Regular readers of this blog may remember a fiddle tune I wrote earlier this year called "Pig Roast with Cory" - the tune was written in remembrance of my good friend Cory who passed away in January. While writing the tune I did my best to pack as much of Cory into it as possible (more on that here). This past weekend I went down to VA for a memorial pig roast in Cory's honor. Cory's funeral was a pretty dark occasion for all of us, so the idea was to have an event that celebrated, rather than mourned, Cory. I will say it was a pretty great success in that department - I really think Cory would have loved it!
In light of that event, I thought I'd do a bit of an update on "Pig Roast with Cory." After listening back on that tune, I've decided the first recording was a bit to somber in tone for a tune meant to recall happy times (i.e. Pig Roasts with Cory). I therefore re-recorded the tune with a couple of tweaks to lighten things up a bit (though, importantly I didn't change the melody). First off, I decided to play it slow and bouncy (sensu Dwight Diller) to give it more of a groove. Second, I backed the tune up the second time through with a major-chord-heavy progression on the guitar (more on backing minor pentatonic tunes here). The chords I came up with are pretty nifty:
"Pig Roast with Cory" chords:
Those aren't typos - E minors ("Em") are immediately followed by E majors ("E"). If I had to pick one chord for both beats I would have picked an E major, or possibly E7, but the melody hits a G over that chord (suggesting a minor 3rd) and I'm still a bit uncomfortable with the clashing notes there....plus those chords in quick succession are kinda cool.
"Pig Roast with Cory" - 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 tuning. Tune and recording Copyright 2017 - Jeff Norman.
I like that recording a lot better than the original - kinda sounds danceable even! I think Cory would have enjoyed playing it that way. Though I didn't group this tune in with the original list of 10 tunes to include on my "album" of original fiddle tunes (here), I thought I'd add it in after the fact - so "Pig Roast with Cory" is now track 11.
Next week I will: 1) try not to post so late : )...and 2) perhaps record another track for the album - only 2 more left to finish it out! See you then!
This week I thought I'd talk a bit about double stops, a technique I find myself using in my playing fairly often these days. Before going further, I'll give a definition: a "double stop" is just a fancy a fiddle term for playing two notes on adjacent strings at the same time. I'm not sure the term is typically applied for non-bowed instruments but whatever, I'm using it anyhow. Since we're playing clawhammer, we'll use the striking finger to hit both strings at the same time (i.e. we wont, for instance, pluck one string with the index and one with the thumb). This technique takes a bit of control and is probably easier with a good fingernail, but I'm willing to bet that there's not too much of a learning curve if you haven't tried it before - heck, every player has likely done it by accident at least a few times.
Double stops are pretty useful in that they let you play a second note to harmonize melody notes. You could use this technique to play parallel harmonies; for an example of this, check out figures 21-23 of my "27 variations on the walk-up in Spotted Pony" post (here). Today however, I'll talk about using double stops to "suggest" chordal accompaniment instead. For this discussion, we'll focus on the B part of "Coleman's March," a tune into which I frequently pepper double stops. Figure 1 shows how I play the B part with all the bum-ditty chords removed while maintaining right hand stride through the magic of ghost notes (I previously used this trick to avoid over-harmonizing my modal exploration of "Coleman's March" here):
Figure 1 - The B part of "Coleman's March" with all the chords removed
(meant to be played in double D tuning - aDADE).
You can hear my play the above tab in Example 1 below:
Example 1 - Me playing Figure 1 on my nylgut-strung Buckbee (here) tuned to double D.
Perhaps a little bland huh? Figure 1 is basically a blank canvas upon which we can overlay some harmony to spice things up. One option would be to simply add chords back in where the ghost notes were. However, thats a bit heavy handed for a pretty tune like this one and (to echo a few complaints that I've seen on banjohangout), constant strumming on the 2 and 4 beats (i.e. playing straight "bum-ditty" banjo) feels overly bluegrassy to some. Double stops to the rescue!
Adding double stops to suggest chords in "Coleman's March"
Before suggesting chords with double stops, we've got to pick a set to go with. Here's the standard set of chords I often play for the B part of this tune:
Standard chords for the B part of "Coleman's March:"
D D A A
G G D D
D A G D
G A D D
My strategy for this exercise is to add a single double stop at the beginning of every measure. In this way, I'm emphasizing the "1" beat and therefore not "bluegrassifying" my old time music : ) Since each measure would last for 2 chords, with each chord representing a single "boom-chick" for a guitarist, I end up using every other chord above (those I've put in bold). Figure 2 shows what I came up with:
Figure 2 - The B part of "Coleman's March" with double stops added in to suggest a standard set of chords (meant to be played in double D tuning - aDADE). Notes that have been added to harmonize melody notes are highlighted in green; the "standard set of chords" is also written above the staff.
