The Clawhammer Banjoist’s Guide to Crashing a Bluegrass Jam:
- Learn some bluegrass standards (like this week’s song!)
- Follow bluegrass jam etiquette. Play sparse-ish, chord based backup (or play nothing at all) while the other instruments are playing, and while the singer is singing. Then play your banjo solo “break” when it’s your turn.
- Nod head vigorously from side to side should you choose to not take the aforementioned solo.
- Act like you belong.
It’s a little bit – or a lot bit – absurd that the worlds of bluegrass and old-time music, and the banjo styles that are commonly associated with them, so seldom collide.
The two genres are about as close as two genres can be, so much so that they’re entirely indistinguishable to the casual observer, even in spite of attempts to educate said observer on the finer points of their subtle distinctions.
Because of this peculiar predicament, you’re far more likely to hear clawhammer banjo in an old-time jam, and fingerstyle banjo in a bluegrass jam.
But there’s no reason this should be so, the occasional prickly “purist’s” point of view notwithstanding.
So if you’re a clawhammer enthusiast, fear not the bluegrass jam. Yes, the protocol is slightly different, but otherwise there’s no reason you shouldn’t feel right at home. More than likely, your co-jammers will embrace the refreshing change of pace.
I’ve been known to play 3 finger banjo in an old time jam, and clawhammer in a bluegrass jam, and have lived to tell about it. It usually works out great, especially if there are other banjoists already filling out the traditional role.
Songs, like this week’s classic, popularized by Flatt and Scruggs, are also more common in bluegrass circles. And there will be many more selections from the Song of the Week that double as bluegrass fare (along with prior selections “Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow,” “Grandfather’s Clock,” and “I’ll Fly Away”).
Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms
gDGBD tuning, Brainjo Level 3
Notes on the Tab
In the tab above, you’ll note I’ve tabbed out both a “lead break” (something to play in between verses) and the “vocal backup” (what I play while I’m singing).
Notes in parentheses are “skip” notes – to learn more about skips and syncopated skips, check out my video lesson on the subject.
For more on reading tabs in general, check out this complete guide to reading banjo tabs.
PRIOR SONG OF THE WEEK EPISODES
- Episode 1: “Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow”
- Episode 2: “Gumtree Canoe”
- Episode 3: “Crawdad Hole”
- Episode 4: “Oh Susanna”
- Episode 5: “Freight Train”
- Episode 6: “Grandfather’s Clock”
- Episode 7: “Hop High Lulu”
- Episode 8: “Been All Around This World”
- Episode 9: “I’ll Fly Away”
- Episode 10: “Leaving Home”
- Episode 11: “Poor Orphan Child”
- Episode 12: “Mr. Tambourine Man”
- Episode 13: “Swanee River”
- Episode 14: “Big Sciota”
Level 2 arrangements and video demos for the Tune (and Song!) of the Week tunes are now available as part of the Breakthrough Banjo course.