March-April 2012

Hobart Smith’s Last Chance:

Old Time Bang House

By David Bragger

Hobart_SmithFor several years now, I’ve created numerous FolkWorks fiddle lesson videos. They showcase some very classic tunes, as well as some extremely obscure and eccentric ones. The idea was to present these tunes with bowing suggestions and instruction, since “bowing” remains the most elusive component of old-time fiddling. Throughout this endeavor I’ve received many requests for banjo tutorials as well. Today will be the first public offering of a clawhammer banjo lesson. Thus, the “Old Time Bang House” is now open for 5-string pleasure seekers!

For this issue, I’ve decide to teach a classic instrumental banjo piece from Virginia old-time legend Hobart Smith. It is named Last Chance. It’s one of my favorites and certainly an enduring favorite among many banjo plucksters. It’s a tune that has been interpreted so many ways recently, that it seems to function more as a template rather than the classic tune played with Hobart’s distinctive and feverish approach. Many modern interpretations of the tune seem to feature serious tempo decreases, extra “blue” notes, missing beats, ample “drop-thumbs,” overt syncopations, and restructuring of its melodic form. The tune really lends itself to variation. In fact it almost begs for it. However, for this lesson I’d like to offer the banjo picker a “chance” to learn the tune in a way that captures the desperate, excited spirit of Hobart’s playing. In fact, I’ve even resisted my urge to decorate the tune with numerous “drop-thumbs” so as to provide a very honest, straight ahead approach to learning the tune in the spirit of Hobart. At the end of the instructional video, I will provide some “drop-thumb” options. As usual, I will include two videos. One will simply be an up tempo performance without excessive variations. The second video will break it down into smaller pieces with instruction. Enjoy!

Last Chance—Clawhammer Banjo Lesson 1/2
Last Chance—Clawhammer Banjo Lesson 2/2

David Bragger is a Los Angeles-based instructor and player of old time fiddle and banjo music. He also photographs, films, and collects the lore of traditional artists, from puppeteers in Myanmar to fiddlers of Appalachia


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