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Beaumont Rag isn’t a beginner tune on the guitar, but…

I started learning flatpicking (if you didn’t know, it’s bluegrass lingo for melody playing on the guitar) last year in June. The first fiddle tune I started learning was Whiskey before breakfast, and the second one was Beaumont rag. Not really a beginner tune, right?! I posted about it on Twitter recently and received a comment a while later “That Beaumont rag, it’s quite difficult isn’t it?”.

This isn’t a beginner tune, but who cares? It’s fun. And it only needs to be as difficult as you make it. I play a simplified version of this. It took me a long long time before I had figured out a version of the second part that I was happy with and that was easy enough to play. But honestly, the first part is quite easy once you’re comfortable with the C scale and have some picking experience. I’ve played the mandolin for many years, so getting into playing melody on the guitar has mainly been about getting used to the scales, the larger frets and the distances between strings. That’s not to say it’s easy – but the picking technique hasn’t been any particular challenge.

I’ve been playing chords for years and then some simple bass runs (small melody “walks” between chords). Real melody playing was new to me. After a lot of fiddling about and a lot of frustration, I finally started learning the C scale and then the G scale. After learning the C scale, I started playing variations of it, and all of a sudden I recognised the beginning of Beaumont rag. That’s the main reason why I started playing the tune in the first place – and of course that I had it in my head already because my husband already played it.

Why didn’t I learn scales earlier, you may wonder? I was exploring, but still not sure how much effort I wanted put into it. It wasn’t until later that I made the decision to start learning flatpicking for real.

This tune is very popular among fiddlers and flatpickers in country and bluegrass circles. It’s described as a Texas rag, named after the East Texas town Beaumont, and was first recorded in 1929 by Smith’s Garage fiddle band. It’s then been recorded by many but the most famous version is probably that by Doc Watson, and it’s from him that I’ve been inspired to play it although I’ve picked up pieces from here and there to put together a version that suits me and my playing level. I’ll try to pick up Doc Watson’s crosspicking patterns and other details later, but for now that’ll have to wait.

I started on the first part in June or early July 2020, but didn’t really have the second part ready until the autumn. Then I’ve been practicing it now and then but let it be for a while, until I picked it up again recently. My hands had lost a couple of details in it so I’ve done quite a bit of work to get it back on track. Still, when I play it up to speed (which in my case means less slowly!) I get lost sometimes. But that’s not only bad – lately I’ve found that when I make a mistake and can’t get back to what I usually play, I improvise something instead and many times end up playing it better than my original version. Being able to do that is a great achievement to me!

That’s the charm of learning the scale and be comfortable with the notes in it – it’s a good start for being able to improvise, people!

I thought I’d kick off the Easter weekend by being couragous and post a video of myself playing. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching and work to help myself get a better life – the main key to that is self confidence – to believe in myself, and to not take myself so seriously. So here’s me and my guitar, having fun with Beaumont rag (but there’s no improvisation here, I’m still way too self conscious when I record myself). Another time I’ll post it when I do it with my husband.

Join the Weekend coffee share with Natalie the explorer.

13 Comments

  • Natalie
    3rd April 2021 at 1:01 am

    Susanne, I enjoyed listening to you playing your guitar. I hope you record and post more videos in the future. It’s amazing what you’re able to play and improvise to suit you. Thank you for sharing at #WeekendCoffeeShare. Have a great weekend!

    Reply
    • Susanne
      4th April 2021 at 9:00 am

      Hi Natalie, yes, I will definitely record myself more and post some of it. Recording myself more often will probably be good practice of performing. I tend to get very self conscious when I play for people (or a camera), and usually play a lot better when I just practice on my own or jam with my husband, which is so annoying and I want to get more used to playing for an audience. This shouldn’t be a problem after all the trad sessions I’ve played in, but it is!

