+e e e  
D-------2-------2---|-----2-------2---|
B---0h1-1-------1---|-0h1-1-------1---|
G-------0---2p0-0---|-----0---2p0-0---|
D-------2-------2---|-----2-------2---|
G---------0-------0-|-------0-------0-|

    e+e e e e+e e e   e e e e e e  
D---2p0-0-------0---|---2-----2---|
B-------1---1p0-0---|-1-1---1-1---|
G-------0-------0---|---0-----0---|
D-------2-------2---|---2-----2---|
G---------0-------0-|-----0-----0-|

You’re probably getting the idea now. Here’s D7:

    e+e e e q e e   e+e e e q e e  
D-------0-----0---|-----0-----0---|
B-------1-----1---|-----1-----1---|
G---0h2-2-----2---|-0h2-2-----2---|
D-----------0-----|---------0-----|
G---------0-----0-|-------0-----0-|

    e e e e+e e e   e e e q e e  
D-----0-------0---|---0-----0---|
B-----1-------1---|---1-----1---|
G---2-2-------2---|-2-2-----2---|
D---------0h4-----|-------0-----|
G-------0-------0-|-----0-----0-|

    e+e e e e e e   e+e e e e e e  
D-------0-----0---|-----0-----0---|
B---1p0-1-----1---|-1p0-1-----1---|
G-------2---2-2---|-----2---2-2---|
D-----------------|---------------|
G---------0-----0-|-------0-----0-|

And D:

    e+e e e q e e   e+e e e q e e  
D-------0-----4---|-----0-----4---|
B-------3-----3---|-----3-----3---|
G-------2---2-2---|-----2---2-2---|
D---0h4-4-----0---|-0h4-4-----0---|
G---------0-----0-|-------0-----0-|

Here’s another simple tune to mess around with. It’s an old Charlie Poole song. The first tab is just a basic bump dit-ty pattern and the second tab used some simple licks to draw out the melody line.

Gypsy Girl- basic
4/4 time key of G

G                           D7                    G
D-----0-----0---|---0-----0---|---0-------------0---|---0-----0---|
B-----0-----0---|---0-----0---|---1-------------1---|---0-----0---|
G---0-0-----0---|-0-0-----0---|-2-2-------------2---|-0-0-----0---|
D-----0---0-0---|---0---0-0---|---0-----------0-0---|---0---0-0---|
G-------0-----0-|-----0-----0-|-----0-------------0-|-----0-----0-|
  once I was a  gypsy girl but now I'm a rich man's  bride    with
 
G                            D7                    G
D-----0-----0---|---0-----0---|---0-------------0---|---0-----0---|
B-----0-----0---|---0-----0---|---1-------------1---|---0-----0---|
G---0-0-----0---|-0-0-----0---|-2-2-------------2---|-0-0-----0---|
D-----0---0-0---|---0---0-0---|---0-----------0-0---|---0---0-0---|
G-------0-----0-|-----0-----0-|-----0-------------0-|-----0-----0-|
  servants to    wait on  me   while in  my carriage  ride   while  
 
G                           C             G
    q e e e e e   q e e e e e   e e e e e e   q e e q e e  
D-----0-----0---|---0-----0---|---2-----2---|-0-0-----0---|
B-----0-----0---|---0-----0---|---1-----1---|---0---0-0---|
G---0-0-----0---|-0-0-----0---|-0-0-----0---|---0-----0---|
D-----0---0-0---|---0---0-0---|---2---2-2---|---0-----0---|
G-------0-----0-|-----0-----0-|-----0-----0-|-----0-----0-|
  in my carriage   ride while  in my carriage  ride  with

G                            D7                    G
D-----0-----0---|---0-----0---|---0-------------0---|---0-----0---|
B-----0-----0---|---0-----0---|---1-------------1---|---0-----0---|
G---0-0-----0---|-0-0-----0---|-2-2-------------2---|-0-0-----0---|
D-----0---0-0---|---0---0-0---|---0-----------0-0---|---0---0-0---|
G-------0-----0-|-----0-----0-|-----0-------------0-|-----0-----0-|
   servants to    wait on  me   while in my carriage  ride
</pre
Once I was a gypsy girl but now I'm a rich man's bride
With servants to wait on me while in my carriage ride
While in my carriage ride, while in my carriage ride
With servants to wait on me while in my carriage ride

As I went a strolling one day down London's streets
A handsome young squire was the first I chanced to meet
He kissed my pretty brown cheeks that no he loves so well
And said my little gypsy girl will you my fortune tell?
*Will you my fortune tell, will you my fortune tell?
He said my little gypsy girl will you my fortune tell?

