Sponsored By
 
 
Old-Time Banjo
with Bruce Molsky
 
 
About This Course
 

Learn the tunes and techniques of some of the legends of old-time banjo, taught by one of the icons of contemporary old-time music.

 
 
Try a Sample Lesson
 
Wade Ward’s solo version of the square dance tune “Mississippi Sawyer” is a little different than the way it would be played for a square dance, in that it drops a beat at the end of each part. It’s played in double-D tuning: aDADE, where the fourth string is D, third string is A, second string is D, first string is E, and fifth string is A. Bruce shows you the tuning, gives you advice on getting in tune. Then he starts showing you the first part of “Mississippi Sawyer,” which starts with a D chord shape at the fifth fret and a simple bum-ditty pattern. Bruce walks you through each phrase slowly, giving you lots of chances to play along with him as you learn the tune. You’ll learn a basic version of the A part of “Mississippi Sawyer” in this video.
 
 
 
Meet the Instructor
Bruce Molsky
 
 
Bruce Molsky is “one of America’s premier fiddling talents” (Mother Jones) and a twice-Grammy-nominated artist on fiddle, banjo, guitar, and song. For decades, he’s been a globetrotting performer and educator, a recording artist with an expansive discography including seven solo albums, well over a dozen collaborations and two Grammy-nominations. Bruce is also the classic “musician’s musician”—a man who’s received high praise from diverse fans and collaborators like Linda Ronstadt, Mark Knopfler, Celtic giants Donal Lunny and Andy Irvine, jazzer Bill Frisell and dobro master Jerry Douglas. The first permanent visiting professor in Berklee College of Music's American Roots Program, Bruce is the go-to guy for the next generation of fiddlers. He can be heard these days on the road and on record with his trio Molsky’s Mountain Drifters.
 
 
 
Peghead Play-Along Tracks
 
Peghead Nation is creating a library of accompaniment videos (and downloadable MP3s) for songs and tunes that are taught on the site, classics that you'll find at many jams and picking parties. As a subscriber, you have access to this library and can use the tracks to practice playing tunes and songs at a slow or medium tempo with guitar accompaniment. New songs will be added regularly.
 
 
Old-Time Banjo Source Material

Check out these songs featured in the Old-Time Banjo course.


The Old-Time Banjo Subscription Includes:
  • In-depth lessons in old-time banjo styles
  • Complete tunes as played by old-time banjo legends like Wade Ward, Matokie Slaughter, Hobart Smith, Pete Steele, and Frank Jenkins
  • Detailed tablature for all lessons
  • Play-along tracks, with downloadable MP3s, so you can practice what you’re learning
  • High-quality video with multiple camera angles so you can see closeups of both hands in action
 
 
$20/Month For One Course
 
Additional courses only $10/month each!   •   Save 20% with an annual subscription
 
 
Get started now!
Use promo code BruceLand at checkout
and get your first month free or $20 off an annual subscription.
 
Old-Time Banjo Course Outline
 
WADE WARD
 

Learn the tunes and techniques of one of the legends of old-time clawhammer banjo and one of Bruce’s personal heroes: Wade Ward.

 
Introduction to Wade Ward
Bruce talks about how he was introduced to the music of the great old-time banjo player Wade Ward and gives some background on his life and music.
 

Mississippi Sawyer

Wade Ward’s solo version of the square dance tune “Mississippi Sawyer” is a little different than the way it would be played for a square dance, in that it drops a beat at the end of each part. It’s played in double-D tuning: aDADE, where the fourth string is D, third string is A, second string is D, first string is E, and fifth string is A. Bruce shows you the tuning and gives you advice on getting in tune. In addition to walking you through the basic A and B parts of Wade Ward’s version of “Mississippi Sawyer” phrase by phrase, Bruce shows you some of the embellishments and variations that Wade Ward played on “Mississippi Sawyer,” including some cool pull-offs and slides. He also talks about how Wade would accent the brush on the offbeats by playing all four strings and separate the brush from the melody on the high strings, giving it a great propulsive feeling.

 

Reuben

Wade Ward played the traditional song “Reuben” (also called “Reuben’s Train”) in an unusual E major tuning (g#EG#BE), in which the fourth string is tuned to E, the third string to G#, the second string to B, the first string to E, and the fifth string to G#. Bruce shows you the tuning and then walks you through both parts of Wade Ward’s version of “Reuben,” which includes a short (four-bar) B part that starts with an E7 chord and a strong melody note on the seventh. You’ll also learn a pull-off embellishment you can add to the basic bum-ditty pattern.

 

June Apple

The fiddle tune “June Apple” is an old-time music standard and, not surprisingly, Wade Ward had a unique way of playing it. It’s in A tuning, the same as G tuning, but tuned up a whole step, and the B part includes a flatted seventh chord, G in the key of A.

 

Wade’s Lost Indian

“Wade’s Lost Indian” is in an unusual tuning: F#DADE, which is like double dropped-D tuning but with the fifth string tuned down to F#. The A part is “crooked,” meaning that it isn’t just a straight eight or four bars, but consists of two 4½-measure parts. And while it has only a couple of melodic phrases, they occur in different places in the second half of the A part. The B part of “Wade’s Lost Indian” is straighter than the A part, with four regular phrases played in succession. In addition to walking you through the basic A and B parts of “Wade’s Lost Indian,” Bruce shows you a few variations on the last phrase of the A part as well as a “reverse double thumb” lick you can use at the ends of the B part phrases.

