Essential Bluegrass Banjo Intros and Endings

By Bill Evans

These intro and ending licks are used by bluegrass banjo players all over the world to start solos and end songs. The intro licks are grouped according to which string plays the melody note on the first beat of the measure played after the intro measure, with examples of bluegrass songs where these intros are used.

Just as there are established ways to begin tunes, banjo players love to call upon classic ending licks for both vocal tunes and instrumentals. The most important ending licks in bluegrass banjo are right here, too, including the well-loved “Shave and a Haircut, Two Bits” ending lick. Enjoy!

Try using the following intro licks for “Sitting on Top of the World,” “On and On,” and “Shenandoah Valley Breakdown,” among many others where the melody begins on the first string D.

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The following intro licks can be used on everything from “Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms” and “Your Love Is Like a Flower” to “Earl’s Breakdown,” or for any song where the melody begins on the second-string B.

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Many bluegrass songs begin on the open third-string G. You can use the following intros for songs such as “Molly and Tenbrooks,” “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” and “Fireball Mail.”

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The following intro licks work for songs such as “I Saw the Light,” “Long Journey Home,” and “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down, ” or on any occasion when the melody begins on the fourth-string D.

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The first ending lick below is used at the end of many vocal tunes, while the second ending lick can bring just about any instrumental to a rousing conclusion.

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Banjo players will end many instrumentals with a double-tag ending. With this kind of ending, you play two licks in a row, one right after the other. The following lick is the most frequently played double-tag ending.

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