Wednesday, October 31, 2012

13 Days of Halloween Part XIII - Twilight Zone

Finally here at the 13th and final chapter of my series of Halloween posts.

This post looks at the theme from the Twilight Zone.  Before the word 'Twilight' became synonymous with vampires and teen angst there was 'The Twilight Zone'; a TV show where mind bending and sometimes horrific things took place on a weekly basis.  The theme song is awash with tension.

I have transcribed the main motif.  You can keep your left hand in one poition the entire time.  The Bb (20th fret of your 5th string) drones against the other notes creating a truly unsettling effect.

Here is the tablature (click to enlarge)...

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

13 Days of Halloween Part XII - Theme from Halloween

For part 13 of this series we will look at the theme from John Capenter's Classic 'Halloween'.

Written by the director himself Halloween's theme is based on a repetitive motif in 5/4 time which modulates by semitone as it unfolds.  This is really easy to play on the banjo - once you've mastered the first measure the rest is either repeating or modulating (moving it up or down your fretboard).

Here is the arrangement (click to enlarge)...

NEXT: 13 Days of Halloween Part XIII - The Final Chapter!

Monday, October 22, 2012

13 Days of Halloween Part XI: Miserlou

Miserlou: Greek folk song, Dick Dale surf classic, the unoffical theme to Pulp Fiction.  Scary? Sure, we'll go with that.

The purpose of this post is twofold; to fill my unmet quota for Halloween Banjo tunes (I planned to make 13 Halloween posts and only made it to 10 until now) and to explore some tremolo technique.

Tremolo is the picking technique whereby the same not is plucked repeatedly in quick succesion to create the illusion of a sustained note.  Why hearing many fast notes creates the illusion of a sustained note I am not totally sure.  I think of it like newsprint photos;  they are really a bunch of dots if you look closely but all of them together create the illusion of a solid image.

For the tremolo on this I alternate thumb, middle, thumb, index.  I also use this pattern for single string playing as it feels more natural and lends itself more easily to quicker picking than alternating just the thumb and index.

Try this exercise...

I would recommend working on that with the old metronome for a while focusing on a real evenness of tone, volume and rhythm.

Here is the video of the first Section of Miserlou...

And here it is tabbed out (click to enlarge)...

Next: 13 Days of Halloween Part XII

Monday, October 15, 2012

Exploring Cripple Creek III - Up On the Fretboard

For this Cripple Creek variation we head up to the nether reaches of the fret board for a little 5 string madness.

A bit melodic with a dash of blues this one covers a wide swath of the fretboard and in its fleeting space.

Here is the video...

And here is the tablature to enlarge)...

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Exploring Cripple Creek Part II - Single Stringin'

For the next variation I worked up this singlestring concotion.  It makes extensive use of the minor 3rd (Bb) and gives the left hand a bit of a working out.

For most of this tune I would recommend standard single string right hand work- that is to say alternating the thumb and index fingers.  I try to keep the thumb plucks on all of the downbeats and the indexes on the upbeats.

Measure 2 brings out a C7 chord which is plucked on 4 consecutive strings.  For this I would suggest using T I T M for your right hand fingering.

Here is the vid-jo...

And here is the tab...

NEXT:  Exploring Cripple Creek Part III - Up On the Fretboard

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Exploring Cripple Creek - Part I ; A Little Variation

        Cripple Creek is many things; a great song to pick on banjo, an American folk standard, a tune whose title is occasionally confused with The Band's 'Up on Cripple Creek'. One other thing Cripple Creek can be is a vehicle for exploring your banjo.

        The standard bluegrass banjo break for Cripple Creek varies from player to player but generally looks a little something like this (this is an approximation of Earl Scruggs' arrangement on which most others are based);

       A while back I did a post on playing double banjo on Cripple Creek (which you can check out here if you're interested) but for this series of posts will tackle the task of writing variations.

        This first variation begins much the same way as Scruggs original break then heads up the neck a little for some descending 6ths with a little backward roll syncopation.

        The B section keeps the slides on the 3rd string but has them going up, then down, with some offbeat pinches on the 3rd and 1st strings.

        It's not the craziest variation but I like the sound of it.

        Here it is in video form....

        And here is the tablature...

        Next; Exploring Cripple Creek Part II - Single String Break

Monday, October 1, 2012

Slow Banjo - Part 1

Here is a clip of a nice, slow tune of Jenn Bojm's that I played banjo on.
firefly from jenn bojm on Vimeo.

        Slow tunes like this one may not scream for a banjo part the same way your uptempo barnburners do but I have found the old 5 string can add some welcome textures and distractions. A few tips from my experience playing banjo on slow songs...

  1. Milk the dynamics. On the fast tunes an 'every note loud and clear' approach is often the way to go but when you scale the tempo back the dynamic subtleties really jump out. In my head I try to think of the phrasing more in a sense of how it might be sung and tend to swell in and out of ideas a little more.

  2. Listen very closely to everything else on the song. This can be difficult with recording because some instruments will be added after you record your part but I find the more attention I pay to the vocal and the other instruments the better the results.

  3. Find the holes and fill 'em. When the singer stops to take a breath that's an opportunity to make some noise.

  4. Try beginning and ending phrases somewhere other than the 1 beat. Nothing wrong with beginning on the 1 but a little earlier or later breaks up the predictability.

