So, Clifftop was probably even crazier/amazing than last year but I was so exhausted when I got back last Sunday that I didn't even have a brief "back in town" post in me (also...seems kinda silly to only write a couple sentences anyhow). So for the first time in a year, I missed a week on the weekly banjo blog - my apologies to the readers but I'm back this week with a new tune/tab.
a brief overview of my Clifftop trip this year:
I camped in roughly the same place, surrounded by roughly the same people (mostly from Boston) as last year...which was just super cool. Great to have gotten a "crew" together and we had a blast jamming as in previous years. However, there were some new faces in the neighborhood as well, several Canadians, a Georgian, a soon-to-be New Yorker, and a guy from Utah set up camp right next to me. I learned a bunch of great new tunes from that group ("Molly's tune" from Snake Chapman and "Walk along John to Kansas" stick in my mind the most) and got to pass along a few as well (they really latched on to the Henry Reed tune "Texas/Newcastle" which I talked a lot about here).
Greg Galbreath, who built my banjo (here) gave a "Masterclass in Banjo Building" (in conjunction with Craig Evans who made the banjo builder series) which was really really great. Greg talked about some of his motivations behind building and showed pictures of how his work has changed over the years - dammit his stuff - especially his inlay - just gets more impressive by the day! It was just a real treat and a great reminder of just how special my own banjo is.
I played my version of "Yew Piney Mountain" (here) in the contest. I definitely got a bit of stage fright when mic-ed up, but still managed to get through it pretty well overall. I got a lot of compliments from those in the audience but no love from the judges - still pretty happy with how it went! The level of playing in the contests was super high! The amount of talent, on the fiddle stage especially, that didn't make the finals was astounding (e.g. Brittany Haas just killed it up there and didn't make the top 5).
Weather-wise, there was some rain, but overall it wasn't quite as humid as last year, which was a relief. We did get a full moon on a clear night as well, which brings me to the tune I tabbed/recorded for this week. The night of the full moon, after watching the band finals, I hiked out to a cliff face with one of my new Canadian buddies Cam, who is an astoundingly good fiddler in multiple styles. We brought our instruments and plopped down on the precipice to play out into the valley: he taught me a Medieval tune with 4 parts that was just crazy cool. A couple days later, after getting home, I think I've managed to remember the first 2 parts, which sound a lot like a fiddle tune in their own right - I have no idea what the tune is called so I've decided to call it "Cam's Medieval Tune" until I find out. In summary, what follows is a likely-garbled version of an excerpt of a fiddle tune that I've renamed - talk about the "folk process" at work : ). Hope you enjoy anyhow.
Cam's Medieval Tune
The tune is in D dorian (post on modes here) and again has been shortened to 2 parts with an AABB structure. Its not crooked though it does have some rhythmic oddities that force you to do a lot of "stride breaking" while you play - more on that later. Without further ado, "Cam's Medieval Tune:"
"Cam's Medieval Tune" (misspelled above) played on my Buckeye in double D (aDADE).
So - I have to undercut this recording a bit before we go further. First off, I chipped my nail at the very end of clifftop and after shaving it back down my tone is not at is best - to my ear it sounds a lot brighter and weaker than normal. This problem gets worse on the high strings. However, my nails grow fairly quickly so I expect to be fully recovered in a week or so : ) Secondly, I recorded the A and B parts separately (I kept screwing up the B part) and the transition is not exactly seamless - theres some strange noise between the two parts and the AC in my house definitely cut on when I was recording the B part...*sigh*...didn't really notice all of that 'til I'd already put the microphone up. Finally, hearing it again, I definitely lagged a bit in the B part. Overall, I guess the real purpose is to get the tune across and I think I've at least accomplished that here. If this is your first time hearing my playing, please scroll back through the archive to hear something a bit more listenable : )
I wrote out a tab for this tune for those interested in playing it as well:
Though you'll likely never come across this one in a jam, you can think of it in the "etude" category - that is, its a great exercise for learning technique. In this case, the technique is "stride breaking," which I discussed in a few previous posts (here and here). The stride breaking happens in the first and 3rd lines of the A and B parts. Most of it is of the "use your striking finger on 'and' beats" variety. However, there are a couple odd things worth exploring further:
First, look at the 2nd measure of the A part. The "4 +" beat includes an striking-finger stroke on the open 3rd string - no big deal except that the note repeats on the "1" beat of the 3rd measure. This forces you to do 2 strikes in quick succession (basically 2 quick 8th notes with your striking finger), which is something I've definitely never recommended before. This isn't the smoothest of moves - in fact, too many notes like this and it probably wouldn't seem like you're really playing clawhammer anymore. However, one move like this doesn't sound too choppy and theres not really another way to get this note. If the song went too fast, I'd likely just drop the first note and play the following descending phrase in stride (I'd likely also consider filling in the end of the 2nd measure with a bum-ditty or something).
Second, look at the 5th measure of the B part. The "4 +" beat of this measure includes an striking finger stroke on the 2nd string, followed by another on the 1st string. We've seen this move before, and unlike the 2 notes on the same string as discussed above, we can accomplish these notes in one move (as seen in figure 8 here). The difference is that the move starts on an "and beat" this time - double stride breaking!
Finally, I just thought I'd point out the chords in this tune. First off, though its a dorian tune (which indicates that a D minor chord would be the tonic chord), I decided to end both the A and B parts on an D major chord. Theres really nothing going on in these measures so I thought it would be kinda fun to play with the tonality. Also, I choose C majors for the 4th measure in the A and B parts. While this would be an obvious choice due to where the melody goes in the B part, an A major would be the "vanilla" choice for the A part. However, the C major works with the melody in the A part and has a bit more flavor so I went with it for symmetry.
Anyways, hope you enjoyed reading this and playing the tune. In the next few weeks I may re-record "Cam's Medieval Tune" and mess around with harmonizing it as well. To anyone reading, if you happen to know the name of this tune, (or rather the tune its based on) please let me know!
About this blog
I have lots of ideas about banjo playing and music in general - this blog allows me to get them all out of my head and see what you think.