Billy Strings Lick for Banjo

I somehow stumbled upon this Billy Strings live concert footage.  They were playing the bluegrass classic “John Hardy.”  I really liked the lick Billy Strings uses at the 9:05 mark; therefore, I decided to figure it out and  do a lesson break down of the idea.  It uses chromaticism, Pentatonic scales, and blues notes.

Billy Strings Lick Lesson ~ John Hardy


Here is the video lesson breaking down the lick.

The chords to John Hardy Look something like this in the key of A

D  | G / D / |  A | A

D  | G / D / |  A | A

D  | G / D / |  A | A

E    |   E     |  E     |  E

E    |  E   | A   |   A


Billy Strings Lick Explanation

He knows the E is coming up in the form, so instead of going back to A major, he goes from D7 to D#7.  This is a Chromatic Step-up.  Some might say it’s a Tritone Substitution, but I see no reason to complicate matters, especially when if you hear it, it SOUNDS like a chromatic step-up.

On The E major part he uses a very simple E major Pentatonic kind of idea, with a b7 thrown in.  I’m particularly fond of the 2 to b7 movement with the melody here.  The use of repeating notes makes it sound less like, “hey I’m playing a scale!”

Finally, he gets out of the form using a typical bluegrass guitar Minor pentatonic type idea.  Lots of flatted fifths and flatted sevenths.  It reminds me of something Tony Rice might play.  While this certainly sounds cool, you can pretty much make up anything of your own using these same targeted blues notes and get a similar sound.

The TAB is available on my Patreon at:



Jody Written by:

Professional Musician of 27 years. I've performed on the stages of Carnegie Hall, The Grand Ole Opry, and The Ryman Auditorium. I've also played in 6 different countries. All things Banjo and Acoustic Guitar.