Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Cripple Creek Harmony

For this post I thought I might cover a little close banjo harmony.

Twin banjos can sound great and there are a multitude of angles you can approach the harmonizing from. The most common, and the one I'll be using today, is to have one banjo play the straight melody and the other harmonize it in thirds.

A third is the distance from 1 note on a major scale to the note after the next note up the scale. This means if you were playing in the key of G (which is not uncommon on the banjo) and the melody note was a G you would play the note 2 letters up the scale for your harmony note(a B note in this case). For an A note the harmony would be a C and for a B note the harmony would be a D.

Make sense? I will make a future post explaining the thirds harmony more fully but to get right into playing it and hearing what it's all about let's try harmonizing some Cripple Creek.

Most banjo players know a version of Cripple Creek. This here is a fairly standard version...

And here is the harmony part...

Here is a video of the harmony played slow, medium and faster...

If you already know Cripple Creek play along with the video and hear the harmony jump out. This is a great tune to have a harmony part for as most banjo players know it and it tends to come up alot at jams. It works nice if you throw it in on the last pass of the tune to finish everything off...just make sure you aren't playing over anyone elses big solo or otherwise stepping on toes. Until next time.


Thought I would add a video of two banjos playing the harmony in response to a BHO request so I convinced my student Doug to help me out. Thank you Doug. Here it is...

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

'O Canada'

I have had a few people ask me for tab on this one so I figured I'd make a post out of it. This is the Canadian national anthem played in 3 finger style.

There are alot of Scruggs licks in here but also some twists. Have a listen here and then I'll explain things a bit...

And here is the tab...

You can also download the tabledit file here (you will need to install tabledit software to read it)

The very beginning of the tune can be played in loose time. It serves as an introduction of the melody and is played with a combination of full chords and 2 part harmony. The 4 finger voices can be played by strumming with the thumb pick.

After the very brief introduction it kicks in to the fun stuff. Most of the first section is made up of standard rolls and licks. It kicks off with a descending lick leading to the B melody note. This is followed by some fairly routine bluegrass picking intended to bring out the melody. Measures 13-14 offer a little bit of contrary motion in the harmony (higher part ascends while lower part descends) which I pick with index and middle finger pinches.

Measures 24-40 are played higher up the neck. This section switches things up with a chord melody device. Essentially I am using standard closed shape major chord voicings ('D-shape','F-shape' and straight barre) to play the melody while the right hand keeps mostly to an alternating thumb pattern. I bring the right hand closer to the neck for this section for a deeper, mellower tone. Switching the right hand position also serves to break things up so when it returns to the more straight ahead down the neck stuff the snap and twang jump right out.

The last section of the tune returns to good old down the neck picking and finishes off with a little quote from the Bob and Doug Mackenzie movie 'Stange Brew' in measures 62-64 (ooo roo coo coo coo coo coo coooo..) and then tags it off in measure 65 with a bit of a backward roll driven finisher. Then the 5th fret harmonic just so everyone knows it's done.

Have fun with this and as always let me know if you've go questions.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Extended Kickoffs

Howdy there.

As promised this post will focus on extended kickoffs.

The extended kickoffs I'm talking about are the 4 or so measure ones where the banjo leads the way and the rest of the musicians wait to break in when it is clearly time (usually indicated by some standard leading tones as seen in the short kickoffs).

The first one I'm going to put out uses an old standby lick that anyone who's ever played Cripple Creek should be familliar with.

It plays this lick 4 times then breaks off to another standard Scruggs lick.

Here's what it looks like (you may want to click on it to view it big and clear):

You can follow it up a couple ways to go into the tune. Extended Kickoff 1a adds leading tones to get you to a G note (open 3rd string) for melodies beginning on G. The leading tones will be familliar from the short kickoff post.

Extended Kickoff 1b ends with leading tones that bring you to a D note (open 1st string) for melodies beginning on D.

The leading tones at the end should be familliar from the short kickoff post. In fact just about all of the short kickoffs can be grafted on as endings to this extended kickoff. Play around with it.

The second extended kickoff begins up the neck and works its way back. Here it is:

Again, you can graft leading tones on at the end to pull you into the melody of whatever song you are playing. These next 2 examples do that;

That's really just the tip of the iceburg as far as kickoffs go. My advice is to go right now and listen to some recordings. See if you hear some of the things we've done here turning up and what sorts of variations are happening.

Also try grafting these kickoffs on any and all of your favourite tunes and see what you come up with.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Kickin' it Off Part 1- Short Kickoffs

Being as this is my first post here aside from the brief introduction I thought it might be appropriate to tackle kickoffs; how a tune is begun.

How many ways can a tune be begat? Alot. So many that this first post will only cover the quick kickoffs (1 measure or less) and I will follow it up with a post on longer kickoffs.

It has been said that the most important parts of any song, story or performance are the beginning and the end. The beginning is where an audience will form its first impression (what is this? do I like it?) and the ending is where all things are tied up and judgement is passed (was that good? did it stink?). Obviously the body is extremely important as well but I have found that a glorious middle section (the 95% between the intro and ending) coupled with an unclear and unappealing intro and ending usually won't fly where a mediocre middle section with a stunner of a kickoff and a great big 'bring down the house' kind of ending often will. If everything is happening then look out!

Most short kickoffs can be accurately described as a handful of notes leading to the the first melody note (the first pitch sung in the case of a non-instrumental). It is therefore important to know what the first melody note is as that is the note the kickoff will lead to. Most tunes begin on the 'I' chord (the G chord in the key of G) and most melodies begin on one of the 3 notes in that chord (for the G chord the 3 notes are G, B, and D, which are the open notes on your 3rd 2nd and 1st strings respectively). For all the examples in this post I will stick with the good old key of G.

So without further adieu here are some kickoffs in G. Kickoff #1 is very standard and leads to a G melody note.

Sound familiar? This next one is almost identical but the replacement of the E note with an F gives little grittier sound.

Kickoff #3 leads to the G melody note from above.

Kickoff #4 is a little more difficult; it contains the low notes from Kickoff #1 but adds a high harmony part. A little bit of contrary motion (one part rises, one part descends) going on here.

Kickoffs #1-4 all led to a G melody note but for kickoffs #5-7 we'll try leading to a B melody note.

These last 4 kick off to a D melody note.

Kickoff #11 is a series of hammered triplets.

Here is a video summary of all the kickoffs :

So there you have a few kickoffs to get things started. Hope some of you enjoyed that/ got something out of it. My blog will cover alot of banjo related things and sometimes the lesson style posts may seem either too advanced and too basic for any paticular individual. If you have any questions or feedback just shoot me an email or post a comment.

Up next: extended kickoffs...

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Welcome to the Banjo Homeplace

Hello and welcome,

My name is Devon and this is my first entry in what is to be my banjo blog.

Basically the plan is to use this blog to write down my thoughts on banjo playing, music etc. and to communicate with others out there who may be players or enthusiasts or simply curious gadabouts interested in discussing these things.

A little bit about myself; I am a 3 finger banjo player out of Coquitlam B.C. Canada. I currently play with The Tishomingo String Band, a bluegrass/newgrass quartet who perform mostly in the Vancouver Area. I also played and toured the U.S. with celtic rock quintet The Clumsy Lovers for a stint about 4 years ago. Some of my favourite banjo players include J.D. Crowe, Don Reno, Earl Scruggs, Bela Fleck, Dick Brown, Bill Emmerson, Alan Munde, Tony Trischka, Ralph Stanley, and Bill Keith.

I have been teaching banjo for 7 years now and hope to use this blog to share some of the ideas I have come up with for learning and playing the banjo as well as to discuss any banjo related topics (album reviews, concert reviews, Deliverance reviews)which may be of interest to others.

I do have a couple of playing videos up if you are interested in seeing who is writing this blog.

This is Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer...

Hopefully the future holds many interesting topics for the Banjo Hut so thanks for visiting and stay tuned.