Old Time Festival Tunes for Clawhammer Banjo

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A must-have reference for any clawhammer banjo player. 117 common old-time tunes. Each tune has two lines of tab (basic and advanced) plus a standard music notation line. Sound file are now all online.

Tune List

(Mr.) Fishar’s Hornpipe Half Past Four Nixon’s Farewell
Banjo Tramp Hangman’s Reel (in A) North Carolina Breakdown
Big John McNeal Hangman’s Reel (in C) Old Bunch Of Keys
Big Scioto Hollow Poplar Old Joe Clark (major)
Bill Cheatem Icy Mountain Old Joe Clark (modal)
Billy in the Lowground Indian Eat the Woodchuck Old Mother Flanagan
Black Eyed Susie Jaybird Pike’s Peak (aka Rat Cheese or Natches Under the Hill)
Black Eyed Suzie-anna Jeff Sturgeon Possum in a Well
Blackberry Blossom Jenny Git Around Possum on a Rail
Boatman Jimmy in the Swamp Quince Dillon’s HIgh D
Bonaparte Crossing the Rhine John Brown’s Dream Rachael - aka Texas Quickstep
Bonaparte’s Retreat (version 1) John Brown’s March Ragtime Annie
Bonaparte’s Retreat (version 2) John Henry Railroading Across the Rocky Mountains (aka Marmaduke’s Hornpipe)
Breakin’ Up Christmas John Lover’s Gone Red Haired Boy
Broken Down Gambler John Stenson’s #2 Reuben’s Train
Buffalo Gals - common melody in G Johnny Cope Rochester Schottische
Buffalo Gals - in A Johnny Don’t Get Drunk Rocky Pallet
Bull At The Wagon Joke on the Puppy (aka Rye Straw) Roscoe
Camp Chase Julianne Johnson Rush and the Pepper
Candy Girl Jump in the Well My Pretty Little Miss Saint Anne’s Reel
Cherokee Shuffle - aka Lost Indian Jump Jim Crow Sally Anne Johnson
Chinese Breakdown June Apple Sandy Boys (Burl hammons’ version)
Cindy Kansas City Reel Sandy Boys (Edden Hammon’s version)
Colored Aristocracy Kitchen Girl Sandy River Belle
Cotton Eyed Joe Leather Britches Sarah Armstrong’s Tune (aka Old Reel)
Crow Creek Liberty Shuffle About
Cuckoo’s Nest Little Billie Wilson Smith’s Reel
Cuffy Little Rabbit Staten Island Hornpipe
Dinah Liza Poor Gal Sugar In The Gourd
Dry And Dusty Logan County Blues Texas Gals
Durang’s Hornpipe - festival version Lost Indian (straight major version) Tom And Jerry
Durang’s Hornpipe - old fiddlers’ version Lost Indian (crooked modal version) Too Young to Marry (aka Sweet Sixteen or My Love is But a Lass)
Ed Haley’s Lost Indian Lost Indian (in D, crooked) Wake Up Susan
Flop Eared Mule Magpie Walking In My Sleep
Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss (aka Suzanna Gal, Western Country) Martha Campbell Washington’s March
Flying Indian Mole in the Ground - aka Tempy Ways Of The World
Georgia Railroad Monkey on a Dogcart Whiskey Before Breakfast
Grasshopper Sitting on a Sweet Potato Vine Muddy Roads Whistling Rufus
Green Willis (aka The Raw Recruit) New Five Cents Yellow Rose Of Texas

Sample Pages

Click an image below to see a sample tune from this book. The banjo tuning is noted, and guitar chords are provided. The top line is music notation, the second line is basic banjo tab, and the third line is advanced banjo tab.



Old Time Festival Tunes for Clawhammer Banjo
Book and 2 CD Set

Dan Levenson

Mel Bay Publications, Inc., 2006

Review by R.D. Lunceford for Banjo Newsletter – Old Time Way

117 Well-known and widespread tunes commonly played at Old-Time festivals to include (tune list above).

Tom Briggs. Pete Seeger. Dan Levenson. A hundred years from now, when banjo historians are listing the most important teachers of the instrument, these names will claim pride of place: Briggs, for authoring the first systematic banjo instructional manual. Seeger, for nearly single-handedly inspiring a revival of the instrument through his book. Levenson, for authoring what is perhaps the most comprehensive body of learning materials ever assembled.

