Fingerstyle Banjo Song of the Week: “Pretty Polly”

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Banjos and murder ballads go together like peas and carrots.

The murder described in this week’s song, Pretty Polly, has been traced back to a story, known as “The Gosport Tragedy,” that was originally published in the 18th century, and based on real events. Our protagonists actual name was Molly.

In the early 20th century, Polly was reimagined as a banjo song in the states, and has remained a favorite of fans of the five. B.F. Shelton, Dock Boggs, Hobart Smith, Stringbean, and Ralph Stanley have all recorded their own distinctive version.

It’s one that’s equally beloved by frailers and fingerpickers, which is one reason I’ve included both up and down-picked breaks in this version (click here if you’d like the clawhammer tab).

As demonstrated in the video, the fingerstyle solos are played in both the 2 finger (“thumb-lead”) and 3 finger styles, which are tabbed below.

(RELATED: If you’d like to learn 2 and 3 finger style banjo, click here to check out the Brainjo course for Fingerstyle Banjo).

Pretty Polly

gDGBD tuning, 3 finger banjo (Brainjo level 3)

Pretty Polly 3 finger banjo tab

Pretty Polly

gDGBD tuning, 2 finger thumb lead

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