Oh yes sir, kind sir, please hold to me your hand
You have many fine mansions in many foreign lands
And all those fine young ladies, you can cast them all aside
I am the gypsy girl who is to be your bride.
*Who is to be your bride, who is to be your bride
I am the gypsy girl who is to be your bride.

Once I was a gypsy girl but now I'm a rich man's bride
With servants to wait on me while in my carriage ride.
While in my carriage ride, while in my carriage ride
With servants to wait on me while in my carriage ride.

Gypsy Girl- simple melody
4/4 time key of G
G                           D7                G
    q e e q e e   q e e q e e   q  q  q  q   q e e q e e  
D---0-0-----0---|-0-0-----0---|------------|---0-----0---|
B-----0---0-0---|---0---0-0---|-1----------|---0-----0---|
G-----0-----0---|---0-----0---|----2-----2-|-0-0-----0---|
D---------------|-------------|-------4----|-------0-----|
G-------0-----0-|-----0-----0-|------------|-----0-----0-|

G                          D7            G
    q e e q e e   q e e q e e   q  q  q  q   q e e q e e  
D---0-0-----0---|-0-0-----0---|------------|---0-----0---|
B-----0---0-0---|---0---0-0---|-1----------|---0-----0---|
G-----0-----0---|---0-----0---|----2-----2-|-0-0-----0---|
D---------------|-------------|-------4----|-------0-----|
G-------0-----0-|-----0-----0-|------------|-----0-----0-|

G                           C           G
    q e e q q   q e e e+e e e   q e e q q   q e e q e e  
D-----0-----0-|-5-5---5p0-0---|-2-2---2---|-0-0-----0---|
B-----0---0---|---0-------0---|---1-------|---0---0-0---|
G---0-0-------|---0-------0---|---0-------|---0-----0---|
D-------------|---------------|-----------|-------------|
G-------0-----|-----0-------0-|-----0---0-|-----0-----0-|

G                          D7           G
    q e e q e e   q e e q e e   q  q  q  q   q e e q e e     
D---5-5---0-0---|-0-0-----0---|------------|---0-----0----|-|
B-----0-----0---|---0---0-0---|-1----------|---0-----0---*|-|
G-----0-----0---|---0-----0---|----2-----2-|-0-0-----0---*|-|
D---------------|-------------|-------4----|-------0------|-|
G-------0-----0-|-----0-----0-|------------|-----0-----0--|-|

 

Country, Folk, Bluegrass and Old Time Rhythm Guitar Basics

Back in 2004 I wrote this guitar workshop out in Notepad to help a friend understand some basic guitar concepts.

Fifteen years later the text-based guitar tab looks archaic as hell, but there is still some good and useful stuff here.

Have fun!
-Patrick
1/17/2018

Country, Folk, Bluegrass and Old Time Rhythm Guitar Basics

It’s a long title because these basic skills apply to a LOT of musical styles. Country guitar in general has always been kind of confusing because people keep trying to pigeonhole musicians into categories. Rather than worry about meeting somebody’s definition of where this stuff fits in a CD collection we’re just going to look at some basic concepts that can be used any way your little old heart desires.

If you are totally new to the guitar you may want to head over to http://www.funkyseagull.com and check out the free “One Finger Guitar” workshop. Standard tuning can be kind of rough for beginners when it comes to making chords so that workshop starts you out playing barre chords in open G tuning. It just gives you a chance to start playing without tearing up your fretting hand.

This is by no means a complete overview of the art and craft of playing rhythm guitar. It’s just enough to get you started. Like any other art form making music on the guitar can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be.

What this workshop covers is picking up a guitar, tuning it, learning some basic strums and playing a few songs. If you want to go beyond that you can pick up a copy of “The How and the Tao of Folk Guitar Volume One” (just $19.95) at http://www.pik-ware.com or visit http//www.funkyseagull.com and check out our CD ROM video music workshops. If you want to know how I started out on the six-string check out an excerpt from the book at http://www.funkyseagull.com/finding.pdf

For this workshop we are going to look at some basic rhythm concepts along with the bass strum and the alternating bass strum.

