For this week's installment of my album (more on that here), I present "Shine," a tune named after a horse my wife used to ride at a local barn. For the record, my wife leased Shine; we do not make "own and board a horse" money...but wait till this album blows up the charts! : ) Since its heavy on the 4th string, I decided that this tune might benefit from a mellowed-out banjo sound; therefore, in preparation for this recording, I removed the second tone ring I added to the buckeye a couple months back (more on that here). As with the other tunes I've recorded thus far (here and here) I played it twice through: once with solo banjo, once with boom-chick guitar:
"Shine" - an original fiddle tune by Jeff Norman (me). Played twice through by me on my Buckeye tuned to aDADE; guitar accompaniment the second time through using a 12-fret Epiphone Masterbilt in standard guitar tuning capped at the 2nd fret. Tune and recording Copyright 2017 - Jeff Norman.
More about the tune:
"Shine" is played in double D tuning (aDADE) and has roughly an AABB structure. However, the second A part lingers on an A chord for a few extra beats until I play a funny little drop thumb riff that takes you into the B part. The chords for the A part, which is in B minor, form a 4 chord progression that I remember hearing in a lot of punk rock tunes. Though I didn't realize it when I wrote it, the chords for the B part, which is in D major, are quite similar to what one would play for "Canon in D" (a.k.a. Pachabel's canon) with a slightly different ending; as a former cellist, I have spent a lot of time sawing out the bass notes for these chords...it's therefore completely unsurprising to me that they would make their way into one of my tunes subconsciously.
The transition back to the A part is a bit abrupt - I use the same riff that took us into the B part, but I string it right into the opening phrase of the A part for a bit of crookedness. I actually use this trick on another tune called "How's your Courage?," which I'll be recording eventually as well; try to act surprised when you hear it a second time : ). The tune ends with this trick as well and I drop out the guitar for added effect. I regret that I accidentally trimmed down the recording a bit too much after that ending (wish I'd left that note ringing a little longer...).
The past two recordings were made without using Garage band's built in metronome feature....and in my opinion, it shows. While I feel like I've got pretty solid rhythm in my solo playing, a couple listen-throughs to those recordings makes me realize that I actually don't. When I was trying this tune sans metronome, the B part was really lagging. Eventually, I put on my fancy dj headphones (they're like nuclear blue and huge) and tried it with the metronome on and the speed set to 109 BPM (this is where I clocked my playing when I wasn't overthinking it). The tune could likely go a bit faster, but I kind of like it a bit chilled out as it is here. I do think that my "big brushes" (here) in the B part are a little much: they kind of clash with the boom chicks from the guitar. If I record this one again, I may try taking them out.
I've actually amassed a bit of interest in this project on banjo hangout - hope you guys liked "Shine!" See you next week for another tune!
Since I started my "album" (more on that here) last week by posting what was supposed to be the the last track (here), I figured that I might as well continue in that vein and record whichever tune I wanted next. So this week, I bring you track 4, "This way:"
"This Way" - an original fiddle tune by Jeff Norman (me). Played twice through by me on my Buckeye tuned to aEADE; guitar accompaniment the second time through using a 12-fret Epiphone Masterbilt in standard guitar tuning sans capo. Tune and recording Copyright 2017 - Jeff Norman.
About the tune
This tune was written about 2 people having a conversation about which way to go. Think of the conversation as follows:
"No, this way"
"No, this way"
(etc...hence the title)
As such, I wrote the tune as if one person were arguing for it to be in A major, while the other was arguing as if it should be in A minor. Its an otherwise standard non-crooked AABB tune...just a lot of subtle key swapping in keeping with the aforementioned theme (at least thats what I was going for). What follows is a blow by blow:
The A part starts with a decidedly A minor feel (and is backed by an A minor chord on guitar). About halfway through the A part however, you'll hear a couple G#'s from the banjo, which were intended to foreshadow the switch to A major (Standard A aeolian/A minor includes a G natural at the 7th scale degree, while the A ionian/A major scale has a G# as its 7th note....of course, A harmonic minor plays with the 7th degree a bit as well, but I digress). These G#s are backed appropriately with an E major (rather than E minor) chord. The A part ends on an bold A major chord (at least it would sound bold if I were a better guitarist), but the turnaround into the second A part goes minor again and we repeat the "A minor...no, A major" conversation once more. The second time through the A part, the major switch holds through the turnaround and we start the B part on a happy note. Again however, we get a hint that things are destined to change about halfway through the B part: the banjo throws some C naturals (rather than C#'s) in as a clue. For more symmetry, the turnaround between B parts is in A major, while the transition back to the A part (on which the tune also ends) goes minor.
For fun, here are the chords to help you follow the above story (plain letters indicate major chords, "m's" indicate minor chords):
I'll say right here that my guitar playing on this one left something to be desired...like a good guitarist! I had a lot of trouble switching between chords and I just hate playing A majors of the 002220 variety - the thing sounds overly choppy to me...I'd love to hear it "smoothed out" one day.
As you can see, the only thing necessary to change the feel of the transitions is an added or subtracted F major chord at the end of the phrase (which indicates "A minor feel"). I suppose I could have been a bit more heavy handed and put a true E minor there as well, but I kind of like the harmonic minor vibe I had going...adds more to the tune's ambiguity/indecisiveness. Some E7's could surely spice this one up as well but I wanted to stick to plain vanilla chords as much as possible.
Thats all I've got in me for this week - hope you enjoyed it!
If you read last weeks post (here), you'll remember that I'm planning on spending the next 10 weeks or so recording an "album" one track at a time. This pursuit included some big plans that have already succumbed to reality : ).
First off, I planned on recording the tracks in the order that I wrote them, starting with "Cheese and Krackers"...however, I couldn't find my guitar capo so I decided to start with the only tune for which I wouldnt use one: "Stripey Cat," in G major (in contrast to my capo-free banjo playing I normally play D and A tunes, but not G tunes, with a capo on guitar). Secondly, I'd planned on 3 repeats per tune...but recording was taking a bit so I capped it after 2 repeats (one with solo banjo followed by one with guitar accompaniment). However, "done" is better than "perfect" and, other than a bit of lagginess in the second B part, I'm pretty happy with the results; without further ado, I give you "Stripey Cat:"
"Stripey Cat" - an original fiddle tune by Jeff Norman (me). Played twice through by me on my Buckeye tuned to gEADE; guitar accompaniment the second time through using a 12-fret Epiphone Masterbilt in standard guitar tuning sans capo. Tune and recording Copyright 2017 - Jeff Norman.
About the tune
I wrote this tune in honor of a friend's rambunctious little cat "Heathcliff" who stayed in my apartment for about a week while they were out of town. Correction: Heathcliff was supposed to stay with me for a week, but he was a little ball of energy and I was just too exhausted to keep up with his antics after about 3 days (also my cat Peekay was not thrilled with an intruder and started "marking her territory" in response...sigh). Thankfully, another friend volunteered to watch Heathcliff for the duration of the week and (with some dogged cleaning) Peekay's efforts fell short of depriving me of my security deposit when I moved out.
This is the only tune I've ever written in what Adam Hurt calls "Sandy River Belle tuning" (gEADE); though it looks a lot like A modal, its meant to be treated as a non-open tuning for the key of G major. To use Sandy River Belle tuning, one plays melodies around chord shapes; this approach is akin to what Chet Atkins did on guitar. Speaking of guitar, this tuning should feel quite comfortable to guitarists since the 3 lowest pitched strings are tuned the same (though 1 octave higher) as those of a guitar in standard tuning.
One interesting feature of "Stripey Cat" is that 1 beat of the A part (ignoring the lead in notes) starts on a phrase best backed by the IV chord (C major) of the key rather than the 1 chord (G major). I suppose you could therefore think of the A part as being in C Lydian rather than G Ionian (click here for my post on modes if you don't know what I'm talking about)...? This is certainly not unique, however - for instance, the B part of "Nail that Catfish..." starts on the IV chord. The B part of "Stripey Cat" starts on the relative minor chord (E minor) and, like many of my tunes, employs some "big brushes" (post on this technique here). There is a 3 note sequence repeated twice between each big brush that you can sing the title to if you're feeling goofy ("stripe-y cat, stripe-y cat") in the B part as well.
I think of the tune as going AAB (with a B part thats quite long); I suppose you could play it AABB as well, but that means that most of your time is spent on the B part - I do think it would be neat to double up on the B part the last time through (but I didn't do that on the above recording). This isn't the most interesting fiddle tune I've written, but I do think its pretty catchy! I've never played this one with a fiddler, but I'd love to hear what a fiddle could do with it one day!
You'll notice that I have a copyright statement below the tune. I asked the good folks over at Banjohangout what was necessary for copyrighting a tune (you can find that discussion here) and they pointed out that simply putting a creative work into "tangible form" was enough to claim copyright on it. Someone else mentioned that I should write that copyright statement in association with each tune as well...so I did. Apparently I can register a copyright for ~$35 but I don't see these tunes as a road to riches so I guess the "tangible form" argument is good enough for me. I'd encourage anyone reading this to take these tunes to jams and festivals if you like them; if you'd like to record one of these tunes for commercial purposes I'm likely all for that too but please contact me before doing so.
