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“Rocket Man” is a song composed by Elton John and Bernie Taupin. It first appeared on John’s album “Honky Chateau” (released in 1972). The song became one of his biggest hits, reaching number 2 on the UK charts and number 6 on the US charts. Rolling Stone lists it as number 245 in its list of the 500 greatest songs of all time. It has been covered by a diverse array of artists, including Neil Diamond, Jason Mraz, The Gin Blossoms, Kate Bush and Me First and the Gimme Gimmes.


1) You’ll notice that (in most instances) whenever I employ a strum in this song, I use my thumb. The one exception is when I finish the last measure of the first ending (measure 16). At this point I return to the first measure, as indicated by the repeat sign. However, this time I use my middle finger for the strum. Why? Because my thumb was the last finger I used in the preceding measure (measure 16) and using it for the strum in the next measure (measure 1) makes for a somewhat clunky transition between these two measures. In short, my thumb has difficulty working that fast.  For this reason I choose to use my middle finger instead. If, however, you feel your thumb can handle this transition just fine, go for it. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to strumming in bluegrass banjo as it is generally a technique seldom employed.

2) Despite the fact that I play this song in the key of B flat (i.e. my capo is on the third fret), you’re more than welcome to forgo the capo entirely and play it in the key G. Keep in mind, however, that if your goal is to play along to Elton John’s recording, you’ll need to be in B flat.

Having said this, you’ll need a fifth-string capo installed if you want to play in Elton’s key. I have a fifth-string capo spike nailed into the fourth fret of the fifth string (this is usually referred to as the ninth fret of the banjo). This note happens to be B. After I hook the fifth string onto this spike, I then tune this string a half step lower to B flat. Then I slap my capo onto the third fret of the first, second, third and fourth strings and – voila! – I’m ready to play in B flat. (It will help if you have an electronic tuner. I find that the types that clip onto the banjo’s head stock are the best, as opposed to phone apps.)

Half Speed

If you need to slow things down a bit

The Neck (Left Hand) 50% speed

Pickin’ (Right Hand) 50% speed

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Rocket Man