One thing to note - I decided to move the double stop to the 2nd beat in measure 5 because I just like it better there. Since the D chord lasts for 2 beats, this double stop is still meant to suggest a D chord. Again, let's here it:
Example 2 - Me playing Figure 2 on my nylgut-strung Buckbee tuned to double D.
Pretty nice huh? I find that double stops on the banjo add a lot to a banjo fiddle duet, especially when you're trying to "tread lightly" in a rhythmic sense. Real quick, I'll break down what I've done here. Below you'll see the chord that occurs at the beginning of each measure (again, those shown in bold above) followed by the 3 notes that make up each triad.
Chords I was trying to suggest with double stops in Figure 2:
Measure 1 - D major (D, F#, A)
Measure 2 - A major (A, C#, E)
Measure 3 - G major (G, B, D)
Measure 4 - D major (D, F#, A)
Measure 5 - D major (D, F#, A)
Measure 6 - G major (G, B, D)
Measure 7 - G major (G, B, D)
Measure 8 - D major (D, F#, A)
Note that I've underlined the melody note in each of the above doublestops, and put the harmonizing notes in bold. Obviously double stops don't allow you to get all 3 notes of a chord so you have to make some choices. My strategy was to pick the root note for each chord unless that was too hard to reach (e.g. trying to reach the 5th fret to get the "G" at the beginning of measure 6 makes it hard for me to play the following few notes) or it was already taken by the melody note (e.g. measures 7 and 8). In Measures 1 and 5, I ignored that second suggestion and played octave double stops for fun (...is this really "harmonizing?"...not sure).
So lets have a bit more fun with double stops by switching the chords up.
Using double stops with chord substitutions
As I mentioned in previous posts (here and here), I really like subbing out "vanilla" chords for something a bit more interesting when I've got space to do so. Some people don't care for this practice in an old time context - if you're one of those types please stop reading...
...still with me? Cool. While 90% of guitarists will stick pretty closely to the standard set of chords I outlined above, I've found that its kinda fun to throw some surprises in the first half of the B part. Here is an alternate set of chords for the B part of "Coleman's march:"
Alternate chords for the B part of "Coleman's March:"
Bm Bm F#m F#m
G G A A
D A G D
G A D D
Again, both sets of chords are equally "right" - its just that the so-called "standard" set, or something very close to it, is more popular than the "alternate" set above. Let's use double stops to suggest these alternate chords in "Coleman's March."
Figure 3 - The B part of "Coleman's March" with double stops added in to suggest an alternate set of chords (meant to be played in double D tuning - aDADE). Notes that have been added to harmonize melody notes are highlighted in green; the "alternate set of chords" is also written above the staff.
A couple things to note in Figure 3. First off, I had to sneak the melody note (high D) to an open string in the first beat of the first measure to make room for a harmonizing note on the 2nd string. For similar reasons, I moved the melody note on the first beat of the 4th measure up to the 7th fret, requiring a change in hand position (indicated in the tab - more on left hand positions here). Also, I changed the notes on the 3rd beats of the first and second measure to match the prevailing chords - these aren't really "melody notes" per se...really just filler while we're waiting for the melody to start again.
I'll spare you another "dissect the chords" exercise as above - suffice it to say that I took roughly the same approach when picking harmonizing notes for double stops....I just changed which chords I used for the first half.
Enough chatter - let's hear it!
Me playing Figure 3 on my nylgut-strung Buckbee tuned to double D.
Did you like that one? I totally dig it...
As with any chord substitutions, this tactic is best tried out when you're the only chordal instrument (unless you coordinate with your guitarist). I think its nice to play something like Figure 3 once or twice during a banjo-fiddle duet just to change things up.
That's it for now - see you next week!
This weekend's banjo energy was used on prepping for, and then playing, a block party in the lansing area with the Sigogglin' Stringband, the group I played the square dance with last year (more about that here). We've decided we'd like to find some more gigs this season so I may put together a website for us in the near future. In the mean time, if you'd like to book a 3 piece old time band for a gig in the Lansing area (or beyond!) please use the contact button in the upper right corner of this page.
Saturday night the band came over to my new place, worked up some songs, and ate some veggie curry. As an aside: nothing will make the neighbors come over and introduce themselves more quickly than an old time band on the porch : ) You'll notice that I said we worked up "songs" rather than "tunes" - for those not in the know, the word "song" typically indicates something that is meant to be sung (i.e. something with words), while "tune" is used for something instrumental. These definitions get a bit fuzzy since many fiddle tunes have words as well and can be sung...but they also have a certain unmistakeable structure that seems to differentiate them from "songs" as well. Sigh - most of the Sigogglin' Stringband is composed of Ethnomusicologists who could certainly talk about these distinctions with more authority - perhaps I'll bug them about this some day.
