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Aug 25, 2019 - 4:18:10 PM
43 posts since 7/12/2019

I'm still just beginning, still can't even really play ONE song, much less many that might actually require a list of standards...

But while I'm still figuring out where my fingers go, I've been working on learning the lyrics to some of my favorite banjo songs.

I already know English and how to sing, so that will go much faster than how to play them on the banjo. So I'm wondering what the old-time banjo standards that everyone learns how to play are?

Aug 25, 2019 - 5:34:18 PM

Kimerer

USA

897 posts since 2/17/2006

Bile Dem Cabbage Down was the first song I learned. It has a very simple I, IV, V chord sequence.

Cripple Creek is another standard first song. Simple tune.

Aug 25, 2019 - 5:42:12 PM
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Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

22215 posts since 6/25/2005

Do you want to primarily accompany your singing, or are you interested in playing fiddle tunes? Makes a difference as to where to start.

Aug 25, 2019 - 6:36:58 PM

43 posts since 7/12/2019

I have no intention on playing fiddle tunes. I just want to play the banjo and sing.

I'm learning the words to some of the Dock Boggs songs and some that Ola Belle Reed did, and then I assume things like Pretty Polly, Darling Corey, East Virginia... but I really shouldn't assume anything.

This is all a new adventure for me, and I'm notoriously bad at having my pulse on what everyone else is doing. I've always been in my own little world.

Aug 25, 2019 - 7:52:11 PM
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R Buck

USA

2664 posts since 9/5/2006

Do your own thing. Learn the songs that appeal to you. But also study the old timers from whom you get your songs. Learn about these amazing people and learn to play the banjo like them. Not exactly like them but enough so you pay homage to their memory. Ola Belle was a fine person and a solid banjo player. Her style is not overly technical and she would be a great place to start. Her banjo playing is highly effective. Dock Boggs is a lot more complicated. There is a great big world of banjo picking singers out there to find and explore.

Aug 25, 2019 - 8:02:16 PM
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43 posts since 7/12/2019

...I'm never gonna get to sit with the cool kids at those banjo parties y'all have, am I?

Fair enough. I'm pretty obstinate, so I probably would end up just deciding to learn whatever songs I like anyway.

Aug 25, 2019 - 9:00:10 PM

Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

22215 posts since 6/25/2005

Ok — I would start with the G tuning, learn basic clawhammer, and try to track down a copy of the old Peggy Seeger book The Five-String Banjo, American Folk Styles. Listen to every banjo-playing singer you can. All three of the Seegers, especially Peggy; Doc Watson, Cathy Barton, Obray Ramsey, Dock Boggs of course, Roscoe Holcomb. Walt Koken does a lot of singing with banjo, but his clawhammer style is very challenging. Clifton Hicks has great material on YouTube, especially two-finger styles. Lots of singing. YouTube is very useful for finding these singers, as well as video lessons. 

Aug 25, 2019 - 9:15:18 PM

43 posts since 7/12/2019

I am already doing much of that. I’ve started lessons too.

But is there really no list of songs every banjo player knows how to play and sing?

There has to be.

I can’t imagine every banjo player doesn’t know how to play some version of Pretty Polly, right?

...I actually have literally no idea. I don’t know any banjo players.

Aug 25, 2019 - 10:47:36 PM
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AndyW

UK

447 posts since 7/4/2017

Of course Fred Cockerham and Tommy Jarrell did a lot of singing to 'fiddle tunes' so with so deft picking and choosing no need to avoid them.

Aug 26, 2019 - 4:04:42 AM

Kimerer

USA

897 posts since 2/17/2006

I think that your suspicion is correct. There is a list. Actually, for most instruments there is one signature tune that everyone knows. Examples: For French horn it is Mozart's Horn Concerto. For trombone it is Lassus Trombone. For trumpet it is Bugler's Holiday. For accordion it is Lady of Spain.

For banjo that tune is Cripple Creek.

So go learn Cripple Creek.

Once you have learned to play Cripple Creek, you will be in a better place to go look at some of the more difficult pieces. Roscoe Holcomb? =:O Yikes! Roscoe Holcomb is an acquired taste fer sure. Probably not a good jumping off place for someone just starting out. When I played my Roscoe Holcomb CD, my daughter said that it made her want to gouge out her own eyeballs with her finger nails. LOL

Aug 26, 2019 - 5:40:10 AM

43 posts since 7/12/2019

I love Roscoe Holcomb. :( Maybe you’re daughter is the problem. I can’t say I’ve taken any polls.

