Fingerstyle Banjo Song and Tab of the Week: “Nine Pound Hammer”

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What’s the purpose of music?

Entertainment? That’s probably the word that comes to mind for most in these times. Music is big business.

But throughout the course of human history, music has been so much more than that. In fact, given the overwhelming evidence that we’re all wired to make music, it’s likely been critical to our success as a species.

We use it to connect with each other, share values, tell stories, spread news, coordinate behaviors – essential functions for the most social animals on planet earth.

We also use music to ease suffering.

For instance, put a group of humans together to perform monotonous, repetitive, exhausting work, and before long they’ll be chanting chants and singing songs. A little something to distract the mind, share the struggle, and soothe the soul.

In the post war South, prisoners, usually African Americans, were often placed in such conditions, in the forced labor gangs working in mines, railroad camps, brickyards, turpentine farms – basically, if the work was tedious and tiresome, it was just right for the chain gang.

From that sprang a rich well of work songs, some of which were thankfully captured for posterity, working their way into the folk song catalog (check out this amazing recording from the Alan Lomax archives of prisoners in the Mississippi Penitentiary singing the song “Rosie”)

Today’s song, “Nine Pound Hammer,” was originally titled “Take This Hammer,” and was part of a collection of “hammer songs.”

Scores of verses have likely been sung to its melody. Some have been preserved, probably more have evaporated into the ether.

But the gist usually endures – the song’s protagonist has announced his bold decision to defy his captain’s authority and quit the gang, a fantasy likely shared by all who used to sing it. References to the most world’s most famous hammer-wielding folk hero, John Henry, are often included.

(NOTE: For Breakthrough Banjo members, the “Playing & Singing” video tutorial for this song is now available in the course. Click here for the singing and playing workshop archive page.)


gDGBD tuning, Brainjo level 3 (3 finger banjo)

Nine pound hammer 3 finger banjo tab

Nine pound hammer 3 finger banjo tab




Recent Banjo Songs and Tabs of the Week:

Notes on the Tab

For more on how to read the tab, click here for the How To Read Banjo Tabs article.