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Years ago, I had the pleasure of attending a workshop on fingerpicked banjo by the great Mike Seeger.
It blew my mind and, thinking back, changed the course of my banjo life in several ways.
In the span of an hour, Mike took us through a tour of a dizzying number of unique and wonderful styles of fingerpicking, introducing me to a world that, until then, I barely knew existed.
Beyond being phenomenally entertaining, it also raised a few questions.
The conventional wisdom, or the prevailing story that I’d been told, was – and still is – that when learning to play the banjo, you had to choose your “style.” You could learn bluegrass or old time, Scruggs or melodic, index or thumb lead, 2 finger or 3, and so on, and so on….but you could only choose one. So choose wisely!
And almost the entire body of banjo instruction respected those divisions.
But if that were true, then how was it that Mike could effortlessly glide from one style to the next to the next?
Furthermore, why hadn’t I heard any of this great banjo music he was playing before?
I’d started out playing “bluegrass” banjo. And like virtually everyone else who starts out learning bluegrass banjo, I was taught “Scruggs” style, using the typical instructional methods to do so.
I’d been under the impression that fingerstyle banjo essentially began and ended with Scruggs style and its subsequent offshoots.
But if it was possible to play all this wonderful music on my banjo, like Mike Seeger was, I sure as heck didn’t want to miss out on all that!
The quest to answer those questions led me to discovering an incredible new world of music.
It also led me back to the drawing board for fingerstyle banjo, to essentially start over from scratch.
And I’m sure glad I did.
I realized that the usual method of learning “rolls” as the foundation had backed me into a musical corner that I now had to escape from.
Don’t get my wrong, I’m a big fan of Earl Scruggs – he’s a big reason I picked up a banjo in the first place.
But I now see Earl as one of many in a long line of great up-picking banjoists, and I now see the traditional roll-based method of teaching Scruggs style banjo (which, of note, was not Earl’s idea) as one that’s needlessly complex and inefficient.
(RELATED: If you’re interested in learning all styles of up-picking in a way that’s aligned with how the grown up brain learns music, then you may enjoy the Breakthrough Banjo course for fingerstyle banjo. Click here to learn more. )
That experience also led me to explore as much of Mike’s recorded works as I could get my ears on, including the rich body of material from his time with The New Lost City Ramblers, including today’s gem: “The Miller’s Will.”
Mike fingerpicks on that version, which is how I initially learned it (after first having to decipher that he was playing out of aDAC#E tuning- gCGBD 2 frets up).
Below you’ll find the fingerstyle version for this song, and I think you’ll find each imparts its own unique flavor to the song (click here if you’d like to view the tab for it, too).
The Miller’s Will – “3 finger style” banjo
Such is the nature of nonsense.
The “Brainjo” banjo
The Miller’s Will
aDAC#E 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”
- Episode 41: “She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain”
- Episode 42: “Johnson Boys”
- Episode 43: “Bad Moon Rising”
- Episode 44: “Reuben’s Train”
- Episode 45: “Let the Mermaid’s Flirt With Me”
- Episode 46: “Rocky Top”
- Episode 47: “Groundhog”
- Episode 48: “Lazy John”
- Episode 49: “The Gambler”
- Episode 50: “8 More Miles To Louisville”
- Episode 51: “Who’ll Stop the Rain”
- Episode 52: “Pretty Polly”
- Episode 53: “You Are My Sunshine”
- Episode 54: “Old Molly Hare”
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