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 Playing Advice: Clawhammer and Old-Time Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW 7/13/12 - Twin Sisters

Please note this is an archived topic, so it is locked and unable to be replied to. You may, however, start a new topic and refer to this topic with a link:

blanham - Posted - 07/12/2012:  20:56:06

Twin Sisters

This fine tune has become well loved as a banjo tune, due to the exquisite solo banjo playing of Sidna Myers.  However, the Myers brothers also played “Twin Sisters” in a string band setting, as heard on the Field Recorders Collective album featuring Sidna and Fulton Myers.  The entire FRC album displays a near-perfect meshing of fiddle and banjo, and the first “Twin Sisters” track is no exception (the second version is banjo only).

The tune seems to have been known by others from the same region of the Blue Ridge, near the North Carolina/Virginia border.  Banjo player Williams Marshall plays it on the album “Old Originals Vol. 2.”

Here are the available field recordings and commercial recordings I know of:


“High Atmosphere” (Sidna Myers)


“Clawhammer Banjo, Vol. 2” (Sidna Myers)


“Field Recorders Collective, FRC 504” (Sidna and Fulton Myers)


“Old Time Banjo” (Reed Martin)


“Banjo Gathering” (John Cohen)


"Old Originals, Vol. 2" (Williams Marshall)


A nice fretless gourd banjo rendition:


Don Borchelt's great playing is here:

And also on the Banjo Hangout:

Nick Bachman

Banjo Billy Boy

For my own contributions, I will attach a banjo solo version, a band version, and a banjo tab.

Thanks for reading!



Twin Sisters Tab

Twin Sisters (Banjo)

Twin Sisters (String Band)

JoeH - Posted - 07/13/2012:  02:43:09

Wow, really nice job on this & the attachments are great.

LyleK - Posted - 07/13/2012:  03:13:42


Originally posted by blanham

The tune seems to have been known by others from the same region of the Blue Ridge, near the North Carolina/Virginia border.

Great pick for TOTW!  We were just playing this one last night at our Thursday night jam.  It is actually a very widely distributed tune, but because it was published under different names (and picked up other names along the way) it can be hard to find.

1. First, there is "Boys of Bluehill" (published in O'Neill's Music of Ireland under that title) - see/hear for a comparison of Boys of Bluehill and Twin Sisters (thanks to E. Hawkes for pointing out this URL to me)

2. Then there's "Two Sisters" (published in George P. Knauff's "Virginia Reels" that way)

3. "Beaux of Oak Hill Reel" - Ryan's "Mammoth Collection"

4. And other names still - see "mojo monks" comment about : "... the old Irish melody known as The Boys of Bluehill. It shows up ALL OVER THE PLACE in the N. American Old Time tradition under a whole bunch of names" in his second post  at

Edited by - LyleK on 07/13/2012 03:15:30

carlb - Posted - 07/13/2012:  04:41:17

Excellent choice and good playing Blanham

LyleK - Posted - 07/13/2012:  05:41:01

Really wish I could delete my previous post (except for the part about great pick!).  I did that post having only looked at the tab on a _slow_ machine.  Now that I've listened to the *.mp3s I see that this is not the "Boys of Blue Hill" variant of "Twin Sisters" but instead one of the other four or so tunes called "Twin Sisters."  In regard to my previous post (in the immortal words of Roseanne Roseannadanna): "Never mind."

blanham - Posted - 07/13/2012:  06:55:51

No worries, Lyle, it's still good info!

Tamarack - Posted - 07/13/2012:  06:56:54

Great tune!!! Happy and haunting at the same time.

JanetB - Posted - 07/13/2012:  07:25:36

Familiar tune, but I don't know where I've heard it.  It's from Virginia, in the "Galax - Mount Airy axis," according to this link from the Field Recorders' Collective. I learned Sidna Myers was born in 1890 (same as my grandmother) and died in 1972, but that not much else biographical information is known.  Great post, Bob!  I think I'll try it. 

hum - Posted - 07/13/2012:  07:33:40

I love this tune yes - I learnt it after listening to an Old Time clawhammer banjo CD by a great player called Reed Martin (ref: Sydna and Fulton Myers - "Twin Sisters" ) - Though I am playing "2 finger style" with picks on  - playing in the key of A rather than G - capo 2nd fret, 5th string capo 7th fret - GDGCD tuning - I've also added a couple of sections to play over some modulations.

