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

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