That’s like exactly the kind of banjo music I want to play. I want to play sad bluesy songs and those haunting mountain gospel songs.

Isn’t Cripple Creek a bluegrass song?

Aug 26, 2019 - 6:23:18 AM

43 posts since 7/12/2019

quote:
Originally posted by Bill Rogers

Ok — I would start with the G tuning, learn basic clawhammer, and try to track down a copy of the old Peggy Seeger book The Five-String Banjo, American Folk Styles. Listen to every banjo-playing singer you can. All three of the Seegers, especially Peggy; Doc Watson, Cathy Barton, Obray Ramsey, Dock Boggs of course, Roscoe Holcomb. Walt Koken does a lot of singing with banjo, but his clawhammer style is very challenging. Clifton Hicks has great material on YouTube, especially two-finger styles. Lots of singing. YouTube is very useful for finding these singers, as well as video lessons. 


 

I'm just going on Youtube to look these up now. I really like the way Obray Ramsey sounds. I had never heard of him before. What sort of picking did he do?

I have watched a lot of those Clifton Hicks videos. Videos are easier for me to understand than reading texts about playing. My brain has trouble making sense of it without the visuals. Even with the visuals I still need it laid out for me of what finger goes where.

 

It's coming along though! Sounds like music now. Just not a complete song yet.

Aug 26, 2019 - 6:37:54 AM

43 posts since 7/12/2019

quote:
Originally posted by AndyW

Of course Fred Cockerham and Tommy Jarrell did a lot of singing to 'fiddle tunes' so with so deft picking and choosing no need to avoid them.


Do you have examples of this? 

 

Do you mean they played fiddle tunes on the banjo with a certain style?

I don't have any problems with the fiddle or fiddle music, but when I listen to songs with fiddle in them it just completely overwhelms the song. So it wasn't my intention to learn how to play background music for fiddles when I don't even know any fiddle players.

 

I think I picked up the banjo with a very specific idea in mind of what my intentions were, but no idea that I had this specific idea until I tried asking banjo players questions. I was too ignorant to realize how specific my idea of what kind of banjo music I want to play is. 

I'm becoming less ignorant. So everyone be patient with me, thanks.

Aug 26, 2019 - 6:46:27 AM

AndyW

UK

447 posts since 7/4/2017

Go on you tube and search for Tommy Jarrell and Fred Cockerham and have a trawl through.

Aug 26, 2019 - 7:02:17 AM
Players Union Member

jduke

USA

1044 posts since 1/15/2009

Isn't Cripple Creek a bluegrass tune?

It's true that since the mid-forties (when bluegrass started) , the artists have created many songs and tunes which have become bluegrass standards, however, they also played and recorded a good many of the old mountain tunes which predated this new style. Some of those old tunes were little known away from the mountains until they became well know bluegrass hits.

Aug 26, 2019 - 8:41:01 AM

43 posts since 7/12/2019

Y'all win. I'll learn Cripple Creek. What are the most commonly used lyrics for it?

Aug 26, 2019 - 8:44:11 AM
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89 posts since 4/10/2018

You might want to obtain Tim Jumper’s collection The Banjo Player’s Songbook. There are lots of tunes with tabs and lyrics. They might not all be what you are looking for but it will help you figure out how to put together arrangements for singing and playing. Josh Turknett’s online clawhammer and fingerpicking lessons are great and often involve singing as well. Some of the folks you mention are really hard to duplicate at first because of how they tuned their banjo (not concert pitch so to speak) or guitar as well as the specific tunings. Good luck.

Aug 26, 2019 - 8:53:56 AM

43 posts since 7/12/2019

quote:
Originally posted by paco0909

You might want to obtain Tim Jumper’s collection The Banjo Player’s Songbook. There are lots of tunes with tabs and lyrics. They might not all be what you are looking for but it will help you figure out how to put together arrangements for singing and playing. Josh Turknett’s online clawhammer and fingerpicking lessons are great and often involve singing as well. Some of the folks you mention are really hard to duplicate at first because of how they tuned their banjo (not concert pitch so to speak) or guitar as well as the specific tunings. Good luck.


A songbook! That's an excellent idea.

 

Dumb question, why would tuning the banjo differently make it harder to play?

