Episode 4: Jingle Bells?
I know what you’re thinking. Jingle Bells??! “That ain’t an old time jam classic. Heck, it ain’t even a fiddle tune! How could this be part of the Core Repertoire Series?!”
I admit, those are fair objections. However, I will also admit to being infected with a festering case of the Christmas spirit. Nasty stuff, it is. Seems like nothing but holiday tunes have been coming out of my instruments the past few weeks. So, I figured if I’ve got Christmas music on the brain, you might too.
Plus, there are plenty of worthy justifications for adding some holiday tunes to your core repertoire. For one, when your family gets together for the traditional feasting on foodstuffs and exchanging of thoughtfully procured giftery and Uncle Jeb, after his fifth eggnog big gulp, asks you to take out your round guitar and play something festive, folks might look at you cockeyed if you start banging out Soldier’s Joy.
Also, part of this series is about equipping you with an understanding of how to pick out and arrange tunes for yourself, and one of the best ways to do this is by using music that’s been burned into your cerebrum since you were but a wee lass.
Like Jingle Bells.
So grab a glass of holiday cheer, and let’s do this.
Step 1: Know thy Melody
If you don’t know this one, you’re either freshly removed from your mother’s womb and thus not equipped with the requisite motor skills to play the banjo, or the rock under which you’ve spent your existence surely isn’t wired for internet.
Step 2: Find the Melody notes
Ok, time to pick out the melody on the banjo – a process that’s almost always easier when the tune has words. We’re gonna be playing this in standard gDGBD tuning. Remember, we’re not banjofying it yet, we just want to find the melody notes. Here’s what it should sound like:
And here’s the basic melody in tab:
Step 3: Add some clawhammery stuff
Now let’s clawhammerize it. With this tune, I’m taking a slight departure from the normal procedure we’ve been using for fiddle tunes, since this is likely to be one you’ll be playing solo. This means we need more melody notes. So, in an effort to get em in, we’ll just add in some double thumbs where needed (striking the 5th string with the thumb directly after a melody notes) and some bum ditties during the rest periods. Here’s the result:
And here it is in tab:
Step 4: Add a double shot of rum
Well it is Christmas, for goodness sake.
Step 5: Embellish to impress Uncle Jeb
So now in short order we’ve created a solid, perfectly respectable old-time rendition of Jingle Bells. You can stick with the version we’ve got here, or you can add in your own stylistic flourishes to suit your own fancy, or that of Uncle Jeb’s. Try noodling around with it any way you can think of – you’ve always got the basic skeleton of the melody as home base. Hammer on to a melody note here and there, drop your thumb to an inside string sometimes instead of the 5th, and so forth.
Here’s my own rendition with various embellishments thrown in. As in previous tabs, the shaded notes are “skip notes”, meaning they aren’t ones I actually play (though I keep the hand moving as if I was so as not to break the clawhammer motion):
And here’s the tab:
Now it’s off you go to spread banjo-infused holiday joy to the world. With the next installment in the new year, we’ll return back to our comfortable repertoire of tunes the rest of you’re family has never heard of.
I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season! Here’s a Jingle Bells send-off from my family to yours: