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 Playing Advice: Clawhammer and Old-Time Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW 1/20/2012: Ross's Reel #4

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John D - Posted - 01/20/2012:  07:27:14

The TOTW for 1/20/12 is Ross’s Reel #4.

Ross’s Reels are the only reels I know of that are also reels - Really! :


Here’s what the Fiddlers companion says about the musical reel:

ROSS'S REEL NO. 4. AKA and see "Lady's Walpole Reel" (?). New England, Reel. USA. F Major. Standard tuning. AABB. A favorite reel at New England contra dances. The alternate title probably comes from association of the tune with the dance Lady Walpole's Reel. Source for notated version: Allan Block (N.H.) via Donna Hebert (Amherst, Mass.) [Fiddler Magazine]. Brody (Fiddler’s Fakebook), 1983; pg. 235-236. Fiddler Magazine, vol. 3, No. 1, Spring 1996; pg. 9 (includes a Latin variation). Hinds/Hebert (Grumbling Old Woman), 1981; pg. 11 (includes harmony line). Miller & Perron (New England Fiddler’s Repertoire), 1983; No. 112. Page (Ralph Page Book of Contras), 1969; pg. 11. Phillips (Traditional American Fiddle Tunes), 1994; pg. 204. Silberberg (93 Fiddle Tunes I Didn’t Learn at the Tractor Tavern), 2004; pg. 36. Tolman (The Nelson Music Collection), 1969; pg. 8. Alcazar Dance Series FR 204, Rodney Miller- "New England Chestnuts 2" (1981). Culburnie CUL 1130, Alasdair Fraser & Tony McManus – “Return to Kintail” (1999). Kicking Mule 216, Strathspey- "New England Contra Dance Music." Varrick VR-038, Yankee Ingenuity - "Heatin' up the Hall" (1989).


I first heard this tune back in the early 80’s on a Sunday afternoon on listener sponsored Radio KKUP 91.5 and it fell into the “Listen to a tune just one time and feel obsessed to learn it” category. It was from the "New England Contra Dance Music" LP. I told a friend about the tune and she happened to have the LP and the accompanying sheet music so she made a cassette and copied the music and, after three decades of struggle, I feel like I can almost play it.

I thought Ross’s Reel #4 was just a trad New England Contra tune, author unknown, but this band, at the bottom of their website:

Claims the tune was written by William Ross, the piper for Queen Victoria (Fun gig, huh?) :

Maybe the tune comes from William Ross, or maybe not. I don’t know.

On the web, there’s lots of complete audio versions, CD samples, and videos of RR#4 played at contra dances. It really is a popular dance tune. Couldn’t find any banjo versions. What’s up with that?

Here’s a solo Fiddle version:

Band version:

A whistling with swing chords sample here:

A sample with this band (Go to “Perkins Strut.”) :

This version is crazy fast and pretty dang entertaining. Dig the Bongos, wood block, and egg shakers.

Something startling happens in the following version. At 1:24 into the tune, you hear what sounds like (at least on my crummy laptop speakers) a frightful scream and the ceiling falling down; you think maybe Carrie dropped by the hall for a dose of pig blood and mayhem. Turns out, however, to just be the percussion section of the band blowing a police whistle and pounding on a drum. Funny Schtick. The fiddler does a great job of looking surprised:

Here’s a midi version on this page:


Players switch the A and B parts around. I play it like this sheet music from The Session:


Ross’s Reel #4 is in F Major but I claw it in Double C. I try to play all the notes of the melody. No pyrotechnical stuff here, but there’s lots of left hand pinky work. I like to hear it played crazy fast but I like to play it kind of slow.

I don’t much like the A part. For me, the A part is there as a difficult, but necessary task to suffer through so you get the fantastic reward of being able to play the B part. In other words, for me, the call and response scheme of the B part is the compelling feature of the tune. I like to do it a little different every time it comes around. I’ve tried playing just the B part over and over, but, without the stupid A part, it gets to be unbalanced and unrewarding, like a movie full of boy-gets-girl without any boy-loses-girl.

Anyway, here’s my funky version. I need just a couple more years of playing it to smooth it out:





Ross's Reel #4


Julian44_4 - Posted - 01/20/2012:  07:42:01

Tab Here;v=18324

J-Walk - Posted - 01/20/2012:  09:46:03

What a fun tune that is! I didn't really "get" it until I downloaded this version by April Verch from Amazon. It has kind of a Mexican feel to it.

I raised the pitch by 2 half-steps, and I'm playing along in G tuning. There's no banjo on the recording, so it's a perfect play-along.

I wonder how this works out the fiddle in G or A? 


Mark Johnson - Posted - 01/20/2012:  11:22:10

Love me some F tunes.  I was actually going to post a New England F tune for next weeks TOTW, but may rethink that for some diversity.

Love your version as always, John.  Some really fun funky rhythm moves in there.  Get down with your bad self. 

Agreed about both the A vs. B bit and the B making it all worthwhile.  How fun is that section?

Thanks for sharing, that was a totally new tune for me...

