Things to Say When Tuning a Banjo

By Wayne Erbsen

Banjo PlayerDid you hear about the guitarist that was so far out of tune that the banjo player noticed?

Q: What does a banjo sound like when it’s completely in-tune?
A: No one knows.

You can tune a banjo, but you can’t tuna fish.

It was in tune when I bought it.

Q: How can you tell if a banjo player is sitting in a level spot?
A: The drool drips out of both sides of his mouth.

I can’t remember – do I have to have the pegs in line with the strings or at right angles?

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What Kind of Guitar Should I Get?

By Wayne Erbsen

Following is an excerpt from the book Easy Two-Chord Songs for Guitar.

As you set out on your guitar-playing adventure, you might be wondering what kind of guitar to get. There are four main kinds of guitars, so if you find yourself in a pickle and don’t yet have a guitar, this is for you.

Before you figure out what kind of guitar to buy, you’ll need to decide what kind of music you intend to play. This will make deciding what kind of guitar to get as easy as falling out of bed.

Hank Thompson

Electric guitars

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Insanely Simple 1-Finger Chord Songs for Guitar

By Wayne Erbsen

Following is an excerpt from the book Easy Two-Chord Songs for Guitar.

The thumb is truly the king or queen of all the fingers and deserves our utmost respect. Let’s give the royal thumb the important job of strumming down on the strings. “Down” means toward the floor. While holding down the Small C Chord, strum down with your thumb on the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd strings. For G7, strum down on the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th strings. (See chord diagrams at the end of this post.)

Here are some simple songs to practice your

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What Kind of Mandolin Should I Get?

By Wayne Erbsen

Unless a free mandolin just falls in your lap, you’ll need to purchase one. When you go shopping for a mandolin, I strongly suggest that you don’t buy a cheap one off the Internet. Most of these cheapo instruments will sound like a tin can strung with barbed wire. Instead, you should visit your local music store and get the expert advice of a knowledgeable sales person. Be sure to stress that you’re a beginner and that you need a mandolin that’s set up so it’s easy to play.

Mandolin stylesEven before you make a trip to a

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Drifting Too Far From the Shore

Charles E. Moody was not your average gospel songwriter. He alone wrote both the words and the melody of two of the bedrock classics of country and bluegrass gospel, “Kneel at the Cross” and “Drifting Too Far From the Shore.” To get a handle on this man and the songs he wrote, let’s go back to Moody’s beginnings in rural Georgia.

One of eight children, Moody was born in a log cabin on October 8, 1891, near Tifton, Georgia. In this rural farming community, music was a favorite pastime, and as a young man Moody learned to play the harmonica

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Happy Songs of Sunshine and Light, and ‘Short Life of Trouble’

A while back I was invited to bring an instrument to a potluck party of some friends of mine in the mountains near Asheville, North Carolina. I brought along my fiddle in the hopes of finding some bluegrass musicians to jam with.

When I arrived at the converted barn where the party was being held, I saw a guitar learning up against the corner, so I sidled up to the guitar’s owner and introduced myself. As I shook howdy with him I asked him what kind of music he played, so I’d know whether our styles would be compatible. But

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The Truth About the Lester Flatt G Run

By Wayne Erbsen

Bluegrass hero Lester Flatt had a lot to be proud of. One of his most lasting achievements was the G Run that bears his name. You can hear this distinctive guitar run in practically every traditional bluegrass song that can be played on the guitar using a G-shape chord. In its original form, it is basically a two-note run that is played at the end of a verse or chorus. It consists of playing the D string of the guitar at the second fret followed by the G string open. It more or less punctuates the song

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The Carter Scratch

By Wayne Erbsen

They didn’t call her Mother Maybelle for nuthin.’ Nope. In addition to being the mother of three girls (Helen, June, and Anita), Maybelle Carter was nothing less than the mother of flatpicking guitar. Starting in 1927, her lead and rhythm guitar playing laid the foundation of what would later be known as bluegrass guitar. Her signature lick on the guitar has been referred to as the Carter Scratch, the Carter Family Scratch, or the Maybelle Carter Scratch. That’s because of her way of playing the melody notes on the bass strings of the guitar while vigorously going

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Gussie L. Davis – Tin Pan Alley/Bluegrass Songwriter

Some of the greatest traditional bluegrass songs were apparently written by someone named “Public Domain” or “Traditional.” What kind of decent mother or father would name their child that? In this article I’m going to acquaint you with a songwriter named Gussie Lord Davis, who has seldom been credited as the composer of such well-known folk and bluegrass songs as “Maple on the Hill” (1880), “Goodnight Irene” (1899),“One Little Word” (1899), “Just Set a Light” aka “Red and Green Signal Lights”(1897), “In the Baggage Coach Ahead” (1896), “He’s Coming to Us Dead” (1899), and “Make Up and Be Lovers Again”

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The Big Bang Theory of Bluegrass

By Wayne Erbsen

If the “big bang theory” helps to explain the origin of the universe, perhaps “the big bang theory of bluegrass” will shed some light on the origin of the bluegrass music universe.

There are two schools of thought as to the origins of bluegrass music. One has Bill Monroe singlehandedly inventing bluegrass music around 1945. The other takes a more evolutionary approach, with a number of musicians and bands contributing to the sound we now call “bluegrass.” In particular, this approach points to Wade and JE Mainer’s Mountaineers as the first band that had all the ingredients

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