Appalachian Fiddle Tunes for Clawhammer Banjo
Ken’s Newest Banjo Instruction Book Just Published by Mel Bay!
This comprehensive collection features over 100 note-for-note skillfully-crafted clawhammer banjo arrangements of “old-time” Southern fiddle tunes – in clear tablature – with suggested guitar chords at a wide variety of skill levels. It contains most of the tunes played in concert or recorded by author Ken Perlman and renowned Appalachian-style fiddler Alan Jabbour, plus over 50 more classic tunes from Ed Haley, Edden Hammons, John Salyer and many other iconic roots fiddlers.
- Instruction on basic and advanced techniques
- Tips on improving your musicianship
- How to play syncopated rhythms and melodies in clawhammer style
- Frameworks for dealing with crooked tunes and modal tunes
- Historical notes and picturesque backstories
- Ken Perlman demonstrates all tunes & most musical illustrations – 124 online audio tracks
- Online Audio includes 24 tracks featuring excerpts from recordings of Ken performing with fiddler Alan Jabbour, to whom the book is dedicated.
New!! Appalachian Fiddle Tunes for Clawhammer Banjo
Mel Bay Publications
Features over 100 note-for-note skillfully-crafted clawhammer banjo arrangements of “old-time” Southern fiddle tunes – in clear tablature – with suggested guitar chords at a wide variety of skill levels. It contains most of the tunes played in concert or recorded by author Ken Perlman and renowned Appalachian-style fiddler Alan Jabbour, plus over 50 more classic tunes from Ed Haley, Edden Hammons, John Salyer and many other iconic roots fiddlers. Includes access to 124 on-line audio tracks featuring Ken playing all tunes and many musical illustrations.
Dowloading the Audio Tracks
Here are instructions from the publisher for Downloading the 124 Audio Tracks.
Note: the official instructions are a little confusing. On the title page (that is, p.1) copy the entire URL (beginning www.melbay.com/) located to the right of the Mel Bay icon and directly underneath the Online Audio icon. Purchasers of the digital edition (see below), should not try to click on either icon, since neither one is actually a link. Since this is a web address, paste it into the URL window of your browser. Do not paste it into the regular search feature of your browser.
The Digital Edition
Appalachian Fiddle Tunes for Clawhammer Banjo is also available directly from Mel Bay Publications in digital format (given current shipping rates, digital format should be particularly attractive to purchasers from abroad). To purchase the digital edition, click on the link below. By using this link, you ensure that the author receives a reasonable percentage of the digital purchase price.
Ken Talks About The Book…
This is a collection of over 100 “old-time” Appalachian fiddle tunes arranged note-for-note – and with as much flavor and nuance as humanly possible – for clawhammer banjo. These “settings” are all eminently playable and fully benefit from my half-century of experience playing banjo, arranging for banjo, and researching fiddle-music traditions.
To help you learn, this volume offers instruction on basic and advanced techniques; general tips on fingering and a systematic approach to playing up the neck; hints on dealing with “crooked” (irregular) tunes and understanding modes; and a thorough treatment for playing highly syncopated rhythms in clawhammer without breaking stride. I also offer technical help for individual tunes in the form of fingering diagrams and detailed fingering suggestions, along with breakdowns of how to navigate passages that feature complex rhythms or irregular meters.
This book is offered as a tribute to my long-term performing partner, the late great Appalachian-style fiddler Alan Jabbour, whose tune-collecting work in the mid-1960s and subsequent activities with the Hollow Rock String Band did much to launch today’s old-time music jamming and concert scenes. Alan and I toured together for nearly fifteen years beginning around the turn of this century; our travels took us throughout much of North America, and also to Britain, Ireland, and Western Europe. Alan and I also recorded two CDs together: Southern Summits (2005) and You Can’t Beat the Classics (2014). The tunes featured on these two recordings – plus nearly two dozen more that we often played together but never recorded – make up about half the repertoire in this volume.
