- Jimmie Brown The Newsboy January 28, 2020 “Jimmie Brown, the Newsboy” has long been a favorite of mine, as recorded by Flatt & Scruggs and Mac Wiseman. Recently, I got to pondering its origins. After some digging, I discovered that the song was composed in 1875 by William S. Hays. Over the years, Hays’ name has largely been forgotten and now people ... Read More
- Diamond Joe December 23, 2019 By Wayne Erbsen
I’ve always been a sucker for a good ole cowboy song. This isn’t because I was born and raised on a cattle ranch in Texas; I’m actually a native of southern California. Growing up in the late ’40s and early ’50s, I was raised on a diet of TV westerns like Hopalong Cassidy, ... Read More
- Otto Wood the Bandit December 23, 2019 By Wayne Erbsen
July 10th isn’t a day to watch the fireworks, have a picnic, wave a flag, or sing The Star Spangled Banner. Nope. July 10th is the anniversary of the day in 1931 that the famed outlaw Otto Wood made his tenth and final escape from Central Prison in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Central Prison was ... Read More
- Fox on the Run December 20, 2019 By Wayne Erbsen
In the early 1970s, Fox on the Run was among the most requested bluegrass songs. Along with Rocky Top — a bluegrass band could scarcely play a show without fans yelling for Rocky Top or Fox on the Run.” The song was written in 1968 by an Englishman named Tony Hazzard and first ... Read More
- Hot Corn December 20, 2019 By Wayne Erbsen
Bluegrass music has jokingly been called “a celebration of pain.” It has earned this moniker because so many of the songs dwell on themes of loneliness, heartache, and death. For some bluegrass musicians, the jovial song known as Hot Corn or Hot Corn, Cold Corn offers a welcome moment of levity amidst a ... Read More
- I’ll Fly Away December 20, 2019 By Wayne Erbsen
There are many ways to close out a bluegrass show, but I always favor ending an evening’s entertainment with a rousing version of I’ll Fly Away. This song is the perfect choice because everybody knows it and they love to sing along. Recently, I started digging into the origins of I’ll Fly Away, ... Read More
- The Language of Fiddling December 20, 2019 By Wayne Erbsen
Listening to a great fiddler play his or her instrument is certainly one of life’s great delights. But listening to a fiddler talk can be a bewildering experience if you are not acquainted with the language of fiddling. Over the years, fiddlers have developed their own slang, so here is a dictionary of ... Read More
- Things to Say When Tuning a Banjo December 17, 2019 By Wayne Erbsen
Did 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 ... Read More
- What Kind of Guitar Should I Get? October 15, 2019 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 ... Read More
- Insanely Simple 1-Finger Chord Songs for Guitar October 15, 2019 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 ... Read More
- What Kind of Mandolin Should I Get? June 25, 2019 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 ... Read More
- Drifting Too Far From the Shore June 24, 2019 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 ... Read More
- Happy Songs of Sunshine and Light (& the lyrics to Short Life of Trouble) June 9, 2019 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 ... Read More
- The Truth About the Lester Flatt G Run June 4, 2019 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, ... Read More
- The Carter Scratch February 18, 2019
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 ... Read More
- Gussie L. Davis – Tin Pan Alley/Bluegrass Songwriter December 4, 2018 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 ... Read More
- The Big Bang Theory of Bluegrass May 16, 2018 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 ... Read More
- “Shortenin’ Bread” Ukulele Tab + Lyrics April 10, 2018
“Shortenin’ Bread” has certainly wins a prize for longevity. After all, it has been around for over 150 years. This version of “Shortenin’ Bread” comes from my new book, Ukulele for the Complete Ignoramus!
I can’t tell you why, but I find playing Shortenin’ Bread almost addictive. When I start to play it, I can barely ... Read More
- How Hard Is It to Play the Guitar? February 23, 2018 By Wayne Erbsen
The first question I hear from people interested in playing the guitar is “how hard is it?” For those of you with that same question, this article is for you.
The relative ease or difficulty of learning to play any musical instrument depends on three main things:
Natural talent. It’s just a fact that some ... Read More
- New Release: Easy 2-Chord Songs for Mandolin January 18, 2018 Many folks are on the lookout for easy and foolproof ways to learn to play their favorite musical instrument. Who can blame them? Everyone wants a free ride down music alley. These kind of folks get lured to websites that make grand promises of quick success if you try their method. Not being afraid ... Read More
- Ukuleles Come From Where? December 12, 2017 This is a guest post from Sarah Jacobs of Know Your Instrument.