VIDEO: Dave Hum - Twin Sisters
(click to view)


Mtngoat - Posted - 07/13/2012:  12:45:56

Good write up and good links.  For some reason "Brushy Fork of John's Creek" popped into my head why listening to the tune.  Does anyone else hear any similarities or is it just me?

ramjo - Posted - 07/13/2012:  14:06:33

I love this tune and am so happy it turned up in TOTW. I really like your versions, Bob, particularly the solo.

You listed John Cohen’s version on the Banjo Gathering album. I love how he submitted, and they produced, that unvarnished home recording that sounded like he was playing in some cabin next to the woodstove. John also put this tune on his 1998 album "Stories the Crow Told Me"—both as a solo and as a duet with Jody Stecher on fiddle. In the liner notes John writes:

"Sidna Myers of Hillsville, Virginia, lived way out in the country and was very accepting of us (me, wife and baby), sharing his music without making any fuss about it. I don’t know whether I could have been as generous if he had appeared unannounced (as we had) at my door. Every banjo tune he played had his personal stamp."

Bob, I notice that like Sidna, you tune up your fourth string to F. John Cohen remarks about this in the note to the solo version on his album: “Mountain musicians have created more than fifty different banjo tunings to get most of their modal melodies onto the open strings.” I felt squeamish the first time I twisted mine up that far, so I tuned back to straight sawmill and learned to play Twin Sisters fingering the F on the third fret.

In that same note John went on to describe why, perhaps, the tune is so captivating: "Like a patchwork quilt, "Twin Sisters" is built on a fine repeated pattern from which bigger patterns emerge. Both banjo tunes and patchwork quilts are handmade, personal, and contain a beauty that works on an intimate scale." That sums it up for me.

Edited by - ramjo on 07/13/2012 14:10:50

jamesd - Posted - 07/14/2012:  08:16:05

Bob, great tune you have selected and your recordings are good.  After a great deal of fear and moving very slowly, I finally pushed my 4th string up to F and by magic nothing popped. 

Thanks for the tab and the courage to try a new tuning.

Kitt - Posted - 07/14/2012:  11:04:50

At first listen I wasn't all that enamored with the tune. Then I began learning it, and it quickly grew on me. It is one of those tunes that becomes trans like as you play it again and again. I have the John Cohen version on the Banjo Gathering. Having read Blanham's write up, and having begun to learn the tune myself, Cohen's playing of the tune now has a feel to it that I had not tapped into before.

JanetB - Posted - 07/16/2012:  09:34:53

This tune gives me deja vu.  I'm playing in modal tuning and do only 8 measures for each part.  Thanks for the extra information about John Cohen and Sidna Myers.   More education for me! 

Twin Sisters


YorkshireWannabeOldTimer - Posted - 07/16/2012:  16:24:34

I love this tune too: I was first hooked on it by the Youtube gourd banjo version, which I came across after the banjoist's version of Sandy Boys; I then went back to the Myers versions. The tune begs to be played over and over again. I've only heard Myers's playing on High Atmosphere and the County Clawhammer series but he really hits the spot - his version of Forkey Deer is also wonderful. 'Exquisite solo playing' indeed. I've got to get that Field Recorders Collective album... Many thanks for an excellent TOTW,

Edited by - YorkshireWannabeOldTimer on 07/16/2012 16:26:44

Twin Sisters


EggerRidgeBoy - Posted - 07/18/2012:  13:54:25

I really like this tune.  It first caught my attention when I heard John Cohen's version on "Banjo Gathering", but soon realized that I had heard it before, on "Clawhammer Banjo Volume 2" and on Reed Martin's album.  It didn't jump out at me on those earlier listenings, but I think that was largely because at the time I was new to clawhammer, and everything I was hearing sounded unique and different.  With a few years of old-time music under my belt, John's recording really struck a chord with me, as did Sidna Myer's original version.  That Sidna and Fulton Myers Field Recorders Collective release is on my "to buy" list when I visit the FRC booth at Clifftop in a couple of weeks.