That’s enough introductory stuff. Grab your guitar and lets get that puppy in tune!

Tuning
In standard tuning:

  • Your SIXTH string (the wound string closest to your chin) is tuned to E
  • Your FIFTH string is tuned to A
  • Your FOURTH string is tuned to D
  • Your THIRD string is tuned to G
  • Your SECOND string is tuned to B
  • Your FIRST string (the plain steel string closest to the floor) is tuned to E
6 5 4 3 2 1
E A D G B E

Note: Never just crank on your guitar tuners. Always play the open string THEN tune it up. It’ll save you from changing a lot of broken strings.

I strongly recommend that you pick up a chromatic tuner. A standard guitar tuner won’t help with alternate tunings but a decent chromatic tuner can help you with open G and some of the other tunings that I’m going to talk about at the tail end of this workshop. Chromatic tuners can be picked up for as little as fifteen bucks so shop around and find one you like. You can also search under “guitar tuners” at http://www.google.com for tuners you can either download or use online with a microphone attached to your computer.

If you don’t have a tuner you can tune the guitar to itself by following these steps:

  1. Assume (I know, makes an ASS out of U and ME) that the first string is in tune.
  2. Tune the second string so that when you fret the second string at the fifth fret you get the same note as the open first string.
  3. Tune the third string so that when you fret the third string at the fourth fret you get the same note as the open second string.
  4. Tune the fourth string so that when you fret the fourth string at the fifth fret you get the same note as the open third string.
  5. Tune the fifth string so that when you fret the fifth string at the fifth fret you get the same note as the open fourth string.
  6. Tune the sixth string so that when you fret the sixth string at the fifth fret you get the same note as the open fifth string.

Take this slow and easy. Tuning a guitar is a skill you have to develop over time.

In standard tuning strumming the open strings isn’t going to sound all that great, but we don’t want to get into making chords just yet.

Now let’s work on some a basic rhythm pattern.

Strumming
Hopefully you are holding your guitar so that it’s balanced and your left and right hands don’t need to support the neck or the body to keep it from falling out of your lap. In terms of posture I usually recommend that you sit with the “S” curve of the guitar resting on the same leg as your picking hand. Sit up straight in a chair with no arms and make sure your fretting hand, and arm, is nice and relaxed.

Place your right hand or, for you lefties, your “picking hand” so that your thumb is resting on the sixth string and your little finger is resting on the top of the guitar after the first string. I usually plant my ring and little finger when I am strumming. Some folks just plant the little finger. Either way works as we’re only anchoring these fingers to give us a little bit more stability. Don’t press down with your hand or your fingers and don’t get all tensed up. Get comfortable and set things up so that when you draw your thumb over the strings towards your little finger you wind up strumming across all six strings.

REMEMBER:Strumming the open strings in standard tuning will sound discordant. Just work with me here for a while.

Make sure the strings all ring out. If your little finger is hitting the first string readjust things so that your fist string is free to sound clearly.

When you draw your thumb across the strings don’t move your arm or your wrist around too much. The movement here is more from your thumb than anywhere else.

Try this lightly a few times and then give it a good hard strum once or twice. Now strum across the strings four times fairly slowly. When I say “slowly” I don’t mean to drag your thumb across the strings so that each string rings out individually. Make the brush fairly crisp and count out loud each time you strum.

Count:  "One . . . two . . . three . . . four."
        strum     strum      strum       strum

In order to make that a bit smoother start tapping your foot each time you count and strum.

Count:  "One . . . two . . . three . . . four."
        strum     strum      strum       strum
Foot:    tap       tap        tap         tap

Run through that group of four strums five or six times in a row without stopping. Make an honest effort to keep your speed the same all the way through.

What you’ve just played is a four quarter note strum.

What’s a quarter note?

Well, to understand that we have to talk a little bit about note vales.

Note Values
For this workshop we are working in 4/4 time. That just means that the song is sort of broken up into chunks of four beats. A beat is the term we use to describe the pulse of the music.