The remaining fifty or so tunes represented here are drawn directly from other great “old-time” fiddlers past and present, either through personal contact or via field and commercial recordings. The two contemporary fiddlers whose tune versions are most represented here are Bobby Taylor of St. Albans, West Virginia and Brad Leftwich of Bloomington, Indiana; I also obtained tunes directly from Franklin George, Elmer Rich and Greg Canote. I drew tunes from field recordings of Clyde Davenport, Ed Haley, Edden Hammons, Tommy Jarrell, John Salyer, Bill Stepp and Luther Strong; and got additional material from commercial recordings made in the 1920s and ’30s by Alex Hood & His Railroad Boys, Doc Roberts, Eck Robertson, and Fiddlin’ Arthur Smith.
About the Companion Audio
There are 124 audio tracks accessible on line that illustrate all the tunes in the book and more. Some illustrations are excerpted from previously recorded CDs – including 24 tracks from the two CDs I recorded with Alan Jabbour – Southern Summits and You Can’t Beat the Classics. Most selections, however, were recorded specially for this project and are accompanied by Ruth Rappaport, a very tasteful Boston-area guitarist. Instead of illustrating each number at slow-to-moderate speed, I figured that it would be most valuable to offer performances at or pretty close to the proper tempo for these tunes, and fully within the spirit of the music. These days, it’s a fairly simple matter to slow down performances digitally if you feel the need to do so.
To access the companion audio, merely type the URL code printed on the title page of the book into the search window of your browser, and you will be able to download the audio package.
- Abe’s Retreat
- And the Cat Came Back
- Barlow Knife (see Cabin Creek)
- Big Hoedown
- Big Scioty
- Billy in the Lowland
- Birdie (Henry Reed version)
- Boatman (Henry Reed version)
- Bonaparte’s Retreat (Henry Reed version)
- Breaking Up Christmas (Taylor Kimble version)
- British Field March
- Cabin Creek, or Barlow Knife
- Camp Meeting on the Fourth of July
- Cherokee Shuffle (3-Part version in D)
- Cherry River Rag
- Christmas Morning
- Cider Mill (Taylor Kimble version)
- Coleman’s March
- Colored Aristocracy (Elmer Rich variation)
- Duck River (John Salyer version)
- Ducks on the Pond
- Dusty Miller (Franklin George version)
- Ebenezer, or West Virginia Highway
- Elzick’s Farewell
- Fall(s) of Richmond
- Fiddler’s Drunk and the Fun’s All Over
- Fine Times at Our House
- Fire on the Mountain
- Five Miles from Town (Clyde Davenport version)
- Folding Down the Sheets (Bobby Taylor version)
- Forked Deer
- George Booker
- Glory in the Meeting House
- Greasy Coat
- Greasy String
- Green Willis
- Greenfield Cotillion
- Grover Jones Waltz
- Half Past Four
- Happy Jack
- Hell Among the Yearlings
- Hell up Cole Hollow
- Henry Reed’s Breakdown
- Henry Reed’s Favorite
- High Yellow
- Indian Ate The Woodchuck
- Indian Squaw
- Isom Waltz
- Jenny Get Around
- John R. Griffin’s Tune
- L&N Rag
- Lady of the Lake
- Leather Britches
- Little Dutch Girl
- Lost Girl
- Martha Campbell
- Mississippi Sawyer (Alan Jabbour version)
- New Castle, or Texas
- New Five Cents
- North Carolina Breakdown
- Old Chattanooga
- Old Joe Clark (Henry Reed version)
- Old Mose
- One More River to Cross
- Peekaboo Waltz
- Pig Ankle Rag
- Pigtown Fling, or Wild Horses at Stoney Point)
- Possum Up A ‘Simmon Tree
- Quince Dillion’s High-D Tune
- Rachel, or Texas Quickstep
- Ragged Bill
- Rebels’ Raid, The
- Red Bird
- Red Fox
- Rochester Schottische
- Rocking the Babies to Sleep (waltz)
- Rocky Mountain Goat (Henry Reed version)
- Rocky Road to Dublin (Not the Irish slip jig)
- Rose Division
- The Route
- Rye Straw (Henry Reed version)
- Sallie Gooden
- Sally Ann Johnson
- Sandy Boys (Edden Hammons version)
- Sandy River Belle (Henry Reed version)
- Say Old Man, Can You Play the Fiddle
- Shady Grove (Henry Reed version)
- Ship in the Clouds
- Shoes & Stockings
- Shoo Fly
- Squirrel Hunters
- Stone’s Rag
- Susanna Gal, or Western Country
- Tennessee Mountain Fox Chase
- Tennessee Wagoner
- Texas, or New Castle
- Texas Quickstep, or Rachel
- Turkey in the Straw (A Jabbour version)
- Walk Along John
- Walkin’ in the Parlor
- Washington’s March
- Ways of the World (Bill Stepp version)
- West Virginia Gals
- West Virginia Highway, or Ebenezer
- West Virginia Rag
- Wild Horses at Stoney Point, or Pigtown Fling
- Yellow Barber
- Yew Piney Mountain