We have followed Dan’s progress for many years now, and can state unequivocally that there are few banjoists that can rival his dedication to the instrument, or his contributions to the furtherance of the clawhammer style. Dan combines the unique qualities of a consummate musician with those of a gifted teacher and prolific author. These skills along with a love of banjo culture and a desire to spread the knowledge necessary to play the instrument have earned him a place as one of today’s most sought after and best-loved banjo instructors. His “Meet the Banjo” program has introduced untold numbers to the banjo, and his insights and talent for communicating his art have resulted in groundbreaking instructional methods. Dan spends much of the year on the road teaching, performing, and holding workshops. In his “off time” back at home in SE Ohio’s Appalachian region, he still finds time to hold what is becoming a very popular music camp at his homeplace.

The work under consideration is what Dan himself in the introductory notes describes as a tune repertoire book rather than an instructional manual. This is true. However, Dan does provide the reader with a few pages of information that include notes on the format of the book, the two included CD’s, the tunes themselves, a primer on tablature reading, and his views on written music, and creativity. Additionally, two subjects that will be of interest to many readers are directions on how to play the “Galax Lick,” and how to achieve the “chucking” sound that has become quite popular among today’s clawhammerers.

To my mind, the most outstanding feature of this book and two CD set is the innovative format that Dan has adopted in order to place the tunes in the hands of the player. Each of the 117 tunes is presented in three ways: A “basic” clawhammer banjo version that is readily accessible to players who have mastered the basics of the style. An “advanced” version that includes additional technique and certain stylistic nuances that will be playable for the banjoist who has both feet firmly planted at the intermediate level (The advanced settings are interesting and instructive because although wholly traditional and utilitarian in a jam session context, they also exhibit some of the innovative, tasteful turns that Dan’s playing is widely admired for). Lastly, and this to me is one of the most attractive features of the book, we are provided with standard musical notation for the basic melody line as it pertains to each tune.  A chord line is also included.

Now this is a review, but please pardon me if I editorialize a bit on the very important point of the inclusion of musical notation in a clawhammer tune-book: That iconic publication, How to Play the Five-String Banjo by Pete Seeger included a quote from an old-time banjo player interviewed in 1850, who upon being asked if he could read music replied: “...can I read notes? Hell, there are no notes to a banjo. You just play it.” This sort of remark is widely and mistakenly taken as a precedent for the irrelevance of written music as it pertains to the banjo. It buys into the homespun, gee-shucks, gosh-howdy, character that many people (even players) think is emblematic of the banjo. This arises from an ignorance of the context in which the above remark was made, when it actually refers to the fretlessness of the contemporary instrument rather than being a condemnation of the reading of musical notation. The early banjo manuals all utilized music, and the fact is that while not universal, many of our best traditional performers have been musically literate. Following in this venerable tradition, Dan has not hesitated to use the written musical line when it is the best tool for the purpose.

The presentation of the tune’s basic melody in standard musical notation accomplishes two very important things. Firstly, it makes the tunes accessible to players of other musical instruments (for whom banjo tablature is meaningless), giving them the basis of a version that will mesh perfectly with the banjo tablature Dan has provided.

Secondly, the basic melody line is what makes the book useful to advanced players who may use it to evolve their own settings of the tunes independent of the two tablature settings . I found this a particularly attractive feature. While I have been playing nearly forty years and know the majority of the old standard repertoire, I am not really a festival player and consequently not acquainted with much of the modern festival repertoire. Dan’s book puts this body of material at my fingertips, and allows me, if I choose to evolve my own settings of the tunes through the basic melody version. I would like to point out that standard musical notation is superior to tablature for this purpose because tablature dictates where the notes are to be found on the finger board, whereas musical notation is neutral in this regard.

