"John Hardy" is a traditional American folk song based on the life of a railroad worker living in McDowell County, West Virginia in the Spring of 1893.This series of lesson on the tune "John Hardy" will explore many ways to analyze a tune and break it down so you can customize and focus on individual pieces. In this first section, Tony will show you how to outline the melody on the banjo with a technique he refers to as "playing the syllables."
- All right, let's learn one of my favorite tunes right now. This is a song that I've been playing for a million years at least, and it's called John Hardy. And this particular arrangement comes from the Carter Family and they may have had the first arrangement on it that was recorded that people would hear and it's a little bit different than the way the bluegrassers do it. Earl Scruggs has recorded it with Lester Flatt and Doc Watson on a wonderful album called Strictly Instrumental. Let me play this for you and then we'll dissect it. (lively banjo music) OK, there's a lot to talk about here.
The first thing I want to discuss with you is the concept of playing the syllables, this is extremely important. And if you've been playing for a while and you're playing some tunes where you feel like you're already playing the melody, you may want to rethink that a little bit. Again, I want to talk about playing the syllables and when I was, well, a number of years ago I was on Alison Krauss's first album and she had sent me a practice tape to learn the songs and rather than approximating the melody I decided I would try to phrase my playing the way she phrased her singing and really match her vocal as closely as possible.
And I found by doing that, that my rolls changed, my whole approach changed, and this is something that later on I had a chance to talk to John Hartford about it. If you're not familiar with John Hartford, you should go out and buy as much of his music as you can. He was just a... An amazing, amazing person and musician. I was giving a workshop in West Virginia and he stopped by, and I asked him if he would bring his fiddle so I could tell my students how you would back up a fiddle tune. And he also brought his banjo, and instead of talking about the fiddle he talked about the banjo, which was much cooler, and he started talking about Earl Scruggs plays the syllables...
when he plays. And basically, he was talking the same thing that I had done on Alison Krauss's album and that was to play the words to the song, not just approximate the melody, as I've been saying. And so he referred to, I think it was Ring of Fire that Earl Scruggs recorded on an album in 1987 and how Earl took three verse breaks, and for each verse break, he would play the words to that particular verse rather than playing the same kind of melody break each time. And I listened back to it and he was of course exactly right 'cause the phrasing of the banjo playing changed as the words changed because you're playing the syllables.
So, I decided I would do this with John Hardy and I'll just give you the concept first and sing a little bit. ♫ John Hardy was a desperate little man ♫ Carried two guns every day ♫ Killed him a man on the West Virginia line ♫ You ought to see John Hardy gettin' away ♫ You ought to see John Hardy gettin' away So what I did is I started singing the song and then tried to match this version to the way I was doing it.
'Cause as I start out the very second measure ♫ John Hardy So I'm just hitting that note, that first part of the second string once ♫ John Hardy was a... And notice I'm using a lot of quarter-notes to bring out the melody, which is something that Earl does also, and then here I hit this... This pinch at the third part of the second string, playing that along with the first string. I hit that twice to get "desperate". ♫ Desperate little man And that's just some filler.
♫ Carried two guns every day So the first time I go to the C chord ♫ John Hardy I just hit "Har", that's just one hit on that second string. But the second time I hit it twice, 'cause ♫ Carried two guns So "carried" is two syllables so I'm hitting that twice ♫ Carried two guns every day ♫ Killed him So "killed him", you're hitting that twice again to get those syllables ♫ Killed him a man on the West Virginia line ♫ You ought to see John Hardy gettin' away And so on and so forth.
So it's really fun to do this. You can get a little too exacting with it and that's a judgment call you'll have to make on your own. Not that you're at the point, probably, where you can just come up with an arrangement like this at this point, but I'm just giving this to you now so you can be aware of it. And then, I will be talking shortly about coming up with your own arrangement to tunes.
Note: This course was recorded and produced by ArtistWorks. We are honored to host this training in our library.
- Separating notes
- Playing with others
- Using the capo
- Playing hammer-ons and pull-offs
- Playing variations on classic tunes
- Minding your posture
- Training your ear
- Building speed