Dirk Bertels

The greatest malfunction of spirit
is to believe things (Louis Pasteur)

The Joy of Life - Banjo project

Last updated 02 December 2013


The Joy of Life - named after a traditional jig, is the result of a series of tunes I recorded on video in 2013.

There are 2 parts: Part A, containing originals and covers and Part B for more traditional music such as jigs and reels.

The project consists of videos, audio and scores - music notation, banjo tablature and chord charts.

Videos have been uploaded to YouTube and hence available for free. Quite a bit of work has gone into creating the scores as well, and since we musicians have to eat too I made the book of scores, which consists of some 88 pages, available as digital download (pdf) for a small fee.


I perform The Joy of Life live as a solo act for 5 string banjo and vocals with original background music.

The act introduces the public to various aspects of the 5 string, including its African Heritage. The music encompasses a wide variety of styles: Old Time, Bluegrass, Newgrass. Celtic, Ballad and even Salsa and African. Many of the tunes are original.

I also conduct workshops, titled "A contemporary approach to the 5 string banjo". The workshop is for intermediate to advanced players and includes topics such as idiosyncrasies of the banjo, modes, analysis of rolls, shapes, harmony and the art of practicing.

If you are interested in booking performances and/or workshops please contact me either on the comments page below or use the details available on the bookings flyer linked to below.


The Joy of Life - Song List

Part A Part B
  • African Code - D. Bertels
  • Skippin' in the Mississippi Dew - J. Hartford
  • Snowdon Minor for Caroline - D. Bertels
  • The Fox and the Raven - Ed Kooyman
  • Jess's Pony - D. Bertels
  • Double Rainbow - D. Bertels
  • Imaginary Circus - D. Bertels
  • Black Mountain Rag - Traditional
  • Luke - D. Bertels
  • Scorpio's Dance - D. Bertels
  • Julia Belle Swain - J. Hartford
  • July in Africa - D. Bertels
  • Medley 1 - Reels
    • Jenny picking Cockles
    • George White's
    • Jenny's Wedding
  • Medley 2 - Slip Jigs
    • Comb your Hair
    • Paschal's
    • The Kid on the Mountain
  • Medley 3 - Reels
    • Cooley's Reel
    • Tam Lin
  • Langstern's Pony - Jig
  • Medley 4 - traditional
    • Mississippi Sawyer
    • Liberty
  • Farewell to Erin - Reel
  • The Choice Wife - Slip Jig
  • Medley 5 - Jigs
    • The Joy of Life
    • Banshee's Lament
    • The Lark in the Morning
  • Paddy on the Turnpike - Reel
  • Leather Britches - Traditional

Score Book for The Joy of Life - Digital download only


Book is in pdf format and only available as digital download. Will consider making hardcopy available if the demand is there.

88 Pages of music notation, 5 string banjo tablature and chord charts for all of the tunes in the The Joy of Life project except for the following:

  • The Fox and the Raven - Ed Kooyman
  • Skippin' in the Mississippi Dew - J. Hartford
  • The Julia Belle Swain - J. Hartford

I am currently awaiting approval to publish the John Hartford tunes and will make them available separately as soon as I get the clearing.

The following tunes are only partly scored:

  • Black Mountain Rag: Only my solo section is published
  • Paddy on the Turnpike: Only the reel is published, not the bluegrass version
  • Leather Britches: only the mandolin solo transcriptions are published

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After successful payment, you will receive an automated email containing a link which allows you to download the file two times within 7 days. Please note that selecting 'Cancel' in the download window still counts as a download!

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Please leave a comment at the bottom of this page if you have trouble downloading this file.

File Content Price Buy
JoyOfLife_Scores.pdf 88 pages of scores for 5 string banjo , includes tablature, music notation and chord charts. Please note the exceptions given above. AUD 9.50

Videos: Part A

Originals and covers.