 

Married Man’s Blues

Wade Ward’s recording of the song “Married Man’s Blues” is one of the first he ever made, recorded in 1925 for OKeh Records. In this lesson you’ll learn how to play “Married Man’s Blues” instrumentally as well as how to backup your singing. Bruce starts by showing you the tuning he sings “Married Man’s Blues” in: an F tuning that is the same as G tuning but tuned down a step. Then he shows you the instrumental version, which is based on a simple bum-ditty strum and includes some bluesy slides and drop-thumb licks. Bruce also shows you how to give the song a nice syncopated feel by leaving out the first note in the drop-thumb pattern. You’ll also learn how to backup your singing on “Married Man’s Blues” by taking a simple bum-ditty strum pattern and adding some of the melody notes as you sing.

 

Polly Put the Kettle On

“Polly Put the Kettle On” is a classic old-time dance tune and Wade Ward’s version has some interesting rolls and drop-thumbing. It’s in double-D tuning (aDADE), and the B part of consists of three four-bar phrases. In addition to the basic A and B parts of Wade Ward’s version of “Polly Put the Kettle On,” you’ll learn some variations, including a couple different ways to play the roll that starts the A part and some syncopated phrases in the B part.

 

John Lover Is Gone

Wade Ward recorded the square dance tune “John Lover Is Gone” (also called “Johnny Lover’s Gone”) with fiddler Glen Smith. It’s in the key of D and played in double-D tuning. Bruce plays the whole tune through slowly and then breaks it down phrase by phrase, starting with a roll across the top two strings and a thumb note on the fifth string on the downbeat.

 

Shady Grove

Wade Ward’s version of the old-time favorite “Shady Grove” has two parts and some unusual timing. It’s in an A modal tuning: aEADE. Bruce breaks it down for you phrase by phrase and talks about accenting the backbeat and varying the timing of the pull-offs that start the tune and the hammer-ons in the middle.

 

Sally Ann

“Sally Ann” is a favorite tune in the Round Peak area of Virginia and in all old-time music circles. There are some different versions of the tune, but Wade Ward plays the standard two-part tune in his own inimitable style. It’s in the key of D and played in double-D tuning. In addition to showing you Wade’s version of each part, Bruce also gives you a few variations that Wade played on the A part. 

 

Old Joe Clark

The fiddle tune “Old Joe Clark” is one of the most popular in the fiddling world and there are many versions. Wade Ward’s version is very distinctive and is illustrative of how “Old Joe Clark” is played in the Round Peak area of Virginia, with, for example, an E chord in the B part instead of the G chord that is used in most other versions. “Old Joe Clark” is played in the key of A, and Bruce tunes his banjo up to A tuning (aEAC#E), which is the same as G tuning, but tuned up a whole step. Wade Ward’s version of “Old Joe Clark” includes reverse double thumbs, rolls, and a cool sliding double stop.

 

Cluck Old Hen

Like so many of Wade Ward’s versions of standard tunes, Wade approaches it a little differently than what has become standard. Many of the common versions of “Cluck Old Hen” use a G chord (the bVII in the key of A) in the B part, but Wade, like many musicians in his part of Virginia, plays an E chord instead of G.

 

 
More Old-Time Banjo Tunes
 

Learn tunes from old-time banjo greats like Matokie Slaughter, Claude Helton, Hobart Smith, and others.

 
Jack Wilson

“Jack Wilson” is a straight-ahead square dance tune in the key of D, played in double-D tuning (double-C tuning with a capo at the second fret). This version was recorded in 1941 by fiddler John Morgan Salyer and banjo player Claude Helton.

 

Georgie

“Georgie,” sometimes called “What’ll We Do with the Baby-O,”  comes from Virginia old-time banjo player Matokie Slaughter. It’s a two-part dance tune in the key of C, played in double-C tuning. The A part is pretty straightforward, but the B part starts with an alternate-string pull-off on the top string and includes some muting of the top string on the brushes. You’ll learn both parts and an alternate A part Matokie played in the lower octave. 

 

Chinquapin Pie

“Chinquapin Pie” comes from banjo player and singer Hobart Smith of Saltville, Virginia. It has two parts and is in the key of F, played in G modal tuning: gDGCD. It includes double thumbing, crossovers, muting, and “hammer-ons from nowhere.”

 

Five Miles from Town

“Five Miles from Town” is a dance tune that comes from Clyde Davenport, who is known more as a fiddler than a banjo player. “Five Miles from Town” is a somewhat crooked tune (especially in the second part) and is played in the key of D, in double D tuning (double C tuning with the capo at the second fret).

 

Backstep Cindy

“Backstep Cindy” is a staple of the Round Peak old-time repertoire, and you can hear recordings of Tommy Jarrell, Fred Cockerham, and other old-time banjo icons playing it. “Backstep Cindy” is in the key of D, played in aDADE tuning (gCGCD, with a capo at the second fret), and has three parts, the second and third of which are crooked.

 

Glen Smith’s “John Henry”

There are many versions of the traditional song “John Henry.” The one you’ll learn here comes from Virginia banjo player and fiddler Glen Smith, who had a unique, personal style of banjo playing, which is reflected in his version of “John Henry” in many ways, including the unusual tuning he chose: eBEBE. 

 

Walking in the Parlor - New Lesson

This version of the old-time tune “Walking in the Parlor” comes from Lee Hammons of Pocahontas County, West Virginia. It’s a simple tune in double-C tuning and Hammons brings out the beauty of the simple melody with dynamics and subtle syncopation.

 

 
 
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