Back Up Strategies
Part 1: Basic Approach
Proper accompaniment studies are often overlooked by novice and intermediate banjo players.

Learning the subtleties involved in masterfully “backing up” another instrument or vocalist is an art form that deserves analysis and discussion.

In this two part lesson, you’ll be exposed to a variety of approaches to back up playing. We start here, in part one, with a basic approach utilizing:

  • The Boom Chick A Strum
  • Alternating Boom Notes
  • Connector Licks
  • Connector Variations
I’ll acquaint you with each element of this basic back up approach, then we’ll run some exercises before putting it all together in a song.


 Anatomy of a Basic Basic Back Up Approach

The “Boom Chick A” Strum

As you should know by now, I refer to the basic clawhammer strum as a“Boom Chick A” strum. This basic right hand rhythm pattern will be the foundation of your basic back up playing.

Alternating Boom Notes

Alternating which strings you target for your “Boom” notes is the first step in creating interesting and intentional chord accompaniment.

Connector Licks

The next step is to add some very short melodic statements as a sort of connective tissue between chords. The most common approach is to use three quarter notes (Boom notes) in a row with the third note in the series landing on the first beat of the new chord.

Connector Variations

Finally, the last step is to add variation to the connector licks using the knockdown and the weaving approach.


Let’s take a look at these ideas in action using a couple of etudes:

Basic Back Up Etude #1Uses the first three elements: boom chick a strum, alternating boom notes, and connector licks.


Basic Back Up Etude #2 Adds the knockdown and weaving variations to the mix.


Your Assignment for the Day! Part 1

  • Spend at least fifteen minutes studying and playing thru the two Basic Back Up Etudes.
  • Pay close attention to how the various “back up elements” are used in the exercises.
  • Complete this portion of your assignment before moving on to the rest of the lesson.
  • Use the audio examples as needed.
*note: Each audio example plays through the entire etude and then breaks it down measure by measure.



Now that you are familiar with these basic back up tools and you are all warmed up from playing through the etudes, let’s put these ideas to work within the context of an actual song.

I’ve chosen the popular folk song, Jesse James for our studies. 

You’ll notice that this song’s chord progression is very closely related to the “country/folk” progression we’ve been following in so many of our etudes and exercises.

Here’s the Chord Chart.

As you can see, I’ve given you the numerical iteration of the chords. 

Use what you learned in lesson ten to rewrite this chord chart in the key of G.

Here’s what your new chart should look like:


Oh, by the way, here are some lyrics for ya:  Lyrics

Your Assignment for the Day! Part 2


  •  In order to familiarize yourself with the song and the chord progression, play along with the back up track a few times using only the Boom Chick A strum.
  • Spend five to ten minutes practicing the chord progression and getting a feel for the changes.
  • Do not move on to the next section until you’ve completed this step.

For the final segment of this lesson I’ve provided a tab example of a typical accompaniment to Jesse James using the basic back up approaches we’ve covered so far:

*note: Play along track includes the banjo for the first two verses and the first chorus only. This is so you can hear the Playing Behind the Vocals tab in action.  The banjo disappears after the first chorus and it’s up to you to play the rest.



Your Assignment for the Day! Part 3 

  • Study and play thru the Playing Behind the Vocals tab for Jesse James.
  • Spend at least twenty minutes on this portion of the lesson.
  • Use the play along track to aid you in this portion of the study.

Spend as much time as you can honing these basic accompaniment techniques over the next few days.

Next week we’ll be taking a look at Back Up Strategies: Part 2!


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