Anyways...vocal numbers, whatever you may call them, are certainly out of the norm for me but I had a ton of fun backing them on banjo! Furthermore, I even sang a few myself. I find my voice only really functions well in the keys of D and C (G and A tunes veer a bit high for my limited range). I therefore picked 2 songs that I play in D: "The Dying Californian" which is a Sacred Harp tune that I heard the Flat Iron Stringband do a while back, and "Dinks Song" which I first heard Furnace Mountain do (I talk a bit more about both of these albums here). "Dinks Song" has become a bit more popular in recent years because it was featured in the Cohen Brothers movie "Inside Llewyn Davis."
Today, I woke up late, made some breakfast, then brushed up on all the new songs until the gig this afternoon. Playing and singing with phenomenal musicians in today's gorgeous Michigan weather was just incredible - I'm still riding high on the extra endorphins! Hopefully some of this mood will carry over into my work week : )
A sad note to end today's post on: I found out this past week that my banjo buddy Stew, who has posted comments to this blog several times (for example here and here), passed away in early August. I first met Stew on a trip to Elderly Instruments not too long after moving to Michigan - I was plunking around on a couple of the show room banjos and Stew came over to introduce himself and tell me that he liked my playing - turns out I really liked his playing too. Over the past few years, we've kept in touch via email, banjo hangout, and through this site. Our paths crossed several times in person as well - we saw each other at local jams and became lunch- and workshop-buddies at Midwest banjo camp.
Stew was super welcoming to me and a great banjo player. I always admired his right hand: he basically ignored the "bum ditty" approach and created roll patterns using a lot of drop thumb (something I'm a bit too clumsy to pull off most of the time). Stew would sneak melody notes in sparsely, but he really took the chordal/rhythmic role of the banjo seriously. As a result, it was super fun for the two of us to play together - by occupying different parts of the spectrum we ended up sounding like a guy with 4 arms playing a double-necked banjo! He also coaxed really, really, really, great out of his Brooks banjo. I wish I'd gotten to know Stew better but I feel fortunate to have known him the bit that I did. My heart goes out to his family and friends - know that I'll keep Stew in my thoughts as well.
This week I traveled to New Hampshire to attend, and play banjo for, a family members' wedding. Thankfully, I was joined on fiddle and guitar by my "Clifftop cousin" John (his term that I've now officially added to my vocab) who lives in the area. We played fiddle tunes before the wedding while the crowd was being seated and after the wedding as the cocktail hour entertainment. During the ceremony, we played "Atlantic" by "Sleeping at last," which is a bit outside the Old-Time canon - if you read this blog regularly you'll remember that I worked out an arrangement of that tune a couple weeks back (details here).
While its always a bit nerve-wracking to play during a wedding ceremony, everything went perfectly! John had done his homework and worked out a great finger-style guitar accompaniment for "Atlantic," based on the recording I did a few weeks back, that sounded just fantastic. After the rehearsal it seemed best to play the tune across all of the big entrances during the ceremony; namely: the bridal party, the ring bearers (yup, there were two), and the bride herself. We had a goal of hitting the high C note (really high D since I ended up tuning up to double D) just when the bride entered. To get this move just right, I had to stretch out the preceding parts just a bit with John following my lead - luckily he's a pro and it sounded seamless to my ears! We played my favorite tune, "Coleman's March," during the recessional - yes, I know the "hanging" story associated with that tune may make it inappropriate for a wedding in the eyes of many...but I don't know if I buy that story anyhow, and the tune is just gorgeous (I was honored to have Emily, the fiddler from "Happy Hollow String Band" play "Coleman's March" in my wedding BTW).
Overall, I had a blast and I think John did too. As I mentioned last week (here), I just love fiddle/banjo duets and, alongside some top-40 tunes (e.g. "Angeline the Baker" and "Over the Waterfall"), we delved in to a few deep cuts during the cocktail hour (Marcus Martin's "Boatsman" and "Wimbush rag" come to mind). My brother-in-law cooked up a couple of 26-lb beef roasts on his buddy's amazing smoker/rotisserie while the ceremony was going; he paid John back for his services with several pounds of meat to take home - not too shabby : )
On top of all that, John also posted a video of me jamming out on "Big Scioty" at Clifftop this year, which I thought I'd share:
Me, and some other "Clifftop cousins" (Mike, Chuck, and Bruce) jamming out on "Big Scioty" with representatives of our neighborhood's new Canadian contingent - hopefully they'll be back next year!
I'm playing the Buckeye tuned to Old G (gDGDE).
Cam, who taught me "La Rotta," (aka "Cam's Medieval tune" - here) is playing fiddle in the above video. Dude can play, huh??
I've actually got a gig with "Sigogglin' Stringband" (the band that I played the square-dance with - here) coming up when I get back to MI next week. I'll may give a rundown in next week's post - see you then!
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.