In December I always give my students the option of learning a Christmas tune or two. Some people like them, some don’t, so I never force the Christmas tunes on anyone. We start with “Jingle Bells,” because that fits really well on the banjo. It’s also a tune that I can teach very simply, or more elaborately, depending on the level of the student.
This year I taught it to John, who has been taking from me for about a year. We did the whole song (verse and chorus) and he picked it up easily. My arrangement is very melody oriented (you can hear it in the clip here). In the first three lines of the verse the tune is played in eight notes (“Dashing through the snow / One horse open sleigh / O’er the fields we go”). He pointed out that at the speed he was playing it (slow) there was an awful lot of time between those notes.
The following week when he came to his lesson he had made some additions to the arrangement to fill out the sound at that speed. Instead of just playing eighth notes, he alternated the melody notes with the first string, which gave it a more rolly feel and made it sound like there was more going on. The best thing about it was that it was all right! He didn’t add any awkward fingering or commit any double-thumbs. It was an absolutely legitimate arrangement and he came up with it all on his own!
I love it when students take initiative and start trying out new things. It shows a creative spirit and ambition that will turn them from banjo students into banjo players!