Are you here because you are tired of playing the banjo only in the key of G? So much of the 5-string banjo’s repertoire is in the key of G (after all, that is what it is tuned to), but it’s not much more difficult to expand into other keys. Over the next few months, I’ll develop some song lists for a variety of keys for everyone to reference. I’m starting with the key of C.
Your PRIMARY or 1-4-5 CHORDS in the key of C are:
In this list of songs, I’m including straight ahead bluegrass tunes, old folk tunes, fiddle tunes, and even a few jazz tunes. This way you’ll have a variety of material to choose from depending on your own tastes.
In addition, some of these are bluegrass jam session favorites. A few are much more obscure and your chances of playing them in a jam are almost 0%. However, maybe you simply like the tune and want to learn it for your own enjoyment or play the banjo solo.
Here is the list. If the song has a blue link, that’ll take you to a version of myself playing it or someone else. Each of these tunes has hundreds of versions on YouTube.
Key of C Songlist
- Home Sweet Home
- Billy in the Lowground
- East Tennessee Blues
- Gotta Travel On
- Back up and Push
- Wildwood Flower
- The Old Spinning Wheel
- Farewell Blues
- Martha White Theme
- The World’s Waiting for the Sunrise
- When You’re Smiling
- Nashville Skyline Rag
- Roxanna’s Waltz
- Battle Hymn of the Republic
- Cotton Patch Rag
- Rymer’s Favorite
- Alabama Jubilee
- Bye Bye Blues
- Just Because
- Shady Grove (major key version)
- Dark Hollow
- Fun’s all Over
- Boston Boy
- All of Me
- Take the A train
- Satin Doll
More in depth analysis of a few C tunes
I won’t break down all of these C tunes, but I do think it’s worth providing some commentary on a few of them.
Home Sweet Home:
Home Sweet Home is usually played in C tuning (g C G B D). The most famous version is the Earl Scruggs arrangement. However, Earl got his version from an earlier version by Mack Woolbright. Give it a listen!
Billy in the Lowground
Billy in the Lowground is another song I do in C tuning; however, you can play it in regular tuning as well. I recommend listening to fiddle versions of the tune. It has evolved a lot over the years. Most people nowadays put an F in the B section. When I was growing up, all the fiddle players played an Aminor in both parts.
The Old Spinning Wheel:
This remains one of my favorite tunes to play. Check out Raymond Fairchild’s version. Chubby Wise’s fiddle playing on this was a big inspiration to me.
The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise:
The World is Waiting for the Sunrise is a great song for learning all of your chords in the key of C. It has a good number of minor chords (Aminor/Dminor/Fminor), some major secondary dominant chords (E7, D7) , and even a diminished chord (C diminished). A great version of this song is the one by Les Paul and Mary Ford.
Alabama Jubilee is a jam session classic. It takes you through a cycle of Circle of Fifths chords; A-D-G-C and so forth. I use this in conjunction with Sweet Georgia Brown to teach about Secondary Dominants. The version above is by Mike Snider-he was a huge influence on my own banjo playing.
I wanted to be very clear on this one. You won’t hear this at a jam. However, I used to play this as a solo banjo piece and I think it’s a largely undiscovered great ole fiddle tune.
Fun’s all over
This is another one that is an obscure one. It’s more likely to come up at in old time music jam than a bluegrass jam. The version above is by one of my favorite fiddle players of all time, the great Clark Kessinger.
I’ve included some jazz standards on this list; All of me, Take the A Train, and Satin Doll. I picked these because I feel like they aren’t so out there that they would NEVER come up in a bluegrass jam. I’ve played all of these at festivals more than a few times over the years. While they are a bit more complicated than the bluegrass numbers, I don’t think they are outside the realm of possibility for the banjo student with a year or two under the fingers. “When you’re Smiling” is a great Crossover tune as well.
Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this list of songs in the key of C. It should keep you busy for a very long time. Please stay tuned for more; I’ll have a list of songs in the key of A or Bb here soon. I will most likely come back and add more to this list as well as I think of old ones and discover new ones.
In the meantime, if you want some songs in the key of D, be sure to check out my D chord Banjo TAB bundle.