Note the difference in tempo and pulse for the triple meters (6/8 and 9/8) in the tables below. In 4/4, tempo is set in quarter notes per minute. But using a metronome for triple meter, the individual notes are not regarded as quarter notes, e.g. in 6/8 there are 3 notes in the space of 2, so the tempo is multiplied by 2 and divided by 3.

You can view all the videos on my channel here: My Youtube Channel

African Code

This tune evolved in between software writing sessions, hence the title. Slow 6/8 tune in the South African style.

 Style  Key  Tempo  Pulse  Meter  Duration  Tuning  View
 World  C  140  93  6/8  00:03:42  g d g b d   View on Youtube

Skippin' in the Mississippi Dew - John Hartford

Rendition of the first tune on John Hartford's album 'Mark Twang' - his solo album which is my favourite.

Transcribed for the 5 string, it doesn't quite capture the classic fiddle style ornamentations such as the bluesy double string effects, but nevertheless it's a great example of a free improvisation in D using very effective licks.

Not included in the score book

 Style  Key  Tempo  Pulse  Meter  Duration  Tuning  View
 Bluegrass  D    210  4/4  00:03:52  g d g b d   View on Youtube

Snowdon Minor for Caroline

Inspired by a lady I briefly met while visiting Snowdonia in Wales.

Balad with some classical chord changes.

 Style  Key  Tempo  Pulse  Meter  Duration  Tuning  View
 Balad  Cm  130    4/4  00:03:19  g d g b d   View on Youtube

The Fox and the Raven - Ed Kooyman

Quirky Flemish rendition of one of Aesop's Fabels from 600 BC. Song and lyrics by Ed Kooyman

This tune is not included in the score book.

 Style  Key  Tempo  Pulse  Meter  Duration  Tuning  View
 Clawhammer  D      4/4  00:03:17  g c g c d (capo at 2)   View on Youtube

Jess's Pony

Written in the early 1990's, dedicated to my daughter Jessica.

 Style  Key  Tempo  Pulse  Meter  Duration  Tuning  View
 Bluegrass  G  220    4/4  00:01:45  g d g b d   View on Youtube

Double Rainbow

Written in the late 1990's in Hobart, Tasmania. I was playing in the Afro-cuban band 'Djoumba' as keyboardist at the time, which inspired this tune's Salsa rhythm.

 Style  Key  Tempo  Pulse  Meter  Duration  Tuning  View
 Bluegrass  G  220    4/4  00:03:20  g d g b d   View on Youtube

Imaginary Circus - Black Mountain Rag

Both these tunes are in the D tuning. I wrote Imaginary Circus while attending the Tasmanian Circus Festival in 2004.

Black Mountain Rag, a bluegrass standard, is based on the Bill Keith version, intermingled with sections from Donald Borchelt, Phil Halton, Jack Baker and myself.

Only my take on Black Mountain Rag is in the score book. Bill keith's version is how I remember it from one of his early albums. Other versions can be found on BanjoHangout

 Style  Key  Tempo  Pulse  Meter  Duration  Tuning  View
 Balad / Bluegrass  D  ad lib / 230    4/4  00:06:11  f# d f# a d   View on Youtube


Written in the mid 1990's, dedicated to my son Luke.

You may recognise one section of the tune which is based on the reel Drowsy Maggie.

I particularly like the sound of the organ which I played through Native Instrument's VST B4 II

 Style  Key  Tempo  Pulse  Meter  Duration  Tuning  View
 Bluegrass  G  240    4/4  00:05:00  g d g b d   View on Youtube

Scorpio's Dance

A balad written in the mid 1980's, inspired by a 'Scorpio' lady friend at the time.

I was then living in a little country town called Wyena in Northern Tasmania. The tune is in Dm and goes through some classical chord changes. Works well in performance accompanied by a double bass and/or accordion.

 Style  Key  Tempo  Pulse  Meter  Duration  Tuning  View
 Balad  Dm  125    4/4  00:03:52  g d g b d   View on Youtube

The Julia Belle Swain - John Hartford

I stumbled across John Hartford's solo album Mark Twang when I was a teenager. It won the 1977 Grammy Award for Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk Recording.

