10 Chord Progressions to Jam Instrumentals You Need to Know

By Bill Evans

Musicians take turns suggesting tunes to play in bluegrass jam sessions. Tunes like “Cripple Creek,” “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” and “Fireball Mail” are high on the list of banjo players’ jam-session favorites, but fiddlers and mandolin players enjoy playing a different set of tunes that can sometimes be challenging for even experienced banjo players to play well.

If you’re at home playing the chord progressions to these more difficult tunes, you can play along at the jam and also lay the groundwork for working up your own solos. Here are the chord progressions to the ten most often played of these somewhat unfriendly-to-banjo jam instrumentals.

Make sure that for every two or three of these tunes you’re forced to play in your next jam that you’re able to expose your fiddlers and mandolin players to one of your more banjo-oriented favorites.

These chord progressions are all in 4/4 time with “/” marks separating one measure from the next. When two chords appear in one measure, they’re played for a half-measure each. For those tunes in the key of A, the chord progressions for the banjo are given in the key of G. Banjo players typically use their capos at the second fret to play in the key of A, using the playing techniques they’re more comfortable playing in the key of G.

  • “Arkansas Traveler” (key of D)

    ||: D / D / A / A / D / D / D / A D :||

    ||: D G /D A /D G / D A / D G / D A / D / A D :||

  • “Bill Cheatum” (key of A, capo second fret)

    ||: G / G / C / C / G / G / G C / D G :||

    ||: G C /D G / G C /G D /G C /D G /G / D G :||

  • “Cherokee Shuffle” (key of A, capo second fret)

    ||: G / G / G / Em / C / G / D / G :||

    ||: C / G / C / G / C / G / G / Em / D / G :||

  • “Gold Rush” (key of A, capo second fret)

    ||: G / G / G / G / G / G / G / D G :||

    ||: G / C G / G / G / G / C G / G D / G :||

  • “Ragtime Annie” (key of D)

    ||: D / D / D / A / A / A / A / D :||

    D / D / D / G / A / A / A / D

    D / D / D / G / G / D / A / D

  • “Red Haired Boy” (key of A, capo second fret)

    ||: G / G C / G / F / G / G C / G / D G :||

    ||: F / C / G / F / G / G C / G / D G :||

  • “St. Anne’s Reel” (key of D)

    ||: D / D / G / D / D / D / G A / D :||

    ||: D / Em / A / D / D or Bm / Em / A / D :||

  • “Soldier’s Joy” (key of D)

    ||: D / D / D / A / D / D / D A / D :||

    ||: D / G / D / A / D / G / D A / D :||

  • “Turkey in the Straw” (key of G)

    ||: G / G / G / D / G / G / G / D G :||

    ||: G / G / C / C / G / G D / G / D G :||

  • “Whiskey Before Breakfast” (key of D)

    ||: D / D / G D / A / D / D / G D / A D :||

    ||: D / D / Em / A / D A / G D / G D / A D :||