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Without question, adding new songs to your banjo repertoire is loads of fun. And with a never ending supply of great songs to learn, it can be tempting to just jump to the next song to learn as soon as you’ve got one under your for fingers.
But this week’s rendition of “She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain,” which I’ve altered a bit from its usual presentation as an upbeat children’s number, got me thinking about just how much mileage you can get out of a single song.
Not only does taking the time to mess around with a song you already know often lead to a pleasing new way of playing it, it’s also a fantastic learning exercise.
So here are 7 ideas for squeezing out more goodness from a song:
- Change the tempo. I’m often surprised by how great a tune that’s typically played fast sounds when played slowly. It’s also a great way to appreciate and bring out the subtler nuances of a tune. Which likely explains why whenever I go through this exercise, my fast version almost always improves.
- Change the tuning. Take a tune that you play in standard G and try it in double C, for example (just note that this will change the key of the song). This is a particularly useful exercise if you’re still working your way around a new tuning.
- Make it a song. It was – and still is – commonplace for musicians to make up lyrics to sing with fiddle tunes. Over the years, we’ve developed a collection of these “floating verses” that are used for just these purposes – lyrics that can be mapped onto any melody when the mood strikes (or just make up your own – bonus points if they make no sense, or if they include a farm animal). Adding words almost always makes a tune more memorable, and more than likely will give you new ideas about how to play it on the banjo.
- Add a variation. Composing an original melody from scratch seem like a daunting task, especially if you’ve never tried it before. But like adding a detail to a story that’s already begun, adding a melodic variation to an existing tune is a more manageable place to start. It’s also an excellent exercise for developing your ear, and will help grease the wheels for more ambitious original compositions.
- Add a new part. For a slightly more advanced exercise, try taking an existing tune and adding an entirely new part (i.e. take a 2 part fiddle tune and add a 3rd part).
- Play it an octave higher. Most of a banjoists time is spent between frets 1 through 5. But trying to pick out a tune up the neck, an octave higher, can not only add another potential variation to play, it’s a great exercise for learning the nether regions of the fretboard.
- Change the instrument. As I’ve done here, if you have access to another instrument in the banjo family (e.g. gourd, minstrel, or mountain banjo), then try it on that instrument.
She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain
gDGBD tuning, Brainjo level 3
Notes on the Tab
In this arrangement, I’ve tabbed out the part I play in the banjo “solo,” as well as the vocal backup I play on the banjo while 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”
- Episode 15: “Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms”
- Episode 16: “Darling Corey”
- Episode 17: “Battle Hymn of the Republic”
- Episode 18: “America the Beautiful”
- Episode 19: “Bury Me Beneath the Willow”
- Episode 20: “Way Out There”
- Episode 21: “New Slang”
- Episode 22: “I Saw the Light”
- Episode 23: “Amazing Grace”
- Episode 24: “Blowin’ in the Wind”
- Episode 25: “Yankee Doodle”
- Episode 26: “Budapest”
- Episode 27: “Wildwood Flower”
- Episode 28: “Paradise”
- Episode 29: “Mountain Dew”
- Episode 30: “Blue Tail Fly”
- Episode 31: “Otto Wood”
- Episode 32: “Down on the Corner”
- Episode 33: “City of New Orleans”
- Episode 34: “Big Rock Candy Mountains”
- Episode 35: “Come to the Bower”
- Episode 36: “Old Kentucky Home”
- Episode 37: “Long Journey Home”
- Episode 38: “Dixie”
- Episode 39: “Hard Times”
- Episode 40: “Corrina Corrina”
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.
Click here for a current list of all the clawhammer songs and tunes currently available inside of The Vault