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How to Play the Melody on the Banjo Question

How to Play the Melody on the Banjo Question


Hello, Ross,

Hopefully you are doing well!

In your beginning book I have been struggling to get part of "Old Time Religion" to sound right, and I think I may have figured out why.

Attached is a PDF.  The red ovals will show you what I cannot get right in my head.  In short, I do not see how that part of the song is in C chord.  The chord and tab do not seem to match.  I cannot get the sound for that part of the song.

Am I missing something?

Thank you,


Hi Fred,
In the songs in my beginning book there is an accent mark for the melody notes,  > = accent mark.

It's hard to explain in an email but I'll do my best.

When playing Old Time Religion, in the measure where it goes to the C chord. After you play that melody note on the 2nd fret, 3rd string, take your finger off and place it on the 2nd fret of the fourth string to make the chord. That first  melody note on the 2nd fret, 3rd string is not part of the chord but it’s needed for the melody, Often you play melody notes nearby the chord that are not part of the chords to the song. The chord indicators tell you the chords to the song, the tab tells you where to put your fingers. You can use the chord indicators as a hint to where your fingers should be but you don't always have your fingers in the exact notes of the chord when playing melodies.

To learn to play the melody in a bluegrass song on a 5-string banjo you have to be careful to not put the cart before the horse. You have to learn to pick steady and change chords first, then you learn to drop the melody into that steady rhythm of notes. Even though anyones first inclination maybe to do learn the melody notes first, you don't learn the melody notes first and then attempt to wrap the rhythm notes around it. First you master how to pick steady, produce a steady rhythm of notes, without any pauses, then you can take on gaining the skill to emphasize and recognize the melody notes within that steady stream of notes. Banjo music has to have a steady stream of quarter notes and 1/8 notes to work. The melody is dropped into that. When learning from tab it's easy to not see the forest through the trees, but playing the 5-string banjo in reality is how I just described it. After that, its written out in tablature so you will know where to put your fingers. But the actual original act of playing is a steady stream of 1/8 and 1/4 notes without any drop in the rhtythm and then the melody is dropped into that in the appropriate place.

Do you have my DVD Playing Banjo By Ear and Using the Chords. That would be really helpful to get. It demonstrates and explains it in much more detail.

Thanks, Ross

Playing Banjo By Ear and Using the Chords

Thanks again,
Ross Nickerson
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