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Old Time Fingerpicking
Classic Style Banjo
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Banjo Lessons: “Roving Gambler”

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That's the Roving Gambler by J.D. Crowe.
Transcribed that from J.D's break on that
from Lefty's Old Guitar Album on Miranda
[COUGH] J.D. Crowe is just the epitome of
Banjo playing.
You know, he and Earl for straight ahead
banjo playing, you just can't beat it.
And J.D. kind of took what Earl laid out
and, and
extended it in certain ways staying within
the style for the most part.
But just turning things around and, you
I just can't say enough great things about
J.D. Crowe.
I find myself at, at festivals and someone
would come up to me as I was watching J.D.
Crowe take a Banjo break and then start
talking to me about, you know,
one piece flanges and five ply rims of
pre-warm aster tones and
I just have to say, quiet, J.D's playing.
I, I can't not listen to him when he's
And so anyway, Roving Gambler is a great
traditional tune and
he does all sorts of really nice things
about, nice things with it.
He's playing the melody pretty closely.
[COUGH] But it will tend to offset certain
melody notes at times.
Now the down beat of the next measure,
measure three.
[SOUND] You'd think would be the open
third string, but
he delays it by one note.
And this is something that Earl does also.
So he hits the fifth string first and
goes into a forward roll.
And the melody note after that.
But it.
[SOUND] He kind of anticipates the next
melody though.
[COUGH] I can't sing, but
that's beside the point.
then he amplifies that note with a hammer
Going into a forward roll.
the other forward roll with the melody.
I'm sorry with the pull-off.
This is all pretty much
following the melody.
This is measure five.
then he anticipates the down beat with
another slide,
cuz at the beginning of measure five, he's
hitting the slide on the down beat.
then he anticipates the down beat with the
It's got a forward backward
roll in measure six.
Now, as it's going into measure eight.
This is a really cool thing that Earl
does a lot and J.D. does it a lot also,
which is anticipating the next chord.
So for measure seven.
Now right there,
the very last note is a two on the first
string an e-note.
And basically what he's doing, he's going
to the c chord one note early.
I don't know why they do this, but they do
And it's a really cool thing.
[LAUGH] Just kind of they're so eager to
get moving along.
It just adds to the tension and, and the
kind of forward motion of the tune.
some alternating thumb action here in this
measure eight.
This is measure 12.
I, I don't have a video of J.D. playing
this, but.
Probably the easiest way to do this would
be to use the ring on the first string.
[SOUND] For the second fret of the first
string get off it immediately.
And then go to the index on the second
fret of the third string.
And then pull-off.
[SOUND] Middle to index.
[SOUND] And go to the second fret of the
fourth string.
[SOUND] And then the beginning of measure
[SOUND] Leaving the thumb on the open
third string, so.
You could also have the middle on
the second fret of the first string,
whatever feels best to you.
measure 13 has one of the all time great
This is an Earl lick.
Some people go.
I remember Bela Fleck,
Bela Fleck came back from Lexington,
He was playing with a band down there
called Spectrum.
And this was in the late 70s and it was
the time when J.D.
Crowe was playing at the local Holiday Inn
in Lexington.
And Bela got to see him a bunch and I
remember he came back to New York,
Bela did, and said.
You know how J.D. does that lick?
[SOUND] He says, he puts a little pause
between the first hammer on.
[NOISE] And then the pull-off.
[SOUND] It's not.
[SOUND] It's.
[SOUND] Makes it a little bit more
And almost this imperceptible pause.
So that's one way to approach it.
[SOUND] Right after that hammer on.
[SOUND] Put that little pause before the
Now, sometimes when this lick is done.
[SOUND] You start with the hammer on, then
you can do a hammer on pull-off.
Quick hammer on, then pull-off.
In this case,
it was a little hard for me to tell.
I slowed this down to half speed to listen
to how J.D. did it.
To me,
it just sounded like he was pulling off.
Either works.
[SOUND] Put that little pause.
[SOUND] And then just the pull-off or.
[SOUND] Hammer on, pull-off.
They're both really nice.
And I also tend to choke that third string
a little bit.
Kind of start normal and
then I choke it a little bit, this is
extra curricular.
Just adds a little more tension.
Puts it out of tune a little bit on
[SOUND] There,
there's just this filler at the end where
he just kinda plays out with, with licks.
So in this lick.
Just going back to that a second.
I think, he uses it in each of the breaks
I'm gonna show you.
I'm gonna show you another break in the
next lesson and then a couple of back ups.
And he just uses it all over the place.
Cuz it's such a great lick and it's hard
to get exactly right, if there's such
a thing as right, but get in the way Earl
does it or the way J.D. does it.
Let me play it one more time, the whole
thing slowly and
then one more time up to speed.
Let me do it one more time even more
Kay, there's the second break from J.D.
Crowe's version of Roving Gambler,
from the Lefty's Old Guitar album and it's
just unbelievable.
He's so deep, and one thing you gotta
watch out when you're doing these J.D.
