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 Playing Advice: Bluegrass (Scruggs) Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: What are the terms; Vamping/Breaks and Harmony?


Please note this is an archived topic, so it is locked and unable to be replied to. You may, however, start a new topic and refer to this topic with a link: http://www.banjohangout.org/archive/239277

SReynolds - Posted - 06/25/2012:  11:42:28



Just began to play banjo with another instrument(s)  (guitar) and that has netted questions in terminology about playing with a band of instruments...



 



What is the difference between Lead guitar and Rhythm guitar?



I'm told there are two parts of a song for instruments; harmony and melody. What are they?



What is vamping and when do I do this?



Is a "break" when one instrument plays louder than the others? What do you do when you are not, uhmm...."Doing your break"?? I see Steve Martin plays a different (version) of the song when he isn't playing loud. A different song! (Same song but only half the notes) So I need to learn two versions of the same song to play with others????? That can't be right.



 



The bass guy only plays about 12 notes during the entire song and I play about 60 one time through. If that is normal, then that explains why the bass player in our church band looks like he is asleep on stage. I WANT THAT JOB!!



Edited by - Bill Rogers on 06/25/2012 13:13:34

Klondike Waldo - Posted - 06/25/2012:  12:13:22



Lead: melody ( the "notes you would sing in a song, so you would recognize the song even without the words").



Harmony: other notes which fit the chord pattern and fill out the richness of the sound.



Vamping:  (Bluegrass/old time)  Playing chordal back up in short  "chops" by lifting the fingers right after picking (on banjo, pinching) the strings.  In a bluegrass band, that's what the mandolin player does most of the time except when playing lead (see above). In trad jazz,  vamping means to play a rhythmic pattern of chord changes usually as an introduction.



Break:  when one instrument plays a solo  lead, usually improvised(or at least a variation on the straight melody) Playing the melody as written is "lead", but not a "break"



(in trad Jazz, a break is a short solo at the end of a section, or between parts)



Yes , you do have to learn to play something other than melody to play with others- you need to learn to play back-up, unless you play Irish Traditional Music or some Old-Time in which everyone tends to play melody al the time (except guitars, evidently).



The bass player's function is to outline the harmony and rhythm ( particularly in those types of bands that do not use percussion), keeping the ensemble together.  Usually  the bass plays the root and fifth of the chord on the strong beats of the bars.



Speaking as a long time bass player (tuba), you need to know a lot more about harmony and have rock-steady rhythm to be effective in that role, so if you really want that job, better get studying.



Technically this is not really a Music Theory issue anyway, more of a playing advice question, so I'd suggest moving it.



 



 


BobbyE - Posted - 06/25/2012:  12:15:44



Lead guitar is playing the melody and rhythm is playing the chords that give the foundation for the melody.  Songs can have harmony to the melody but not always.  Every song has a melody but not every song has a harmony part.  Harmony is another note or note that is part of the chord structure of the key the song is played in.  Vamping is just playing a type of choked off chord on the banjo where you strike the chord and release pressure from the chording hand quickly so that the notes of the banjo do not ring clear.  It give a rhythm effect to your playing and to the song. Break is typically the part where one particular instrument take the lead role in playing the melody while everyone else provides the 'backup' behind the lead. I doubt seriously a bass player only plays 12 notes in a song at church, unless it is very, very short.  A bass note should be played with the beat at a minimum I would think.



BTW, these statement are very general in nature as there are exceptions and some of your questions could be answered in a lot more detail.



Bobby


minstrelmike - Posted - 06/25/2012:  14:01:57



In bluegrass and jazz, they use lead and backup. Most other genres don't so if you want to hear it, listen to bluegrass or jazz music, not pop or rock.



In a regular bluegrass/jazz improv, one instrument plays the lead each time through the song and the rest of the instruments play 'back-up' which can be all over the board. some of them just play chords, some play 'fill-in' licks at the end of lines such as when a country/western singer holds a note and the pedal steel comes in for a few notes. That's another term: fill-in lick.



imo, you're over-thinking it for one thing _BECAUSE_ you aren't playing real music on your banjo.



You asked if there are two different versions of the song, one for lead and one for backup.

There are not different versions or if there are, there are countless ones, not two.



A song is a song is a song. If you want to play a song all by yourself on the banjo, here is how it goes.