Review by Roy Andrade
As readers of Banjo Newsletter are well aware, Ken Perlman is at the forefront of clawhammer banjo instruction, scholarship, and playing—and has been for several decades. His latest tune book presents 108 banjo arrangements for Appalachian fiddle tunes, many of which come from his celebrated duo work with the late fiddler Alan Jabbour. If you are interested in deepening your understanding of Appalachian fiddle music, and learning some very cool tunes that are mostly outside of the “standard” repertoire, this is the book for you. Ken is uniquely qualified to produce a book like this. His clawhammer tune books have been widely circulating for decades and are responsible for helping many a player (myself included) to get going with the music, or to broaden their skills and repertoire. Ken’s involvement with the music is far-reaching, and his curiosity has helped him to see clawhammer banjo as transcendent of genre. His innovations on the instrument are ground-breaking, and have enabled him to use the clawhammer technique to play all kinds of music. He also has a lot of experience with fiddle music in North America. His work on Prince Edward Island, visiting fiddlers and documenting their tunes is monumental. Part of this work involved transcribing, in detail, many hundreds of fiddle tunes. This means he has a great ear for fiddle music, and that’s part of what makes this book an important resource.
The tunes Ken learned from Jabbour are a direct window into great Appalachian fiddling as it was years ago—community driven, stylistically unique and often quirky, and a beautiful high-art form. The bulk of Jabbour’s tunes came from West Virginian Henry Reed and were some of the tunes that were central to the revival of old-time music in the 1960s and 70s. Ken has faithfully adapted these to the banjo with a keen understanding of both melody and rhythm, and has gone to great lengths to capture the spirit of these tunes as they are played on the fiddle. The rest of the tunes in this collection come from Ken’s association with top contemporary fiddlers Brad Leftwich, Jerry Canote, Bobby Taylor and others, as well as from select field and commercial recordings from legendary fiddlers Ed Haley, Luther Strong, Bill Stepp, Eck Robertson and more.
The tabs are elaborate but easy to follow. All the information you are used to seeing is there, but there are many extras: fingering suggestions, chords and fingering diagrams, neck positions, technique tips, technical pointers, and a “syncopation guide,” where Ken has categorized multiple approaches for syncopating phrases. There is also a section called “A Crooked Tunes Survival Kit” where Ken talks about uneven tune structures and how to wrap your brain around them. In this section he discusses the likely origin of many “crooked” tunes—his conclusions may surprise readers. There is a lot here to absorb, but the experience of reading the tab is straight-forward and tidy. Each tune is presented on its own page with the key, tuning, source for the tune, and short paragraph about its history and significant musical features.
One section of the book that I really appreciate is called “Demystifying Modes.” Appalachian music modes are different from the Greek modes (Mixolydian, Dorian, etc.), and are important to understand the deeper you get into this music. You know how Shady Grove has many different chord progressions, depending on who is playing it? That’s because its modal, and the melody is not based on chords. Ken takes on this complicated topic and makes quick sense of it.
I see this as not just a book for melodic clawhammer players, but rather a collection of tunes and especially techniques for anyone who is looking to put more melody into their playing. By working through even just a few of these tunes, you will encounter ways of finding elusive melody notes that you can use in many of the other tunes that you play. That’s the cool thing. Most clawhammer players are aware of the balance between rhythm and melody in their own playing, and Ken is offering up his own secrets for finding more melody. The player gets to choose how to work the balance. Audio versions of these tunes, including many with Alan Jabbour, are available for free download online. Having an audio version of what you are trying to learn via tab is essential, and with so much available to us out there, it’s nice to have this resource from a trusted and well-informed player.