I was in love with the sound of clawhammer then and could actually play quite well in that style - but bluegrass was a different ball game - its technique was difficult and the thought of the time it would take me to master it was quite discouraging.

But this album inspired me more than any other - and made me persevere, if only I could get that sound... Other great players like Bela fleck, Bill Keith, Earl Scruggs, Tony Trishka, etc. dazzled me, but John Hartford stood apart from all of them - he had this peculiar mixture of soul, swing and humour.

John plays fiddle, guitar, banjo and sings - all of it with great mastery. The banjo tunes on this solo album are played with his John Hartford Deering Eb banjo which he tuned down a fourth to D - giving it a rich full sound. The music also has a melodic improvisational aspect to it - not a mean feat for a banjo player. This tune is played with a lot of 'swing' - To get a good understanding of the music, it is very helpful to slow it down and listen to his phrasing.

I learned his banjo solos (and one fiddle solo) by heart, but it was only years later that I actually managed to play it to a reasonable standard.

It was quite a shock for me to learn of John Hartford's untimely death from Non-Hodgkin lymphoma on June 4, 2001 at age 63. His family can be proud of a man that inspired countless people with his music

 Style  Key  Tempo  Pulse  Meter  Duration  Tuning  View
 Bluegrass  G  220    4/4  00:03:33  g d g b d   View on Youtube

July in Africa

Written alongside 'African Code' in between writing software. Inspired by the Congolese 'soukous' guitar style.

 Style  Key  Tempo  Pulse  Meter  Duration  Tuning  View
 World  G  190    4/4  00:03:46  g d g b d   View on Youtube

Videos: Part B

Traditional folk tunes: reels, jigs, slip jigs and bluegrass.

You can view all the videos on my channel here: My Youtube Channel

Medley: Jenny picking Cockles - George White's - Jenny's wedding

Traditional reel medley.

Jenny picking cockles: Part A is in Am dorian (G), B part in D. There's also a D version of this tune that plays c# instead of c in the beginning phrases, keeping both parts in the key of D.

George White's: Reel in G ( Em aeolian)

Jenny's Wedding: Reel in D

 Style  Key  Tempo  Pulse  Meter  Duration  Tuning  View
 Reel  Am - Em - D  180    4/4  00:04:30  g d g b d   View on Youtube

Medley: Comb your Hair and curl it - Paschal's - The Kid on the Mountain

A medley of slip jigs (in 9/8) I tabulated in the late 1980's based on a booklet I borrowed from a friend - unfortunately I can't remember its title. I love the many ornamentations in this version, making it a joy to play.

Legend has it that the word slip comes from the fact that the women used to slip out of the room and learned the dance in secret - the slip jig was performed by men only. Nowadays it is solely performed by women.

 Style  Key  Tempo  Pulse  Meter  Duration  Tuning  View
 Slip jig  Em  180  120  9/8  00:03:27  g d g b d   View on Youtube

Medley: Cooley's - Tam Lin

Cooley's: A typical reel which I like to swing a lot. It's quite easy to execute and a good one for beginners.

Tam Lin: Also called the Glasgow Reel, inspired by the Scottish ballad, composed and credited to Davey Arthur. The second part is taken from Dave Hum's version who plays this tune in Dm, with some high register variation thrown in by me. Dave Hum has a Celtic bluegrass banjo website which has some very nice playing. There's also his YouTube Channel featuring many video clips..

The medley as a whole is an interesting combination of Em Dorian (Cooley's), and Em Aeolian (Tam Lin).

 Style  Key  Tempo  Pulse  Meter  Duration  Tuning  View
 Reel  Em  180    4/4  00:03:48  g d g b d   View on Youtube

Langstern's Pony

This jig is in A mixolydian (D). Played in open G with capos at second fret.

I learned this tune from a tenor banjo player - the opening phrases immediately caught my attention even though the notes are somewhat different from other versions I heard.