As a matter of fact, I liked Twin Sisters so much that I was considering doing it as a Tune of the Week early next month, when my turn comes up again.  Just last Thursday I was, in my role as TOTW Coordinator, suggesting to someone that they not do hours and hours of research on a tune too far in advance, since you never know whether someone else will cover the tune first.  Fortunately, I had pretty much followed my own advice, having basically just bookmarked a lot of sites to use in writing up the tune.  Glancing through them now, I think pretty much everything of importance that I had come across has already been covered in Bob's excellent post and the ensuing discussion.  Below, in no particular order, are random bits of information from those websites -  mostly excerpts from interviews and reviews that mention Sidna Myers.  They may or may not be of much interest, but I figured I would go ahead and include them here.

Jody Stecher, in Fiddler Magazine: 

Printed versions of "Soldier's Joy" are found as early as the mid eighteenth century and it seems the tune is older than that. The most intriguing version I have heard was played by Fulton Myers, a modest man from Five Forks, Virginia, a little place not far from Galax and Hillsville.

Everyone who has written about him says the same thing, that he lived simply and had no electricity. I would have hoped to know more, he's a unique fiddler and worthy of discussion and attention. All the recordings of Fulton Myers and all the descriptions of his music pair him with his brother Sidna (pronounced Sidney), who is one of the most creative old-time banjo players I have heard. Recently the Field Recorders Collective has issued a CD of the Myers Brothers which was recorded in the 1960s. For those who are familiar with what has become known (for better or worse) as the Round Peak repertoire, hearing it will be a real revelation as this music is so similar yet so very different.


John Hoffman, in an FRC article on Peter Hoover's field recording efforts, including his 1962 session with Sidna and Fulton Myers: 

It was Glen Smith that told Peter about Sidna and Fulton Myers. He heard about Manco Sneed from his visits with Marcus Martin and Bayard Ray. Aunt Samantha Baumgartner also gave Peter a number of musician's names to add to his lists. In turn, Peter would tell others about the musicians he visited. He told John Cohen about the Myers brothers

Peter could not record the Myers at their home since they did not have electricity. The closest available spot to plug-in was at Spraker's General Store in Five Forks, VA. Peter tells the story of recording at Sprakers during which a child in diapers kept running through the area where they were recording and, in fact, in one of the tapes you can hear the child running into the reel causing the recording unit to slow down. Interestingly, about twelve years ago, a folklorist, looking for the recordings that Peter made of the Myers brothers, contacted Joe Hickerson from the L of C. After doing some sleuthing, it was determined that this folklorist was that very same diapered child. Having gotten interested in folklore by listening to the Myers brothers, one of whom was his grandfather, he then found there was a recording at the L of C of their playing, a copy of which he purchased.


Paul Brown and Charles Faurot, in an NPR story recounting the history behind the Faurot field recordings that became the County Clawhammer series: (

BROWN: From Uncle Wade Ward’s house Charlie kept on going.

Mr. FAUROT: I talked to one guy and he’s, oh, you got to go over here to the next town and you ask for so and so. And I’d get over to the other town and they would say, oh, yeah I’ll play for you, but you ought to talk, you ought to see this other guy as well.

BROWN: He wound up at the house of two brothers, Sidna and Fulton Myers who played banjo and fiddle. There was no electricity at the house. Fulton held his fiddle down at his chest, not under his chin. They played an archaic-sounding version of the classic old tune, Shady Grove.

The Myers Brothers

Photo of Sidna and Fulton Meyers, taken by Charles Faurot in the mid-1960s.


Kerry Blech, reviewing the FRC Fulton and Sidna Myers release:

"Fulton Myers was born about 1895 and died in 1979. According to Blanton Owen, who recorded him in the mid-1970s, he was born near Woodlawn, Virginia, between Galax and Hillsville. He farmed, worked for the WPA during the Great Depression, and was a mason's helper. He learned to play from his father, who played banjo, and from "Old Man Mack Farmer" who gave him a fiddle when he was about 8 or 10 years old. 

I have not been able to locate much biographical information about Sidna Myers, other than his basic vitals, born 1890 and died in 1972.