The same way a solo guitarist-picker singer would play.

You sing thru the verse and chorus once while playing some kind of chord-strum the way a campfire guitarist would.

Then you play a verse lead and then you sing the second verse and chorus (while doing background stuff on the banjo).

Then you play another verse lead and then sing the final verse/chorus and end.



If you are going to do this with someone else, not too much changes.



Most folks who want to play banjo want to do the fancy lead stuff (duh) so that's what they start working on right off the bat.

I don't know why folks keep pushing that. Every guitarist started with strumming the chords to Down in the Valley (a 2-chord song) and gradually worked their way up. Earl started that way at age 4. He most definitely did not start with Foggy Mtn Breakdown.



If you want to practice a song on banjo, play the chords, then immediately go into your lead, then when done play the chords again, then do your lead then finish with chords. Five times thru is the _minimum_ and three of those are backup versions (which you should try to find three different places on the neck) and only two are leads. The lead is the least important thing to work on. Get the backup and let the lead drop out of it. Also be sure to practice the transitions between backing and leading. Once you get the ability to kick the lead off when you want, everything else falls into place.



The reason I push learners to do 30 songs in 30 days is because they aren't doing fancy banjo lead, they are strumming chords to familiar songs. It's not what anybody wants to do ultimately, but it is 1) the _main_ thing you will be doing at jams (90% of your time is spent doing backup) and 2) it is the main way you will learn songs well enough to jam on them once in a circle (that is the skill you want if you want to jam bluegrass style).



The reason I push strumming instead of backup picking is because the first question people ask is: Which strings do I pick?

The other reason is that if you strum, the chord will sound out even if you haven't got all 4 strings pushed correctly (what are the chances someone playing less than 6 months is doing everything correctly?)



sorry for the irritating answer but bluegrass banjo stuff should come after basic music stuff, not before.

My basic recommendation is to go play with your buddy and figure it out. That's how all the folks that started banjo by learning fancy leads learned to jam. Doing the leads at home made them confident enough to go play with others. When they played with others, they realized 1) they cannot do that lead at speed in front of people and 2) 90% of the time spent in the circle will be done over chords so you might as well spend some time playing chords.



After 6 weeks or months of jamming, those folks eventually learn to play decent backup to songs they know and don't know and gradually, while playing backup, they learn to improvise simple leads. Eventually, they may be able to pull out their memorized breaks and play at speed but by then, they usually aren't happy with it because it is not improvisation and even worse, then cannot figure out how to change the notes in that lead to make it improvisational.


Tam_Zeb - Posted - 06/25/2012:  23:27:16



 



Vamping - Rhythmic picking action - plucling two or three strings together to maintain beat.



youtube.com/watch?v=WLfZel7f5vk



Break - Playing a solo spot - An opportunity to show off your playing skills



 



Sammy taking a banjo BREAK youtube.com/watch?v=nqwZHpdlDnc



 



Harmony - Playing/Singing together where the sounds intermix --



Click on the link for a sample of harmony singing.



youtube.com/watch?v=v8bBrrXUpdo



 


Edited by - Tam_Zeb on 06/25/2012 23:35:22

Fathand - Posted - 06/26/2012:  07:11:55



I will try to answer your questions below. I do not know if you are playing "real music" because you haven't described your playing and I haven't heard it. If you can strum to a 1 or 2 chord song or play a simple melody on one string in time, it is real music but may not be "interesting" music. From your questions you do sound very inexperienced. I suggest you watch jam sessions,  live concerts or videos on youtube of people playing the type of music you are interested in and try to pick out the parts I describe below. If you go to a performance and get a chance to talk to performer after ask a question or 2 if they do not look busy. Most players will gladly tolerate a couple of questions but don't push too many. If there is a local bluegrass club join and see if there is a "bluegrass teacher" that teaches how to play in a band setting.


quote:


Originally posted by SReynolds


What is the difference between Lead guitar and Rhythm guitar?



Rhythm Guitar plays mostly chords in a strum or riffs to help set the timing and or feel of a song and also helps to keep the chord progression for the other players and singers. Lead Guitar is playing solos and or fill ins and more individual notes than strumming. The same person may alternate both of these roles or there may be 2 or more guitarists in a band performing these functions seperately.