The ukulele is long-hailed as the national instrument of the Hawai’ian islands. It’s played at luaus, family gatherings, and while simply relaxing on the beach. A lot of children in Hawai’i even learned how to play at a young age. For hundreds of years ... Read More
- How to Play Music by Ear November 14, 2017 Playing by ear is, or should be, the holy grail of playing music. You just about never see a banjo picker, fiddler or mandolin player performing with their nose buried in a book of music notation or tab. It just ain’t done. Of course, there are plenty of beginner musicians who completely depend on tab ... Read More
- “Roll On Buddy” ~ Lyrics, History, & Tab for Mandolin/Fiddle May 15, 2017 While doing some research on one of the songs for my book Bluegrass Jamming on Mandolin, I uncovered some interesting things about the song “Roll On Buddy,” which is considered a bluegrass standard as recorded by Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys. On May 17, 1924 Al Hopkins & His Buckle Busters recorded “Baby Your ... Read More
- Is It Hard to Play the Mandolin? January 16, 2017 By Wayne Erbsen
Heck no! It’s easy as eating pie if you approach learning the mandolin in the right way. Of course, there is no shortage of free information, tab, and musical notation of mandolin music on the web. The challenge is finding information that’s geared to your style of learning.
A lot of the music for ... Read More
- ‘Run Mountain’ – History, Music & Lyrics + the Origins of Bluegrass December 27, 2016 Among the more bizarre songs in old-time and early country music is one called Run Mountain. The song is curious both for the melody and because some of the lyrics are rather mysterious. The melody is set in the key of G but it starts in the key of A. By the time the chorus ... Read More
- How Hard Is It to Learn to Play the Guitar? December 16, 2016 The quick answer to this question is “it’s pretty easy,” IF you have the right instructor or instructional materials (ie books or videos). After teaching guitar since 1962, I’ve had a wide variety of students walk through the door. The vast majority have learned to play and, as far as I know, have kept playing ... Read More
- Man of Constant Sorrow – Guitar Tab & Lyrics November 18, 2016 By Wayne Erbsen
Kentucky-born, blind street singer Dick Burnett had every reason to compose I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow. An orphan by the time he was 12, Burnett was almost murdered in 1907 when he was robbed and shot in the face with a shotgun. Though he survived, Burnett was now a blind man. ... Read More
- Ralph Stanley’s ‘I’ve Just Seen the Rock of Ages’ for Banjo July 27, 2016 By Wayne Erbsen
Cold chills. That’s what I get when I hear the eerie voice of Ralph Stanley. You can say that I’ve been a true blue Stanley Brothers nut since I first heard them in 1962. Just thumbing through my collection of LPs, I count 58 Stanley Brothers or Ralph Stanley albums, and that doesn’t ... Read More
- Whiskey Before Breakfast on Clawhammer Banjo May 25, 2016 I recently published my newest clawhammer banjo book-Clawhammer Banjo~ Tunes, Tips & Jamming. Among the forty four tunes in the book, I included “Whiskey Before Breakfast.” I always wondered about the origin for the tune, so I took this opportunity to do some research. Here’s what I found.
Chasing down the history of “Whiskey Before Breakfast” ... Read More
- A Different Approach to Learning Bluegrass Banjo ~ tab for ‘Katie Kline’ April 22, 2016 There are certainly as many ways to learn to play bluegrass style banjo as my dog has fleas, bless his heart. After playing and teaching banjo for many years, I came up with an approach that is different from any banjo books that I’ve seen. Let me explain.
The most common way to teach a beginner ... Read More
- ‘Fall On My Knees’ tab + lyrics ~ Clawhammering with Wayne Erbsen January 12, 2016 More than forty years ago I wrote my first banjo book, Clawhammer Banjo for the Complete Ignoramus. About five years ago I decided it was time for a follow up, so I started working on it. Recently we received delivery of the new book – Clawhammer Banjo ~ Tunes, Tips & Jamming. To make it easy to ... Read More
- ‘I Wish I Was A Mole in the Ground’ on Clawhammer Banjo + New Book November 11, 2015 I’m excited to announce that my newest book is at the printer. Entitled Clawhammer Banjo – Tunes, Tips and Jamming, the book was at least three years in the making, and I hope that people who want to learn to play in the clawhammer style on the banjo will think it’s a humdinger.
Let’s take one ... Read More
- Stagolee: The Legend, Music & Lyrics October 14, 2015 By Wayne Erbsen
This is an excerpt from Outlaw Ballads, Legends & Lore.
His real name was Stack Lee, but they all called him Stagolee. At birth, a fortune teller was summoned because the newborn was double-jointed and had a full set of teeth. What worried the fortune teller most was that he was born with a ... Read More
- Short Life of Trouble ~ Music, Lyrics, and the Joy of Sad Music September 15, 2015 By Wayne Erbsen
This is an excerpt from Rural Roots of Bluegrass.
