11 Banjo Solos you should Learn

One thing I mentioned recently was transcribing and learning other people’s solos by ear.  So, in this blog post I’m listing 11 Traditional Bluegrass Solos that every banjo player should have on their radar.

They all contain Essential Bluegrass Vocabulary:

1)“Honey You Don’t Know my mind”-J.D Crowe.  Pay particular attention to two things-The neat lick played over the D chord and how the breaks and verse have different chord changes.

2)“Old Home Place”-J.D Crowe.  This is one of those “bluegrass national anthem” songs it is played so much.  One of my favorite things in this solo is what Crowe plays over the C chord.  It is also full of vocabulary you’ll hear constantly in bluegrass; especially the G measure connecting you to the D chord.

3)“Sunny Side of the Mountain”-Sonny Osborne.  Sonny plays some really awesome stuff over the D chord in his second break.

4)“Why Not Confess”-Allen Shelton.  One of the only instances of a Maj7th used in a traditional bluegrass solo.  Still one of my favorite banjo breaks of all-time

5)“Salty Dog Blues”-Earl Scruggs.  What can we say, it’s Earl Scruggs and I couldn’t make a list without mentioning Earl.  This solo contains lots of the quintessential Scruggs vocabulary.  You’ll want to do both the lower and higher breaks.  Pay close attention to what Scruggs plays on the A and D chords.  I’m only listing one Scruggs solo because most banjo players are familiar with his material.

6)“I Wish You Knew”-Allen Shelton.  The entrance to this solo is one of my favorites.  There are also some really nice roll patterns used on the C chord.

7)“Little Maggie”-Ralph Stanley.  No bluegrass solo list would be complete without Ralph Stanley.  You’ll get a nice look into his right hand with this classic solo.

8)“Little Dave”-Vic Jordan, it’s on the Pickaway album.  This is an underrated album.  Much of the album ventures into melodics but there is also some more traditional roll-based licks too.

9)“I Know You’re Married”-Don Reno.  This is one of Don Reno’s most famous solos.  Contains the thumb brush-stroke and some rock-n-roll inspired sounds.

10)“Theme Time”-Bill Emerson.  The B section contains a run down in 3rds.

11)“Banjo Signal”-Don Reno.  It’s difficult to choose which Don Reno solos to pick;  however, I think this one is relatively accessible.  It contains some neat patterns like 6ths that you can put to use often.

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Jody Hughes Written by:

I am a full-time banjo and acoustic guitar teacher, performer and composer. I have performed on the stages of Carnegie Hall, The Grand Ole Opry and The Ryman Auditorium. My interests include developing educational materials for the advancing banjoist and composing Original Music mixing my background in Bluegrass, Jazz, Classical and Latin Music.

2 Comments

  1. Ric
    03/11/2017
    Reply

    I introduced “Theme Time” to the local scene here and everyone really loves it.

    Richie Dotson tabbed out the Jim Mills version and it just kills it!!!

    Love that song….but I love anything Jim Mills touches.

  2. 03/11/2017
    Reply

    Yeah, I’m a Jim Mills fan too. Bill Emerson really wrote some awesome songs.

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