Maybe the most compelling thing about the book for me is Ken’s historical perspective, and his take on the state of affairs in the old-time music “scene.” He has been observing trends in the music socially for many years and shares some myth-busting observations. One important one is that the popular Round Peak style of banjo playing is really a modern iteration with influences from bluegrass, and that there are so many ways of approaching clawhammer. He also points out that the idea of the banjo simply sketching the outline of a tune is a missed opportunity. Why not add more melody? Maybe you’ll sacrifice some rhythm, but he demonstrates in his tabs that it’s possible to play both melodically and rhythmically at the same time. You can get a sense of Ken’s approach by checking out his column in this issue, in which he discusses some aspects of syncopation and presents one of the arrangements from the book.
Even if you don’t learn most of your tunes from tune books, I think this is an essential book for most clawhammer players. The clawhammer community is lucky that someone with Ken’s experience can articulate what he knows clearly, and is able to share it in such a complete way. What you get here is tab with context, and for many folks the context is what keeps traditional music interesting. This book can inform your music, and your thinking about music on many levels and is dense enough to be a good resource for many years.
Review by Dan Walsh
Review of ‘Appalachian Fiddle Tunes for Clawhammer Banjo’ by Ken Perlman
It is actually moderately surreal for me to review anything by Ken Perlman given that he is without a doubt the biggest single influence on my own playing. My first love has always been Scottish and Irish folk music and after accidentally falling in to playing clawhammer banjo rather than tenor banjo, Ken’s matchless clawhammer arrangements of jigs, reels and hornpipes on the exquisite Devil In The Kitchen album set me on my way.
While this book focuses on the old-time rather than the ‘Celtic’ end of Ken’s output, in many ways the guiding principle behind so much of his work applies again – that clawhammer banjo can be a wonderfully effective and versatile solo style. It can play fully fledged melodies and, in his own words, ‘a large range of musical genres with speed, accuracy, power and a wide range of expression’ whilst retaining all the qualities from the more widely recognized role of clawhammer style such as rhythmic drive, the drone string and the ability to self-accompany. The book then provides a brief musical and historical justification for this approach although it is also acknowledged that thankfully many people no longer see the need for Ken or any other player to justify it!
There is a superb section in the book explaining the importance of which technique to use and where to use it to get the best arrangement of a fiddle tune. The importance of phrasing, obtaining strong runs of notes and the issues that can arise with the range of a tune are addressed clearly and concisely. There will be many banjoists who purchase this book who may well already be reasonably proficient at being able to read and play tabs but I urge all of them to read this section and keep it in mind when they do their own arrangements or read a tab and think ‘surely it’s easier to play a note that way rather than how it’s written here’. Ken highlights superbly, for example, that there is a world of difference between the sound of a hammered note and the sound of it being drop thumbed on an adjacent string. Keith-picking and fifth string fretting are also spotlighted to illustrate how best to get strong melodic runs.
A section comprising a concise but thorough summary of tablature and techniques and all the symbols and terms used throughout the book follows which also features a series of useful example tabs and exercises so that you can play the tunes armed with everything you need to know. I particularly liked the highlighting of ‘priming’ which is a technique that brilliantly imitates the double stopping on a fiddle, a hallmark of the sound. Syncopation is also given a particularly thorough treatment with pretty much every type of rhythmic variation likely to be found in banjo tab broken down in to easily understandable detail both through the use of descriptions and tablature. Syncopation plays a huge part in old-time tunes and features throughout the arrangements in the book so it’s well worth getting to grips with all this first. There is also a very useful section on theory in terms of keys and modes, something that is often overlooked in banjo teaching I’ve always found with an over reliance on simply learning tunes from tablature rather than having more of an understanding of theory to enable improvement in joining in at jams, backup, composing and arranging.
Then come Ken’s arrangements which are, as ever, nothing short of exquisite. They are split in to sections, generally based on key/tuning but there is also a first section of ‘play these tunes first’ which as the name suggests is a good place to start before tackling the trickier tabs in the book! There are plenty of those incidentally – Ken’s arrangements are genius but plenty of them take a bit of work! Thanks to the detailed guide at the beginning and the helpful reminders, hints, tips and diagrams on each and every tab, any clawhammer player can have hours and hours of fun with this book and hopefully master the various tunes of various levels. Once again, Ken has shown himself to be the master of melodic clawhammer banjo in terms of both arrangement and instruction.
Review by Bob Buckingham
Ken Perlman’s approach to banjo is unique in that he analyzes every move, alternate ways to make those moves. This includes questioning orthodoxy so he can come up with a new approach. He has written several banjo books and in each one we get more detailed ideas on how to play clawhammer banjo and get more notes than one might think possible. Even though the timing of the basic clawhammer lick is counter to the timing inherent in ragtime, Perlman can play seamless ragtime banjo, sounding more like a melodic three finger player than a clawhammer player. He includes arrangement of L&N Rag and Stone’s Rag that demonstrate this nicely.
There are over one hundred tunes here ranging from the fairly accessible to the seemingly monumental. Before he gets to the tunes there are twenty pages of introductory material that puts the music in context and discusses his many methodologies for creating the marvelous melodic sound he gets on the banjo. Right hand techniques are discussed at great length and reveal some amazing techniques he uses to get more melody notes than almost conceivable. His left hand techniques include chords, positions and using the drone, 5th string for melodic purposes. All of this is quite enlightening and challenging to put into practice.
Each tune is laid out with a section of tips to help learn the arrangement. After some straightforward tunes, the tunes become more challenging and present great opportunities to expand a player’s bag of tricks. Each tune also has some historical information naming sources and providing some history of the tune.
This book is a valuable addition to the library of any serious clawhammer player. Even if you don’t use the book to learn all one hundred tunes, there is a wealth of information that will help you expand your melodic proficiency.(www.melbay.com)RCB
Old Time News (Friends of American Old-Time Music & Dance)
Review by Robin Jennings
This book and online audio package from the pioneer of melodic clawhammer playing heralds the arrival of a major new resource for all clawhammer banjoists. Ken Perlman the player, author, instructor, columnist, folklorist and camp leader needs little introduction to banjo players. From the mid 1970’s he has been the pioneer of melodic clawhammer playing, evolving an impressive and challenging solo instrumental style that seeks to take the banjo beyond role of playing the outline of a tune, aiming to include as much of the melody as is humanly possible. The wizardry of his earlier Celtic transcriptions may have discouraged some UK players, but the melodic technique is embraced in the US by many up and coming players.
As Ken himself notes in a recent podcast interview, the farther from a cultural tradition you travel, the more sacred the tradition seems to be upheld by its followers. This book challenges the status quo where the Diller / Round Peak / North Carolina Festival banjo styles are cherished and held close. Perhaps the time is right to embrace the wider constellation of other possible 2 and 3 finger down picking approaches, including adding elements of more melodic playing into our Appalachian repertoire? If you have not delved into the world of Appalachian melodic clawhammer recently and are still unsure of how this style might fit into your playing, I strongly suggest you listen to the podcast ‘Get Up in the Cool´, produced by Cameron DeWhitt. Visit www.getupinthecool.fireside.fm and then select episode 74, which is found easily by searching for Ken Perlman. The podcast can also be located via Apple Podcasts or Google Podcasts. This podcast contains a full 51 min interview with Ken from 2018 and includes a discussion of the technique together with a captivating showcase of tunes including the two tunes Billy in the Lowland and Grover Jones Waltz mentioned later in this review. Alternatively pop over to www.kenperlman.com, click on the CD tab and listen to the sample audio track which is again Billy in the Lowland (and don’t miss the high part which starts from 2.00!). To see Ken in action with Alan Jabbour this track is also easily found on YouTube by searching the track name and Ken Perlman – this tune was the regular concert opener for them during their 15 year partnership. You may be surprised how much drive remains even when all the notes of the melody are being played !
