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Solo Clawhammer Classics, Episode 2: Sandy River Belle

Posted by Josh Turknett on Friday, February 20, 2015

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Clawhammer Core Repertoire Series

Season 2 - Solo Clawhammer Classics

Episode 2: "Sandy River Belle"

by Josh Turknett,



There’s no faster way scare off a banjo-curious guitarist than to flash a list of all the possible alternate tunings on the banjo. In the world of the guitar (and much of contemporary music), chords are king. So a new tuning means having to learn an entirely new set of chord positions. What a waste, right?!

As you the aficionado of clawhammer and old-time banjo well know, however, alternate tunings are one of those things that make our beloved instrument so special. And no, they don't exist to make our lives more difficult. On the contrary, alternate tunings exist to make our life easier, and to make our banjos sound better. 

Which brings us to today’s tune and tuning: Sandy River Belle.

That’s right, "Sandy River Belle" is one of those tunes that is so perfectly suited for a particular tuning that said tuning bears its name - “Sandy River Belle tuning” - lest anyone forget what tune they're supposed to play in it.

Turns out there are actually multiple Sandy River Belle tunings, but that’s a discussion for another day. In this installment of Core Repertoire Series, we’ll be covering the most commonly encountered tuning referred to by the "Sandy River Belle" moniker, which is fCFCD. 

So, get your banjo tuned up, or down, or sideways, and let's do this!


Step 1:  Know thy Melody

Now with your banjo firmly in tune, let’s go note hunting. Give the initial video a few listens until you’ve got the melody squared away. Here are a couple of other versions as well for your auditory pleasure. Once you can hum or whistle the basic tune, it’s time to move on. 
Here’s what I hear as the stripped down version of this Belle:  Naked Belle(!).mp3
Step 2:  Find the Melody Notes
Here’s what that looks like in tab. Remember we’re in fCFCD tuning here.
Step 3 - Add Some Clawhammery Stuff
Now it’s time to turn this into a bona fide clawhammer number. 
One of the great things about this tuning for this particular tune is that it provides us a host of opportunities for fretting hand maneuvers - slides, hammer ons, and pull offs -  that add interest and depth to the arrangement but which aren’t especially difficult to execute. So you’ll notice that, in many instances in this arrangement, rather than just play the melody note plainly, I’m using one of these techniques to lead into it. It’s a great way to create a sense of movement throughout the tune. 
Here’s that arrangement in tab:

And here’s what it sounds like:  Clawhammered Belle.mp3
Step 4: Embellish to Taste
Now, the version we already have is perfectly fine as is. And this is one of those tunes that, in my opinion, is all about the rhythm. So less is more here.
In my version from the video (tab below), I’ve added a few syncopated drop thumbs, but otherwise have tried keeping things uncluttered. So keep driving that beat with a solid right hand until you reach full on bum ditty nirvana. 
Notes on the tab

Skip Notes: The notes in the shaded box are “skip” notes, meaning they’re not actually sounded by the picking finger. Instead, you continue the clawhammer motion with your picking hand, but “skip” playing the note by not striking it (this is a technique used to add space and syncopation). The fret number you see in the shaded box is the suggested note to play should you elect to strike the string.


About the Author

Dr. Josh Turknett is the creator of the Brainjo Method, the first music teaching system to incorporate the science of learning and neuroplasticity and specifically target the adult learner (more at


3 comments on “Solo Clawhammer Classics, Episode 2: Sandy River Belle”

ronniemoshi Says:
Thursday, February 26, 2015 @3:34:37 AM

thanks for an awesome tune

Josh Turknett Says:
Thursday, February 26, 2015 @4:34:18 AM

You're welcome, Ronnie!

avesbanjo Says:
Friday, March 27, 2015 @7:55:50 AM

This is my first time using your method, and man! It is great. Learned the tune, with fu-fu, in under 12 minutes. It just makes sense. Thanks for breaking it down, and thanks for making it fun. While I'm in this tuning, got any other recommendations for songs/tunes/etc?

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