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Old Time Fingerpicking
Classic Style Banjo
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Banjo Lessons: “Onion Rag”

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All right, that is the onion rag, a
Bermuda essence.
And I'm almost tearing just to say those
It was written by a gentlemen named E.G.,
I believe it's pronounced weid, W-E-I-D,
and this states from right around the turn
of the last century in 1900.
And it's a fabulous example of the classic
style of banjo playing which featured,
again, like classical music, rags, marches
and that sort of thing.
And these kinds of tunes were played on
The very first American recordings of any
sort, some of the very first I should say,
feature the banjo with orchestras and
piano, and sometimes a second banjo.
The music, parts would be written out.
Often these folios would come with music
the first banjo part, which was what I
just played.
And then I'm not sure in this case cuz I
just have this one sheet, but often
they would come with piano accompaniment
or a second banjo part for accompaniment.
But I think this tune sounds, stands very
nicely on its own.
And it has an introduction, an A section,
and a B section.
And I will break this down into the
individual parts.
And as with many of these tunes, a lot of
the action is in the right hand.
Although some of these do get a little
involved with the left hand also.
In this case just moderately involved.
So, let's take the introduction first.
Now I have to say,
in this particular case, there are no
right hand indications, so
I'm just using what feels good to me.
And you can tamper with these a little bit
to make it feel right for you.
For some of the music from this time of
banjo, this era of banjo playing.
There will be sometimes I would have an X
for the thumb, a little dot for
the index, and two dots for the middle
And that would be under the note.
So that was how you could tell what the
right hand fingering was but
as I say in this case, there is no finger
if you haven't already looked at one of
the clog tunes, it's also in here.
Let me just, what's that?
If you've checked out rattling clog, also
in this section you'll notice that there's
a lot of middle and index back and forth.
Which is the way they did a lot of the
first string action
when you're hitting duplicate notes on the
first string.
So I'm doing that with a two note lead and
it's one and two and.
And I'm going index and middle there,
notice that in the right hand fingerings.
And then.
just doubling the middle there because you
have a tied note which means the first
the note lasts for the length of two
So you're going.
Sorry, once again.
You don't hit it twice.
It's just once.
And here for
some reason I'm going thumb, thumb, index.
It's doubling the thumb, which is a no no,
but it just feels stronger that way.
So that's what I'm doing.
And then another.
Another held note, tied note.
Index, thumb,
hit that open third with the index and the
And then.
Those are the last two measures.
So I'm hitting the thumb, and middle, and
then index middle.
then you're kind of coming up from one
fret below the D seventh so
I have the middle on the first fret of the
third string.
To a D seventh.
And that's another tied note so it's one,
two, one, two, or one and two and.
So the whole beginning is-
So for the A section I'll play this one
more time.
Okay, so, you're starting just.
Playing a G chord on the first, second,
and fifth strings, G, B, D.
then you have the tied note between that
Right there.
So it's one and, one and two and one and
two and, one and.
One and two and say it that way.
One and two, so you're not actually
hitting the two,
you're going one and two and, and you pull
off on the first string.
A lot of pull-offs and hammer-ons in these
And I'm using the ring to pull-off.
You could use the middle, whatever works
for you.
the timing gets a little syncopated
because it is a rag, so you got.
Here are more hammer-ons.
It's a zero to two hammer-on.
these are all even eighth notes that I'm
hammering on to the middle finger.
Zero, two, zero.
So, it's zero, two, open second, open
third, hammer on, then back to that.
you want to hammer on fairly strongly so
that the note you're hammering on to.
Sounds as strong as the note you're
hitting initially.
So then you go to the E minor chord.
you hit the first second and fourth and
then the first three string.
One and two and, one and two and.
And two and.
[SOUND] And this is a repeat of what
you've already done at the first beginning
first measure or two.
There's that hammer on.
[SOUND] Now, bar the first three string,
first three strings at the second fret.
[SOUND] First, [NOISE] first second and
third strings from the second fret.
So you're pressing down on an A chord.
Hit the third string.
[SOUND] And then [NOISE] add the pinky on
the fifth fret of the first string.
[SOUND] Which is a little bit of a stretch
and I have my thumb behind the neck to
grab that, cuz it would be too awkward to
play it with the thumb up here.
So behind the neck.
To a D seventh.
And it's the same rhythm you
had at the beginning.
And here we.
Open second.
the pinky just goes down one fret to the
fourth fret of the first string.
[SOUND] Quarter note.
