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.