Tab: Down Beside The Ohio, as recorded by Obray Ramsey

I came across Obray Ramsey's music a few months ago when friend sent me a link to Allen's archive of early and old country music, where you can download several of his albums. The albums were recorded in the late 50s and early 60s, and are a fantastic example of real old-time banjo picking and singing.

So with a new found love for Obray's music I set about learning "Down Beside The Ohio" from the album "Obray Ramsey Sings Folksongs From The Gateways To The Great Smokies", one of my favorite Obray songs. The first thing to confused me was what tuning he was using, it sounded like G, but lower, and then I realized the recordings (taken directly from old scratchy vinyl) were about half a tone flat. I'm unsure if Obray is tuned flat or the records were played a little too slow), but I tuned my Banjo to F# and I was in business.

Bluegrass: It's all in the wrist

If I could travel back in time and change one thing about how I set about learning to play Bluegrass Banjo it would be to pay more attention to what I was doing with my picking hand. However I just delved in, focusing on learning the notes with little regard to technique. Sadly, unless you stumble on the right way to hold your wrist by accident you are unlikely to ever achieve the speed and quality of playing you are trying to emulate. This was certainly the case for me, and this was not helped by the amount of tabs out there, which enabled me to bypass any fundamental Banjo theory, which I might have learn't from a book or a teacher. Saying that, many of the books I have read seem to cover the matter in brief, right at the beginning on those pages we always skip past. I personally feel most students need regular advice about technique, which would do more to communicate the vital importance of hand position.

Advice: Buying your first Banjo in the UK

A couple of years ago some friends of mine decided to put a Folk/Bluegrass band together, I has happy to join in, my intention being to play slide on my Dobro and develop my abilities in that area, however my friends had different ideas for me. Long story short, you've guessed it, they suggested I should buy a Banjo, and me not needing much of an excuse to buy a stringed instrument set about finding one to learn on. My first port of call was, where I typed in 'Banjo' and got nearly 4,000 results! Knowing a little bit about how search engines work I then typed 'Banjo -strings", to exclude unwanted items from my search, but still I had around 3,800 results, and then there were other questions, what is the difference between a Tenor Banjo, or an Open Back, a Resonator..? I needed to do some research. So back I went to Google I went, and typed 'wiki banjo', and read the wiki page on Banjos, which told me I needed a 5 string resonator Banjo to play Bluegrass, the style I wanted to learn to play.

Communication from another planet

There was a time when communication from another planet was more likely than a global network of computers giving us all access to websites and blogs dedicated to the humble Banjo. And yet here we are with 1000s of enthusiasts sharing their talent on youtube, 1000s of downloadable or streamable songs on sites such as, and a new generation of artists using Banjo to add colour to their music, proving that in the 21st century Banjos are still cool.

So why am I writing this blog? There're loads of banjo sites already! That's right of course, and part of my motive is needing a portfolio piece for my CV and wanting to write a blog about something other than web design (my profession), but also because I feel there are holes that need filling in the world wide web's Banjo listings, and hopefully I can fill these gaps, starting with my 1st article about buying a decent Banjo in the UK, which was something I could really have done with reading a year or so ago! I will write this article very soon (just as soon as I've finished tweaking the CSS to make this blog look pretty). I also want to share with you my experienced learning how to play banjo, tips, mistakes I have made, things I have got right, tabs that I have transcribed that don't yet exist on the web, my list of who's who's, must listens as well as all the cool stuff I have found on the web.

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About Me

I have been playing guitar for over 20 years, at first playing in indie bands, followed by a long stint playing rockabilly on the streets of Oxford, a short excursion into dance music, followed by looking at early blues styles. Now after a few years of listening to Dylan, Guthrie, and early Americana I find myself in possession of a banjo, and I'm addicted! Currently I play Banjo and Guitar in an Oxford based group called Swindlestock, you can hear our music our myspace page.

Listen to my favorite Banjo songs on