Saturday, August 11, 2012

Trader Boatman

Here is a neat fiddle/banjo old-time tune that I first learned to play on my banjo. It's a fairly simple tune but there's something satisfying about it that makes it real fun to play. It has an easy going feel that evokes drifting down a river on a boat, steered by the boatman, perhaps he is dancing on the deck to the fiddler's playing...
Here is where I first heard it, played beautifully on a deep fretless banjo... in THIS Youtube clip. The tune Trader Boatman comes from the playing of an old Virginia fiddler named Pug Allen, who learned it from his father long before. HERE Is another fine version played by Bill Boyer. And HERE is a very energetic version played by Mike Seeger and Paul Brown on their CD. HERE is some additional background information on the tune, should you care to learn more.
This tune is played in an A,A,B,B pattern- the first part played twice, followed by the second part played twice. DAA tuning for the dulcimer, ionian mode in the key of D. Trader Boatman has a few fun hammer-ons and pull-offs you can try with your noter tip. Look at my video on playing "Sugar Hill" to practice the hammer-on with a noter. A pull-off with a noter is simply lifting the noter off the melody string by pulling it towards you and down, creating a bit of a snap as the noter pulls off the string. It's not too hard really! If you can't get a snappy pull-off, then don't worry for now- just lift the noter up after striking the first note of the two-note pull-off. The second note will sound by itself without another right hand strum if you lift up the noter quickly after playing the first note of the pull-off. If there is a part that seems difficult just play that part over and over slowly until it becomes easier for you, and soon the whole thing will come together.
Don't rush it- take the cue from the banjo players and have fun with this easy rolling tune. Maybe you are lucky enough to know a banjo player who might like to play this together with you in a dulcimer and banjo duet! 


  1. I'm still in love with this tune and play it most days. Thanks again for taking the time to transcribe it for us dulcimer players!!

  2. Cool tune. My husband has new banjammer coming, and I know he will want to try this one. This is a great blog. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

  3. As I have neuropathy in my hand I can't play fingering the frets. I've
    been thinking about a noter style. So I have a question, does the
    dulcimer have to be tuned, to what? Also is there tabs for noter style
    playing? The other 2 strings have notes on them to. Thanks- Bill

  4. Hi Anonymous, thanks for your comment!
    Yes the dulcimer must be tuned in order to play it...otherwise it will sound pretty bad. I would suggest tuning the bass string to low D, and all the other strings to the A note that is several steps higher than that, as the most basic tuning.
    You are already commenting here in my NoterDrone BLOG, so look at the column on the right where the posts are sorted not only by date, but by subject matter. The earliest posts tend to have the most info for the very newest beginner, so try first reading the posts from 2009. There are over 30 noter style TABS on my blog here, all free, so if you click to sort posts by "noter-drone TAB" from the right hand coloumn, you'll see all the posts with Tab in them. Cheers!