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John Henry banjo tabs

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  • Tablatures

    Scruggs Style

    Earl Scruggs

    This is the Earl Scruggs arrangement off of "Foggy Mountain Banjo" in D tuning. Check out the original recording, as it's a must-listen for all bluegrass banjo players.

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  • Bluesy Style

    Earl Scruggs

    This version of John Henry features some tasteful bluesy playing mixed in with classic Earl Scruggs licks. Bluesy licks lay out really well in D tuning!

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  • Backup

    Earl Scruggs

    This arrangement of John Henry demonstrates classic down-the-neck Scruggs playing. Imagine you're backing up a vocalist or fiddle player.

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  • Licks

    Backup #7 (D tuning)

    Backup Lick

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  • Backup #4 (D tuning)

    Backup Lick

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  • Backup #5 (D tuning)

    Backup Lick

    This lick is a good one to use when playing backup in a D tuning song such as Reuben or John Henry.

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  • Backup #3 (D Tuning)

    Backup Lick

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  • Bluesy #3 (D tuning)

    Fill Lick

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  • Bluesy #4 (D tuning)

    Fill Lick

    This is a bluesy lick that will challenge your right hand because of it's funky syncopation.

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  • Jazz #1 (D tuning)

    Fill Lick

    This one is in D tuning. A descending chromatic walk-down on the 3rd string makes this lick especially cool! This works well over a V chord leading to a I.

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  • Scruggs #6 (D Tuning)

    Fill Lick

    This is another way to play an A7 chord in D tuning to lead you to a I chord.

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  • Single String #2 (D tuning)

    Fill Lick

    This snazzy single string lick imitates a fiddle or mandolin style fill.

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More about John Henry

John Henry is an African American folk hero who is said to have served as a "Steel-driving man"— a man charged with hammering a steel drill through rocks to make holes for explosives. His services were usually employed in the building of railway tunnels. According to tradition, in a battle against a steam-powered rock digging device, John Henry's strength as a steel-driver was calculated, a race he earned just to die in triumph with a hammer in hand as his heart gave out of pain. John Henry's story is told in a traditional folk song which appears in many forms and has been the focus of many tales, works, films, and novels. Many sites have been proposed as the host of the competition, including Big Bend Tunnel in West Virginia, Lewis Tunnel in Maryland, and the Coosa Mountain Tunnel in Alabama. Sociologist Guy B. Johnson researched John Henry's myth in the late 1920s. He claimed that John Henry may have served on the Big Bend Tunnel of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, but that "one can consider an argument either for or against it." Many iterations of the song refer to the place of the death of John Henry as "The Big Bend Tunnel on the C. & O." Johnson visited the area in 1927 and found a man who said he saw it.

Here on Tunefox you’ll find 3 versions of John Henry for banjo. The Scruggs style tablature will teach you how to play slides, hammer-ons and pull-offs. Bluesy arrangement of John Henry and the third variation of this song is a forward roll based-backup arrangement.

Each Tunefox arrangement teaches you how to create your own solos by using a feature called the Lick Switcher. The Lick Switcher features different style licks such as Scruggs, Melodic, or Bluesy and you can swap out measures in John Henry to learn about improvisation and creating arrangements. To use the Lick Switcher, click on the text "Original Measure" above certain measures in the song. Then select the lick you'd like to insert into the song. You can also click on "Shuffle Licks" at the bottom of the page to see a fully new version of the tablature.

You'll also find some useful tools which will help you to learn how to play John Henry on banjo. For example, you can use the "Hide Notes" feature, which will hide some notes for you so you can learn parts of the melody by ear. The "Memory train" tool will progressively hide notes each time you play through a section or the entirety of a song. Take your speed to the next level with the "Speed Up" feature. This tool will automatically increase playback speed each time you loop the song.

Using backing tracks for practice should be an essential part of every musician’s routine. With Tunefox, you can practice John Henry as fast or as slow as you want and mix the volume of the tracks with the instrument to your liking. There’s also a metronome so you can always feel the pulse of the song with or without the band track playing along.

When you’ve finished creating your arrangement of John Henry, export your song arrangement to PDF file. This feature is for members of Tunefox, only.

John Henry lyrics

Traditional

John Henry was a little bitty boy,
No bigger than the palm of your hand.
And his Papa cried out with a lonesome farewell,
Son gonna be a steel driving man.
Son gonna be a steel driving man.

John Henry went upon the mountain,
Looked down on the other side.
Oh the mountain was so tall, John Henry watched it fall.
Laid down his hammer and he cried.
Lord, Lord, laid down his hammer and cried.

John Henry had a pretty little wife,
Her name was Liza Jane.
John Henry took sick, had to go to bed,
John draw steel like a man.

John Henry said to his Captain,
I want to go to bed.
Fix me a pallet, I wanna lay down,
But let it roll in my head,
Lord, Lord, let it roll in my head.