This week I had planned to build on last week's post (here) and mess with the Medieval tune I learned from a fiddler at Clifftop, which I now know to be called "La Rotta" thanks to a helpful voice in the comments section (thanks Geoff!!). However, I'm playing in a wedding in a couple of weeks and I've got to work up an arrangement of a quite different tune requested by the bride. I therefore thought I'd take this week to share the process of playing another decidedly-non-old-time tune on clawhammer banjo.
Playing in weddings
Some people think that banjo is not a wedding friendly instrument - however, this will actually be the third wedding in which I've played banjo and they've all gone quite well! In my first wedding banjo appearance, I actually followed the bride down the aisle while playing "You are my sunshine," which was a particularly-special song to the bride's family. During the second wedding I played alongside a fiddle and guitar; we played a bunch of fiddle tunes while people were getting seated then played some pretty waltzes and slow tunes during various entrances. During the recessional in that wedding we also ripped through "Peace Behind the Bridge" which was a lot of fun (and likely a bit unexpected in tone for the audience : ).
During the upcoming wedding, I'll be playing during the ceremony and the cocktail hour that follows. For the cocktail hour, a fiddler and I will run through some fiddle tunes as background entertainment. While the tune choice for some parts of the ceremony is still a bit up in the air, the bride is sure that she'd like me to play a snippet of a particular song while she walks up the aisle. The song is called "Atlantic" and it's an instrumental song by "Sleeping At Last" featuring piano, drums, various strings, and even a banjo in one part (which may have been one reason the bride chose it for me) - I really dig it! To learn the song, I was sent a link to a youtube video, which I've embedded below:
Note - I typically shy away from putting youtube videos in these posts (other than those from Elderly or ones I made) but I think it's appropriate here; if the original artist or anyone else with claim to this music has a problem with this, please use the "contact" tab to let me know and I will immediately remove this video.
"Atlantic" by Sleeping At Last. Link to full video here.
Nice tune right? But how the heck do you banjo-ize something like this? Well, I'll show you what I 've come up with so far, then I'll talk through how I got there. Without further ado, here's my version of "Atlantic" for solo banjo:
"Atlantic" played on my Buckeye tuned to double C (gCGCD).
The banjo-ification of "Atlantic"
First off, I had to pick a tuning and I ended up setting on double C (gCGCD). Normally, I put C tunes (which this is) in open C (gCGCE) but I realized that my other most wedding friendly tunes (e.g. "Coleman's March") are D tunes, which I would play in double D (aDADE). Since I'd rather not re-tune during the ceremony, figuring out the tune in double C (and playing in double D if necessary to accommodate playing other tunes with a fiddler) is a safe bet. I think it actually works a bit better in double C, rather than open C, anyhow
Next I had to think about which parts to play. Theres clearly a lot going on in this song and I'm just one instrument - I had to make some choices of what to cut and what to keep. I decided to 1) start with a sketch of the chords that start the tune, 2) go into the piano riff that seems to be the main crux of the thing, 3) make my way to the banjo part (i.e. the part that is played on a banjo in the Sleeping At Last recording), 4) hit the piano riff again, and finish. I'll go through these choices below:
1) Sketch out the opening chords
"Atlantic" starts with a 2 chord sequence that I really like - at it's heart I think its an A minor followed by the same chord with the root note moved to a B (don't feel like getting together a formal classification of what that chord would be...). I just pulled 2 notes from each chord (E and A followed by E and B) and cycled between them a couple times. I decided to go at double speed of what Sleeping at Last did to match the other parts (before doing this the transition to the second part sounded a bit sloppy to me).
2) Go into the piano riff
This riff is likely what you'd hum if someone asked you to hum "Atlantic" so I wanted to nail this part. Theres a phrase backed by an F major chord which is repeated 4x, followed by a similar phrase backed by a C major chord that is repeated 2x. I cycle through this a couple of times, first without much harmony, and increasing the harmony over time (eventually strumming a chord at the beginning of every repeat of the phrases).
3) Make my way to the banjo part
The part of "Atlantic" that Sleeping At Last plays on banjo is pretty simple: just a few opening phrases and then the banjo player hangs on a high C for a while (and backs it with a C major chord). I was able to reproduce this last part pretty easily by holding down the 10th fret of the 1st string and putting some variations into my right hand choices. I may move my chords to 2 and 4 beats to match what Sleeping At Last is doing (right now I've got the chords on the 1 beat to match the other phrases).
4) Hit the piano riff again and finish
When Sleeping At Last returns to the piano riff later in "Atlantic" they change things up a bit - specifically, they add in a G major backing chord on occasion. Unfortunately, I couldn't get this move very smooth while maintaining the piano riff (even though I really like the sound). My solution was to repeat what I did for part 1 and then end on strumming a G major - I kinda like how this worked out : ).
As of now this thing is likely too long for a stroll down the aisle - I have sent a recording to the bride so hopefully she'll have some input on what to keep and what to remove. We may end up using this tune to cover all of the entrances (Bridesmaids, parents, etc.) as well, in which case it may be just right. We shall see!
Either way, I'm always honored to be asked to play in a wedding and I'm pretty happy with what I've got worked out here - hope you liked it too! Next week I've got some family visiting, so I may or may not have time for my "La Rotta" plans - stay tuned!
Also - hope everyone tomorrow's eclipse!
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.