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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: A strum question

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sethb - Posted - 06/18/2021:  18:06:11

I'm watching a great YouTube video of "Whispering," and marveling at the banjo player's strum and how he really drives the band.  The group is playing a dance-band style arrangement, so it's in strict tempo, no fooling around with tempo or note time values, no rubato, etc.  The banjo is laying down a straight 4/4 beat, four strokes to the bar. 

My question is, what exactly is he doing?  I've tried doing four straight downstrokes to each bar, but that sounded very harsh, regimented, overkill and overly simplistic to me, all at the same time!  Then I tried a "figure 8" stroke, which seemed to fit a little better, but it didn't have the same power behind it.  I also tried a combo stroke -- a tap on just the first (C) string, followed by one full downstroke, then another tap and another downstroke -- to create the four beats in each bar.  That worked too, but it's really just a variation of the figure 8, and it's obviously not what's happening onscreen.

So the question is -- what IS Arnt Arntzen doing?  Whatever it is, it also appears to be effortless!    Here's the YouTube link:   The tune actually begins at the 1:30 minute mark.   SETH 

Edited by - sethb on 06/18/2021 18:33:21

G Edward Porgie - Posted - 06/18/2021:  19:13:52

I think mostly the video isn't monotonous because the other instruments are doing other things over the banjo's steady pulse. Take away the melodes and countermelodie and I think the banjo would sound dull and regimented.

After carefull listening, though, I think the banjo is throwing in an upstroke between the downstrokes in a random manner. It happens just occasionally, but it adds to the variety without disrupting the steady driving beat.

Alex Z - Posted - 06/19/2021:  06:31:37

" I also tried a combo stroke -- a tap on just the first (C) string, followed by one full downstroke,"

This is close.  Here is what I hear:

  -- Most strums are equal  1  2  3  4  1  2  3  4  

  -- Occasionally there are a couple of measure in a row where the 1st and 3rd beats are still full strums but slightly lower in volume, and the 2nd and 4ths are slightly higher -- creating accents but still providing the full strum pulses.

          1  2  3  4  1  2  3  4  

sethb - Posted - 06/19/2021:  06:56:00

Thanks for all the good thoughts and ideas, guys, I appreciate it. Every little bit helps! 

I also had two other thoughts as well.  First, he's playing a VegaVox, and I wonder if that has anything to do with it.  Although I've never played or listened to a VegaVox in person, I've heard that the deeper resonator produces a deeper, "tubbier," almost guitar-like sound.  On the other hand, I have an ODE, which is set up to produce max volume and a very bright tone.  In fact, I often have to put one or two dishtowels inside the resonator to tone it down when I'm playing in a group.  So that might partially account for why his tone sounds so smooth and even, while mine just sounds rough and harsh when played in the same way. 

My second thought is that it just might be partly a personal preference.  I have never used a lot of full downstokes (a' la Eddie Peabody), preferring instead a "riverboat" stroke (one full downstroke followed by a 2-3-4 tremulo on the 4th (D) string to complete the measure), which is more like Dave Marty or Don Van Palta.  So maybe my ear is just used to a lighter, smoother, less busy style of playing. 

Let's also remember that this 4/4 beat dance-band style basically went out of vogue with the Two-Step and the Fox Trot; you don't hear it too much anymore, except for some Dixieland work in what used to be called "two-beat jazz," like the Firehouse Five would play.  But of course, that's what caught my attention to the "Whispering" video in the first place!   SETH 

Edited by - sethb on 06/19/2021 06:58:49

guitarbanjoman - Posted - 06/19/2021:  08:27:50

Seth, I really hope someday you will get to own, or at least play, a Vegavox banjo.

I just got my first one a few years ago and it has done wonders for my playing.

It’s not really a guitar-y sound that these banjos have, and it is not “deeper” somehow... it is what I call “faster”....

These tone rings are really responsive to fast strumming somehow more than other banjos... think of it as being like a premium high fidelity speaker which can handle any load cleanly without distortion where a cheaper speaker might sound distorted and dirty.