That's all my advice for today.  Thanks to Jenn for writing such a nice song.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Only Love Can Break Your Heart

This is Neil Young's 'Only Love Can Break your Heart' from his 'After the Gold Rush' LP. I've always loved the tune and thought I would give it a go on the solo 5 string. Neil Young has quite the knack for crafting rock solid melodies so for my arranging on this I've tried my best to respect the melody and stay out of its way. The verse and chorus share the same basic melody but the variation of the underlying harmony makes them seem quite different from one another. Here is a little video performance of it... And here is the tablature...

Thursday, September 20, 2012


Liberty is a great, soaring traditional fiddle tune. It requires only a few different left hand positions and the open strings really bring out the harp effect. I used to play it single string but have become enchanted with the sound Liberty in melodic style. Enjoy!

Friday, May 11, 2012

'Got a Dollar?' New Tishomingo String Band Video

Just received a fresh edit of my groups new little music video. Here is the Tishomingo String Band playing a tune written by our mandolin player Jacob Russell called 'Got a Dollar'...

Friday, April 13, 2012

Rolling on Chord Shapes

Here's a little exercise for running through the notes in the key of G major. I like this roll pattern for triplets...

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Inside Forward/Backward Roll

The forward/backard roll (also known as the forward/reverse) is a beautiful roll.

For those not yet aquainted with the forward/backward roll here is one in tablature format...

What a roll! The only trouble I find with old forward/backward as illustrated above is that with certain chords the droning 5th string just doesn't fit.


The INSIDE forward backward roll. So named for being played on the inside strings (I'm calling the 5th the outside string). I find it works well for cases where I don't want the 5th string as well as triplets.

Last post I wrote about visualizing in G using chord shapes. Here is an exercise using the chords generated from the G major scale with the right hand playing an inside forward/ backward roll on each...

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Visualizing the G Major Scale

There are many ways to visualize fretboard patterns on the neck. If you are familiar with the G major scale on the banjo you have likely learned to play it in single string style...

or melodic style...

One technique I find useful for visualizing all of the notes in the G major scale all the way up the fretboard is to look at the chords generated by the scale. Begin with the open G and move each string up to one note note in the G scale.

Here is an example using a TITM roll on each of the chords...

This gives you all of the notes in your G major scale up to the 12th fret.

I have found it can also be useful to break this method down to adjacent string pairs...

Finally here is the idea hooked up with some rolling...

Friday, March 30, 2012

If You Are in Vancouver Come See The Tishomingo String Band Tonight

My band is playing tonight at the China Cloud (on Main Street between Keefer and Pender). We are the Tishomingo String Band and we are playing with the Dire Wolves. Come on out and have a good time!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Can't Believe He's Gone

Earl Scruggs died yesterday at age 88. That's a long full life by anyone's standards yet I still feel a sadness. Scruggs was a rare individual. To have someone like him, someone who so totally reimagined and revitalized his instrument, with us on this earth for as long as he was must certainly be looked upon as a gift.

I am positive that when Scruggs was a boy the idea of life in the year 2012 would have seemed as mindboggling to him as the distant future seems to any child..."Will there be a cure for the common cold? Will folks still drink Cocacola? How about flying cars, personal robots and leisurely trips to the moon?" I wonder if a young Scruggs ever imagined a future where his style of banjo playing would be performed on stages, in living rooms, on back porches and organized jam sessions not just in his home state or home country but across the globe; from Paris to Mumbai, Tokyo to Melborne, Mexico City to Beijing?

When I began on the banjo I was not aware that it was Scruggs' sound that had drawn me in. I knew I wanted, needed, to get that fast driving, make-your-hair-stand-on-end ring that I had heard...somewhere...on TV, on the radio, in a movie maybe. The deeper I got into the banjo the clearer the greatness of Earl became.

He was a visionary and a quantum leap in the development of banjo technique. He was also a player who performed the style he developed so well, so cleanly and with such articulation and beauty of tone, that he arguably has never been truly surpassed. To top it all off he had a knack for writing instrumental tunes and licks that were phenomenally appealing and which will live on, I'm guessing, at least until the next century.

Enough writing, I'm going to go play some banjo.

Thank you for everything, Earl. You are missed.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

More Bach! New Recording of Gigue from Partita #3

I posted a video clip of this earlier but the new audio clip of the Gigue from Partita #3 arranged for solo banjo and recorded by Dave Gannett.

I changed the key to G to better accommodate the 5 string. I find it sits really well in G, my only regret being contributing to the overuse of that key.

You can see the video clip and tablature HERE.Try a little tenderness in playing this one. It also lends itself to a bit of push pull in the tempo (although I may have overdone it in the recorded version).

Monday, February 6, 2012

Mr. Mouth - New Recording and Tablature of Original Tune

Another tune I recorded with Dave Gannett you can listen to HERE. Tishomingo plays this one almost every show and it's one I really like playing.

Here is the tablature for those interested (click to enlarge)....

Friday, February 3, 2012

New Recording of the Bourree from J.S. Bach's Cello Suite #3

I arranged this Bourree for solo banjo and recorded it with the great Dave Gannett. You can listen to the recording HERE.

It is in C tuning (gCGBD)and the cellists I listened to played it largely with an impassioned sensitivity which I tried my best to replicate on an instrument not best known for its sensitivity.

If you would like to try playing it here is the tablature...

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Tablature for 'Something in the Way'

I had a request for the tablature to Nirvana's 'Something in the Way', a tune I had posted a video of about a month ago, so here you have it...

Forgot to note it on the sheet but the tuning is standard open G with the 5th string spiked to A.