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 ... Read More
- Should I Use a Pick with the Ukulele? September 9, 2015 (This is a guest post by Ted Parrish, co-author of ‘Ukulele for the Complete Ignoramus‘)
To pick or not to pick, that is the question.
Folks ask me all the time what pick do they need to play the ukulele. And while the easy answer is “none”, there really is no easy answer.
Historically speaking there is no ... Read More
- Ukulele Clubs August 7, 2015 (This is a guest post by Ted Parrish, co-author with Wayne Erbsen of our newest book, Ukulele for the Complete Ignoramus. It was be available on August 17, 2015)
One of the many wonders of the modern world has been the proliferation of ukulele clubs in almost every metropolitan area of the country. A Google search ... Read More
- The Hanging of Fiddlin’ Joe Coleman July 2, 2015 By Wayne Erbsen
The story of the hanging of Fiddlin’ Joe Coleman is enough to send chills up and down your spine. In 1847, near the town of Slate Fork, in Adair County, Kentucky, a shoemaker and fiddler named Joe Coleman was living with his wife, and his wife’s mother and sister. According to some accounts, ... Read More
- Build Your Own Chords on the Fiddle or Mandolin May 28, 2015 One of my students recently asked me to give him a sheet with all the fiddles chords he would need to play most any bluegrass song. I certainly wanted to help him out, but I decided that I wouldn’t be doing him any big favors by handing him the chords on a sheet of paper. ... Read More
- Fat Finger Blues ~ Are My Fingers too Fat to Play Music? April 29, 2015 One of my struggling banjo students recently wrote me and asked if his fat fingers are to blame for muting the adjacent strings when he played. He even went so far as to send me a photo of his fingers to prove his point. A lot of people have given me the finger, but he ... Read More
- Cowboys in Bluegrass Music? April 8, 2015 As a kid, I desperately wanted to be a cowboy. I dreamed of owning a horse, riding the range, and doing what cowboys did. And why wouldn’t I? Every night I slept under a cowboy blanket and my lunch box was fully decorated with a decal of a handsome cowboy twirling his lariat. Growing up at ... Read More
- Hangman’s Reel – Dark History & Banjo Tab March 24, 2015 Hangman’s Reel always reminds me of my old friend and mentor, Albert Hash. I first met Albert at the Grayson County Fiddlers Convention in the summer of 1972, and took an instant liking to him. Not only was he a great old-time fiddler, but I was drawn to him by his plainspoken ways and his ... Read More
- “I’ve Been All Around This World” ~History, Lyrics & Banjo Tab February 5, 2015 Of all the many kinds of songs there are to sing, by far my favorites are what I call “real songs.” These were not written in an air conditioned office on the fourteenth floor by fancy pants professional songwriters. Instead, they were written about events that really happened, by real people who were there to ... Read More
- Bluegrass or Clawhammer Banjo – Which One is Easier to Learn? January 29, 2015 You’ve got your heart set on learning to play the banjo. Come to find out, there are currently two popular styles of banjo playing: bluegrass or clawhammer banjo. Which one should you choose? And most important, which style is easier?
First, let me explain each style and then we’ll talk about which one is easier to ... Read More
- How Difficult is it to Play the Fiddle/ Violin? January 7, 2015 Among the many stringed instruments, the fiddle or violin has long been revered but also feared. Somewhere along the line, it got the reputation of being the most difficult instrument to play. Let’s look this question right in the eye and answer it right here and now, once and for all.
What do I say when ... Read More
- In the Pines: History, Lyrics & Tips for Playing December 5, 2014 Talk about a dark and spooky song! In the Pines has it all: a young girl who shivers when the cold winds blow, and then sells herself to the men in the mines. As if that’s not quite bad enough, she then gets her head cut off when she fell under the driving wheel of ... Read More
- June Apple Banjo Tab + My Apple-Picking Gizmo November 13, 2014 Why is it that when you drop a slice of bread that you’ve just slathered with peanut butter, it always lands peanut- butter-side down? Maybe it’s the same cosmic forces at work that cause the best apples to be at the very top of the tree. That’s the predicament I found myself in yesterday as ... Read More
- Bigfoot’s Gone Away (+tab for banjo,fiddle & mandolin) October 7, 2014 Bigfoot. Sasquatch. Abominable Snowman. Whatever name you want to call him, this mythical creature has crept into our collective imaginations as far back as 1811. That year, just outside what is now the town of Jasper, Canada, a trader by the name of David Thompson discovered footprints in the snow that made him stop ... Read More
- “Drifting Too Far From the Shore” by Charles E. Moody September 29, 2014 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 ... Read More
- Tuning Gizmos September 3, 2014 Over the years, there’s been a dizzying array of gizmos created to help us find the right pitch for singing or to help us tune our instruments. The first one I remember was a round pitchpipe the music teacher in my elementary school used when we would sing in class.