That’s why Peabody-style players who are real fast strummers are attracted to these banjos.

So now, after playing the instrument for nigh on fifty years, I’m only beginning to get my right hand to do that fast strumming... I can now do it for brief periods but am still amazed to see players like Brad Roth, Buddy Wachter and Georgette Twain who seem able to do it effortlessly for as long as they choose!

Part of my embarrassing tardiness in this area is the fact that I am left-handed but playing right handed. I had somehow convinced myself that my right arm was physically incapable of doing that fast strum, dammit!

But as the principal of a school where I once taught once taught me,

“If you think you CAN'T do it--- you’re right!

If you think you CAN do it--- you’re right!”

Well, it turned out I probably could have done it all along, dammit!

IF ONLY... I had bought a Vox-style banjo a lot sooner!

So that’s why I encourage you, and anybody else who is interested in developing their RH strumming, to buy one!


PS I will be real interested to learn from some of the longtime plectrum players whether my experience with Vox banjos is unique to myself or shared by others...

Edited by - guitarbanjoman on 06/19/2021 08:39:29

sethb - Posted - 06/19/2021:  11:30:45

Will --- Thanks for the interesting VegaVox comments.  As soon as I win the PowerBall lottery, I will definitely start looking around for one!  Not only do they play beautifully, but they are also works of art all by themselves. 

But seriously, I had another thought on the fast strum, which involves picks.  I remember reading somewhere that for really fast strumming or picking, you need a pick that's not too soft.  That's because the pick needs to return very quickly to it's original straight position after it hits a string or strings, so that it's ready for the next hit.  A soft pick can't/won't do that.  On the other hand, a pick that's too hard won't have enough flexibility to give you control over the pick and/or the strum.  So you need a pick that falls in that happy soft/hard range for you. 

Fortunately, picks are pretty cheap, so it's easy to experiment until you find what you like.  I often start a gig with a relatively soft pick, and then move to a harder one as I get warmed up.  Nothing says "amateur" faster than having a pick fly out of your fingers, even though it happens to almost everyone once in a while.  That's why I also keep one or two spares nearby, just in case.   SETH

Edited by - sethb on 06/19/2021 11:31:58

sethb - Posted - 06/19/2021:  15:19:30

And after watching that YouTube video a few more times, I agree that, especially on the last chorus, starting at about the 4:50 minute mark, the banjoist is using some type of combo stroke, because it's not a straight up-and-down vertical motion anymore, there's pretty clearly two different parts to it. 

So it's back to the drawing board and figuring out something similar that works well for me.  But I'd sure like to take a lesson or two from that guy!  SETH 

sethb - Posted - 06/27/2021:  12:36:07

After watching the video again, I had another thought.  Arntzen is strumming the strings pretty far from the bridge --- in fact, he's just about at the juncture of the neck and the banjo head.  That would produce a more mellow tone, and one which might be more appropriate and harmonious for such a constant beat.  By comparison, I usually strum about halfway between the bridge and the neck/head juncture, which would produce a sharper, brighter tone.   

The closer your strum gets to the bridge, the sharper the tone will be, and conversely, the further away from the bridge you are, the more mellow the tone will be.  That's also why lots of electric guitars have two or three pickups -- one near the neck, one near the bridge, and one in between, so that the players can select and blend the tones to get the particular sound they want.  And the bridge pickup is sometime labeled as the "lead" pickup because of its brighter tone.  When I'm playing guitar, I almost always use the neck pickup, which produces a softer, deeper tone.  Maybe that arrangement is also good for this type of 4/4 banjo beat, too.  SETH 

sethb - Posted - 06/29/2021:  11:18:51

I found another good example of Arntzen's 4/4 playing style.  When he's just behind a solo trumpet at the beginning of the number, he really helps to push things along --- and his solo starting at the 4:17 minute mark is excellent, too.  Here's the YouTube link:;index=16

Although his whole-arm strumming style is a little unconventional, you certainly can't argue with the results, which sound great.   SETH

sethb - Posted - 08/01/2021:  08:18:59

I just happened to catch the same type of 4/4 strum in a musical clip from a 1931 Wheeler & Woolsey movie on YouTube. 