I'm told there are two parts of a song for instruments; harmony and melody. What are they?



There are 3 parts to a song or piece of music;



Melody is what the singer sings or the "tune" of if it is an instrumental,



Harmony are notes that blend pleasantly with the Melody, these notes are often sung alongside the melody most commonly during the chorus of the song. Harmony is also part of the chords played by the rhythm or backup players. The chord progression is a pattern of harmony that helps to guide the singer and backup singers or lead musicians.



The 3rd part of a song is the Timing, this is when the notes or strums are played and when the words a sung. If all the players are not playing in time with each other, the result will be noise and not music and players will end the song at different times. Depending on the instruments available, timing is often established by Drums, Bass (String or Tuba), Guitar, Mandolin in roughly that order but anyone can do it and everyone has to keep it.



What is vamping and when do I do this?



Vamping is usually a method of Backup playing, and could be a "rhythm guitar" technique and is often also played on Banjo and or Mandolin sometimes fiddle. It is a technique of playing chords briefly on the offbeat and often dampening the sound by lifting fingers off the strings or palming the strings near the bridge of a guitar. There may be some picked notes played in between the Vamps. If you hear a mandolin playing a Chunk, Chunk, sound behind the other players that is an example of Vamping.



Is a "break" when one instrument plays louder than the others? What do you do when you are not, uhmm...."Doing your break"?? I see Steve Martin plays a different (version) of the song when he isn't playing loud. A different song! (Same song but only half the notes) So I need to learn two versions of the same song to play with others????? That can't be right.



If someone tells  you to take a break, do not go for coffee. A break is when someone takes a solo during a song. They usually highlight a specific performer.  It may be very close to the melody and it may vary considerably but it has to follow the Chord Progression or Harmony. Breaks are typically "fancier" than backup playing often played louder but sometimes a sound engineer may just turn up the volume and often other players play softer so the Break can be heard better.  Sometimes 2 or more players can share a break by taking turns or by playing solos at the same time that complement each other such as "Twin Fiddles" or "Double Banjo".  



The bass guy only plays about 12 notes during the entire song and I play about 60 one time through. If that is normal, then that explains why the bass player in our church band looks like he is asleep on stage. I WANT THAT JOB!!



If you want the job of playing bass then trade in your banjo for a bass and learn bass instead but if you love banjo music, keep playing your banjo.  The bass player has a very important and often thankless job of keeping time especially if there is not a drummer. The bass player often plays short runs to guide your ear to the next chord change. In Bluegrass a banjo is often playing 8 notes to the bass' 2 notes.  If the bass was playing 8 notes as well it would be a lot harder to follow the timing. It also requires a lot more energy to play those notes on a bass than a banjo due to the size and thickness of the strings. I have seen bass players playing with bandaids on their fingers that were bleeding or blistered from those strings. A friend of mine has Carpal Tunnel from playing standup bass for 18 months.  Unfortunately, our culture usually glorifies the "front men" of a band usually the singers followed by lead or solo players but these people cannot do their job like they do without the backup players.






 


steve davis - Posted - 06/26/2012:  07:17:39


Learn the chordal structure of the song.
This will help you know where you and the the other pickers are in the song.

The chords will give you automatic choices of melody and harmony controlled by the rhythm and time.

SReynolds - Posted - 06/26/2012:  09:16:28


Sorry.....

Should have stated that I know how to play. I'm trying to travel down a different road and play songs (that I already know well) with other folks and it is much different than playing on stage alone, thus the questions about vamping/breaks/rhythm etc. etc. These and other terms are thrown at me from another (the guitar player) and I've not a clue what he is talking about. They must really be hard-up for a banjo player as I have zero expierience playing in a band and they really really want me to. Wierd.

You see, when you play alone, there are no "breaks", I don't need to know the "rhythm and lead", vamping,playing back-up etc.etc. etc.. Get what I'm saying here...........??????

The funny thing is that I'm simply told; Just play the song as YOU know it and we will accomodate YOU. I really don't learn anything from that. I want to know how they can tweak/adjust their music (a given song) to the manner/arrangement that **I** play it in. Any one song has twelve different arrangements. They are adapting to me...............and told me that the banjo is the butter on the corn (huh?) and that it is the icing on the cake. ((the what?))

