This lesson deals with a topic Tony deems as extremely important to your overall sound and something he learned from J.D. Crowe. Tony will discuss and demonstrate the different tendencies to accent and highlight certain notes in roll patterns and general playing to help you target the notes you want to emphasize in your playing.
- I want to talk about something that's extremely important to your overall sound and this will hold you in good stead for as long as you play the banjo. It's a term called Separation of Notes and a guy named JD Crowe, who's one of the leading lights of traditional and slightly more progressive than traditional banjo playing talks about this, and when he talks about the separation of notes he means that every single note you play, I mean every single note you play should be strong and clear and powerful, particularly in talking about Bluegrass.
There might be a few exceptions to that rule, but generally, that's the case. It doesn't mean that every single note will be equal. It's sort of like Animal Farm, if you ever read that book or saw the movie. All animals are equal but some are more equal than others and in terms of banjo playing that means that certain notes, like melody notes will jump out at you a little bit more. I'm going to give you an example. I'm going to play the alternating thumb slide roll, and I'm going to do it two different ways and I'll A, B them.
I'll play A and then I'll play B and you just listen, see what you think sounds better. Here's A. (A banjo roll) Here's B. (B banjo roll) Now, which do you think? Okay, now I say B. And the thing is, (banjo roll) I say about 50% of the people I teach, whether it be one-on-one or in workshop situations have problems with this.
And it most often has to do with the first string. They're a little weak on the first string. (banjo roll) You can see them touching the string, but it's just weak, they're not hitting it very hard. (banjo) Because many times in Scruggs style the first string is just open. (Scruggs style banjo roll) To that point, the first string, that's a tune called Fireball Mail, until you get to that note right there, (banjo note) it's all...
the first string is just open. (banjo note) And so I think people feel, well it's not that important, it's just a drone string. But you need to hit it, (slow banjo roll) not too hard but, (banjo roll) very clearly like that. It gives you a lot more rhythmic vitality. If you're not doing that, you're kind of quiet on the first string, all you hear is the down beat. (softer banjo roll) A little bit plodding. When you get that first note, I'm sorry, the first string going. (clear banjo roll) It kicks you into the down beat.
It creates a syncopation. Basically, syncopation occurs when you accent a note that you don't expect to be accented. You always expect the down beat to be (banjo roll) the accent. When you have a note that's not that way, for instance, when Earl Scruggs plays Cripple Creek, he slides on the down beat. (banjo roll) And in one of his variations he goes. (Cripple Creek roll) So he slides on the down beat, one and, two and, one and, two.
Then he goes, one and, two and one. He emphasizes the and, the up beat, which kind of catches you by surprise. And in this case, (banjo roll) we emphasize that last note of the roll, (banjo) a little bit more. That's a syncopation because you're bringing out a little bit more than you might ordinarily. (banjo) And that's an... If you count these notes as one, see, one e and uh.
You have the one, and the and. (banjo) One, and. But the notes between the down beat and the and are the e, let's see one e and uh. The second and fourth notes of the roll. So, we're emphasizing the uh, one e and uh. And it kinda kicks you into the down beat. (banjo roll) So that string is very important, even though you're not playing a melody note under.
You're not even fretting it. It's just there. (banjo) And you have to listen to yourself play this because you may be completely, in fact, if you are having this issue, you probably are completely unconscious of it. And I've had students where I just sit and say okay, try it again, try it again, and after a minute or so they're getting it loud enough because it feels really weird cause you're used to playing it kind of quietly. Anyways so that's a really extremely important issue and you always have to be self vigilant and make sure you're not kind of back sliding and hitting it too lightly.
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