Crowe breaks is really you gotta go for
really crisp pull-offs,
hammer-ons, slides, it all has to,
every one of these details has to be in
place that's where it really comes alive.
So, he starts out very similarly to the
first break.
then he really anticipates the next melody
Measures three is
where you're supposed to hit that.
He's hitting on the up beat of the second
so he's really just plowing forward.
Make sure all these
I like the choking of the slide.
And really get that pull-off going.
And again, you can pushup or pull down.
Whichever works best for you.
There's so
much action, I mean every measure is
chalked full of pull-offs, slides,
hammer-ons, it's just rife with it.
So, measure six you're doing a double
pull-off with an alternating thumb roll.
Another alternating thumb roll.
Another one and another one.
Four in a row.
And then measure eight is just open.
You can take a breather,
then measure nine.
And two alternating thumb slides.
And this great and standard Scruggs' lick.
And then you expect to go to
the open third string, but instead J.D.
goes to the fifth string.
there's that lick again that I described
for the first break lesson.
And now here he goes into a really
cool thing, this is not Earl stuff, this
is J.D. pure and simple.
Really nice little bluesy thing,
actually Earl has done some stuff similar
to this, but not quite like this.
So hit the third string as a quarter note.
Pinch the first two strings and your,
I've got the ring on the third fret of the
middle on the third fret of the second.
It's very syncopated.
Now the fingering.
The only way I can see to make this
anywhere near reasonable is to go.
Hit the, the last two notes of measure 13.
I go thumb index,
like a single string thing on the third
the beginning of measure 14 will be the
thumb, so
you're just alternating, thumb, index,
thumb, pinch, thumb, pinch
And then he ends up with a pinch here,
middle over the thumb.
And then another slide, just kinda more
Scruggs, sometimes called G noise,
some Scruggs licks, licks just going out.
Okay, so the whole thing slowed down.
It's so great.
I just can't stop saying that.
This stuff is so amazing.
And you can lift certain things out of
this, particularly.
You can take that and
throw it at the ends of other tunes, so
that's a very handy, like to steal and
always acknowledge your debt to J.D. Crowe
for that, so one more time up to speed.
All right, hope you enjoy that as much as
I'm enjoying showing it to you.
Roving Gambler, break two
Okay, that's one of the backups that,
that JD Crow does on Roaming Gambler, on
Lefty's Old Guitar on that album for
Rounder ,which came out two or three years
Transcribing backup is is always a little
bit of a tricky thing,
because sometimes, it's just what it
sounds like, the backup.
And so, because it's a JD Crow album,
the backup tends to be a little bit
farther forward in the mix, but
it's sometimes a little hard to hear a
note or two here or there.
So, I'm pretty confident about most of
What happens at the very end of the break
there, the, I'm sorry,
the very end of the, the vocal, JD, I'm
pretty sure, starts singing on the trio.
So, he stops playing, or he's just playing
very lightly.
I know, having seen him a bunch of times,
he sometimes just won't even play,
which creates a nice variation from a lot
of licks to just nothing, and
then back to playing again.
So, the very, the first nine measures are
JD's playing, and
the rest of it, the other five measures,
measures ten through 14, are just
a hypothetical backup that I did to just
fill it out, so you have a whole thing.
Unless you're singing on the trio for this
Then you can stop playing, too.
So, here's the JD stuff.
And you'll notice, it's, and
just listening to it, as I just played it
there, it's very minimalist.
Much less in the way of hammer ons, pull
offs and slides.
A lot of just open G
Forward rolls, that sort of thing,
forward backward rolls, and no melody
You're just trying to stay out of the way,
and this is some low backup.
This is a great example of low backup.
So, your quarter note, slide,
forward roll, and you're just forward
rolling across the measure
The measure two even,
even though you're continuing the forward
roll, measure two is a forward,
backward roll.
Now, measure, four and five.
Those two measures are the same
as measures one and two.
Up to the C chord on measure seven.
So, on measure seven.
This is an excellent opportunity to
press my idea, the idea, when you're
playing a C chord,
don't use the middle finger on the first
string, even if it's just those two notes.
Even though, many times, if you're just
playing a C chord,
you can get away with that.
In a case like this, and I always tell
people, well, there are times when you'll
wanna use your middle finger, and this is
an exact case in point.
you want that middle free, to go,
to go,you're hitting that quarter on the
second string than middle,
Middle, so you're moving from the you go
to the third string, and
then move over to the fourth string.
Now, if you had your middle finger here,
and had to use your ring finger.
It's very awkward, and
you put a lot of pressure on your wrist
So, that's why I say, rather than having
two different ways of playing a C chord,
and having to figure out which one you
want, if you always use the index and
ring, then your middle is always free to
do this if it needs to be,
which in this case it does.
So, he has an open first string there,
which is a very pretty sound.
And then this lick again.
And more G noise and
actually this is my G noise.
This is where I kick in with my
hypothetical JD backup,
where I use this again, for measures one
and two.
the first measures one through nine are
pure JD.
So, it's a great example.
So, let me play the whole thing slowly,
and then up the tempo
Okay, one more time up the tempo.