Starting at 1:00 minute in, you can see the banjoist for about 45 seconds as he comps behind Bert Wheeler and Dorothy Lee.  It's the same type of locked-wrist full-arm strum that Arnt Arntzen is using in the Vince Giordano clips I posted earlier.  Here's the YouTube link:

I'm wondering if this isn't some sort of special "dance band" style of playing and strumming.  It's certainly much different from the wrist-only strum that I was taught, and much more akin to a guitar-type of strum.  In any event, it fits nicely with the tune and definitely helps to contribute to the rhythm of the band.  SETH  

sethb - Posted - 08/01/2021:  15:34:18

. . . and I forgot to add that, unless I'm mistaken, the guy is playing a PLECTRUM banjo!  All right!!  SETH 

stevo58 - Posted - 08/02/2021:  00:48:37

You probably realize this, but in the first video he chokes the entire time (except his solo).

Regarding the Vox, is this responsiveness due to the Tubaphone, or is there something about the Voxes that a non-VOX Tubaphone doesn’t have? So, does an Artist or Professional respond that way? I live in the Silver Bell world, and have never had the chance to try a Vega.


Edited by - stevo58 on 08/02/2021 00:49:51

guitarbanjoman - Posted - 08/03/2021:  11:24:52

Steven, do you live near Dusseldorf?

This guy seems to have quite a few banjos and maybe he will let you try a few of his Vegas…

if I ever get to Germany I’m going to make it my first stop!

Edited by - guitarbanjoman on 08/03/2021 11:26:07

stevo58 - Posted - 08/04/2021:  00:16:03

Will, I know that site; as a matter of fact, when I started out I tried to buy a Paramount Style F from him, but he wanted me to visit and try them out first, and it’s not easy for me to get to Düsseldorf. And at that time, they would all have sounded more or less the same to my ears. He had a Pietsch a year or two ago that I should have bought, they don’t show up on the market very often, especially at that price.


guitarbanjoman - Posted - 08/04/2021:  01:27:45

I’ve never played Pietsch but I would guess that they have a sound and response very similar to a Vegavox… and they sure are gorgeous!

stevo58 - Posted - 08/04/2021:  03:32:18

Yeah, of course, that's a pretty custom model. The base model looks more like the instrument in his left hand here -

which ain't too bad, either. The one Gunter had for sale was a Silver Bell style.

sethb - Posted - 08/08/2021:  15:40:38


Originally posted by stevo58

You probably realize this, but in the first video he chokes the entire time (except his solo).


Steve --- When I first read your post, I thought you used the word "choked" to refer to the fact that when the banjoist started to play, he stopped for a measure or two, and then picked up again -- so it was "choked" as in meaning "screwed up." 

Then yesterday I was playing around with a swing tune on the guitar and tried to create a swing strum to go along with it.  So I was working on a "one-and-uh-two-and-uh-three-and-uh-four" beat, and found that I was intermittently "choking" the strings to create that swing rhythm.  This produced a very good, constant and easy strum that was a lot smoother and "quieter" than doing four downstrokes in a row, but has the same effect rhythmically.  And from the front, it looked like I was doing a straight 4/4 strum, the same one I saw in the videos I mentioned!  So I think that in a roundabout way, I've managed to solve the riddle of the 4/4 strum that I posted.  And I realized that your comment about "choking" likely referred to the strings and not to the banjoist!  Thanks for helping me to solve the problem!  SETH 

stevo58 - Posted - 08/08/2021:  22:32:43

Yes, if you look at his left hand, you can see him choking.

sethb - Posted - 08/09/2021:  04:11:55

I went back and looked at the "Whispering" video again, but this time I used the "full screen" YouTube option to blow up the picture, so I could see exactly what Arntzen was doing.  At that point, the left-hand choking was clearly visible.  But in normal performance, I doubt that anyone would probably notice it.  And initially, I had focused on his right-hand technique, and so hadn't bothered to check out the left hand.  Thanks again, Steve, for picking that up and pointing it out. 

