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Clawhammer Core Repertoire Series, Episode 7: Cripple Creek

Posted by Josh Turknett on Sunday, March 23, 2014

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Clawhammer Core Repertoire Series, Episode 7


Cripple Creek



Before I begin this latest installment, I have a bit of exciting news for you folks. I've received lots of fantastic feedback about this series, and several of you have asked about a convenient way to access all the lessons so far. So....I've created a downloadable ebook containing all of the material published thus far. Over 50 pages of content you can download, print, and take anywhere you please, all at the fabulous price of FREE!


To get your copy, just click this link to sign up for the Clawhammer Core mailing list, and the book is yours. Enjoy!


Cripple Creek is to banjo playing as See Spot Run is to literacy, or the Macarena is to national-dance-crazes-we'd-all-just-assume-never-happened. You can’t be a self respecting purveyor of 5 string pluckery and not play it. There’s just no getting around it.


And, as you folks know by now, this is for good reason. It’d be a dark, dark world without Cripple Creek on the banjo. So let’s get to it.


Step 1: Know Thy Melody

I imagine you’ve heard this one a time or two. But, just in case, or as a good refresher, let’s venture over for some cripple creekery from our fine fiddling brethren at the Fiddle Hangout. Remember, after listening to these, see if you can distill it down to the basic melody.

Example One

Example Two

Example Three

With Cripple Creek, we also have the advantage of being able to learn by singing, as it also has words! Various and asundry lyrical variations exist, but they all center around the same theme of venturing to cripple creek to rendezvous with your significant other.

Here’s one such example.

What you’ll find is that if you fit those words into the melody, then you’ve successfully identified the bed of Cripple Creek. And once you can do that, you're ready to find it on your 5 string!


Step 2: Find the Melody Notes

Ok, take out thy banjo, get into A tuning (aEAC#E tuning), and see if you can find the basic, unadorned melody of Cripple Creek. It should sound about like this:

the bed of the creek.mp3

And here it is in tab:

So far so good!


Step 3: Add some Clawhammery Stuff

Ok, let’s start making this sound like a banjo tune. The simplest way to start to do so, using our standard protocol, is to strike each note that falls on a downbeat (the big, bolded notes in our tab above) with our frailing finger, and then follow it with a "ditty" stroke. In tab, this would appear as so:

And it would sound thusly:

clawhammerified cripple.mp3

So, in no time flat we’ve got a version that's presentable for company. And so here’s what it sounds like with a fiddle:

clawing with the fiddle.mp3

Not bad at all!


Step 4: Beautify the Creekbed

Of course, there’s plenty of room to take this arrangement further, so now’s your chance to get creative with it. Remember, though, Cripple Creek is a dance classic - don’t sacrifice a driving beat for flowery ornamentations. Else you risk not being invited back to play for next week’s hoedown. Remember, the song is about heading out for a long awaited rendezvous with your sweetheart - now’s not the time for lollygagging with triplets and other foolishness.

Here’s my stab at beautifying its banks, while still trying to maintain a driving current.

purtier creek.mp3


And here’s that version tabified:

Paired with the fiddle again, it sounds like this:

the grand finale.mp3


Step 5: Practice Smart

So there you have it. If Cripple Creek isn’t currently a part of your repertoire, go forth and correct this immediately, lest you be expunged irrevocably from the banjo brotherhood. And don’t forget to avail yourself of the backup tracks over at They’ll always keep your timing honest, and they’ll never tire of playing this one.


As mentioned earlier, if you'd like a free, downloadable ebook with all of the lessons to date (over 50 pages of content), just click here.



3 comments on “Clawhammer Core Repertoire Series, Episode 7: Cripple Creek”

Jacobite Says:
Monday, March 24, 2014 @4:40:32 PM

The first song I (and several million other people) learned on guitar was Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water," and the first on banjo was "Cripple Creek."

Josh Turknett Says:
Monday, March 24, 2014 @5:03:46 PM

Jacobite - it was mine, too :)

zevio Says:
Tuesday, March 25, 2014 @1:32:26 AM

love it - keep em coming Josh.

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