All great stuff.
Roaving Gambler, that's the first backup.
All right.
There is the second back up from Lefty's
Old Guitar, J.D. Crowe.
Amazing back up, taking some Scruggsy
kinda licks.
Again, and this is something that Earl
would do a lot, start up the neck and
then mid-way through the back up, go down
the neck or vice versa.
In this case, the vice versified side of
things, where J.D. starts down the neck
And then he slides up and
he uses the middle finger, I would dare
say, in the left hand.
And as soon as you do this,
move away from the bridge.
[SOUND] So you have that sweeter sound up
here and
everything gets a little more watery and
[SOUND] So you have the hardest tacks
first few measures.
[SOUND] First couple measures.
this is a case where I'm not 100% sure.
This is all I can hear from him is, are
these notes.
He might be hitting another note or two
but this works.
Just that one measure, measure three.
So it's one and two and.
[SOUND] So he's holding that, the and of
[SOUND] One and.
And then hits it on the upbeat of two.
So one and two and one and two.
[SOUND] And he's working out of a D
G chord up here between the seventh and
ninth frets.
And then you bring down
the first three strings here, fully
playing with a pinky and,
and an index on the first and third
strings respectively.
And bring the ring down on the ninth fret
of the third string.
And instead of going.
Again, he's offsetting it by one fifth
string And as he hits the fourth string.
[SOUND] It's two alternating thumb rolls.
Thumb index thumb middle thumb index
On that fourth string slide nine down to
the fifth fret.
[SOUND] And again, my neck is away from
the bridge a little bit.
And as you come down to the five,
you had the pinky on the fifth fret of the
first string.
[SOUND] And you're sort of working out of
the F position G down here, but
you're not actually.
You don't actually have to hit the second
or third strings.
You don't have to finger those on the left
[SOUND] And now this next lick is a
classic Earl lick and
I wanted to use this back-up to get this
into the curriculum here.
[SOUND] Cuz it's such a great lick.
And he's going up to C there.
So you start,
you're basically in your F position G with
the ring and pinkie.
So quarter note and
then slide the ring up and as you slide up
to the ninth fret.
Add the pinky on the ninth fret
of the first string.
[SOUND] Now, you're in your G position G,
so you have seven and
nine index [SOUND] And bring the ring over
to the ninth fret of the third string.
Hit the second string
which is at the eighth fret.
now you anticipate the down beat by one
note, one eighth note.
And I use the pinky cuz.
Cuz the pinky's on the ninth fret of
the first string.
And you just
nail that twelfth fret on the first string
on the, on the note before the downbeat.
[SOUND] So there's like an eighth note,
tied note.
And then as I'm sliding up.
My middles just sitting there on
the eleventh fret of the third string.
[SOUND] And then choke with the middle
[SOUND] Just kind of half step or almost a
half step.
then you go back for the D position here
with the first three strings.
And just kind of get off it a little bit,
cuz you gotta get up into a C chord here.
So it's the F position C chord.
[SOUND] Not much going on there, just
quarter note,
first string forward roll, third open
As he gets ready for the next position.
And this is kinda that Sally Good and
Sally Johnson position that Earl does all
over the place and Cumberland Gap,
places like that.
So the ring is on the ninth fret of
the first, index is on eight fret of the
[SOUND] Hit the second string.
[SOUND] Choke a little bit with the
eleventh fret of the second string with
the pinky, if you can do that without too
much trouble.
[SOUND] Set fifth, second,
it's an alternating thumb at the end of
this measure, the eighth measure.
Thumb index, thumb middle.
As you hit that third string, I wrote nine
to zero.
[SOUND] I'm not quite sure how best to
annotate this, I have not for years.
[SOUND] Basically, you're just throwing
the lick away.
[SOUND] You're not literally going all the
way down to zero you might as well be,
just kind of letting go.
And hit the open third string.
And at that point, I kick into the same
way I ended the first backup,
because that, that's where J.D. starts
singing again, singing on the trio.
So from here.
So slowly
the back up is.
I had a little sloppy moment in there, but
I think you get the idea.
Now I'll up the tempo.
All right.
And again,
there are various licks you can just lift
out of here most importantly being.
Cuz there are,
there's certain recordings of Earl from
the 50s where he's just doing that.
He might have just learned that lick.
Just figured that out decided he would
strum it all over the place.
So that's a really good one to throw out
for back up.
All right.
There is the second back up for Roving
Gambler, so that's for
discreet and I think fascinating lessons.
Not cuz what I said was fascinating as
much, because what J.D.
Croww played was fascinating.
It's always fascinating to check out J.D.
So if you don't own any JD music, go out
and get some.
Particularly, the first album he did for
Rounder Records, which is called J.D.
Crowe in the New South.
He got Ricky Skaggs, Antonio Rice on there
and Jerry Douglas.
And also he recorded with Jimmy Martin
when he was like 17 years old or
Some, some of J.D. Crowe's best material
has J.D.
I'm sorry, Jimmy Martin's best material
has J.D. Crowe on Banjo.
So check out J.D.