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15 Fiddle Tunes for Five String Banjo


My first exposure to melodic style three-finger style banjo came in the summer of 1970. That was when I and several other five string pickers lost the banjo contest at the Folk Festival of the Smokies in Gatlinburg to Carroll Best, the unsung pioneer of melodic style banjo. I had been struggling mightily trying to figure out how to play fiddle tunes with my Scruggs style rolls, and my version of Arkansas Traveler, the tune I played in the Gatlinburg contest, was still less than a success. I remember that Best blew us all away when he played Soldier's Joy in the key of D in open G tuning, without a capo. The notes just flowed from his banjo in a rippling stream, as he moved effortlessly about the neck. It was an epiphany for me. When I got back to Cincinnati, my friend Mack Smith from the Famous Old Time Music Company showed me the few basic melodic style moves that he knew, and I was off and running. I started spitting out melodic style arrangements one after another, writing them down in tab, trading them to Mack for strings, picks and capos. It seems nobody had yet published anything of this new technique, and few knew how to play anything in the new "Keith style".

Eventually, in 1974, with Mack's encouragement, I assembled a number of my tabs and made up a little pamphlet called "15 Fiddle Tunes for Five String Banjo," which I had printed at a local offset shop in Boston. I ended up selling about 2,000 copies through a brand new publication called the Banjo Newsletter. For your enjoyment, I have scanned the book and converted it to PDF format, and converted the tabs to Tabledit format, with guitar, bass, and fiddle accompaniment, links provided below.




The Tunes

Nothing goes together quite like a fiddle and a banjo. The smoothly drawn notes of the fiddle bow make a wonderful pattern of sound, especially when contrasted with the clear, punctuating notes of the five-string banjo. Their music is always exciting.

The tunes in this collection, from all over the country, provide a fund of ideas for playing with the fiddle. Some ripple along, like Money Musk, with hardly a pause;others, llike Dallas Rag, are highly syncopated. Three of the tunes are in jig time (3/4), Irish Washerwoman, Paddy Whack, and Coleraine. You may not want to borrow all of the ideas in each tune; the nice thing about the banjo is that there are countless ways of getting from one musical place to another.

Don Borchelt
May, 1974

Fifteen Fiddle Tunes for Five String Banjo, PDF Format

MIDI...TAB...Money Musk (GDGBD, G)
Saratoga (GDGBD, G)
MIDI...TAB...Irish Washerwoman (GDGBD, G)
MIDI...TAB...Arkansas Traveler (GCGBD, C)
MIDI...TAB...Ragtime Annie (GDGBD, C)
MIDI...TAB...June Apple (GDGBD, G Modal)
MIDI...TAB...Lone Star Rag (GDGBD, C)
MIDI...TAB...The Last of Callahan (GDGBD, G)
MIDI...TAB...Whiskey Before Breakfast (GDGBD, C)
MIDI...TAB...Miller's Reel (GDGBD, G)
MIDI...TAB...The Red Haired Boy (GDGBD, G Modal)
MIDI...TAB...Coleraine (GDGCD, G Minor)
MIDI...TAB...Paddy Whack (GDGBD, G)
MIDI...TAB...Chicken Reel (GDGBD, G)
MIDI...TAB...Dallas Rag (GDGBD, C)

(c) copyright 2008, by Donald J. Borchelt, all rights reserved.