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 Playing Advice: Bluegrass (Scruggs) Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Free yourself be yourself


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/393604

Waltraud - Posted - 10/25/2023:  15:59:07


Hello banjo friends



I've been playing for years , am in three bands, build banjo necks, restore banjos occasionally and am mad about Bluegrass! I've just realised after 30 years that perhaps I should release myself from expectations to play like this banjo hero or that banjo hero and just let my own soul  and vision be enough to steer me in my own direction, without fear of straying from a prescribed path. It can feel hard to trust in one's own creative direction. It feels like an epiphany is needed to move away from thoughts lije "play like Earl or JD or this one or that one" and just play as my 30 years playing, listening and enjoying has taught me. I hope this touches on some other hearts and minds. I welcome your thoughs on liberation from self expectation towards self determination. Happy pickin you all.

Tim


Edited by - Waltraud on 10/25/2023 16:02:28

Culloden - Posted - 10/25/2023:  16:29:15


My mentor, Troy Brammer taught me how to emulate his style without copying him. He would always tell me to take what he had shown me and learn it my way.
I once heard Sonny Osborne say that he never played anything the same way twice.
Music, like any art form, is about expression. How can someone express themselves if they are too busy trying to copy someone else's playing.
The one phrase I hate the most is,"Earl didn't play it that way."

Nic Pennsylvania - Posted - 10/25/2023:  16:36:15


I remember listening to Mike Seeger talk about seeing Earl Scruggs play and then questioning him afterward with questions bordering on accusations: that's not how you did it on the record.

Later, Seeger said, he appreciated the fact that Earl didn't just keep playing the same song the same way, even though he said he was embarrassed about that encounter.

KCJones - Posted - 10/25/2023:  17:18:59


John Hartford said something along the lines of (paraphrasing), "style is defined by limitations". Everyone emulates their influences of course. Where you can't emulate them perfectly, you've got to get creative. 



Another thing he said was (paraphrasing), "I'm just trying to make the music in my head come out, and entertain myself... and if other people enjoy my music that's just a bonus." It's important to play for yourself first. You need to make your own music, not somebody else's.





Hartford is probably my "banjo hero". Good luck copying him exactly. And he always did his own thing on his own time, so I figure the best way to emulate him is to do the same.


Edited by - KCJones on 10/25/2023 17:23:56

TN Time - Posted - 10/25/2023:  17:25:11


quote:

Originally posted by KCJones

John Hartford said something along the lines of (paraphrasing), 'style is defined by limitations'.



Everyone emulates their influences of course. But certainly you need to make your own music, not somebody else's.



Hartford is probably my "banjo hero". Good luck copying him exactly. And he always did his own thing on his own time, so I figure the best way to emulate him is to do the same.






I always liked Hartford's double thumbing on the 5th string. I don't believe I have ever heard anyone else play like that.



Robert

Tractor1 - Posted - 10/25/2023:  19:42:02


I got the basics from Earl's book as far as the rolls and learned 3 or 4 of his songs --but at that point just about everyone was not really playing enough melody to suit me--so I started playing my own way --basically square licks --of course I always caught ridicule and un asked for lessons--yes I was missing out on the great licks --but plenty of guys are filling in--much better than me anyway--and I got crazy enough to play a few things that are kinda musical--it turns out--there is room for us all



a lot of the great music embellishments , signature phrases and such- can be transferred among different instruments -genres -styles --etc.


Edited by - Tractor1 on 10/25/2023 19:47:44

Will Frady - Posted - 10/25/2023:  19:47:27


Greetings from this side of the pond. Great post thanks Tim. I know Exactly what your saying and I feel the same way . I’ve been playing a long time and I’m still self conscious of my playing, and heaven forbid I should play in front of serious or really good pickers. I absolutely get nervous and then my playing is affected and I make things worse . I heard the Great Tony Rice say one time that there was already a Tony Rice. Already a JD Crowe . Don’t try to be them , be you. play in a way that makes people want to play like you . That’ll never happen but I do feel somewhat tethered at times and not really free to make mistakes and enjoy my playing.

steve davis - Posted - 10/25/2023:  20:24:37


I've spent a lot of time over the years figuring out ways to play with my French-Canadian fiddling friends.
Much of the time I haven't heard a banjo part to what I'm working on which forces me to play it my way.
Same thing when I played with Vaughn Meader.There weren't any recordings of banjo with Vaughn Monroe or Sarah Vaughn.I just had to figure it out on my own which was very exciting.

