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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Plectrum melody chords for "Stars & Stripes Forever"?

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sethb - Posted - 02/11/2021:  10:57:14

I was recently inspired by this YouTube video [ ] to try my hand at a plectrum melody chord version of "Stars & Stripes Forever."

A quick Internet search located a pretty good lead sheet [see attachment] that was actually made for ukes, and I've worked out most of the chords.  But the lead sheet is missing the introduction to the final refrain, which seems to consist mostly of a cascade of diminished chords running down the neck (towards the nut).  

Has anyone else worked through this tune and have some suggestions to offer?  Thanks in advance, SETH

Edited by - sethb on 02/11/2021 10:58:13

trapdoor2 - Posted - 02/11/2021:  11:59:01

I think you're in good company if you go with the 'cascade of diminished chords'. Very common Dixieland technique.

Starting with Sousa's own publisher (John Church), arrangements for the banjo are out there. Most of the older ones are for the 5-string, tuned conversion to plectrum is very easy. Unfortunately, none of those arrangements are "Dixieland" and do not resemble the youtuber's video in any way. They usually cut closer to the original (though Sousa's publisher used a guy who probably had never seen a banjo...the arrangements are clunky).

I don't have a scan of Sousa's published banjo arrangement (the original is in my files...somewhere, I think). There's another arrangement for 5-string published in the UK by Clifford Essex. I produced tab for that isn't a very good arrangement. Bill Knopf also published a modern 5-string (bluegrass/melodic) version (1980's?) in one of his books. I have the book...somewhere in the files. Again, not Dixieland so pretty much useless.

Dave Marty and Buddy Wachter Grainy/poor video but might help a little.


sethb - Posted - 02/11/2021:  15:26:10

Thanks very much for the link to the Marty/Wachter video, it's very helpful.  And it confirmed my suspicion about those diminished chords, too. 

This tune has an extremely wide range, from a G below middle C to to F or G above high C, so it's actually about two octaves.  But with a little inside string work (and a little bit of faking!), it's obviously possible to fit the melody on the banjo fretboard, and to get a lot of it onto the first string, which is quite helpful for melody chord work. 

I agree that any 5-string arrangements probably wouldn't be helpful here.  Although the tuning (gCGBD) is basically the same, the technique is completely different.  So it's back to the drawing board and fiddling around on the fretboard to see what can be accomplished.  The tail end of the tune actually seems to be the easiest to work out so far.  But eventually the rest will fall into line, it usually does. 

Thanks again for the video tip, it's always great to watch the masters at work!  SETH

Edited by - sethb on 02/11/2021 15:27:40

Omeboy - Posted - 02/11/2021:  20:31:44

It might be worth mentioning that Paul Scavarda (in the first clip) is using the Chicago tuning. Dave Marty and Buddy Wachter are in the standard plectrum tuning and consequentially playing it in C and F where it falls nicely on the plectrum neck. You might also find Eddie Peabody's arrangement worthwhile. You can find it on Youtube and slow down the playback speed with the "Settings" button on the Youtube control bar.

Omeboy - Posted - 02/12/2021:  07:35:31

There are also a couple of really nice versions on the Hangouts MP3 Media section. Dan Eaves (plectrum) and Craig Wood's (tenor) renditions are particularly good.

craig wood - Posted - 02/12/2021:  08:29:54 first post.. Eb is the original key for "The Stars and Stripes Forever"and usually a concert band anywhere will play it in that key.
Eb is such a great key for plectrum and to place the tune there gives more range to the banjo..Also you can play along with the band..or be featured.

sethb - Posted - 02/12/2021:  11:16:05

Craig -- Welcome to the Banjo Hangout, and thanks for your suggestion.  I started working on this tune in the key of C because it seemed like a good compromise.  But in that key there are a bunch of notes well below the first (D) string that would require inside string work, which always seems to be above my pay grade. 

Going to Eb would at least get me to a B below C on that first string, which would help somewhat.  Of course, it would also require going to an Ab chord (5th inversion) starting on the 15th fret, in the last few measures of the tune.  That's pretty stratospheric!  But I'll give it a try and see how it works out.  

Omeboy, thanks for spotting Scavarda's Chicago tuning.  I didn't catch that, even though I thought I heard the diminished chords.  And I'll look for Eddie Peabody's version on YouTube, too.  SETH

Edited by - sethb on 02/12/2021 11:16:47

sethb - Posted - 02/13/2021:  13:28:50

Kudos to Craig for suggesting the key of Eb for this tune.  I've been working through it today, and it's a definite improvement in getting the song into a better place on the fretboard.  

I had to manually transpose all of the chords because I was working with an analog (paper) lead sheet in the key of C.  When I got to the end of the number, I realized that it ended in Ab.   Ab?   That was pretty strange --- because usually (but not always) the last chord of a song is the same as the key of the song.  So how did I get into Ab?  Did I screw up the transposition somewhere?  

In backtracking and double-checking, I finally noticed that the tune has a built-in key change about halfway through.  Although it began in the key of C, it jumped to F.  So when you transpose everything up a third and begin in Eb, that last chord would go from F to Ab, which is also the new key for the last half of the song.  Good thing I didn't have to sight-read this sucker!  

The tune is definitely a challenge, but a very good learning experience.  As one of my music teachers would occasionally remind me, "If it was easy, everyone could do it!"  SETH

mmuussiiccaall - Posted - 02/13/2021:  14:13:53

If you want it in Eb-Ab here's the whole enchilada!

Omeboy - Posted - 02/13/2021:  16:08:58

Thought you all would enjoy hearing a grand old master's rendition:

Chet Atkins: Starts And Stripes Forever


sethb - Posted - 02/13/2021:  16:26:54

Yep, I saw the full score in my Internet wanderings . . . quite something.  And watching Chet Atkins play is also quite something.  It was interesting to see that he was playing a classical (Spanish) guitar with nylon strings. The YouTube notes say the tune was arranged by Guy Van Duser, who is (was?) also an amazing guitarist.

I also found a very good rendition of this number by Ron Hinkle, using both single-string work and chord melody.  Here's the YouTube link:    SETH

craig wood - Posted - 02/13/2021:  17:34:12

After Chets performance..Sold the banjo fired the teacher. Loved the PDF..

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