Bluegrass Music

I'm a banjo player and tenor singer and long-time member of the Arizona Bluegrass Association and the Desert Bluegrass Association. I Started playing the banjo in Virginia in 1975. Mathematicians in general tend to be musicians. I believe it is related to pattern-recognition skills. The banjo allows a high degree of creativity. Playing it is, in some ways, similar to talking where you compose what you are going to say in real-time while maintaining the theme of course.

Banjo Lessons for Beginners

These items are for the banjo workshop Keith Freedman and I gave at the "Ranching & Mining Music Festival 2009" held on October 17th at Model Creek School in Peeples Valley, Arizona. - Overview document.

BasicBanjo.gp4   - If you have GuitarPro
BasicBanjo.mid   -If you can use midi and want to listen to the licks.
BasicBanjo.pdf   - If you don't have GuitarPro but want to see the tablature.

Banjo Compositions

Listen to Maricopa County Breakdown.mp3  Copyright 2003, Howard C. Anderson , All Rights Reserved
Listen to Maricopa County Breakdown.mid
  Copyright 2003, Howard C. Anderson , All Rights Reserved
Maricopa County Breakdown.gp4 - for Guitar Pro 4 and above users...

Listen to The Gunfighter.mp3  Copyright 2006, Howard C. Anderson, All Rights Reserved
Listen to The Gunfighter.mid  Copyright 2006, Howard C. Anderson, All Rights Reserved
The Gunfighter.gp5 - for Guitar Pro 4 and above users...
The Gunfighter.mp3 Copyright 2007, Howard C. Anderson, Bill Breen, Lynn Breen, All Rights Reserved.   Howard on banjo, Bill Breen on Guitar, Lynn Breen on bass.

Listen to The Sheriff.mp3 Copyright 2012, Howard C. Anderson, All Rights Reserved
Listen to The Sheriff.mid Copyright 2012, Howard C. Anderson, All Rights Reserved
The Sheriff.gp5 - for Guitar Pro 5 and above users...

Daybreak in Arizona is in open Cm banjo tuning, i.e., GCGCD#  Thanks Bill Breen for showing me this tuning!
Guitar is capoed up 3
Listen to Daybreak in Arizona.mp3  Copyright 2007, Howard C. Anderson, All Rights Reserved.
Listen to Daybreak in Arizona.mid  Copyright 2007, Howard C. Anderson, All Rights Reserved.
Daybrean in Arizona.gp5 - for Guitar Pro 5 and above users.
Daybreak in Arizona Track1.pdf   The sheet music of track 1
Daybreak in Arizona Track2.pdf   The sheet music of track 2
Daybreak in Arizona Track3.pdf   The sheet music of track 3

Double Banjo

Reuben's Train, Train 45, Norwegian Wood.mp3  Copyright 2007, Howard C. Anderson, Bill Breen, Lynn Breen.  Bill on lead banjo, Howard on other banjo, Lynn on bass.

Dixie Breakdown 

In 1975, Susan said "Let's go to the 'Harper's Ferry First Annual Fiddle and Banjo Contest'.  I said OK.  I had been playing the guitar prior to that time for 10 years.  No bluegrass, just folk and rock and roll.  I thought OK, sitting in the sun for a couple of days would be fine.  I had no great expectations.  We had just bought a little camper and wanted to get out of the house.  Susan and I sat in the sun for two days with a tape recorder and we recorded much of the contest.  That Harper's Ferry event was what led to me playing the banjo.  I loved the sound of the banjo and could not get it out of my mind.  I mentioned it at work in the Pentagon and one of my colleagues, a fighter pilot, said he'd sell me a banjo for $15.  He said it had been owned in succession by three fighter pilots in Viet Nam, none of them learned to play it, and he brought it home with him.  For $15 I though I could give it a try.  (If it had been $250 I would still be playing the guitar -- I thought the banjo was as close to impossible to play as anything...)  Six to ten hours a day on weekends and 3 to 4 hours every night for the first year (no kidding...) and I was subsequently just barely able to call myself a beginning banjo player...

One of the songs I worked on was something we taped at the Harper's Ferry contest, Dixie Breakdown, as played by Linda Slaughter - Don't know if the name is spelled right because I never saw it in print, just heard it mentioned on the stage.  I learned it pretty well although I still don't play it smoothly.  It is a Don Reno tune and is reasonably difficult.  Linda played it very well.  I believe I was able to figure out what she played and learned to play it similar to the way she played it.  It took some real doing.  I was at a party in Virginia and some kid played it and I asked him if he would show me the "licks" in one part of the song and he refused!  That made me more determined than ever.  I finally got it although that section of the song still causes me trouble.  It does a TIMITIMIT... roll (Thumb, Index, Middle, Index, Thumb...) which is unlike any of the rolls I normally do.  I just need to practice it for a few hundred hours - Literally  -  I do not have enough time to do all the things I want to do... ( If the genetic engineers would just get busy, I could live forever.  I know they will get a handle on the aging process eventually.  I've told people  that if I miss that by like just five years, I'm going to be furious!)