So, [NOISE] you have the pinky,
I have the pinky.
[SOUND] Index.
[SOUND] And middle.
[SOUND] That's the fingering.
[SOUND] It's a little bit of a grab.
[SOUND] And then the pinky on the fourth
fret of the fourth string.
[SOUND] Middle on the second fret of the
[SOUND] Open fourth.
[SOUND] I'm just going down and
I'm using the thumb [NOISE] that lead down
in the right hand.
[SOUND] And then, you've already had this,
[NOISE] it's repeating.
E minor again.
this, he just recycles the introduction
here from the last part of the A part.
You've already done this.
Now this is the first ending.
Which is the same as the beginning.
[SOUND] And now the second, then you play,
go back to the beginning of the A part and
you play the entire thing over again.
Skip the first ending and go to the second
ending and you'll have.
And you have the D seventh [NOISE] and
then the first, second and fifth strings
are open.
And then you go into the B section.
Now for the B section, you start with a D
here's how you're gonna do this, you're
gonna do the D seventh.
[SOUND] Pinky.
[SOUND] Index.
[SOUND] And middle.
[SOUND] Fourth fret of the first.
[SOUND] First fret of the seconds.
[SOUND] Second fret of the third.
I find myself going middle, middle.
But let's do [NOISE] index.
[SOUND] Middle.
[SOUND] And now, you're gonna go.
[SOUND] This is a little chromatic thing.
There's a lot of chromaticism in these
turn of the century tunes.
Make that a ring to the index in
the right, in the left hand.
then bring the ring over to the second
fret of the third string.
[SOUND] And the middle on the second fret
of the fourth string for
the beginning of the second measure of
part B.
I had to think about this a little bit
to finger the best way to figure out, the
best way to finger that, but
I think that's the best way to do it.
you're basically playing it an A minor
chord there.
[SOUND] So, [NOISE] and then go to the D
seventh again.
Pinky on the fourth fret of the fourth.
[SOUND] Index on the first fret of the
And then.
And I'm going thumb.
[SOUND] Index.
[SOUND] Thumb.
[SOUND] Middle.
[SOUND] Middle.
[SOUND] Thumb.
[SOUND] Index.
[SOUND] The beginning of that next
Another tied note to give it
that syncopation.
And then you can go thumb.
[SOUND] Middle.
[SOUND] Thumb.
[SOUND] Middle.
[SOUND] Thumb.
[SOUND] Middle.
[SOUND] And then I use the ring here.
[NOISE] To the ring and then middle,
[NOISE] ring.
[SOUND] With a pinch on the first string.
[SOUND] I'm just doing straight single
string as if it were Don Reno.
[SOUND] Thumb.
[SOUND] Index.
[SOUND] Thumb.
[SOUND] Index.
[SOUND] Thumb.
[SOUND] And then.
[MUSIC] So. [SOUND] Thumb.
[SOUND] Middle.
[SOUND] Index.
[SOUND] Middle.
[SOUND] Thumb.
[SOUND] Pinch on the first two strings,
the second fret with the index.
And then you do this again, a repeat.
Ring, index, ring, middle.
And that's the left hand.
And then let's see.
Now it's a little different here.
You go to the open first,
[NOISE] second fret of the second.
[SOUND] Double the middle, cuz they're
quarter notes and you can do.
When I get that second fret of the second
[SOUND] I like bending it a little bit,
don't ask me why.
You don't have to.
You could just go, [NOISE] but I kinda
like that tension it creates.
[SOUND] Cuz you're bending kind of into
that open first string.
And then you play an E chord,
[NOISE] which is like your C chord but
with the index over one string so
the ring is on the second fret of the
first string.
[SOUND] The index is on the first fret of
the third string.
You don't
need to fret the second fret of the fourth
string, which would complete the E chord.
So, because you're not gonna play that
You get notes that timing
with a timed note.
And then here it is again.
Single string.
[SOUND] The thumb.
[SOUND] Index.
[SOUND] Thumb.
[SOUND] Middle.
[SOUND] Index.
[SOUND] Thumb.
[SOUND] So you start, start with just the
middle down.
[SOUND] Add the index.
[SOUND] And as soon as you get to that
second fret of the first string,
keep that index down.
[SOUND] And then, [NOISE] then you repeat
And then ending is [NOISE] second ending,
I'm sorry is.
[NOISE] That is the whole tune.
That's the entire Onion Rag, A Bermuda
So I'm gonna play this whole thing one
more time for you.
One and two.