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Solo Clawhammer Classics, Episode 3: Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine

Posted by Josh Turknett on Wednesday, March 11, 2015

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Clawhammer Core Repertoire Series

Season 2 - Solo Clawhammer Classics

Episode 3: "Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine"

by Josh Turknett,


Are you a subscriber to the Clawhammer Core Repertoire Series?

If not, sign up by clicking here, and you'll get all 15 episodes of the first season (the "Jam Classics" edition) for immediate download, plus you'll get the next PDF book for this edition ("Solo Clawhammer Classics") as soon as it's off the press.



Thinking back through all of the tunes that I enjoy playing as solo numbers, the tune up for this installment in the “Solo Clawhammer Classics” series may be the one that’s been in my repertoire the longest. It's one of those tunes that grabbed me on the first listen, and that, all these years later, I've yet to tire of playing.


And it's one of those tunes that seems to compel even the most lackadaisical fan of the five string (i.e. - your spouse) to begrudgingly admit to enjoying.


Technically speaking, this one's a fiddle tune, and so is on the notier side. That being said, the fingering lays out so well in double D tuning that it seems as if it were fated to be a banjo tune. In other words, it's not as technically difficult as it may sound. And, even when it’s played simply, it’s beautiful.

So let’s get to it.


Step 1:  Know thy Melody


To help imprint this tune into your noodle, take a listen to the video above a few times. And, to hear it played on the fiddle, here are a couple tracks courtesy of the sawstrokers down at their fiddling hangout:

Fiddle 1

Fiddle 2

As an added bonus, check out Norman Blake’s version of this tune on guitar - it’s one of my all-time favorite guitar solos, and a perfect setting of this gorgeous tune.


Step 2:  Find the Melody Notes


Next up, it’s time to search our fretboard for our melodic suspects. Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine is typically played as a D tune, and as I said above, lays out perfectly in double D tuning. So get tuned up to aDADE, and let’s find some notes!

Here’s what I hear as the basic melody of this tune: bonaparte's skeleton.mp3


See if you can pick that out on your own 5-string. When you think you’ve got it, check the answer tab below:


Step 3 - Add Some Clawhammery Stuff 


Now we’ll take that basic melody, add in a few simple left hand ornamentations along with some ditty strums after our core melody notes, and we turn it into something that looks like this:


And it sounds like this: bonaparte ditty.mp3


Step 4: Embellish to Taste


With this as our basic foundation, we can continue to refine it as we see fit, or leave it as is, as it really doesn’t need much dressing up to sound great.

For my slightly refined version, which you can hear in the video above, I’ve added in a few more melody notes and added in a bit more syncopations (where you see the “skip notes”) to suit my tastes.

My final arrangement looks like this:


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


6 comments on “Solo Clawhammer Classics, Episode 3: Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine”

bmleff Says:
Tuesday, March 17, 2015 @4:50:07 PM

Could you tell me a good place to find out how to tune my banjo the various "tunings" you use. I went online to find out the notes for the D tuning on a banjo and got f# D f# A D I tuned to these notes, tried to play the above and it sounded terrible. Help.

Josh Turknett Says:
Tuesday, March 17, 2015 @5:14:31 PM

Sure - I don't know if you saw, but I did put the tuning in the article (under Step 2) - it's aDADE, which is also known as "double D", and will definitely be the most common tuning you'll encounter for clawhammer tunes in D.

lost pilgrim Says:
Wednesday, March 18, 2015 @8:08:29 AM

Looking at the video Josh appears to be playing capo 2. I suspect that the tuning is actually Double C, gCGCD. Please correct me if I'm misreading.

Also, I went to have a look at the Norman Blake video on YouTube, but got a "video unavailable" message, even though it shows up in the video list on the Norman and Nancy Blake page - disappointing. I'll see if I can find it on iTunes.

Josh Turknett Says:
Wednesday, March 18, 2015 @8:36:29 AM

lost pilgrim - the tuning is Double D (aDADE), but with the capo off it's gCGCD (a banjo tuned open in double C will be in double D tuning with a capo at the 2nd fret, since you're raising all the strings by a full step).

I just clicked the Norman Black video and it pulled up fine - perhaps it was a temporary issue with the video?

bmleff Says:
Wednesday, March 18, 2015 @9:34:28 AM

So do I play this in Double D with the capo off?

Josh Turknett Says:
Wednesday, March 18, 2015 @10:05:49 AM

bmleff - that's right.

You can also play the tab in double C since the relative tuning is the same, but it'll put it in the key of C (and so won't be in the same key as the sample recording, which is in D).

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