I have just transcribed the song as well as I can at this point and it plays better electronically anyway than I can play it.  Hope others can learn it.  I don't get to play it much in jam sessions because hardly anyone is familiar with it.  At least you won't have to puzzle over the "secret lick"...  Its all here:

Dixie Breakdown.mp3  - MP3 file
Dixie Breakdown.mid  - Midi file
Dixie Breakdown.gp4  - for Guitar Pro 4 users...

Down the Road

Here is a tune that I have known for many years but only recently figured out how to play it to
my satisfaction.  The trick is to use slides to make it smooth.

Down the Road.mp3 - MP3 file
Down the Road.mid - Midi file
Down the Road.gp4  -  for Guitar Pro 4 (and higher) users...

Blood on the Fretboard

(Inspired by the song "Blood on the Saddle" and bass players I have known)
Banjo plays a variation of Earl's breakdown...

Oh, there was
Blood on the fretboard, blood all around,
And a pool of bassman blood was covering the ground

Then the guy on banjo said "Hey lets pick it up!"
The bassman groaned and staggered and whimpered like a pup.

When it all was over his hand was mighty sore,
He of course don't know that yet, he's passed out on the floor.

He awoke next day at noon, his hand it still was sore,
but when the evening rolled around, he said let's play some more!

Blood on the Fretboard.mp3 - MP3 file
Blood on the Fretboard.midi - Midi file
Blood on the Fretboard.gp4 - GuitarPro file

Lyrics for Soldier's Joy written by Joe Magie

An internet search reveals that Soldier's Joy has several
versions of words. Normally it is not sung and just played
as a fiddle tune. At a campout, I encountered Joe Magie
who provided me with words that he had composed. His
have better meter and rhyme scheme than others I have
looked at. I would prefer his if I were to try to sing the song.

Joe doesn't have a web page so I offered to post
his words here:
Soldiers Joy Lyrics

Here is another of my compositions:
The Ballad of Cabin John
Cabin John.mp3
Cabin John Lyrics

Waiting for a Train

A composition by Galen Anderson (no relation)
This is a brilliant piece of music in my opinion...

I did the arrangement on the MP3 and Midi files...

Waiting for a Train.mp3
Waiting for a Train.pdf (Includes lyrics)
Waiting for a train.gp4 (Guitar Pro - includes lyrics)

Some Photographs

Susan took each of these photos.
(Click on a thumbnail image below to see a larger image.)

Playing banjo on the Mongollon Rim.

"Bluegrass Express" playing at the Desert Botanical Garden during Luminaria Night.  We played there several nights each year for 10 years beginning in 1990.  For the first two or three years they put us up on the hill pretty far from everyone else.  One would follow a trail lighted only by Luminarias (paper bags containing lit candles - actually really beautiful at night.)  The crowds got so big that they blocked the trail.  Staff members asked us to take rest breaks so they would disperse.  In later years, they moved us down around the buildings where other groups were and where there was a large patio so that allowed crowds to gather without blocking the trails.

When I first started, I was really dedicated.
These photos were taken at our home in
Alexandria Virginia.

Wickenburg contest 2003

Other Music

I've always had a strong interest in music from as early as I can remember. I never took lessons as a child. I doubt we could have afforded them so I never asked (who knows, lessons might have killed my interest). I never had a musical instrument except for some harmonicas I bought in Germany when I was 9 (my Father was an Army Warrant Officer). Lost them on a MATS flight home from Germany when we unexpectedly changed planes in the Azores - due I think to the little rivulets of oil flowing over the wing on my side of the plane. I told my mother who then reported it. The pilot came back and looked and said "no problem" but he came back every half-hour of the remainder of our six-hour flight to the Azores to look.

There were no musical instruments in our house until I was seventeen when my parents bought an old piano. You know, the kind where the ivory on the ends of some of the keys is chipped off? I worked with a friend on some rock and roll duets and learned a tiny bit about chords. I became interested in classical so I bought the sheet music for Beethovan's Moonlight Sonata, recoded the notes into a form I could work with, wrote the names of the notes on the piano keys in pencil so I could tell which key was which note and set about learning/memorizing the first movement bar-by-bar. By the time I was 18, I was able to play the first movement of Moonlight Sonata rather well. The piano was my refuge in many ways. When I was in college I found the practice rooms and played whenever I had time and was able to find an unlocked room with a piano. (Thank you whoever left those unlocked sometimes...) I began composing some music after learning Moonlight Sonata. Over the years, I added to it. When I began working with home computers I was able to store it and get a printout of it. I had never written the music down prior to that time, simply composed it and memorized it. Using the Music Construction Set on the Amiga, I was able to add to it and refine it a bit. I just re-entered the music note-by-note on the PC so that it is now in MIDI form for the first time.

At this point, I cannot play all of it on the piano (I don't "read" music although I do understand the notation and can work with it.) but the computer has allowed me to save it so that I can share it with you if you are interested:

Listen to Muse.mp3 (12KB, 2 Minutes 22 seconds play time)
Listen to Muse.mid (12KB, 2 Minutes 22 seconds play time)

A more recent composition:



A Friend's music from the 70's. He could have been a star? All original stuff. Superb rythm. I recorded him on a tape recorder and digitized a little while ago...

Bill's #1

Bill's #2

Bill's #3

Bill's #4


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