Hmmm, I always thought my left hand had enough to do, just getting the correct fingerings for the chord changes. Now it has another job!!  SETH

Edited by - sethb on 08/09/2021 04:15:26

stevo58 - Posted - 08/09/2021:  08:10:55

It doesn’t take long and it’s not something you have to think about. Whether you choke is a choice. And you have four choices : don’t choke; choke every beat; choke 1&3; choke 2&4. Ok, a fifth would be: choke one beat (whichever) only. When I first started on banjo, after fifty years of guitar, I choked all the time. My teacher convinced me to make it a choice rather than a default.

Edited by - stevo58 on 08/09/2021 08:11:48

sethb - Posted - 08/09/2021:  08:48:19

Actually, I wasn't complaining about the extra "work," it was intended as more of a humorous comment.  And choking has been something that's always been in my toolbox, but was rarely used.  My preference is usually to just let the banjo ring out, since the sustain time is pretty limited to begin with. 

I do remember that my teacher, Don Van Palta, did suggest that choking would be a good way to vary your strum from time to time.  You can hear him choking on his YouTube teaching video of "The World is Waiting for the Sunrise," at around 1:45 and again at 1:58 in the video.  But I can't recall him suggesting the use of choking for this particular 4/4 strum, and which I had never seen before I saw the Arntzen video that I posted. 

That's the great thing about music -- there's always something else to learn and play around with.  SETH 

Edited by - sethb on 08/09/2021 08:58:25

stevo58 - Posted - 08/09/2021:  09:28:55

Damn! This internet thing and irony - I’ll never get it.

sethb - Posted - 08/11/2021:  16:48:59

FYI, I took the new 4/4 strum/choking method for a spin yesterday on "Whispering" at a jam session, and it worked like a charm!   

I was able to play smoothly and efficiently at a pretty good clip, but with a lot less extra "noise."  The choking eliminated the extraneous strums, and I was able to accentuate the backbeats, which stood out as they were supposed to.  As a side benefit, the choking gave my fingertips a bit of a rest too, since they weren't continuously fretting the strings. 

The "strum mystery" is solved (with the help of the Banjo Hangout BB), so thanks again for the input, and now it's on to the next musical problem!   SETH 

Edited by - sethb on 08/11/2021 16:53:05

craig wood - Posted - 08/12/2021:  12:58:29

I don't know? Seth, There was never a strum mystery. I listened to your recordings on your beloved tenor guitar..
You were chocking all the time! Just comes naturally.

sethb - Posted - 08/13/2021:  16:40:16

That may be so, I never really thought about it!  And as I noted before, I have a tendency to let the banjo ring out when I play.  

To me, the banjo is an entirely different animal, with a strum from the wrist rather than the forearm.  I was having trouble duplicating the 4/4 strum on the banjo that I heard from the Arntzen video.  SETH

mastomo - Posted - 08/15/2021:  06:58:52

Great video this "whispering"

From my side, he strokes beat 1, 2, 3, 4 with an accent on beat 2 ans 4.

Thanks for sharing this !

sethb - Posted - 08/16/2021:  08:06:21

I think that Craig was right when he commented that choking is basically intuitive.  But it's still something that needs to be consciously applied to create the rhythm you want.  I'm now paying much more attention to this technique!  

Here's another video I recently found of Arnt Arntzen employing choking again.  In the closeup of his solo, which starts at about the 1:04 minute mark, you can clearly see him employing choking.  (And his singing isn't bad, either!) 

Here's the YouTube link:   SETH

Edited by - sethb on 08/16/2021 08:08:04

guitarbanjoman - Posted - 08/16/2021:  09:13:01

Arnt Arntzen… Borgy Borgerson…

… I am always happy to learn of "banjo player names" like mine…

…anybody know of any others?

Edited by - guitarbanjoman on 08/16/2021 09:13:33

guitarbanjoman - Posted - 08/16/2021:  10:10:36

Forgot Shep Shepherd!

stevo58 - Posted - 08/16/2021:  23:22:01

The technique is (should be) intuitive. When and how you use it is are choices.

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