That four beat rhythm can be broken up in all sorts of ways by giving each note a value in terms of rhythm. A note can be played as a whole note for all four beats, a half note for two beats, a quarter note for one beat or an eighth note for one-half of a beat. The only “rule” is that the all of the notes in a measure have to add up to the value of the time signature. In other words, you couldn’t really play a measure in 4/4 time with three whole notes.

For this basic strum we are playing each strum as a quarter note. As a result we wind up with four strums for each measure in the song.

Chords
Now we can play a quarter note strum, but the open strings in standard tuning sound pretty cheesy. Lets look at some chords.

To simplify things (this is a pretty big workshop after all) we’re just going to use three chords for this workshop. The chord diagrams below use numbers to show you where to put your fingers on the fretboard and a “0” for open strings. An “X” signifies an unplayed string (I’ll explain why we don’t use some strings for these chord forms in a little bit)

Chord:          C             F               G
Strings:   6-5-4-3-2-1   6-5-4-3-2-1      6-5-4-3-2-1   
Fret:      X-3-2-0-1-0   X-3-3-2-1-1      3-2-0-0-0-3

I’ve marked the sixth string on the C and F chords with an “X” because beginners tend to have a hard time fretting all six strings. I’ll write out the “full” chords at the end of the workshop, but for right now take it easy. Making chords on the guitar can be tough at first and you don’t want to stress out your hands to badly- this is supposed to be fun after all.

When it comes to making chords you’re going to have to experiment with things a bit to find the best position for your hands. I’ll write out the chords one more time and add in a line telling you what finger to use:

l=little r=ring m=middle i=index

Strings:   6-5-4-3-2-1   6-5-4-3-2-1      6-5-4-3-2-1   
Fret:      X-3-2-0-1-0   X-3-3-2-1-1      3-2-0-0-0-3
Finger:    X-r-m- -i-    X r-r-m-i-i      r-i-     -m

As you might have noticed, you sometimes have to use a finger to fret more than one string. Mess around with your hand position until you can make the notes sound clearly on each string and then spend a little bit of time just moving from C to G to F chords. Try other random combinations until you can change chords smoothly while keeping the rhythm of the four quarter note strum smooth.

Now let’s take a look at playing a song using this strum. In order to do this without a lot of fuss we’ll use tablature, or “tab” for short.

Reading Tab
Tab is just a way to illustrate fingerings on a fretted instrument. You have six lines. Each line represents a string on your guitar. The sixth string is at the bottom and the first string is on top. When any string has a zero you play that string open. The numbers on a string tell you what fret to play.

So in this example you would play your sixth string at the sixth fret, your fifth string at the fifth fret, your fourth string at the fourth fret, your third string at the third fret and so on.

|------------------1-|
|---------------2----|
|------------3-------|
|---------4----------|
|------5-------------|
|---6----------------|

Let’s play a song!
I have tabbed out the quarter note strum over the lyrics so you can sing this one while you play it. Trust me, if you get used to singing and playing now the more complex rhythm stuff will come a lot easier. Besides, it’s a neat old song.

Boil Them Cabbage Down
    C                       F
|---0----0----0----0----|---1---1---1---1---|
|---1----1----1----1----|---1---1---1---1---|
|---0----0----0----0----|---2---2---2---2---|
|---2----2----2----2----|---3---3---3---3---|
|---3----3----3----3----|---3---3---3---3---|
|---x----x----x----x----|---x---x---x---x---|
  boil them  cab-bage     down     down
    C                        G
|---0----0----0----0----|----3----3----3----3---|
|---1----1----1----1----|----0----0----0----0---|
|---0----0----0----0----|----0----0----0----0---|
|---2----2----2----2----|----0----0----0----0---|
|---3----3----3----3----|----2----2----2----2---|
|---x----x----x----x----|----3----3----3----3---|
   bake them hoe cakes     brown      brown
    C                       F
|---0----0----0----0----|---1---1---1---1---|
|---1----1----1----1----|---1---1---1---1---|
|---0----0----0----0----|---2---2---2---2---|
|---2----2----2----2----|---3---3---3---3---|
|---3----3----3----3----|---3---3---3---3---|
|---x----x----x----x----|---x---x---x---x---|
 the on- ly song that       I  can sing is
    C         G             C     
|---0----0----3----3----|----0----0----0----0---||
|---1----1----0----0----|----1----1----1----1---||
|---0----0----0----0----|----0----0----0----0--*||
|---2----2----0----0----|----2----2----2----2--*||
|---3----3----2----2----|----3----3----3----3---||
|---x----x----3----3----|----x----x----x----x---||
   boil them cab- bage      down