So having convinced ourselves of the musicality of the approach we can now delve deeper into the details of this substantial work. This 156 page book can be considered from three perspectives. Firstly as an impressive collection of 100 often lesser- known versions of Appalachian fiddle tunes in three core tunings arranged note for note for the banjo with deep attention to the flavour and nuance of the music. These correspond to the 50 or so tunes Ken played with the late Alan Jabbour over a 15 year performance partnership (including their two CDs) as well as additional transcriptions from a selection of famous fiddlers ‘past and present’. From the current generation he sources Bobby Taylor, Brad Leftwich, Henry Reed, Franklin George, Elmer Rich and Greg Canote. From the past he considers tunes from the fiddling icons Eden Hammons, Tommy Jarrell, John Salyer, Bill Stepp and Luther Strong. He also sources from commercial recordings from the 20´s and 30´s by Alex Hood & His Railroad Boys, Doc Roberts, Eck Robertson and Fiddlin’ Arthur Smith.
Each tune is presented in beautifully clear detailed tablature supported by a corresponding online mp3 file, fully researched and with detailed performance notes relating to underlying scales and syncopation. Full guitar chords are also included. Perhaps even more impressive is the presentation of 17 of the most approachable of these tunes as a separate section (Chapter 5) to showcase the core techniques of his method and to build confidence. Often the problem with large tune collections is that they can feel overwhelming and the player skips about not really mastering a single tune. This chapter solves that problem – with the digital version of the book it was a breeze to print out a single tune page, listen to corresponding mp3 a half dozen times and then get stuck in. I particularly enjoyed playing Ducks in The Pond, Martha Campbell, Boatman(Henry Reed), Little Dutch Girl and Henry Reed´s Breakdown from this section. As passing advice don’t forget to use that capo as instructed, it makes stretches and higher fret playing that much easier ! Secondly the book presents a definitive and comprehensive coverage of melodic clawhammer technique as it has accumulated and evolved over the last 50 years. Thirdly this book serves as a tribute to his long-term performing partner the late Alan Jabbour, a gifted fiddler and ardent folklorist / archivist. Their concert repertoire including their two CDs (You Can´t Beat The Classics, Southern Summits) supplies half the tunes in the book.
The introductory chapter of the book provides an incisive examination of the present day clawhammer scene in the US and overseas. Ken charts the common repertoire from its humble 18th Century origins of Scottish reels through to our current focus on fiddle tunes originating from a hub of fiddlers who were all born with a 175 mile radius of Charleston, West Virginia. Here he also considers the core challenges of playing fiddle melodies, namely that of phrasing, obtaining strong runs of notes, facing range issues and how to approach the strong syncopation which often features in Appalachian tunes. Chapters 2 offers a detailed coverage of banjo tablature, tunings, the use of hollow / power / fifth chords and presents a range of useful drop and double thumb exercises. Chapter 3 addresses further issues of technique. He discusses the problem of achieving ascending melodic runs with drop / double thumbing and offers solutions via alternating string pull offs, ‘Keith Picking’ (where the thumb pitch is higher than the open string that precedes it) and fifth string fretting. He also discusses fiddle unison priming, crooked tunes and modes. This final topic is a rarely attempted detailed discussion of modes for the banjo player and is of great assistance for those who seek to understand why the the notes of a particular melody seem to belong so well together. Chapter 4 is a fascinating survey and analysis of syncopation in Appalachian music, although the detailed tune tablature is sufficient to unravel the timing without continually referring to this reference section. Chapter 5 as mentioned above cover 17 accessible tunes (in three tunings) in the ‘Try These Tunes First !!’ selection.
Chapters 6 to 9 then work through the other 83 tunes according to key. These are in G and G modal/E modal, D and D modal, A and A modal, and C respectively. Tunes roughly increase in technical challenge as one progress through a key, but after completing Chapter 5 Ken encourages you to hunt out specific tunes you are drawn to from the later chapters rather than working through in a linear fashion. As a personal test I selected Billy in the Lowland from Chapter 6 and Grover Jones Waltz from Chapter 9. I knew both these tunes from the podcast performance cited above and using the detailed tablature, performance notes and mp3s I soon got to grips with the tunes. Appendices feature historical notes for all the quoted fiddlers, a full index of tunes and the obligatory bibliography / discography.
In conclusion this book has the power to transform your playing as you venture more up the neck, fret that fifth string, pop those open pull offs, add a few ascending thumbed melodic runs and introduce a little more syncopation to your picking. I can see myself both learning and teaching from this book for quite some time to come. The melodic gauntlet has well and truly been thrown down in 2020!
Available from : www.kenperlman.com, Amazon