Mel Bay, Inc., is arguably the pre-eminent music publisher of our day, and not surprisingly, this edition is of the highest quality. The book consists of two-hundred-forty-eight pages in an 8-3/4” x 11-3/4” wirebound format that lays flat on a tabletop and is strategically designed so as to require no page turning mid-tune. The tablature and musical notation are immaculate, and the paper used for the book is of substantial weight. The cover photos show Dan jamming with friends who as a pleasant surprise include David Holt. A handful of photos on the inside include Dan’s homeplace, and Dan and Miss Jennifer (herself a razor-sharp banjo-player) knocking some sparks out of a tune on their front-porch. Additionally, comments are included when necessary to clarify certain points about the settings. All-in-all, this is a very handsome volume.

Now, I got up on the soap-box about the inclusion of standard musical notation in the book, but this does not mean that I advocate trying to learn from music (or tab) alone. Listening is and has always been the most important part of learning traditional music. So many stylistic components cannot be reduced to ink on paper, and so listening is essential. To this point, two CD recordings are included with the book. Together, they contain all 117 tunes- sixty tunes on the first CD, and the remaining fifty-seven on the second. Each tune is introduced by Dan and played once through. The playing is crystal-clear, precise, and at a moderate tempo. For the recording, Dan has used five different banjos: A Cedar Mountain “A” Model, a Deering-Vega Tubaphone, A Gold Tone BC-350 (Bob Carlin model), a Lee Ovilla custom, and a Stewart-MacDonald Eagle kit banjo. Now we all know that certain tunes often sound better on certain banjos. To this end, Dan has spared no trouble, using as many different banjos as it takes to insure that the listener is provided with the clearest, most highly articulated sound possible for each and every tune.

With a collection of this magnitude, Dan had some choices to make concerning the recordings. He recognizes this and explains his logic in the introduction to the book. Briefly, there are well over one-hundred tunes. Given this it would be impractical to play through each A and B part exactly as written, both fast and slow for both basic and advanced versions. Dan notes that if he included the often requested fiddle version of the tune as well, the recording would contain upwards of 585 tracks!

To my mind, Dan took the best possible course in this situation by providing a composite version of each tune played at a moderate speed. This works out quite well as the recorded tunes, though not exact renderings of the tabs are so close as to serve as good examples of either the basic or the advanced version. Additionally, as Dan most correctly notes, this approach has the advantage of offering the reader yet another version of the tunes. As an added bonus, there will be fiddle versions available online at the Mel Bay website.

Sadly, the days of the regionally defined repertoire is in decline and the context that most players will learn their banjo-playing in is no longer the community dance or house party. Many aspiring players do not have access to a local clawhammer master as formerly. The old-time community is no longer defined by common geography, but rather by common interest. Fragmented and dispersed as this community is, the milieu of the Old-Time musician has become the folk festival which has evolved its own distinct repertoire. The festival season is too short, and this is reflected in part by the famous saying: “So many tunes, so little time.” For the aspiring player who desires to participate in what is at its core a highly social and communal art, the time is often too short to acquire the material that will allow him to do so. This is why Dan Levenson’s new festival repertoire book is so valuable- it makes a large portion of this body of music available to the banjoist who may at his own leisure acquaint himself with the tunes and thus be better prepared to join in when the occasion arises.

Old-Time Festival Tunes for Clawhammer Banjo is a fabulous resource that will prove invaluable not only to beginners and intermediate players but to advanced ones as well. Written by one of today’s best players and teachers, it contains an incredible amount of material selected by a veteran of the festival scene. The availability of the fiddle versions online is an unprecedented advantage to the learner. I cannot recommend this collection strongly enough. If there is any such thing as an indispensable tune book for clawhammer banjo, this is it. Dan’s output over the years has been incredible. He has consistently gone from strength to strength, and this, his latest work is to date, one of, if not his best efforts. This collection is bound to be a classic that will be in print for decades to come.

“Old-Time Festival Tunes for Clawhammer Banjo” should be available at any music store that sells Mel Bay publications. Otherwise, you can order as below. If you order direct from Dan, he may even sign it if you like!

R.D. Lunceford



Price: $000

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