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 Playing Advice: Clawhammer and Old-Time Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW 02/12/2016 Oyster Girl

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:

vrteach - Posted - 02/12/2016:  12:50:38

I'm submitting the tune Oyster Girl for this week's tune. This D tune has a couple of things in common with Lyle's excellent tune of last week, Zinger (I promise learn it soon). First, they are both relatively obscure but excellent tunes that deserve to wider play. And second, they come from the same source, Nebraska fiddler Bob Walters. A transcription of Walters playing is included as tune 80 in The Old-Time Fiddler's Repertory, a collection of tunes compiled and edited by R. P. Christeson, published by the U of Missouri press in 1973, and reissued fairly recently.

I'm afraid there isn't much history to this tune. There is a fairly well-known English Jig by this name (in G I think), and the Fiddler's Companion wonders if Walters' version is related. But I can't really hear a similarity:

Oyster Girl has not been recorded often. But, we do have two versions by Walters available.

The Slippery-Hill site has an excerpt with Walters playing backed up by piano. This is from an LP associated with the Old Time Fiddlers' Repertory, and published by the University of Missouri in 1976:

Charlie Walden and the Missouri State Old Time Fiddlers Association has put up a full CD of Bob Walters on Bandcamp, and this has a Walters playing while backed up by R.P. Christeson on his portable reed organ:

Dwight Lamb has a version on his Joseph Won a Coated Fiddle album, and you can hear a bit at Amazon.

Charlie Walden and Pat Plunkett have re-released their cassette">Hoe​-​downs, Hornpipes & Hokum on bandcamp. It's a great medley of Lady of the Lake and Oyster Girl, mixing fresh and salt water themes:

It seems to me that there was another recording out there, but I can't find it now.

And finally, I learned the tune from Billy Mathews' version on Volume 1 of his 500 fiddle tunes project. I've picked up a bunch of great tunes from Billy over the years, and you can learn more about his big tune project at

I worked out a banjo version of Oyster Girl in February of 2012, and posted it in the Sound Off then. Since then I've managed to teach it to a few people around here, and I've always had it in mind for a TOTW. It's just a happly bouncy tune, and is particularly fun on the banjo.

I'm attaching an excerpt of Billy Mathews' version. A video and audio that I recorded today, as well as another video playing a bit slower (that was hard).


Oyster Girl (Billy Mathews on fiddle)

Oyster Girl

VIDEO: Oyster Girl
(click to view)

VIDEO: Oyster Girl (a slower version)
(click to view)

Tamarack - Posted - 02/13/2016:  06:46:58

Great tune! I had never heard it before, but just a couple of listens and it is stuck in my head.

Don Huber - Posted - 02/13/2016:  16:25:05

I love the fact that you(Erich) mentioned the influence of Billy Mathews on helping to get this great tune recirculating.

My fiddler and I learned it off of Billy's "Childen of Foreign Lands" CD. On that recording Mr. Mathews plays it as a medley with Needlecase.

We played along with that recording so many times now that we automatically just string those two tunes together. Always. We did it again last night at a performance; our first forray into key of D for the evening.

Jay K - Posted - 02/13/2016:  21:14:20

That is one happy sounding tune, well played! Thanks!

JanetB - Posted - 02/13/2016:  22:24:45

You portray this week's tune most cheerfully, Erich.  I simplified what I heard in Dwight Lamb's recording and here it is played at a leisurely tempo.

Oyster Girl

Oyster Girl (CH) tab

Omeboy - Posted - 02/14/2016:  08:48:50

Janet,  What a delight.  Beautiful clawhammer!

bhniko - Posted - 02/14/2016:  12:46:25


Have mentioned a few times that you found your own voice with the banjo...took me a while to understand why i did. Whether you transcribe a fiddle tune to the banjo or you listen to and hear a make it your own song when you play it. Many can play the same tune and it sounds pretty much the same but you have been able to put your personal touch to each of those tunes that makes it unique to you.

Thanks for many moments of enjoyment. 

JanetB - Posted - 02/14/2016:  17:17:46

Thanks, omeboy and bhniko.  It's flattering to be complimented, though a bit embarrassing, and I really give the credit of any success here to Erich.  When I learn a fiddle tune I like to play it on a slow-downer and really get all the fiddle notes.  It's like a puzzle that's fun and challenging to solve (my husband does Sudokus and leaves lot of the squares blank to make it even harder).   As I figure out how to play the tune I try to make it easy to play and therefore keep revising it.  In the case of Oyster Girl I listened to Erich's MP3 and watched his videos.  He gets good clawhammer rhythm while portraying the melody as well, and he used some nifty fingering.  It really inspired me to go back and seriously simplify what I heard in Dwight Lamb's version.  So, here's to you, Erich!  yes

If you're curious what my tabs look like before and after simplifying here are both for comparison.  I counted 63 notes first in the A part and then 51 in the simpler version.

A third style would be one that is very rhythmic with lots of "bum-ditty" and double thumbing, such as John Herrmann might play.  My delicate, notey style is in contrast with the more rhythmic, driving clawhammer many players favor.  I hear it more in Erich's version, with melody included as well.  Very effective!   I like both styles (melodic vs. driving rhythm), but tend to play in the more delicate, notey, melodic style.  Oyster Girl is one of those midwestern tunes that are already very notey, like a hornpipe to my ears. Various ways to play it on banjo would be an interesting topic to me, especially how one would play it with more drive and rhythm than me.  I think I would need a tab to be able to clearly see the difference.


Edited by - JanetB on 02/14/2016 17:23:33

Oyster Girl (CH) tab after simplifying

Oyster Girl (CH) tab before simplifying

vrteach - Posted - 02/16/2016:  07:54:31

Hey! thanks everyone. Janet, your version is lovely as always.

It's a catchy little tune, so I hope it catches some more people.

Don: Oyster Girl makes a great medley with Needlecase, I just tried it out.

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