When I first started playing the ... Read More
- Rattlesnake Fangs, Fiddles & Folklore August 18, 2014 People have always had a strange fascination with rattlesnakes. As one of America’s most poisonous snakes, they are both feared and hated, and yet their rattles are prized for their mythical and magical properties.
While doing research for this article, I ran across an amazing number of stories, some true, some pure myth, about rattlesnakes or ... Read More
- Log Cabin Diaries: Part 3 August 11, 2014 We love log cabins. Always have. As far as we’re concerned, you can’t have too many of them. In addition to our rustic log cabin way up in Big Pine, North Carolina, we have an authentic log cabin here in Asheville on the same piece of land as our Native Ground office. This is where ... Read More
- Doc Watson’s ‘Your Lone Journey’ + tab for fiddle, mandolin & banjo August 10, 2014 Whenever two old-time musicians get together to sing, there is one special song that is always held in high esteem: “Your Lone Journey.” I’d always heard that Doc Watson’s wife, Rosa Lee, wrote it, but often wondered about how she came to write it.
Recently, I asked my friend, David Holt, what he knew about the ... Read More
- Mangled Bluegrass Song Lyrics : Two Meatballs in the Sand July 23, 2014
I guess you can say I’ve had a love affair with words almost since before I learned to talk. Since moving to North Carolina from California in 1972, I’ve learned that a “minner dipper” is a mandolin, a “scratch box” is a fiddle, and a “starvation box” is a guitar. I’ve learned that a cathead ... Read More
- The Log Cabin Diaries: Part 2 July 9, 2014 (For ‘Part 1’ click HERE)
Long before the days of Mapquest, Google Maps, or iPhones, we had to rely on honest-to-goodness paper maps to find our way around. Spreading a North Carolina map on the kitchen table, we finally found Big Pine, which was only a tiny dot on the map. Looking at a topo map, ... Read More
- Bluegrass vs Clawhammer Banjo + ‘Things in Life’ Tab June 25, 2014 Approximately 99.99 % of all banjo players fall squarely in one camp or the other: Clawhammer or bluegrass. It’s kind of like the Hatfields and the McCoys; you’re either with us, or you’re against us. This silly notion has lingered for too long. Let’s do our part in poking holes in this crazy idea by ... Read More
- Log Cabin Diaries: Part 1 June 8, 2014 Exactly 15 years ago this month, my wife Barbara looked me straight in the eyes and said that we need to find a cabin or farmhouse way back in the mountains. She wanted to find a old-timey place so far back in the sticks that we could only hear the sounds of birds chirping. No electricity, no plumbing, ... Read More
- Playing Bluegrass Backup on Fiddle, Mandolin & Banjo June 2, 2014 By Wayne Erbsen
As you might guess, there are numerous differences between old-time and bluegrass music, although they share a lot of similarities too. In old-time music, the banjo, fiddle, and mandolin generally play the melody all at the same time. During an old-time tune, the guitar generally refrains from playing the melody and concentrates on ... Read More
- Bluegrass Banjo Lesson: Take Me Home, Country Roads March 7, 2014 Howdy!
I remember back In the seventies and eighties, it was neigh on impossible to do a bluegrass show without performing “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” better known as just “Country Roads.” The audience would practically take us out to the nearest tree and hang us by our toes if we didn’t play it. And when ... Read More
- Figuring Out Chords at the Shindig on the Green January 29, 2012 By Wayne Erbsen
Shindig. To people in western North Carolina where I live, “Shindig” is short for Shindig on the Green, which is an outdoor bluegrass music festival held on the courthouse steps in Asheville, North Carolina. The Shindig is a unique summer festival, drawing regional bluegrass and old-time musicians who just want to get together ... Read More
- Clarence White and the Roots of Bluegrass Guitar in Southern California November 13, 2011 By Wayne Erbsen
In the early sixties I lived within earshot of the Ash Grove, a legendary folk club on Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood. As I recall, Monday night was called “hoot night,” and the house band was “The Country Boys.” When I first heard the band in mid-1962, it consisted of Clarence White on ... Read More
- Basic Guitar Chords December 5, 2010 By Wayne Erbsen
If you’re wanting to learn the basic guitar chords, you’ve come to the right place. Although there are thousands of chord positions, I’m only going to show you the basic chords you need to start with. In certain kinds of music, such as as bluegrass, Appalachian, folk, gospel, country and blues, these chords ... Read More
- Cleo Davis, The Original Bluegrass Boy March 5, 2010 By Wayne Erbsen
On March 9, 1919, a doctor rode his horse-drawn buggy through the hills of northwest Georgia to the home of Ben and Effie Davis. He was summoned because Effie was about to have a baby. By the time the Doc had left, Effie and John were the proud parents of a healthy baby ... Read More