Bill H - Posted - 10/26/2023:  02:19:35


quote:

Originally posted by steve davis

I've spent a lot of time over the years figuring out ways to play with my French-Canadian fiddling friends.

Much of the time I haven't heard a banjo part to what I'm working on which forces me to play it my way.

Same thing when I played with Vaughn Meader.There weren't any recordings of banjo with Vaughn Monroe or Sarah Vaughn.I just had to figure it out on my own which was very exciting.






Steve, this has been pretty much my situation. Nobody I know in my neighborhood plays anything like Scruggs style bluegrass. I play with New England contra dance fiddlers who love Canadian, Cape Bretton and Celtic tunes. I explore and do what I can with tunes like, Jenny Dang the Weaver, Galway Hornpipe Maple Sugar..


Edited by - Bill H on 10/26/2023 02:21:41

Texasbanjo - Posted - 10/26/2023:  04:25:13


Once I figured out how to play by ear, I developed my own "style" of playing. It ended up being a mish-mash of Earl, J.D., Sonny, Ralph and Allan Munde, with a little bit of Bill Keith thrown in and probably several others that gave me ideas. In other words, I took from each person what fitted my picking and bound them all together and that became my style, not anyone else's. Works for me.

steve davis - Posted - 10/26/2023:  04:55:24


quote:

Originally posted by Bill H

quote:

Originally posted by steve davis

I've spent a lot of time over the years figuring out ways to play with my French-Canadian fiddling friends.

Much of the time I haven't heard a banjo part to what I'm working on which forces me to play it my way.

Same thing when I played with Vaughn Meader.There weren't any recordings of banjo with Vaughn Monroe or Sarah Vaughn.I just had to figure it out on my own which was very exciting.






Steve, this has been pretty much my situation. Nobody I know in my neighborhood plays anything like Scruggs style bluegrass. I play with New England contra dance fiddlers who love Canadian, Cape Bretton and Celtic tunes. I explore and do what I can with tunes like, Jenny Dang the Weaver, Galway Hornpipe Maple Sugar..






I took my banjo to Scrabble night yesterday as we sometimes have to wait for the third person to get home.



We ended up playing Sugar in the Gourd and Pigeon on the Gate.

Bill H - Posted - 10/26/2023:  06:19:22


steve davis Love Scrabble.

Bronx banjo - Posted - 10/26/2023:  09:20:26


I believe it’s impossible to play like anyone but yourself. No matter who you think you’re copying, you’re always filtering and making choices, sometimes subconsciously, that are uniquely your own. So I don’t worry about coming up with my own style. I think that style just happens without thinking about it. It’s probably easier for others to identify your style than it is for you. It’s like trying to hear your own accent when you speak. Others can hear it but you can’t.

johnedallas - Posted - 10/26/2023:  09:44:01


Len Graham, the singer of the Irish folk group "Skylark," gave me a motto that's stood me in good stead for many years: "Sing for the song!"
Don't try to figure out what another singer - perhaps a highly regarded performer - is trying to put into the song. Before you sing it, take a good look at it, think about it, and figure out what it (the song) wants to say to us. Then sing it so that this message comes across.
This is obviously easier for folk songs, where the words carry the message (though to hear some singers, you'd think they'd never read the words!) But I reckon a tune without words has something to tell us, too. It may want to make us happy or sad or homesick or just make us dance. The stars may use the tune to showcase their brilliant technique - you can play it for its own sake. Maybe you'll get the ultimate accolade: "Wow! I never heard that tune played like that before!"
Cheers,
John

monstertone - Posted - 10/26/2023:  10:41:54


Ben Eldridge, among many others, have contributed a lot to the way I play. Therefore, I cannot really call it my style. And like Ben, I have shamelessly stolen licks from everyone. So when anyone comments on the origin of this or that lick or run, I just grin, take it as a complement, & figure they have done their homework.


