Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tishomingo String Band --- Website is up!

The Tishomingo String Band (my band) have a new website up at www.tishomingostringband.com

You can hear Tishomingo songs there, read bios, and find out about new developments in Tishomingoland. Check it out...

Monday, March 28, 2011

Quote Me on That - Musical Quotes and How to Use Them

Looking for something interesting to throw in a break? Try a quote.

Throwing a short phrase from a recogizable melody can be alot of fun and can trigger a kind of instant nostalgia that only something dug up from our collective past can.

To inject a musical quote into your playing simply treat it as you would any other lick; find a space where it works harmonically and...voila!

The difficult part can be finding an appropriate melody; something that at least a few people in audience will grasp in a measure or four. I've picked a few examples that you are more than welcome to use.

The first one is from 'Dixie'. It is the first two measures of the song; "Oh I wish that I was in the land of cotton..." I think the Dukes used this for the General Lee's horn.

Here it is written in G and ready to be fit into any 2 measure section you please.

The second quote is from 'The Entrance of the Gladiators' which is commonly used in the circus and is associated with clowns. I actually throw this one in on 'Ground Speed' so feel free to check that out here http://banjohomeplace.blogspot.com/search/label/Ground%20Speed

Anyway, here's the quote

The last one I'll show here is the Turkish March. I love this melody and have heard fantastic arrangements of this on banjo; Jason Homey from the Clumsy Lovers occasionally plays it as a solo in concert. Here I have the first 4 measures transposed to G to be used as a surprise kickoff for a breakdown. The melody implies G minor but if you pop up to G major after the intro I find it to be an appealing shift.

Try those out and see how they fit. If you want more quote licks I have a few more up on my banjo lick site at www.banjolicks.blogspot.com

That's all for now, but as a famous Austrian once said "I'll be back."

Friday, March 25, 2011

Fun on the Mini-Banjo

I remember as a kid my cousins and brother and sister and I would get a huge kick out of riding my grandpa's minibike. It was just like a real motorcycle except about 1/3 scale and powered by a lawnmower engine.

I get somewhat the same thrill playing shrunk-in-the-wash style banjos. My mom bought a GoldTone Cripple Creek mini banjo for our son and needless to say I am the one getting the most use out of it. It is fairly midrange-y and has a nice little kick for a Danny Devito sized instrument.

Here's a quick clip of some Cherokee Shuffle on the little guy.

Here's the tab. If you want your full size in the same range as the mini you can capo up tho the 5th fet (C).

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

How to Arrange a Tune in Bluegrass Style--This Land is Your Land

I've seen alot of banjo students progress very well working with clearly defined arrangements only to hit a bit of a wall when it came time to arrange for themselves. The following is something I've used to break down my general banjo arranging formula for students. It uses Woody Gutherie's 'This Land is Your Land' as the example.

Step 1. Figure out the melody and the chord progression

You can do this a couple of ways. One way is to pick the melody out by ear from a recording, from another musician who knows the melody, or from memory. The other way is to find sheet music with the melody and chord progression notated.

Here is the straight melody for 'This Land is Your Land'.

And this is the chord progression.

Step 2. Begin to fill in the holes (spaces between melody notes)

You can fill the holes in any number of ways but chords tones (playing notes from the chords of the underlying chord progression)are a good first shot.

Filling in the holes with pinches (in this case plucking the outside strings with the thumb and middle finger) is perhaps the easiest way to start.

Here is 'This Land is Your Land' with melody and pinches.

Step 3. Experiment with rolls

Any tune can be arranged thousands of ways so which rolls you choose really is up to your judgement and taste. The forward roll (T,I,M) carries alot of power and lends itself to the kind of syncopation characteristic of Scruggs style. You generally don't want to overuse any one roll (in my opinion) but you can pick one roll to be the dominant, driving roll of the arrangement.

Here is 'This Land is Your Land' using forward roll and not much else.

Step 4. Final touches--Adding licks etc.

Once you are comfortable with the melody on the banjo and have experimented with filling the holes and using rolls you can begin adding the final touches. These may include:

1. Solidifying which rolls you are using and where---striving to find an appealing balance and breaking up any spots where one roll has overstayed its welcome.

2. Thinking of different places to play melody notes. Instead of playing a B note on the open 2nd string you could slide into it on the 4th fret of the 3rd string. Sliding and hammering into notes is an important part of the Scruggs style and can really make a tune come alive.

3. Adding licks where appropriate. As far as where and when to put licks that is again a judgement call but I would strongly advise keeping the melody as clear as possible.

Here is a Scruggs style arrangement of 'This Land is Your Land' using a few standard licks.

Hope that is useful to someone out there. Arranging is a personal and creative venture so any formula like the one I've outlined should be seen more as guide to help you along.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Freight Train

This is a simple arrangement in C tuning (drop low D string to C: gCGBD).

I mute the 4th and thirds stings to get a percussive bass and play it sowewhat close to the bridge with the fingerpicks on. For an exercise try playing the thumb alternating between the 4th and third stings on the 1 and 3 beats. In this style the back and forth action with the thumb on the low strings delivers a constant, propulsive bass rhythm. Th banjo doesn't have the lowest bass range but I still dig the sound of it.

As always write me if you have any questions.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Writing a 2nd Break---'Ground Speed'

When tackling a banjo tune you would like to add to your repertoire the first step is generally to learn the main banjo part from a trusted source (say a preferred recording or a solid written arrangement).

A second step might be to try something to make it your own. You could alter the original banjo part to your tastes and strengths (which is never a bad idea) and/or you could concoct an original second break.

The nice thing about an original second break is it allows you to build off a strong piece of music. Plus, you already know you like the first break so at least that part of the song will fly even if your original break crashes and burns.

For this example I came up with an original 2nd break for Scruggs' 'Ground Speed'.

The original melody is classic; a rip roaring descending pattern up the neck leading to the open strings and back again. Generally played at a good clip, though it also sounds good slow, this tune is freaking addictive.

For the A section of my break (in the video it begins when my left hand reaches around the 15Th fret) I decided to keep the melodic contour intact as much as possible just moving everything a little further up the neck. Then I threw in a long descending pull off lick as a way to get from up the neck to back down low. Does it work? You tell me, but that's what I did.

For the B section I keep close to the original save for the circus music quote. I find a more conservative B section balances the long chromatic-ish run at the end of the A section.

There are many approaches you can take to a 2nd break and I encourage everyone to try it out, have fun and come up with something different.

Here's Ground Speed(man do I look goofy when I play)...

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Log Drivers Waltz

Hadn't put a new tune up in a while so here you go. The is the Log Drivers Waltz and from what I hear it pleases girls completely.

The song was written by Wade Hemsworth and I know it from the cartoon they used to play on CBC. Great cartoon.

It's a lively waltz. I like to play most of the melody with the thumb and try to make the melody sing out as much as possible.

without further adieu here's the video...

And here's the tab...