Nothing showcases the unique quality and sounds of the banjo quite like a “modal” tune.
For those unfamiliar with the terminology, a “modal” tune is one that uses a scale that’s neither major or minor, but based on a system rarely used nowadays. So melodies that use it tend to sound a bit ancient. Melodies with modal scales were common in the Appalachian south.
And though not a requirement, many of these tunes make are played out of what we refer to as, naturally, “modal” tuning on the banjo – gDGCD. You’ll note the only change from standard G tuning (gDGBD) is that the 4th string is raised up a half step from a B to a C.
There’s a great body of classic “modal” tunes on the banjo. Out of all of them, I don’t think there’s one more well known or beloved than Shady Grove.
One of the nice things about modal tunes is that they often sound best at moderate speed, without a lot of fancy adornments. So they’re great for folks in the early stages of banjo learning.
You’ll note hear that the “performance” version I play on the gourd banjo. I’m essentially using the same tuning there, in that the relationship between each of the notes (the “intervals” in music theory terminology) is the same, but they’re tuned lower so that less tension is placed on the instrument (dADGA to be precise, which sounds great on the gourd, but would be too low of a tension for a modern banjo).
(RELATED: Click here to see all the songs and tunes currently inside of “The Vault,” the Ultimate Clawhammer Song Library).
Shady Grove: Brainjo Level 2 (video demo)
Shady Grove, Brainjo level 3 (video demo)
For more on how to read the tabs, check out this complete guide to reading banjo tabs.
To learn more about the Breakthrough Banjo course, where you’ll find hundreds more tabs and videos like the ones above, with arrangements tailored to all levels, then click below: