While I had big plans to record another track from my album (here) this week, I kinda got sidetracked and recorded a fiddle tune called "Been to the east, been to the west" (or some variation of that) instead. I've basically been humming this tune on and off since I first heard it at Clifftop this past summer - story below:
As I've mentioned before, Old Time music is particularly amazing because, unlike most forms of music, the professional players are so accessible. For that reason, one of the best things to do late night at Clifftop is to simply walk around and listen to jams - while I wouldnt recommend trying to butt into a jam without being invited, most people are just fine with you lurking outside the circle and listening, and you may see some of your favorite players cutting loose with their friends. Its really fun for me to know which tunes performers like to play just for fun.
One night this past Clifftop (maybe thursday?) I came across a pretty amazing jam at Rachel Eddy's tent: Rachel and Adam Hurt were on fiddle (I've gushed over Adam's fiddle playing previously here), Brad Kolodner was on banjo, Beth Hartness was on guitar, and Mark Hellenberg was on banjo uke. There was also a bass player and a low-tuned tenor banjo player (!) who's names I never caught. The grooves coming out of that tent were just incredible and, rather than continuing to wander the swamp, I planted myself there for just about an album's worth of tunes. Incidentally, there was someone there recording that jam with a fancy microphone....what ever happens to recordings like that??
There were a TON of great tunes that night, most of which I wasn't all that familiar with. But, for whatever reason, the one that really drilled itself into my head had a pretty simple melody that I've been humming ever since. Mystery fiddle tunes can be a bit tough to track down - I hoped that I'd run across it again in the wild again one day (kinda like my Brian Slattery story here). However, I did have a breadcrumb to track the tune down with: Rachel Eddy actually sang little snippets of lyrics over top of the tune and I was pretty sure she said "I've been to the east, I've been to the west" at some point. This weekend, I finally sat down to youtube and found her playing a tune called "Been to the East, Been to the west." That was such a simple search that I can't believe it took me this long to do it!. After hearing the tune again again, I just had to learn to play it!
Whenever I find a tune I really like I tend to listen to a lot of recordings to sample the breadth of ways that people play it - after hearing a few different takes on the tune (and visiting Slippery Hill) I found one strange thing about how Rachel Eddy plays it: while its typically played in G, she's shifted it to D. This presented a bit of a conundrum: I really really like Rachel's version and the tune seemed to fall pretty easily in double D (aDADE), but its a lot more useful from a jam perspective to learn tunes in their common keys. I decided to bite the bullet and learn the tune both ways: I therefore spent a bit of time this weekend figuring out both a G version (gDGDE) and D version (aDADE) of "Been to the East, Been to the West" inspired largely by the 2 youtube videos I found of Rachel Eddy playing it. Here's a recording of the G version:
"Been to the East, Been to the West" played on my Buckeye in Old G (gDGDE) tuning. Guitar accompaniment on a 12-fret Epiphone Masterbilt in standard tuning sans capo.
Something about Rachel Eddy's playing seems to suggest that I should hold a minor chord (in this case E minor, though in the D version it would be a B minor) about halfway through the B part - most of the other versions I've heard don't really have that quality (which is probably why I like her playing on this tune so much!). The chord's I came up with (and played above) are as follows:
Do I hold the E minor one beat too long? I can't decide...
Again, I learned a D version as well and initially I thought I'd re-record the whole thing in that key....then I had a different idea: rather than playing in true D, I thought I'd tune a banjo down to double G (dGDGA - basically double D tuned down 3.5 steps) and record the low-tuned banjo alongside my G tuned Buckeye creating a unison banjo/cello banjo effect. Nifty, right? I had the perfect candidate banjo: the Buckbee that I bought this past summer (here) - since it never gets played with anyone else, that banjo spends a lot of its time tuned pretty low (and sounds quite good!)...surely it can handle double G, right? Well - I guess technically it did handle that tuning okay, but the result wasn't that pretty to my ears - I'll let you judge for yourself:
"Been to the East, Been to the West" played on my Buckeye in Old G (gDGDE) tuning and my Buckbee in double G (dGDGA - double D tuning tuned 3.5 steps low). Guitar accompaniment on a 12-fret Epiphone Masterbilt in standard tuning sans capo.
I have the medium nylgut strings on the Buckbee banjo and I'll definitely need to switch over to the thicker aquila minstrel set if I want to try tuning it that low again. The current strings were SUPER floppy in double G. They also tried as hard as they could to go out of tune every time I played the banjo (I think the screws on the friction pegs need a bit of tightening too). All in all, I still think this was a pretty good idea - just not great execution : )
I really may get minstrel strings on that banjo for that cool low sound (that banjo really loses something when tuned up to standard) and maybe even do some more "double banjo" recording?....we shall see.
Until next week!
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!