Here are some more lyrics to this tune so you can keep it going for a while:

Went up on the mountain Just to give my horn a blow.
Thought I heard my true love say,
Yonder comes my beau.

chorus:
Boil them cabbage down, down.
Turn them hoecakes down, down.
The only song that I can sing
Is boil them cabbage down.

Possum in a ‘simmon tree,
Raccoon on the ground.
Raccoon says, you son-of-a-gun,
Throw some ‘simmons down.

Someone stole my old coon dog,
Wish they’d bring him back.
He chased the big hogs through the fence
And the little ones through a crack.

Met a possum in the road,
Blind as he could be.
Jumped the fence and whipped my dog
And bristled up at me.

Butterfly he has wings of gold,
Firefly wings of flame.
Bedbug got no wings at all
but he gets there just the same.

This is great, but the strum might get sort of monotonous after a while. To liven things up let’s change the strum a bit.

The Bass Strum
What we are going to play now is the bass strum. It works by playing a bass string as a single quarter note and following it up with a strum.

No, I’m not kidding. That’s all there is to it. I’ll add the lyrics to the first line of tab, but after that it’s all pretty intuitive so I’ll leave it out and save myself some typing.

C                          F
|---------0-----------0---|----------1-----------1---|
|---------1-----------1---|----------1-----------1---|
|---------0-----------0---|----------2-----------2---|
|---------2-----------2---|----3-----3-----3-----3---|
|---3-----3-----3-----3---|----------3-----------3---|
|---------x-----------x---|----------x-----------x---|
  boil  them   cab-  bage    down          down . . . 
 
    C                      G
|---------0---------0---|--------3-----------3-|
|---------1---------1---|--------0-----------0-|
|---------0---------0---|--------0-----------0-|
|---------2---------2---|--------0-----------0-|
|---3-----3-----3---3---|--------2-----------2-|
|---------x---------x---|--3-----3-----3-----3-|
    C                         F
|---------0-----------0---|----------1-----------1---|
|---------1-----------1---|----------1-----------1---|
|---------0-----------0---|----------2-----------2---|
|---------2-----------2---|----3-----3-----3-----3---|
|---3-----3-----3-----3---|----------3-----------3---|
|---------x-----------x---|----------x-----------x---|
    C           G            C
|---------0-----------3---|--------0-----------0-|
|---------1-----------0---|--------1-----------1-|
|---------0-----------0---|--------0-----------0-|
|---------2-----------0---|--------2-----------2-|
|---3-----3-----------2---|--3-----3-----3-----3-|
|---------x-----3-----3---|--------x-----------x-|

In the above bass strum version we are using the root note of the chord as our bass note. What’s the root note? Well, in order to understand that we will need to learn a little bit about scales and some basic music theory.

Basic Music Theory
A scale is just a sequence of notes. The formal term is something like “the key of E is a major mode with a root of E”, but we won’t be getting that technical here so thinking of it as a sequence of notes makes things easier for now.

In Western music we are only working with twelve notes. The twelve notes are named after the letters A through G with a whole or half-step between each pair of letters except between B and C and E and F.

Your half step is either a sharp (#) or a flat (b.)

The half step between A and B can be called either A# or Bb.

A# means that the A note is raised one half step higher. Bb is the B note lowered one half step. A# and Bb are the same note. The other half steps follow the same pattern.

So with all twelve notes laid out you have the chromatic scale:

A A#/Bb B C C#/Db D D#/Eb E F F#/Gb G G#/A

Once you understand the idea of half steps you can just write out the chromatic scale like this to save space and make it a tad clearer:

(The "| "symbol will be used to represent a half step)

A | B C | D | E F | G |

To hear this on your guitar play the third string at the second fret (an A note). Then play that string on each fret all the way through twelve frets. You have just played each note of the chromatic scale. This works because the fretboard is laid out to follow the chromatic scale.

