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(NOTE: I’ll be teaching a live, step by step “tab walk-through” for this tune for Breakthrough Banjo members on Mar. 25. Click here to learn more, and see the full schedule.)
To the outsider, or to fans of looser musical forms like jazz, the traditional old-time repertoire, especially the fiddle tune, can seem comparatively rigid. A fixed structure, with little room for individual or artistic expression.
And yet, the the deeper you get into this music, the more you appreciate their deceptive complexity.
When you consider the number of decision points in any tune, the math reveals an incomprehensibly high number of potential variations. Variations that are still easily recognizable as versions of the same fundamental thing (part of the magic of your brain is it can recognize these many faces of a tune – though I defy you to describe how you do this!).
Ultimately, there remains just as much room for creative expression within old-time fiddle tunes as improvisational jazz. And part of the fun in working up any traditional tune is in trying to find its best face.
Just as a makeup artist might choose a specific set of colors based on a client’s skin tone or clothing, the decisions we make in how we end up playing the tune are in part an effort to show off a tune’s best features. At least, “best” according to our own tastes at any given moment (the concept of “best” in music is quite a dubious one).
The first time I heard “Duck River,” a tune from the repertoire of Kentucky fiddler John Salyer, was off Sheesham & Lotus’s “Five Miles from Town” album. It was hard to imagine it sounding any better, or a better “face” to put on it.
So needless to say, I didn’t alter much for the rendition you hear above! (which actually doesn’t stray far from Salyer’s original recording)!
aDADE tuning, Brainjo level 3
Notes on the Tab
Notes in parentheses are “skip” notes. To learn more about these, check out my video lesson on the subject.
For more on reading tabs in general, check out this complete guide to reading banjo tabs.
[RELATED: 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. Learn more about it here.