Aug 26, 2019 - 11:18:15 AM

89 posts since 4/10/2018

Not a dumb question. There are lots of tunings and a player has to learn how to play chords and melodies in each varied tuning. It’s a key part of old time music. Figuring out the tuning from a recording can be a challenge because old time musicians did not use tuning devices so tuned to a fiddle or guitar or to their “ear.” Hence “relative” tuning. If you are taking lessons your teacher can illuminate this interesting element of the banjo!

Aug 26, 2019 - 11:58:19 AM
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Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

22215 posts since 6/25/2005

Obray Ramsey was an acapella singer who learned banjo as an adult. My understanding is that his 3-finger style is his own. It fits perfectly with his singing.

Aug 26, 2019 - 12:15:51 PM

331 posts since 8/14/2018

quote:
Originally posted by jduke

Isn't Cripple Creek a bluegrass tune?

 


It's popular with bluegrass players and a lot of beginners learn it because it's relatively easy, but it predates bluegrass.

Aug 26, 2019 - 3:01:55 PM

807 posts since 8/7/2017

Tuning the banjo to match the song is meant to make the banjo easier to play, not harder. The left hand fingering is easier, usually. Songs in one key are usually played with one tuning. But if the song key is not G, then Old time banjoists will retune to the new key (this is not the same as capoing to the new key, like bluegrass, but has actual string tuning changes).

There is no national list of standard songs. Each list is regional. And each one is big...the one put together by the unofficial jam coordinator for Montana runs to 2 pages, single spaced....yikes. Old Woodchuck (Tony Spadero, who's helped many of us learn to play) has written that he knows about 100 songs at any one time....yet when he jams, he often finds that he does not know any of the 30+songs played that night. So, his advice is to learn to play by ear, and he offers tips on how to pick up a tune as you hear it. I can't find the url, perhaps someone else could post it.

Learn the songs that catch your fancy, particularly as a beginner. Keeping your interest up is the prime goal, and that's usually easier if you want to learn the song for it's own sake. I have found that it's much easier/faster to learn a song by ear than by tab, once I taught myself how to do that...which was mostly a process of osmosis. Josh Turknett has tips and ear training practice videos if you want a more formal/directed approach.

Hope this helps...and welcome to the world of banjo, you will have a lot of fun.

Aug 26, 2019 - 5:01:28 PM
Players Union Member

wizofos

USA

5161 posts since 8/19/2012

Back in the olde days when I started to play folk guitar there were many song books around with music from the various folk groups, Kingston Trio type groups. I did an internet search with the following terms and got a lot of hits including one of Bob Dylan songs for clawhammer banjo.
Search parms 'folk music books banjo songs'
Since you are in Boston, Mass I am sure there are several music stores that have a good selection of tab books.
By the way Tim Jumper's Banjo Players Songbook is excellent

Aug 26, 2019 - 7:33:06 PM

43 posts since 7/12/2019

The music store near my house didn’t even have banjo strings, much less books. There are lots of music stores in the area though. If anyone knows a music store in or around Boston with a lot of banjo stuff, I’d love to know.

But I did order the Peggy Seeger book recommended here earlier today. A used copy.

I’ve been working out the patterns of some of my favorite songs, but I don’t know how to play all the notes yet. I’ve just been listening and picking out the rhythm and such.

Aug 26, 2019 - 8:17:20 PM
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331 posts since 8/14/2018

quote:
Originally posted by CherNess

The music store near my house didn’t even have banjo strings, much less books. There are lots of music stores in the area though. If anyone knows a music store in or around Boston with a lot of banjo stuff, I’d love to know.
 


The Music Emporium in Lexington is the only place near the city that has much in the way of banjo stuff, and I don’t think they stock much in the way of books. Most of the guitar stores have at best a tiny token stock of low-grade goods. There used to be a couple of shops in Cambridge that were good for general folk music, but they’re long gone. I mostly order from Elderly.

Aug 27, 2019 - 5:58:02 AM
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carlb

USA

1997 posts since 12/16/2007

quote:
Originally posted by CherNess

I love Roscoe Holcomb.
That’s like exactly the kind of banjo music I want to play. I want to play sad bluesy songs and those haunting mountain gospel songs.

I have a few songs in my BHO media that might appeal to you.

High on a Mountain
https://www.banjohangout.org/song/42204
Now is the Cool of the Day
https://www.banjohangout.org/song/24933
Tear Down the Fences
https://www.banjohangout.org/song/42213

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