      Reply
  • Laurie
    3rd April 2021 at 11:34 pm

    Wow! The Beaumont Rag certainly is not a beginner piece! Your version sounded great. I didn’t notice any errors. You are such a talented guitar player!

    Reply
    • Susanne
      4th April 2021 at 9:02 am

      Thanks Laurie! This is such a fun tune to play and I’m quite happy with my version for now but will continue to develop it.

      Reply
  • trent
    4th April 2021 at 12:37 am

    Very nice. Sounds good.

    Kind of funny, just yesterday my brother shared a video with me of him playing Steve Howe’s song, “The Clap”. It is a bluegrass style song he (Steve Howe) played on an album by the prog rock band Yes – if you don’t know it, look it up, I bet you like it. My brother made a lot of mistakes, but that’s how you learn 🙂

    Reply
    • Susanne
      4th April 2021 at 9:07 am

      Making mistakes is definitely how you learn, in all areas!
      I’m listening to “The Clap” now, what a cool tune! It’s totally my cup of tea. I’m falling in love with rags. Other than Beaumont rag I’m also working on Black mountain rag, which is a fantastic tune I’ve wanted to learn for many years but I never managed to figure it out on the mandolin. It’s much easier on the guitar.

      Reply
  • Denyse Whelan
    4th April 2021 at 1:06 am

    Go girl. This is very impressive. My husband is our musician and has both guitar and piano. He is currently adding to his skill set taking some on-line lessons he really enjoying. I just showed him your wonderful work. Loved seeing this. Denyse #weekendcoffeeshare

    Reply
    • Susanne
      4th April 2021 at 9:11 am

      Thank you Denyse! That’s great to hear your husband is taking online classes. There are so many good resources these days for learning music online. I recently stumbled across a YouTube channel called Lessons with Marcel, it’s quite advanced but I managed to pick up a nice Tony Rice lick from it, and the channel will be very useful later when I’m at another level with my playing.
      Does your husband record himself sometimes? It would be lovely to hear him!

      Reply
  • Gary Wilson
    4th April 2021 at 4:28 pm

    Fun stuff Susanne. You might recall that I’m not musical at all and had not heard of this tune, partly because I’m especially lacking in blue grass experience, but this was a fun listen, both the band you reposted as well as your own version. It does look like fun but I’ll bet there is a lot of practice to become able to make those instruments dance like that.

    Reply
    • Susanne
      4th April 2021 at 4:37 pm

      Yes, definitely a fun tune, and I’ve been practicing for a year to be able to play it in a not-too-bad way. Those kids in the first video have been playing since they were 5 or so and have grown up around bluegrass music – their father is Jack Tuttle and he teaches all sorts of bluegrass instrument, I remember I once had a bluegrass mandolin book that he had written.

      Reply
  • Debbie Harris
    5th April 2021 at 7:32 am

    That’s a great effort Susanne! Very impressive as it seems very challenging. Thanks for being brave to share your video with us and keep going!

    Reply
    • Susanne
      5th April 2021 at 8:02 am

      Thanks Debbie! I had a friend once who learned to play the accordion and concertina, and she recorded herself from day 1 and put on YouTube. You could follow her progress, and she inspired me so much because she put herself there even though she wasn’t brilliant. While I haven’t had the courage to put my real beginner videos anywhere on the internet (other than the site where i do my workshop, for my teacher to see and give feedback), I’ve been recording myself regularly, and it’s very rewarding when you do new videos and compare them with the old. Then you can truly see your progress.

      Reply
  • Anne
    13th April 2021 at 11:03 pm

    Good for you, putting yourself out there, Susanne! It takes a lot of strength to do that, and I admire you for doing so. And, this is clearly a complex skill that you have done an amazing job mastering. I loved listening to your version of it! You are AMAZINGLY talented. I hope that you continue to post more (YouTube??? Please??) and that you continue to take us along on your picking and learning journey.
    (And I love this new direction for your blog! Exposure to so many new things… that are so enjoyable to learn about.)
    Take care.

    Reply

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