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 Playing Advice: Clawhammer and Old-Time Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: TOTW June 14, 2019: "Nashville Blues"

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:

Josh Turknett - Posted - 06/14/2019:  05:53:00

"Nashville Blues"

(aDFAD tuning)


I love old time music and old time fiddle tunes.

But I also love great music, no matter what tradition from whence it springs.

Today's TOTW selection only requires a tiny step outside the formal boundaries of old-time, into our bluegrass neighbors' yard.

If you're a clawhammerist and you like great tunes, I highly recommend getting to know these neighbors, cause they too play lots of great banjo tunes.

Including this one, written by none other than the architect of the house of bluegrass banjo, Earl Scruggs himself. It happens to be one of my favorite of tunes of his (video below).

With its use of the “alternate” D minor tuning (aDFAD), it also feels like a nod to his banjo roots. After all, had he not connected with Bill Monroe, he'd simply be another in a long line of old time fingerpickers with his own unique style.

The signature element of Scruggs style banjo is the forward roll, the technical device that allowed Earl to produce his signature syncopation.

Producing that same sound in clawhammer is best achieved using the “syncopated skip”, IMO, a combination skip stroke and drop thumb (the nomenclature for which was decided by committee perhaps a decade ago here in the forum).

If you're at all unfamiliar with syncopation generally, or syncopated skips specifically, check out the video tutorial at the bottom of this page.

The other technique you'll find here is the use of the bend, or “choke” (first heard :43 seconds into the video). It's a common blues element that allows us to play notes beyond the preset pitches of the fretboard. 

You can download the tab for this clawhammer arrangement by clicking here.

I'll also be doing a live video “walk-through” of this tab on June 25, which should also give you a good understanding of the aforementioned technical elements (click here to subscribe to the Clawhammer Banjo youtube channel if you want to be reminded when it airs)

How To Play "Syncopated Skips"

"Nashville Blues" - Earl Scruggs version

(warning: listening has been known to lead to the irrepressible urge to learn bluegrass banjo)

Happily, there are other downpicking enthusiasts who also enjoy playing in the neighbors' yard. Here are links to a few other excellent clawhammer versions of "Nashville Blues":


Now let's hear yours!


Edited by - Josh Turknett on 06/14/2019 16:55:30

Jimmy Sutton - Posted - 06/15/2019:  04:32:44

Sounds like Red Rocking Chair / Red Apple Juice to me. More Boggs than Scruggs

I know Nashville Blues as a different song / melody by the Delmore Brothers

Josh Turknett - Posted - 06/15/2019:  07:34:55


Originally posted by Jimmy Sutton

Sounds like Red Rocking Chair / Red Apple Juice to me. More Boggs than Scruggs

I know Nashville Blues as a different song / melody by the Delmore Brothers

Did you listen to the Scruggs version I posted? Click here to check it out

There are definitely similarities to Red Rocking Chair/Sugar Babe, and it's entirely possible Earl was inspired by that tune - transformed it from a modal to a minor sound, and added a few extra bits and, voila, new tune! (oldest trick in the songwriting book! :) )

lapsteel - Posted - 06/15/2019:  07:51:38

Many thanks for posting this terrific lesson Sir!
While playing it , I discovered that the words from Mike Seeger’s “don’t let your deal go down”
( fit the melody.
Now I can sing and play it.
Thanks again.

Jimmy Sutton - Posted - 06/15/2019:  07:52:59

Yes I did. " (oldest trick in the songwriting book! :) )"

Exactly, or what we normally call the folk process. I just wish he had given it a different name to an already existing well known song.
Could be confusing when collecting royalties.

maryzcox - Posted - 06/15/2019:  11:42:21

Good job--nice sound :) Sweet banjo too :)


JanetB - Posted - 06/16/2019:  09:28:16

You chose a great Scruggs classic, Josh, and do it justice with your clawhammer. Thanks for including my video, done a while back. There are many tunes done in the bluegrass genre, especially by Monroe, that like to be clawhammered, IMO, so I'm with you!

I'm not sure what you mean by a syncopated skip resembling the forward bluegrass roll. I didn't watch your video on that yet, so perhaps the explanation is there.

This is a piece I first heard on the triple album Will the Circle Be Unbroken when it came out in the 70's. Unfortunately, Monroe chose not to participate, but Earl and his son did, and my exposure has had a lifelong effect.

I re-recorded Nashville Blues and simplified the fingering a bit. The tab doesn't show the second time through. The only difference is to play a 2-3 slide at the beginning of the second, sixth and tenth measures, and to end the piece with harmonics on the twelfth fret.

Lew H - Posted - 06/16/2019:  13:59:39

Great pick! Great picking!

Don Huber - Posted - 06/25/2019:  00:36:19

Another piece of Old Time music that I find similar to Nashville Blues is Kilby Snow's powerful performance of Troubles. I love Josh's rendering of the tune I might add.

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