Ever since I picked up a guitar at age 15 or so, I've wanted to record an album. However, this has been a bit of an elusive goal in my life so far. I've got a collection of lo-fi recordings of live performances (and 3 or 4 garage-bandy tracks from my high school pop-punk band) but I've just never found a chunk of time or money with which to make my way into a studio.
Since picking up the banjo/finding my way to old time, I just can't help but write fiddle tunes, some of which I actually think are pretty good. As I've pointed out before (here) I think theres plenty of room for original fiddle tunes in the world of Old time music, so I've come up with a plan for getting some of mine out there: over the next 10 weeks, I'm going to use this blog to make myself record and share 1 fiddle tune each week; by the end of that time, I'll have something I could potentially burn onto a CD and hand people who are interested (yes, CDs are a bit of a dated goal, but I still listen to them in the car and while I do the dishes : ). The recording quality won't be stellar but its a start.
Here's the list of tunes:
(yes, this list is a bit meaningless since its just a pile of titles, but it will help organize things on my end):
1) Cheese and Krackers (aDADE)
2) Sisyphus' Hill (aEADE)
3) South Kensington Shuffle (aDADE)
4) This way (aEADE)
5) How's Your Courage? (aDADE)
6) Catawba (aEAC#E)
7) Shine (aDADE)
8) Hobart's Breakdown* (aDAC#E)
9) (un-named D mixolydian tune)** (aDADE)
10) Stripey Cat (gEADE)
* I did not write this one but I feel that I've done a lot to it and I want to share. Its the Hobart Smith tune "Banging breakdown" but with the "banging" removed, the key shifted from C to D, and with some really great chords added.
** This tune will be named by the time I get to it - its just that nothing's come to me yet : )
I'm planning on recording each tune with the same format (3 repeats total...kind of like a Haiku or something):
Repeat 1 - banjo only, basic melody, no guitar
Repeat 2 - banjo basic melody, guitar added
Repeat 3 - anything goes
I got the Idea for this from hearing Chris Coole's recording of his original tune "Skating on the Harbourfront" which I think actually goes two repeats without accompaniment up front. Still, by introducing accompaniment and variation slowly, the structure of that recording makes it really easy to pick the tune out (in addition to adding some dramatic tension!). This format is also pretty easy on me from a recording standpoint. I think theres enough variation in the tunes themselves that this wouldn't be too boring to listen to as a package. As for the "anything goes" portion, I'll likely use that repeat to introduce some melodic and/or harmonic variants on each tune.
The blog post accompanying each tune can be thought of as "liner notes" for the emerging album - I'll talk about techniques used in playing the tune, why I made the decisions I did in writing it, and where the name came from. As you can see, my list is a bit Double-D-heavy because thats where my banjo spends most of its time (and where I prefer to noodle...). I therefore altered these with other tunings on the list above - otherwise its in roughly chronological order for when the tune was written (with "Cheese and Krackers" being the first thing I wrote that I thought was any good).
Over the next week, I'm going to look into what it takes to copyright these things, but in the end I may not bother: fiddle tunes are not exactly a pathway to riches and I wouldn't want to discourage anyone from playing/sharing them. However I come down on this, the Punch Brothers are welcome to these tunes for free (though if they wanted to pay me, I wouldn't object : ).
As usual - I hope this exercise will be interesting for someone other than myself : ) See you next week for "Cheese and Krackers."
Last week's foray into fretless (here) got me thinking a bit more about "blue notes," the notes which, as the name implies, can be used to impart a bit of bluesy flavor into a piece of music. This week I thought I'd start by identifying blue notes on the fingerboard. Then I'll give a few examples of a fun way to throw them into fiddle tunes.
What is a blue note?
Simply put, I treat flattened 3rds, 5ths, and 7ths as "blue notes" when stuck into an otherwise major/ionian tune. Wikipedia includes flattened 6ths in this mix as well and I likely would too but I don't have much occasion to use them and I'll therefore leave flattened 6ths out of today's discussion for simplicity. Once again, I probably wouldn't use the term "blue note" for notes that are consistent with the modality of a tune (more on modes here). For example, I don't think of the G naturals in "Red Haired Boy" as blue notes, even though they are flattened 7ths of the A major scale; after all, "Red Haired Boy" is a mixolydian tune and G naturals/flattened 7ths are, by definition, part of the A mixolydian scale. Similarly, I don't think most people would think minor (flattened) thirds in minor melodies as blue notes either.