Look at it this way. The third string of your guitar is tuned to G. If we fret the G string at the first fret we get a G#/Ab. Keep that idea moving down the fetboard and . . .

|--------------------------------------------------------------------|
|--------------------------------------------------------------------|
|---0----1----2----3----4----5----6----7----8----9----10----11----12-|
|--------------------------------------------------------------------|
|--------------------------------------------------------------------|
|--------------------------------------------------------------------|
   G  G#/Ab   A  A#/Bb  B    C  C#/Db  D  D#/Eb  E     F   F#/Gb  G 

Each string on your guitar follows the same pattern. The first string is tuned to E so fretting the first string at the first fret gets you an F note and fretting at the third fret gets you a . . . come on, figure this one out on your own . . . if you said “G” you’ve got the idea!

Now that we know where the notes are on the fretboard the next step is to figure out how to organize those notes into scales.

To figure out the notes of the C scale we need to lay out a string of twelve notes starting with our root note.

In this case the root note is C so we start with the C note. Remember, because we are only working with the letters A through G the note after the G note is going to be A.

C | D | E F | G | A | B C

If you notice we started on C and ended on C. That second C is called the octave. It is the same note as the root but higher in pitch. What we have here now is a chromatic scale starting on C and ending on C.

In order to find the C scale we follow this pattern up the scale:

Root, whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, whole step, half step

C is the root. A whole step from C is D A whole step from D is E A half step from E is F A whole step from F is G A whole step from G is A A whole step from A is B A half step from B is C

So your C scale is: C D E F G A B C.

To play this on the guitar we could use the same formula that we used to play the A chromatic scale. We can start this on the second string at the first fret. Why? Because the second string is tuned to B and as a result fretting that B string at the first fret gives you a C note.

A whole step from C is D:

|--------|
|---1--3-|
|--------|
|--------|
|--------|
|--------|
   C  D

A whole step from D is E:

|-----------|
|---1--3--5-|
|-----------|
|-----------|
|-----------|
|-----------|
   C  D  E

A half step from E is F:

|--------------|
|---1--3--5--6-|
|--------------|
|--------------|
|--------------|
|--------------|
    C  D  E  F

A whole step from F is G:

|-----------------|
|---1--3--5--6--8-|
|-----------------|
|-----------------|
|-----------------|
|-----------------|
    C  D  E  F  G

A whole step from G is A:

|—-v—————–|
|—1–3–5–6–8–10-|
|———————|
|———————|
|———————|
|———————|
C D E F G A

A whole step from A is B:

|------------------------|
|---1--3--5--6--8-10--11-|
|------------------------|
|------------------------|
|------------------------|
|------------------------|
   C  D  E  F  G  A   B

A half step from B is C:

|----------------------------|
|---1--3--5--6--8-10--11--12-|
|----------------------------|
|----------------------------|
|----------------------------|
|----------------------------|
   C  D  E  F  G  A   B   C

And that gives us a C scale.

That isn’t the only C scale on your guitar. You can play a C scale anywhere on the fretboard. Try playing a C scale staring on the fifth string at the third fret. That’s a C note because the fifth string is tuned to A:

|--------------------|
|--------------------|
|--------------------|
|--------------------|
|---0----1----2----3-|
|--------------------|
    A  A#/Bb  B    C

So we start with C:

|-----|
|-----|
|-----|
|-----|
|---3-|
|-----|
   C

The next note in the scale is D- and that just happens to be the next open string:

|--------|
|--------|
|--------|
|------0-|
|---3----|
|--------|
    C  D

After D comes E and F:

|--------------|
|--------------|
|--------------|
|------0--2--3-|
|---3----------|
|--------------|
    C  D  E  F

The next note in the scale in G- and we can move over to the next open string for that note:

|-----------------|
|-----------------|
|---------------0-|
|------0--2--3----|
|---3-------------|
|-----------------|
    C  D  E  F  G

And you just keep that idea going until you hit the next C note:

|---------------|-------------|
|---------------|--------0--1-|
|---------------|--0--2-------|
|------0--2--3--|-------------|
|---3-----------|-------------|
|---------------|-------------|
    C  D  E  F     G  A  B  C

And you can start another C scale from that C note:

|———0–1–|–3–5–7–8-|
|—1–3——–|————-|
|—————|————-|
|—————|————-|
|—————|————-|
|—————|————-|
C D E F G A B C

So playing a major scale isn’t a big deal. In fact, it’s nothing more than playing a simple pattern of whole and half steps on the fretboard.

