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Solo Clawhammer Classics, Episode 5: "Shady Grove"

Posted by Josh Turknett on Thursday, May 14, 2015

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Clawhammer Core Repertoire Series


Season 2: Solo Clawhammer Classics


Episode 5: "Shady Grove"

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.



We all know that nothing showcases the unique sounds of the banjo quite like a modal tune. We also know that modal tunes might be best described as a "banjo player's banjo tune" - beloved by devout fans of the instrument, but perhaps not as well appreciated by the uninitiated, for whom its archaic scale tones may be a bit too inaccessible to the unfamiliar ear. 

Not Shady Grove.

For whatever reason, this old nugget of a lovesong has become a crossover classic, with its popularity extending well outside the bounds of traditional old-time banjo. In that way, it's a great way to initiate the uninitiated, to introduce them to the idea that there are great sounds yet to be discovered outside of the monochromatic world of top-40 radio.

Or at least we can pretend this is so.

Anyhow, perhaps the best reason to learn Shady Grove is that it's simple melody that, in modal tuning, is darn easy to play! And play it we shall.


Step 1:  Know thy Melody

This step should be an easy one, as the melody for this song is dead simple.

In the video above, I'm tuned down to the key of D to better suit the gourd's temperament and my post-pubescent vocal chords, but we'll be playing it out of "G modal" tuning in this lesson, which means we'll be playing it in the key of G.

To help hear the melody in this new key, I'm going to attempt to sing a verse in G for you:

Shady Grove sung in G.mp3

Take a listen to these examples enough time to etch this melody into the banks of your memory.


Step 2:  Find the Melody Notes

Speaking of G modal tuning, make sure your banjo is properly tuned to gDGCD before going note hunting. Once you're there, see if you can find the basic melody notes of this tune on your banjo.

Here's my version of the basic melody in audiophonic format: 

A shady melody.mp3

And here it is represented in tabulational style:

Step 3 - Add Some Clawhammery Stuff

With that out of the way, let's make it sound like a banjo tune. Go ahead and first follow each of the notes that occur on the downbeat (placed in bold in the tab above) and follow them with a "ditty" strum.

Add in a few choice drop thumbs and hammer-ons to syncopate the melody (by shifting it to the offbeat) to add some interest, and here's what you get:

And here's how it sounds: 

A shady ditty.mp3


Step 4: Embellish to Taste

The simplicity of and space within this melody affords you ample opportunity to play around with it, so don't be afraid to stamp it with your personal style.

That's what I did in my final arrangement you heard in the first video. Here's what that looks like in tab:


A Word (and a video) About Syncopated Skips

Notes in the shaded box in the tab above are "skip notes." In these instances, the picking hand continues as if it's going to strike the string, but doesn't actually come into contact with it (you "skip" the note). It's a great technique for adding syncopation, and one I receive a lot of questions about, so here's an in depth video lesson on the subject (part of the "Breakthrough Banjo" course):


And just to help you get a sense of what that sounds like in our current key of G modal, here is is played in that tuning:

Made in the Shade.mp3


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 5: "Shady Grove"”

eleshiacatherine Says:
Monday, May 18, 2015 @6:36:04 PM

Brilliant teacher!

bd2bone Says:
Monday, May 18, 2015 @8:45:27 PM

Great Lesson.

beachboy Says:
Saturday, May 30, 2015 @6:32:04 AM

best overview of Shady Grove I have ever seen, great job

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