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Exploring The Fingerboard - Orange Blossom Special

Editor's note: this article originally ran in Banjo Newsletter's January 1976 edition. It is re-published here by permission from the author and the Banjo Newsletter.

'Orange Blossom Special', long a favorite and popular tune of the bluegrass fiddler is examined in this month's 'Exploring The Fingerboard'. A few examples of what a banjo can do for back-up in the first section are offered; plus some different ways to play the B and C melodies.

In 'OBS' the fiddler will play the A section in the key of E and then move into A for the B part. Capo the banjo up two frets and play out of the D position for the E part (without altering the fifth string) and then you can move into the key of A with no trouble for the B and C part. The first section is an ad-lib/improvisation part for the fiddle and the banjo is basically 'noodling' around in various D positions while the fiddle has the lead.

Some of the effective melody voices that can be used behind the fiddle at this time are presented below in skeleton form. Three examples are given; one made in the D position and the other in F position. An attempt at a train sound is made with these rhythmic patterns; actually a 'boogie-woogie' beat.


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Here is the familiar signal that the 'train' (fiddle) is getting ready to roll and is leaving the key to E to move into A; it is up to the fiddle to say when but as the banjo back-up you must be ready to take off and these notes are used to reinforce his departure:


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The 'B' melody (now in the key of A/capoed up two). The harmonics are there to give a 'train-like' sound, as are the chokes when you come around again. The (*) section below picks up with the two measures of G and then goes into an upper-neck version of the C lick. Note the C7 lick in the two measures after the choke (name that chord? when the C# is added on 6).


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The very familiar 'C' part of OBS. Note the different kind of backward roll in the last three measures of the second line. It has a John Hickman flavor to it, and once controlled it can be very useful in other situations. It has a natural synchopation.


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Just a few examples of the numerous ways the banjo can play this tune. Except for the upper-neck break for the C part the examples are not in the melodic style. The examples that follow are tabs that are based on the playing of Carl Jackson's arrangement from 'Carl Jackson; "Banjo Player" - Capitol ST 11166'. In most cases the arrangements are identical but in places they differ on notes.

About the Author

In 1971, while working as a high school librarian, Hubbard Nitchie began compiling information on the 5-string banjo. He called it "The Banjo Clearinghouse," and that, along with a banjo tablature service he also offered called "Tab of the Month," eventually became The Banjo Newsletter.

Hub played 3-finger style, and was especially partial to the melodic style; his own columns in "BNL", Exploring the Fingerboard, concentrated on that style. In September ,1992, Hub received the Personality of the Year in Print Media award from the IBMA.  In October 1992 he passed away in Greensboro, Maryland.

In 1988, Hub wrote: "Whatever objective you have with your interest in the banjo—to play for yourself or for others, or whatever musical style you prefer—our goal at Banjo Newsletter is to celebrate the banjo."

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