Peter Hoover recorded them in 1962 in Five Forks, VA, a place I can't find on a map, but I surmise it might be near Woodlawn. While I had not heard the Myers' music directly in my early years of learning about old-time music, I was privileged to have heard Peter Hoover play "Twin Sisters" on the banjo in that time period. The beauty and elegance of that piece moved me deeply back then, and still does. Peter did Sidna mighty proud in his rendering of the tune. If for no other reason, the Myers' place in the old-time pantheon should be secure based on that tune alone. But as we have heard, on those recordings cited above and with the present FRC set, there was a lot more music to be heard from the Myers Brothers. Because many of us have great familiarity with other music from Surry County, NC and Grayson and Carroll Counties, VA (basically, the Galax-Mt. Airy axis), a lot of what Sidna and Fulton played will sound somewhat familiar, but they definitely have their own settings and twists to the local repertoire. They seemed to stick close to each other throughout their lives, as well, so having shared sources and bouncing their music off each other, there is a closeness, a fine-meshing, of their music, perhaps more than with other more-celebrated banjo-fiddle duets. I must say, if there were an historic contest to judge the best pairings of these instruments, the Myers Brothers would finish in the upper echelons, but I would not want to be one to pass such judgment, for any decision would be certain to cause a ruckus.


Reed Martin, on learning Twin Sisters from Pete Hoover:

Pete Hoover learned "Twin Sisters" from Sydna and Fulton Myers. He met them on one of his collecting trips to southern Virginia. Peter Hoover is a great banjo player who came to Bloomington when I was 19 years old. I met him and he took me over to his apartment, put on his Ampex tape recorder, and said, "Here, I made you a reel of old-time banjo tunes." He sat there, drank beer, and ate donuts for about 3 hours; that was the first time I had seen any clawhammer banjo player move his thumb to different strings.

He played tunes that he had collected for years, either at fiddlers conventions or at people's houses. Peter Hoover was the first person I knew who had gone out to find rural musicians. He was about 7 feet tall so when he knocked on your door, you took him seriously.


John Cohen banjo workshop

There is a banjo workshop by John Cohen available online, in which he discusses Twin Sisters, along with twelve other tunes:

(I haven't yet watched it, so I don't know how much information he gives about Twin Sisters.)


That's about it.  If I have the chronology right, Peter Hoover was the first to record Sidna Myers, in 1962. John Cohen followed in 1965, and, at some point between 1964 and 1967, Charles Faurot made his recordings. The first of those to be released were Faurot's, in 1969, on "More Clawhammer Banjo". John released his on "High Atmosphere" in 1975, while, as far as I know, Peter Hoover's 1962 recordings weren't officially released until the FRC put them out in 2005.  Peter still seemed to have played an important role in popularizing Twin Sisters well before that, though, by teaching it to people like Reed Martin.

As Janet mentioned above, and as Kerry Blech noted in his OTH review, very little is known about Sidna Myers. It seems a bit strange that there isn't more biographical information available, given how often he was visited by folk music collectors in the 1960s.  I'm still searching, though - if I find out anything I'll post it here.

Thanks to Bob for a great TOTW choice and write-up, and for his own great version of the tune!

JanetB - Posted - 07/19/2012:  08:16:38

Bret, you added a whole lot to the story of Twin Sisters, so thanks much. 

In listening to the site Bret gave for the John Cohen "Banjo tunings and Styles Workshop," I learned (about three-quarters of the way into the workshop) that the tuning given in Bob's tab above (gFGCD) is the one Sidna Myers used.  The other real interesting comment was--quoting John Cohen--"In playing the second part many times, it's like an argument."  That quote adds to the meaning of the title, always important to me.  Twin sisters arguing!

Dominic--nice version!

blanham - Posted - 07/19/2012:  08:54:32

I really enjoyed the clawhammer renderings of Janet B and YorkshireWannabe!  Beautiful playing on both.

Bret, thanks for adding the great info, and making this more complete, and I'm sure I will enjoy the John Cohen segment on Down Home Radio; wasn't aware of it before.


jamesd - Posted - 07/19/2012:  15:43:22

Just wanted to say that I really enjoy the tunes of the week.  I have expanded my knowledge and have learned several tunes that I would have never learned without the tunes of the week.

And to everyone that includes a tab for the tune of the week I really want to thank.  Some of us still have to rely on tabs to get us started on a tune. 


Twin Sisters with the tab included is to me is a great learning tool for learning a new tune.

So, thank you you Bob and everyone who supplies a tune of the week!    I really appreciate all your hard work.

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