D by ear: Two lessons

Here’s part of my quest to get more people to learn tunes by ear.

Chords will help you find the melody
First, here are the three chords you need for most old-time tunes in D, shown with two positions each. When you know these chords, you can quickly find the melody notes for just about any D tune you’re likely to hear at a jam.

Use the chord shapes to learn a new tune
Once you know the chord positions, use them to learn “Toads in the Woodpile,” an original yet reassuringly formulaic D tune.

5 Responses to “D by ear: Two lessons”

  1. 1 Merit September 29, 2008 at 6:53 pm

    This was fantastic and super helpful. Thank you for taking the time to make this easier for us all.

  2. 2 rob October 13, 2008 at 12:25 pm

    Holy cow, that was fun! Thank you so much.

  3. 3 Joe Harden February 7, 2010 at 2:07 pm


    Love your song Toads in the Woodpile. I am a beginning novice to clawhammer banjo. I have been a closet bluegrass player for years although have not progressed far.I have found that I love Old Time music and the clawhammer banjo. Have started playing with an old time jam every week. I have always played using tab. I read it well. Playing at the old time jam I need to play by ear. Getting better but still need the visual.

    I have been trying to learn Toads in the Woodpile but I am stuck. I find I long to see your right hand work and find I need the visual (tab) to get over the hump. Do you have tab written for the song?



  4. 4 Cathy February 7, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    Hi Joe,

    I’m glad you like the tune. Unfortunately, my time is really limited these days, so I won’t be writing tab for the tune anytime soon. In the meantime, you might try keeping your right-hand playing just a basic bum-ditty as you figure out the basics of the tune, then start dropping your thumb to get the in-between notes.

  5. 5 bodhi47 August 15, 2011 at 6:49 am

    I’ve just started to learn the banjo. while most of this stuff is beyond me right now it’s awesome that it will be there when I am ready for it. It’s not learning banjo per se as it is just general musicianship. It must have been a load of work to put all this up. Thanks for all your efforts.

Comments are currently closed.

How to use this site

The most recent tune appears at the top of the blog page. To download an MP3: right-click the MP3 link; choose "Save Link As." Learn more-->

%d bloggers like this: