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“Why are fiddle tunes only played in a specific key?”
This is a question that often comes up when folks are first encountering the world of old-time fiddle tunes (which comprise a significant chunk of the traditional material played by clawhammer banjoists).
The short answer is that changing the key of a tune on the fiddle is usually not a trivial matter (for reasons beyond the scope of this discussion).
Furthermore, just like with clawhammer banjo, fiddlers often use certain tunings for specific keys. That is unlike the classical violinist, who plays everything out of “standard,” a.k.a. “Italian” (pronounced “eye-talian” for bonus old timey points).
And the two most common key-specific tunings the old time fiddlers use are for the keys of D and A. No coincidence that these happen to be the most common keys for old time fiddle tunes (though this does vary by region).
They key of G comes in close behind.
And in 4th place? The key of C, which is where we find this week’s tune “Rocky Pallet.”
Thus, you’ll note here we’re playing out of double C tuning (fortunately, we banjo players can simply slap on a capo to move between double C and double D tunings).
You can thank the Skillet Lickers for establishing that standard, as their recording of it in 1927 is considered the original source.
gCGCD tuning, Brainjo level 3-4
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.
Click here for a current list of all the clawhammer songs and tunes currently available inside of The Vault