This Blog has been all over the place as of late (well...maybe it always has) - however, rather than stubbornly sticking to some pre-determined plan (i.e. messing with "La Rotta" as promised here), it seems appropriate to use this blog to chronicle what's actually going on in my "banjo-life" from week to week. In that spirit, I'll be talking about the tune "Maggie Meade" this week - the biggest reason for this is that a local fiddler and I were filmed playing it on our lunch break (and its also one of my favorite tunes at the moment!):
"Maggie Meade" played by myself (on my Buckeye) and Molly McBride (on fiddle).
Great tune right??
While the Michigan weather allows it, Molly and I get together on our lunch break once a week and play some tunes. This is mostly for our own amusement but on occasion we get an audience - this week, Molly had a co-worker film us as a promo video for her upcoming concert at the 10 pound fiddle (details on that event here). I was flattered that she'd want me in her promo video, and I thought we sounded pretty great!
The tune we played here is called "Maggie Meade" - its a G minor tune from Kentucky fiddler J.P. Farley...and I just freakin love it! As with all of my G tunes, I play "Maggie Meade" in Old G tuning (gDGDE - more on that tuning here). If you read the post in that link, you'll see that the fact that Old G works for minor tunes is one of the "pros" I listed for this tuning. However, this "pro" was a bit theoretical when I wrote that original post - "Maggie Meade" is the first G minor tune I've ever come across! I definitely loved the tune the second I heard it and wanted to learn it at any cost - its especially nice to not have to retune for just one song so Old G was quite the blessing.
I decided that I'd write up a tab of "Maggie Meade" for anyone who'd like to add it to their repertoire:
A quick word on that tab: I had to jump around octaves a bit to make the thing playable in the banjo's range. Rather than falling in the "natural octave" for a banjo (which is, in my opinion, one octave below where the fiddle plays - more on that here), I mostly play in unison with the fiddle since this tune veers fairly low in the fiddle's range. However, there's a stretch in the A part (measures 4 and 5) where the fiddle jumps up, but my banjo stays low - to stay in unison with the fiddle, I'd have to jump way up the neck here....and I just don't wanna : )
Hope that anyone reading found that useful! To finish up, I'll point out that Molly and I actually did a second minor tune as well. Here's a video of us playing "Sally in the Garden" in D minor:
Molly and I playing "Sally in the Garden"....in a garden (well, quad)
other than a few subtle variations and a low harmony in the B part, I pretty much stick to Mike Iverson's tab of this tune (I talked a bit about his site here). Good luck with "Maggie Meade" - see you next week!
PS - if anyone has other favorite G minor old time tunes, please mention them in the comments section - I'd love to learn them!
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!
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!
I've stopped somewhere in Ohio to find some wifi along the road to Clifftop (getting there later tonight) and I thought I'd take a sec to post something about the instruments I've decided to bring and why. Here's what's currently in the back of my car:
The Buckeye (here) - Great banjo for solo playing, singing along to, or smaller jams/duos
El Hefe (here) - For bigger jams. Also, I've added back the 6th string (here), which allows me to play more of a "supporting role" when Im not the only banjo in a jam.
Bacon Mandolin (here) - I met some really great mando players last year and I'm hoping to get some pointers!
Baritone Ukulele (here) - for early morning/unobtrusive picking
I left my guitar at home for a few reasons: first off, its a bit big and I've already got 4 other instruments with me. Secondly, if you have a guitar, people make you play it! I'd typically rather play banjo so why even present the option? : ) Perhaps not the most "jam friendly" decision I've made.
For some reason, my music tastes on the trip down have veered far from Old Time. So far, I've listened to Modest Mouse, Belle and Sebastian, the Killers, Jeff Buckley, and Creeper Lagoon. Oh and the Fugees! Kinda on a journey down memory lane....but I think I'll have it out of my system by the time I hit the festival : )
I'll be back next week with some good Clifftop stories! If you're going to the festival, come find me and say hi!
While I'm still in the throes of moving houses (ugh...for some reason I thought doing this a little bit at a time would be less stressful), I feel a bit negligent for skipping the blog last week; I'm therefore making time for it this weekend. For today's post I'm tackling "the cluck," a sometimes-maligned percussive maneuver favored by many so-called "modern" clawhammer players (myself included). Let's get started!
What is the cluck and how do you do it?
Most readers of this blog likely know what I'm talking about already, but for good measure: the cluck is a percussive sound accomplished by the right hand (for a right-handed player that is...). The sound is something like a "chimey" click, like you're snapping along to the beat with a little bit of resonance (sound examples to follow).
As for how to do it - well, to be honest, while I can pull a cluck out of just about any banjo (in fact, I'm usually fighting to dial back my clucks), I have a hard time explaining how to do it when people ask. What I can tell you is that, while I play melody notes with my index finger, I cluck with my ring and middle fingers (kind of simultaneously). I have very short fingernails on those two fingers so its mostly skin hitting the strings, which may or may not be important. The motion moves across the strings faster than a brush and actually involves a little kind of twist/flick of my wrist. I also hit mostly the top 2 or 3 strings rather than all 5. If that's not enough info for you to get a cluck out of your own banjo, there are some really great tutorials on youtube (in particular one "rocket science banjo" video featuring Tony Spadaro) that can likely be of more assistance.
Things that affect the sound of the cluck
First off, setup matters. As readers may know, I'm pretty finicky about head tension (here) and banjos with properly tightened heads certainly have louder clucks than those with looser heads. The Buckeye (here) has a pretty wild cluck at a head tension of 90ish and above - in fact the clucks kind of dwarf the melody notes at that setting, which is one reason that I really like to keep the head dialed back to 88 or 89.
The other thing that really affects the intensity of the cluck is where you do it. The type of cluck that rings across an open field/parking lot/etc. for most banjos lives around the 19th fret. In fact, I got the buckeye scooped to the 15th fret just so I'd have plenty of room to hit this location with all of my might. There is a natural harmonic at the 19th fret that likely propels clucks forward at this locale. If you're having trouble clucking, you might try moving your efforts to the 19th fret sweet spot.
However, you don't have to be there to cluck - you can cluck over the head and further up the neck. Below, I've included a picture of the Buckeye and some corresponding sound files - I've marked out 4 places on the neck and recorded myself clucking (just a basic bum-ditty with brushes switched out for clucks) at all 4 of them.
Figure 1 - A picture of the Buckeye taken in the apartment I just moved out of (nostalgia!). I've marked 4 places on the neck/over the head that correspond to where I cluck in the sound files below. Note that these locations indicate where the cluck happens - my melody notes (i.e. the "bums" in the bums-ditty below) are played a fret (or imaginary fret) or two up the neck with my index finger.
Examples 1 and 2 - Over the neck clucking. Example 1 (left, above) is clucking at the 12th fret, while Example 2 (right, above) is clucking at the 19th fret. The 19th fret is my go-to spot.
Examples 3 and 4 - Over the head clucking. Example 3 (left, above) is clucking just over the head. In fact, I'm trying to play with my index finger at the head-to-pot joint and cluck just below that so I may have aimed the arrow a little low in Figure 1. Example 4 (right, above) is clucking about halfway between the head-to-pot joint and the bridge.
As you can tell, all of these clucks sound just a bit different. In general, theres a bit of a rounder/more-bassy/darker sound as you move up the neck, and a sharper/more-trebley/brighter sound as you mover towards the bridge. This is the same pattern that melody notes follow when played over the neck or towards the bridge and likely also has something to do with the harmonics/overtones that one finds at these locations. The clucks in Examples 2 and 3 sound pretty good to my ear but those in Examples 1 and 4 are not that usable (Example 1 is a bit weak, and Example 4 I find a bit annoying).
When to cluck
As I learned in a recent post on banjo hangout (here), when to use the cluck (if ever!) is a contentious issue amongst banjo players! However, as with most things banjo, this is obviously a matter of opinion and theres really no wrong answer about when to cluck.
My position on the matter can be summed up as follows: I freaking love clucks. The percussive side of the banjo is one of the things that attracted me to it in the first place and up-the-neck clucky playing is really one of my favorite banjo styles to listen to. I've also gotten to a place in my playing where my clucks are fairly non-optional - I don't really do a lot of index-finger brushing these days so I either put clucks or ghost notes where my brushes would normally go - I could likely work on breaking myself of this habit...but I don't wanna. I control the intensity of my clucks by dialing back my right hand force and/or moving around where I strike (as shown in figure 1 and the sound files above). That being said, clucks don't always play a huge role in my playing. For example, my version of "Yew Piney Mountain" (which I've talked about here) includes only a few (what I deem to be tasteful) clucks:
Example 5 - "Yew Piney Mountain" played on the Buckeye with just a few clucks : )
The anti-cluck crowd seems to think that clucks are either 1) over-used by many players or 2) non-authentic. In the over-use camp, some players tend to cluck on every available off-beat (i.e.the 2nd and 4th of every measure). This constant off-beat clucking is a lot like mandolin chopping in bluegrass, which I guess is the complaint people have about it. I don't actually have too much of a problem with this (in fact playing with a chop-heavy mandolin player is actually kind of fun) but I suppose I can understand the desire to keep old time weird : ). Some players would rather not emphasize the off-beat at all, and I guess these voices would be anti bum-ditty as well. As for the authenticity, I quibble with this a bit: while clucking may not be a mainstay of every clawhammer source recording, you can definitely find clucking in Fred Cockerham's playing...he probably got it from somewhere. Perhaps it is more prevalent these days and thats the issue? Maybe its something about putting Fred Cockerham technique into Hobart Smith tunes (for example)?
Overall, I think there's room in Old Time for a lot of different banjo styles - so I say put clucks wherever you like. However, you may want to learn how to keep them under control in case you get the stink eye for being over-clucky in a jam : )
As always, thanks for reading! Next week I'm off to Clifftop (!!) - hopefully I'll have time for a quick post first....