Try working out some more scales on your own. For the rest of this particular workshop we will be using the C, F and G scales. To save time I’ll tab the bass-string scales out for you.

C:

|---------------|-------------|
|---------------|--------0--1-|
|---------------|--0--2-------|
|------0--2--3--|-------------|
|---3-----------|-------------|
|---------------|-------------|
    C  D  E  F     G  A  B  C
F:

|---------------|--------------|
|---------------|--------------|
|---------------|--------------|
|---------------|-----0--2--3--|
|---------0--1--|--3-----------|
|---1--3--------|--------------|
    F  G  A  Bb    C  D  E   F
G:

|---------------|-------------|
|---------------|-------------|
|---------------|-----------0-|
|---------------|--0--2--4----|
|------0--2--3--|-------------|
|---3-----------|-------------|
    G  A  B  C     D  E  F# G

ALTERNATING BASS:

Using the root note for the bass sounds good but it’s kind of boring. In order to give the song a feeling of motion we can alternate the bass. To do this we play the root note for the first bass strum in a measure and either the fifth or the third note of the scale to start the second bass strum:

C:

|---------------|-------------|
|---------------|--------0--1-|
|---------------|--0--2-------|
|------0--2--3--|-------------|
|---3-----------|-------------|
|---------------|-------------|
    C  D  E  F     G  A  B  C
  Root   3rd      5th

So if we use the root and the third note for our bass notes for a C chord we get an alternating bass pattern like this:

C

|-----0-----0--|-|
|-----1-----1--|-|
|-----0-----0--|-|
|-----2---2-2--|-|
|---3-3-----3--|-|
|-----x-----x--|-|

And when you apply that to Boil Them Cabbage Down:

C                 F               C
|-------0-------0---|-----1-------1-|-----0-------0---|
|-------1-------1---|-----1-------1-|-----1-------1---|
|-------0-------0---|-----2---2---2-|-----0-------0---|
|-------2---2---2---|-3---3-------3-|-----2---2---2---|
|---3---3-------3---|-----3-------3-|-3---3-------3---|
|-------x-------x---|-----x-------x-|-----x-------x---|
 boil them cab-bage   down    down  bake them hoe-cakes
    
    G               C               F
|-------3-------3-|-----0-------0---|-----1-------1-|
|-------0-------0-|-----1-------1---|-----1-------1-|
|-------0-------0-|-----0-------0---|-----2---2---2-|
|-------0-------0-|-----2---2---2---|-3---3-------3-|
|-------2---2---2-|-3---3-------3---|-----3-------3-|
|---3---3-------3-|-----x-------x---|-----x-------x-|
   brown  brown   the only song that  I can sing is
    C       G      C
|-------0-------3---|-----0-------0--|-|
|-------1-------0---|-----1-------1--|-|
|-------0-------0---|-----0-------0-*|-|
|-------2-------0---|-----2---2---2-*|-|
|---3---3-------2---|-3---3-------3--|-|
|-------x---3---3---|-----x-------x--|-|
 boil them cab-bage  down

Nothing to it, right?

Give this a shot with your thumb, and then try it with a flatpick.

Until next time, -Patrick 7/29/04

31

One of the good things about losing seventy pounds is that I have a neck again. That means I can wear shirts and a tie again.

I probably won’t ever need to wear a tie, but it’s nice to have that option again.

With that in mind, I went digging through my belongings and found bag with four of my great grandfather’s clip-on bow ties.

Much to my surprise, there was a newspaper clipping in the bottom of the bag. I thought it would be about some random relative, but it was about me.

31st grandchildMr. and Mrs. Albert L. Groff of 171 Shelboudrne Rd. Manoa, have become grandparents for the 31st tim. The newest grandchild is Joseph Patrick Costello III, who arrived at Bryn Mawr Hospital on March 25. The new grandson weighed seven pounds, 13 ounces The happy parents are Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Patrick Costello Jr. of Trooper. Mrs. Costello is the former Trudy Groff.

It was a nice little reminder that I am special.

Look for hot vintage bow-tie action in workshop!