 Style  Key  Tempo  Pulse  Meter  Duration  Tuning  View
 Jig  A  200  133  6/8  00:02:36  g d g b d (capos at 2)   View on Youtube

Medley: Mississippi Sawyer - Liberty

I remember learning this tune while laying flat on my back due to lower back pain from which I periodically suffer.

Mississippi Sawyer: Beautiful American Hornpipe. Inspired by David Hum's version - I particularly like the very well placed little trill he plays in the 5th bar.

Liberty: Based on Art Rosenbaum's haunting clawhammer version on his album The art of the Mountain Banjo produced by Flying Fish Records. It was the perfect album for learning clawhammer technique since it included a booklet with all the tablature (not sure whether the booklet is still available).

 Style  Key  Tempo  Pulse  Meter  Duration  Tuning  View
 Hornpipe  D  220    4/4  00:03:05  g d g b d   View on Youtube

Farewell to Erin

Also known as Farewell to Ireland. Dave Hum also has a good rendition of this tune, playing it in the 'mountain' tuning (g d g c d).

 Style  Key  Tempo  Pulse  Meter  Duration  Tuning  View
 Reel  Am  190    4/4  00:03:06  g d g b d   View on Youtube

The Choice Wife

My first slip jig which I tabulated in the early 90's. The fingering has evolved quite a bit since then, the early version used too many hammer-ons and pull-offs which affected the feel.

 Style  Key  Tempo  Pulse  Meter  Duration  Tuning  View
 Slip Jig  D  190  126  9/8  00:02:30  g d g b d   View on Youtube

Medley: The Joy of Life - Lilting Banshee - The Lark in the Morning

The Joy of Life: Simple uplifting jig whose title I used to name the project after.

Lilting Banshee: Jig in Am, also known as Banshee's Lament. To get some idea on the variety out there, this tune is also known as Ballinasloe Fair, Bobby Casey's, The Butcher's March, Fallon's, The Glanmire Miller, John Conroy's, Killaloe Boat, The Killaloe Boat, The Miller Of Glanmire, The Moyasta, Paddy In London, Rita Keane's, Ryan's, Ryan's Favourite, The Sligo , and more ...
A banshee, in Irish legend, is a female spirit whose wailing (lilting) warns of an impending death in a house. Excellent tune for starters, simple and open to interpretation.

The Lark in the Morning: I especially like the tweet sounds in the middle of this jig - very close to the actual call of the Lark.

 Style  Key  Tempo  Pulse  Meter  Duration  Tuning  View
 Jig  G - Am - D  180  120  6/8  00:03:31  g d g b d   View on Youtube

Paddy on the Turnpike

I never worked out the meaning of this title.

This is actually a medley of the same tune in different versions: reel and bluegrass, hence a good example of how traditional tunes were adapted for bluegrass. In this case the original reel is in Am dorian (G), while the bluegrass version is in G. The melody has changed quite a bit as well - to a point it is hard to recognise.

The Bluegrass version of this standard Scottish Vestal is arranged and tabulated by Lee Marcus. See the Lee Marcus Traditional and Original Banjo Tablatures for many more tunes.

Only the reel version is included in the Score book.

 Style  Key  Tempo  Pulse  Meter  Duration  Tuning  View
 Reel / bluegrass  Am / G  190 / 220    4/4  00:02:41  g d g b d   View on Youtube

Leather Britches

The first 4 sections are taken straight from Banjo Hangout Archive. If you are the originator of this, please let me know so I can add the correct credentials. The last 4 sections are based on Sam Bush and Benny Martin mandolin solos, and tabulated by me.

I also love this version of the tune played by the Grascals, sporting my favourite female banjo player Kristin Scott Benson.

Only the transcribed mandolin solos are printed in the score book

 Style  Key  Tempo  Pulse  Meter  Duration  Tuning  View
 Bluegrass  G  200    4/4  00:03:15  g d g b d   View on Youtube