I was given a CD to study about playing in a band. It mentioned "vamping the chords", among other terms. Thusly I asked and I was told that I don't need to know that stuff.............Thusly I'm asking you guys..................

By the way. The guitar player doesn't tune his guitar to my banjo. I asked why and he said that he knows how to play so well, that he simply (simply???) changes the chord positions and that is why he won't use a capo. He MUST be good.

Fid - Posted - 06/26/2012:  12:50:18



Run screaming shock .


Old Hickory - Posted - 06/26/2012:  16:27:41



quote:


Originally posted by SReynolds

You see, when you play alone, there are no "breaks", I don't need to know the "rhythm and lead", vamping,playing back-up etc.etc. etc.. Get what I'm saying here...........??????




I see that what you're saying is not true.



I usually play with others, but I sometimes play alone.



If I'm playing and singing a song alone, I will quite often vamp (or chop) the chords as I play because that sounds better to me than strumming.  I might pick a repeated rolling pattern while I sing.  Or pick various combinations of rolls and pinches and whatever else while I sing.  What I sing is the melody -- the tune, the way the song goes.  Even though I'm playing alone, there is harmony -- created by the notes in the chords that are different from the note I'm currently singing.  In fact, in some ways harmony even more than melody defines how a song goes.  All of this playing that I do while I'm singing is backup to my singing.  To the extent that I'm keeping the beat, what I'm playing is also rhythm.  It's especially rhythm when I'm vamping.  When I get to the end of a verse or chorus I might stop singing and play something more intricate and out front on the banjo.  Maybe an instrumental version of the song.  Could be a literal melody or lead.  Or could be a more interpreted lead.  Either way, this non-backup solo is a break.  I might take more than one break in a song.  In that case, to answer one of your original questions, I might try to play the second one differently than the first one. Maybe up the neck if the first one was down the neck.  Maybe use melodic or chromatic licks I didn't use the first time. Maybe make it a more literal melody if it was more interpretative. Or maybe just alter in little ways that banjo players might recognize but many other listeners wouldn't.



That's my experience in playing alone.



What you describe just isn't so.


SReynolds - Posted - 06/27/2012:  03:24:26


Yes, I play up the neck as well. That seems like an extension of the same song. I suppose in one way or another I know different versions of the same song if you'd look at it that way. I'd look at it as the same song, played at different locations on the neck.

Just for fun I counted the banjo and bass notes for the song Amazing Grace w/17 measures. My original figure of 12 bass notes and 60 banjo notes was a bit off and I appologize. It is 16 bass notes and 77 banjo notes. Thusly that is why I said the bassist appears to be asleep on stage. It wasn't a disrespect to any bass players out there.

Old Hickory - Posted - 06/27/2012:  06:43:55



quote:


Originally posted by SReynolds

Yes, I play up the neck as well. That seems like an extension of the same song. I suppose in one way or another I know different versions of the same song if you'd look at it that way. I'd look at it as the same song, played at different locations on the neck.




OK. I can accept the view that what you know up the neck is not a different "version" of a tune, just an extension of the same one.



By the same token, what you play as backup -- whether it's vamping the chords or just playing a few notes per measure on the chords, or playing various licks over the chords without trying to bring out or interpret the melody -- is also not a different version of the song. It's just a different set of things you do depending on the need or your role at the moment.  Are you playing an instrumental solo? Are playing something in the background behind another instrument's solo? Are you sharing a lead (maybe in harmony) with another instrument's? Are you backing up the singer? Are you filling in spaces between lines that are sung?



These are all part of ensemble playing.  So yes, to play a band, you need to be able to do all of these -- whether you call it different versions or just basic musicianship.



To play well with others, it's important to learn how to make what you play fit in and blend with what others are playing. To play something that supports what's happening musically at any moment. And, of course, to be able to take your turn in the spotlight when a solo or break comes around to you.



But even more important in ensemble playing -- and the biggest difference between playing by yourself and with others -- is the ability to keep time.


RioStat - Posted - 06/29/2012:  11:13:43



quote:


Originally posted by SReynolds




Sorry.....



Should have stated that I know how to play.






 Maybe you could post a sound clip for us. I'm sure al ot of guys here on the Hangout would be interested in hearing a Bluegrass tune from a banjo picker that doesn't know what  "melody", "lead", a "break" or  "vamping" is ......................


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