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Bluegrass Banjo Lesson: Tag Endings


At its foundation, bluegrass is a primarily improvised music. No two performances are ever alike, no two solos from a performer are ever identical, and that is an intentional, defining characteristic of the bluegrass aesthetic.


As a byproduct of bluegrass’ improvised nature, clear lines of communication between musicians are essential while performing. Communication between musicians can be driven by eye contact, come in the form of visual cues, or, in many cases, come in the form of melodic and musical cues as well.


One of the most common contexts in which bluegrass musicians use musical cues to communicate with one another is at the end of a song. A short, familiar melodic phrase, commonly referred to as a tag ending, is played by one of the performers and conveys to each member of the ensemble that the tune is preparing to come to an end. This allows the group to close out the tune as a cohesive, aligned unit.


In this online banjo lesson, Grammy Award-winning banjoist and ArtistWorks master bluegrass instructor, Alison Brown, explains the concept of the tag ending and teaches three common tag endings that you can incorporate into your next bluegrass jam session. While Alison does teach how to play these endings on the banjo, these tags can be applied to any instrument. This lesson is helpful for any aspiring ‘grasser, regardless of your preferred instrument.


LEARN MORE: Want to learn how to play bluegrass banjo from a master musician like Alison Brown? Try some free online banjo lessons now!


“In bluegrass music, musicians tend to use the ‘shave and a haircut, two bits’ ending,” Alison explains. “In this lesson, I’m going to show you a few simple tag endings that you can use below the fifth fret to achieve the same goal.”


What is a tag ending?

To signify the ending of a song, many musicians will play a specific series of notes that are referred to as a “tag.” The phrases that make up these “tags” are all deeply ingrained in the bluegrass musical vocabulary, and are instantly recognizable to both seasoned bluegrass musicians and listeners alike. One very common tag ending is the melodic line that accompanies the old phrase, “shave and a haircut, two bits.”


“These three tag endings are a great way to wave the flag and let your fellow musicians know that the tune is coming to a close at any jam session,” explains Alison. “As soon as you dive into one of these tags, people will know you’re ‘taking the horse to the barn,’ as they say.”


To learn more about tag endings and how to begin implementing them into your next jam session, dive into this online banjo lesson from Alison Brown:


Tag Endings with Alison Brown:




Have you always wanted to learn how to play bluegrass banjo? Through our comprehensive banjo lessons online and Video Exchange Learning platform here at ArtistWorks, you can learn from internationally renowned players, like Alison Brown, and get personal feedback on your playing.


Alison's course starts with the basics and teaches everything from beginner banjo to advanced performance techniques, classic bluegrass tunes, and beyond. So, whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or advanced player, all levels are welcome and all students will grow and improve their skills as banjoists and musicians.


Sample some free music lessons here and see what makes ArtistWorks courses some of the best online music lessons around!



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