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This discussion is intended for novice banjo players (like myself) who want to learn to play old time mountain music and other traditional folk songs on their banjos. At this stage, we are focusing on playing just the melodies to these tunes; and as time goes on I hope to add information on how to use clawhammer (frailing) techniques to play these songs. But, at this point, we are focusing on learning the first set of notes on the banjo fretboard, which are summarized in the following table:
As you can see, we assume your
banjo is tuned to standard Open G
tuning: G'-D-G-B-D'. Initially, we will
be focusing on the natural notes
which are show in red. For the tune
"Old Joe Clark", all the notes will be
on strings 1, 2 and 3. We will not
be using strings 4 and 5. So, if you
just have a 4-string banjo, you are
still in luck.
Song #1: "Clementine"
The first song we'll look at is "Clementine" (Oh, My Dar-ling...). This familiar song should be rather easy to learn to play. It uses notes from just the first three strings and the notes of the various verses and the notes of the chorus are identical. Shown are just the first verse and the chorus. When fingering these notes with your left hand, your fingers should be used as follows: Finger 1 ==> C, Finger 2 ==> E, Finger 3 ==> F, and Finger 4==> G'. The other three notes in the song ((G, B and D) are played open string, so no fret position should be pressed (stopped) when playing these notes. Here's the melody:
Give this song a try. First start slow, making sure you can find all the right notes. As you gain experience playing the song try to increase your speed more and more. Also, I assume you are familiar with the song and will apply the right timing and "note lengths" (e.g. quarter notes vs. eighth notes). You want to make the over all song sound good and recognizable in addition to just hitting the right notes. With practice, you should be able to commit the playing of this song to memory and be able to play it without looking at the strings as you play it.
Song #2: "Old Joe Clark"
The following are the notes and words to the first verse and chorus of "Old Joe Clark". When playing, your left hand fingers should be used to fret the notes as follows: Finger 1 ==> C, Finger 2 ==> A and E, Finger 3 ==> F and Finger 4 ==> G'. The other notes used in the song (G, B and D) are all open string, so no fret should be pressed (stopped) when playing these notes. Here's the melody:
If you have never heard this tune, my advice is to search the Internet for a recorded version of this song. You will find there are many versions of this song and many, many more verses. Here is one version that includes many of the different verses, useful if you get tired of singing the verse shown above. You should try singing this song aloud as you play so you can become use to singing and playing at the same time.
Hope this helps.