The flattened 3rds in Minor Pentatonic tunes like "Cluck Old Hen" (post on Minor Pentatonic tunes here) could be called blue notes if major chords are played in the background (discussed in another post here) since theres definitely some harmonic tension between the major third in the root chord and the minor (flattened) third in the minor pentatonic scale. These tunes definitely sound quite bluesy with the right set of chords. However, I mainly use the term "blue note" for throwing these notes in when they don't "belong" (i.e. in standard major/ionian tunes). When you manage to sneak flattened 3rds or 7ths into "Cripple Creek" or "Fly around...," (which I'll be doing a bit further down the page) these are properly described as blue notes. Its possible that other people use this term differently (...its also possible that I'm boring you to death with all this hair-splitting...).
Where can you find the blue notes on the fingerboard?
Below is a fretboard map showing the location of blue notes alongside ionian/major scale notes in 3 of my most commonly used banjo tunings:
Figure 1 - Maps of the banjo fretboard in Open A (left), Double D (middle), and Old G (right) tunings. Only notes on strings 1-4 are shown. Notes of the tuning's relevant major scale (i.e. A major for Open A tuning, D major for Double D tuning, and G major for Old G tuning; post on Old G here) are shown outlined in green, while blue notes are outlined in pink with different shapes representing different types of blue notes. Notes located on the nut are notes of open strings.
With the information above you should be able to pick out a major scale relevant to each tuning and find blue notes for a bit of color! One thing to note: in all of these tunings, you can find a lot of blue notes on the 3rd and 6th frets.
So lets mess with a few tunes by adding in some blue notes:
How do you add blue notes into tunes?
I often go for subtlety in my playing...but today, I'm going to abandon this preference and embed blue notes in to some familiar tunes with a sledgehammer : ) I'm basing this approach on something I often hear fiddlers do: heavily accent the note on the beat just before the beginning of a musical phrase. In the tunes we'll look at today, we'll imitate this move with an extended hammer on that starts on a blue note for contrast. Let's jump in by putting a flattened 3rd into the A part of "Fly around my pretty little miss:"
Figure 2 - The A part of "Fly around..." with blue notes added in. Tab is meant to be played in double D tuning. Blue notes are highlighted in pink.
...I'm just now realizing that I should have highlighted blue notes in blue....sigh.
To play the tab above, and those below, we've got to break right hand stride (posts on stride here and here). The lead-in note to Figure 2, which consists of a flattened third and a couple open strings, is played with a heavy brush so that it rings long enough for the delayed hammer-on (actually I often do this one with an index finger slide instead) to retain some oomph. Note: I've put a rest between the two notes to indicate time passage - this does not indicate that the note should be muted in the middle. During the first beat of the first measure (post lead-in note) your right hand just takes a break and waits for the next beat to come along. If you miss the first blue note, you get another chance halfway through the A part : )
So lets hear this thing:
Example 1 - the A part from "Fly around..." with blue notes (Figure 2) played on the Buckeye.
Once again, not subtle, but pretty satisfying!
Blue notes can also be a fun way to spice up a tune you've played a million times. Here's everybody's first tune "Cripple Creek" with both a flattened 7th and a flattened 3rd thrown in.
Figure 3 - The A part of "Cripple Creek" with blue notes thrown in. Tab is meant to be played in Open A tuning. Blue notes, once again, highlighted in pink.
Note that though while we're using a "long hammer-on" riff similar to the one we used in Figure 2 to add a flattened 7th blue note into "Cripple Creek," there is one important difference: we're using our hammer on to travel the full step between the flattened 7th (G) and the next note up the scale (A) rather than sliding up the half step to the standard ionian 7th (G#).
Might as well take the time to hear this one too:
Example 2 - The A part of "Cripple Creek" with blue notes (Figure 3).
I picked the B part of "John Brown's Dream" as an example of a flattened 5th blue note; one more use of the heavy-handed "slow hammer-on lead-in" trope that I've been leaning on for this whole post.
Figure 4 - The B part of "John Brown's Dream" with some blue notes thrown in (again, in pink).
Notice that I randomly threw a flattened 3rd into the 4th measure for some variety : ) A final bit of audio:
Example 3 - The B part of "John Brown's Dream" with blue notes (Figure 4).
Hope you're inspired to throw some blue notes in to your own playing. Until next week!
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.