J-Walk - Posted - 01/20/2012:  13:01:06

I've never played a tune with a fiddler in F. Mark, how do you handle F tunes on a banjo? Tune down? Use some exotic tuning? Double C, capo 5? Use of those imaginary negative capos?

BTW, in that April Verch version, both parts are equally fun.

Mark Johnson - Posted - 01/20/2012:  13:23:48

Depends on the tune, but offhand the approaches I've taken are:

-Open D capo 3 (f#DF#AD up to aFACF)  This is my current fav.  Whether I use it for my TOTW or not, I'll post Hull's Victory in this tuning soon.

-double C capo 5: I like capoing high, getting that nice music box sound.  I really want a piccolo banjo.

-fCFCD: I used this on my version of Old Yeller Dog Came Trottin Through the Meetinghouse, for example, following Rayna Gellert to the key of F with the tune.

-fDGCD playing out of the F chord shape: this is a fun thing to do, playing sort of cross-tuned.  I worked up Buffalo Gals in F there once (and I play any number of G tunes at gEADE like the Pigtown Fling on my music page)

LyleK - Posted - 01/20/2012:  13:54:32


Originally posted by Mark Johnson

Love me some F tunes.  I was actually going to post a New England F tune for next weeks TOTW, but may rethink that for some diversity.

Just be darn sure you stay clear of E tunes.  I have big plans for a KOTW (E major) with Sebastapol Hornpipe and a top secret tune from a Missouri fiddler when I'm "on deck" in April.

John D., as always, fantastic!  Five stars under the old system which translates now into "liking" (such an understatement).

ramjo - Posted - 01/20/2012:  15:09:59


Originally posted by LyleK....

I have big plans for a KOTW (E major) with Sebastapol Hornpipe and a top secret tune from a Missouri fiddler when I'm "on deck" in April.

John D., as always, fantastic!  Five stars under the old system which translates now into "liking" (such an understatement).

Lyle, a KOTW? A Konigsberg tune of the week? I vote a hearty yea!

John D. Your playing, as always, is terrific and makes me want to yell MORE. Your write-up was equal in quality. This is a new tune for me and I'm definitely going to try to expand my world by learning it.

ramjo - Posted - 01/20/2012:  15:26:12

BTW, anybody notice the similarity between this tune and "Indian Squaw," which we had a couple of weeks ago?

Tamarack - Posted - 01/21/2012:  05:54:32

Cool tune -- I certainly understand taking three decades to get a tune down. Gotta limber up those left-hand fingers and give it a try.

Bill Rogers - Posted - 01/21/2012:  11:48:21

For E--Cumberland Gap tuning (f#BEAD) capoed at 2--or at 3 for F.

Marc Nerenberg - Posted - 01/21/2012:  13:57:16

Really like your version John! for reel!

majikgator - Posted - 01/21/2012:  16:26:54

i like that April Verch version, thanks J-Walk.

i like FDGCD for playing in F, it may not work for all tunes but it's fun for the ones i do, i like playing some G tunes in F in this tuning just because it sounds neat a whole step lower on the banjo, no capo and slacker strings i guess.

John D - Posted - 01/22/2012:  07:08:07

Thanks, all, for the comments!   Mark, I hope you post Hull's Victory sooner instead of later.  It's a great tune fast or slow.  Ramjo, Ross's does sound a little bit like Indian Squaw, but only a little bit.

J-Walk - Posted - 01/22/2012:  16:12:24

John D, I'll have you know that I am now totally obsessed with this tune. I've hardly played anything else yesterday and today. And I woke up this morning and it was playing in my head. That's always a good sign.

I tried to record myself playing it, today, but way too many mistakes. Maybe in a few more days.

strokestyle - Posted - 01/23/2012:  07:42:31

John D. Another great play! I look forward to the TOTW-KOTW!

"I've never played a tune with a fiddler in F. Mark, how do you handle F tunes on a banjo? " by Jwalk.

For me, I  usually approach the F tunes in GCGBD and start with the F chord. Gives the tune a real texture. Try something like "Wild Hog in The Woods" that has only three chords F C and Bflat.  Love the F-tunes!

jojo25 - Posted - 01/23/2012:  10:55:23

F tunes...I once walked up to a session at Clifftop where a friend from Madison was doing F tunes...and actually had a guitar player who could play a clean, full B flat chord...I plunked along...thinking F...stands for f***ed up...but I did the fiddler and...lo and behold I came to think that F...stands for FUN

I used open G tuning with the 5th string capoed up to C or A...don't recall which...and played a lot of chord forms

How's about E flat?  That can be fun also.


J-Walk - Posted - 01/24/2012:  12:46:37

I've been playing this tune a lot since Friday, and I finally turned on the recorder so I can benchmark my progress later on. It has lots of mistakes, but I'm getting there. This is definitely a tune that I'll add to my repertoire.

It's based on April Verch's recording, but in the key of G.

Ross' Reel #4


John D - Posted - 01/24/2012:  13:42:24

Nice, J-Walk!  Thanks for posting.

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