Banjo Hangout Logo
Banjo Hangout Logo

Premier Sponsors

Banjo Lovers Online

Clawhammer Core Repertoire Series, Episode 8: Rock the Cradle, Joe

Posted by Josh Turknett on Tuesday, April 15, 2014

like this

Clawhammer Core Repertoire Series, Episode 8


Rock the Cradle, Joe


If you'd like a free, downloadable ebook of lessons 1 thru 7 (over 50 pages of content), just click here.


Batten down the hatches, hide your young uns, and liquidate your assets, it’s time for another installment of the Clawhammer Core Repertoire series. The tune? Rock the Cradle, Joe.


Now, imagine for a moment you’re an old time tune. Your primary goal is to spread yourself far and wide, ensuring that you’ll propagate yourself into generation after generation, and if all goes well, live on forever. Or at least until our sun burns out and the earth becomes frigid and uninhabitable. Anyhow, what’s the best way then to ensure widespread dissemination and cement your legacy?


Have an infectious melody, of course.


And, in my opinion, Rock the Cradle, Joe is about as contagious as they come. So consider yourself warned, this one’s a bonafide earworm.



So, let’s get down to the business of learning it.


Rock the Cradle, Joe is played in the key of D, so get your banjo into “double D” (aDADE) tuning forthwith.


Step 1: Know Thy Melody

According to my sources, the version of this tune that inspired it’s inclusion into traditional old-time jammery was recorded by the Spangler brothers J.W. and Dudley in the 1940s. Thanks to the wonders of networked digital technology, we can hear this one played on the youtube:

Spangler brothers playing Rock the Cradle, Joe



Of course, it’s always nice to hear a few other renditions to help burn the core of this tune into our noodles. So, here’s a couple more fine examples courtesy of some outhanging fiddlers:

Example One

Example Two


Step 2: Find the Melody Notes

So, in the fiddle examples above you can hear some subtle differences in the notes and phrasing, but you should be able to extract the essential features of the melody. Once you’ve got it in your head and can whistle or hum it out loud, it’s time to find it on your five string. Remember, we're just trying to identify the unadorned melody here, sans banjoistic accoutrements.

Here’s the way I hear it: barebones.mp3


And here’s how that looks in tablature:


Step 3: Add some Clawhammerify Stuff

Now let’s put this melody through the clawhammerizer to get it nice and bum dittified. To do so, we’ll take the melody notes that occur on the downbeat (the bolded notes in the tab above), which we’ll strike on the bum stroke with our frailing finger, and then follow each of those with a ditty strum.

Here’s what that looks like in tab:


And here’s what that sounds like: clawhammerized.mp3

Now we’ve got something with a little rhythm and a little melody, and perfectly suitable for accompanying a fiddle. Here’s what that the two sound like together: plus one.mp3


Step 4: Embellish ad libitum

At this point, it’s up to you to take your arrangement where you want (if you want to). You can try to see if you can get as many of those notes you hear on the fiddle into your playing with some dropped thumbs or left hand pyrotechnics. Or simply try to throw in a little rhythmic variety with your picking hand.

Here’s one way I might play it: The fully monty.mp3


And here’s that version in tab:


And here’s how that one would sound against the fiddle: All Together Now.mp3


As you can hear, this fuller type of arrangement turns this duet into more of a fiddle and banjo “conversation”, where the banjo is functioning as more of an equal partner to the fiddle (whereas in our initial version, it was serving as more of a rhythmic foundation). Either approach is perfectly fine, however.


Step 5: Practice Smart

Now, I’ll leave it to you to take this one to the woodshed. And don’t forget that your backup assistants over at are more than willing to accompany you while you're there.


Gotta go to sleep,

Gotta get up,

Gotta go to work in the morning

Whatcha gonna do  when the baby cries

Rock the Cradle, Joe


Whatcha gonna do when the baby cries

I don’t know

Whatcha gonna do when the baby cries

Rock the cradle, Joe


6 comments on “Clawhammer Core Repertoire Series, Episode 8: Rock the Cradle, Joe”

Griffith Says:
Monday, April 21, 2014 @1:26:11 PM

Very good, except that the barebones.mp3 link leads to a pdf of the basic tune.

Gerald Griffith

Josh Turknett Says:
Monday, April 21, 2014 @1:52:39 PM

Thanks, Griffith - should be fixed now!

smnichols Says:
Wednesday, April 23, 2014 @6:10:11 PM

"Bum dittified" - HAHA! Phrase of the week. :-D

fretfulchild Says:
Saturday, April 26, 2014 @8:50:56 AM

All of these installments are just a great help to all of us aspiring clawhammer players.
Beautifully presented! Thanks!

Josh Turknett Says:
Saturday, April 26, 2014 @12:33:02 PM

Thank you, Michael. I appreciate that!

shoe9 Says:
Saturday, April 26, 2014 @12:53:51 PM

You have made it so much easier for me , and no doubt a great many more, Thank you .

You must sign into your myHangout account before you can post comments.

More posts from Josh Turknett

Newest Posts

Click for Details 'Jeff Sturgeon' 4 hrs

More >  

Hide these ads: join the Players Union!

Hangout Network Help

View All Topics  |  View Categories