Edited by - monstertone on 10/26/2023 10:43:01

Waltraud - Posted - 10/26/2023:  15:16:27


What great ideas and thoughts, thank you. It's nice to know I'm in good company. I don't SIM to play like anyone but can hear a bit of all my influences in my playing. I've had a few good teachers and have found that despite my leaning towards Scruggs style I often add melodic run downs or riffs in a Luberecki or Trishks type way as well as bit off Stanley or nowadays Jerome Brown might do. Diversity in all senses tends to bring creativity and strength. You can love JD and Noam at the same time.

L50EF15 - Posted - 10/26/2023:  16:35:04


Fascinating topic. Worrying about playing “exactly like Earl” is the main thing that intimidated me away from five string and onto the tenor. I should get over that and get back to the five, but I definitely feel less pressure to emulate a specific player’s style and technique on the four.

Laurence Diehl - Posted - 10/26/2023:  17:57:11


quote:

Originally posted by KCJones

John Hartford said something along the lines of (paraphrasing), "style is defined by limitations". Everyone emulates their influences of course. Where you can't emulate them perfectly, you've got to get creative. 



Another thing he said was (paraphrasing), "I'm just trying to make the music in my head come out, and entertain myself... and if other people enjoy my music that's just a bonus." It's important to play for yourself first. You need to make your own music, not somebody else's.





Hartford is probably my "banjo hero". Good luck copying him exactly. And he always did his own thing on his own time, so I figure the best way to emulate him is to do the same.






John Hartford was a true original and I agree that style is defined as much by what you can't do as anything else. I tried to play like Earl - for about five minutes (impossible). As long as you're paying attention to the three T''s that's all you need. 

steve davis - Posted - 10/27/2023:  06:47:07


I work at playing in a way that makes it easy to hear what tune I'm playing and fitting in with the other musicians.
I don't spend much if any time trying to play like somebody else.I just want to be satisfied that my playing captures the essence of the tune.

nechville - Posted - 10/27/2023:  10:18:16


The general consensus here is clear. We all have our strengths and limitations that define us as individuals. That being understood, there are also tonal choices availability to banjo players that can help us further distinguish our overall sound. For anyone looking for a particular sound, please consult me at BanjosWest.com. My shop in Oregon specializes in customized Nechville designs.

mike gregory - Posted - 10/27/2023:  10:23:57


I gave up, LOOOONNNG ago, on trying to sound exactly like somebody else.

But ( as the Late Great Irene pointed out YEARS ago) people who have heard me play, have hired me to play again.

(She said it was pleasantly surprising, the first few times it happened.)



And to get paid to do what you CAN do and LIKE to do, is the Greatest Job in the World.

Owen - Posted - 10/27/2023:  12:48:59


I'd consider it a feather in my cap if could sound a bit more like some players, even those of modest talent/accomplishments.

phb - Posted - 11/09/2023:  08:57:02


I like learning about how a true virtuoso plays a certain piece because it teaches so much about how you can turn a melody into banjo notes. I couldn't remember more than a dozen arrangements of different songs so I figured I had no other choice than to play like me.

monstertone - Posted - 11/09/2023:  12:18:05


A good many beginners, myself included, start down this BG/OT banjo road having very limited knowledge of 99% of the repertoire. I had never heard of Earl Scruggs, let alone the book or, save for HSH & CC, anything else. Under those conditions, the only option was imitation. As I began discovering more about Earl, it soon became obvious he was the master of his trade & there was no catching up with him. However, I had recordings, & a lot more role models to draw from than Earl ever did. smiley

5stringjim5 - Posted - 11/22/2023:  08:41:59


All the greats were influenced by someone somewhere, but developed their own styles. Earl Scruggs played like Earl Scruggs. JD Crowe, Bill Keith and Bela Fleck, the same, all their own styles. Play what you feel. Develop your own style of playing. Enjoy it. Doesn't have to be super fancy. Most banjo players hardly ever play everything the same way all the time.

Redbone - Posted - 11/23/2023:  04:23:22


I've often wondered who Earl aspired to play like?

Bob Buckingham - Posted - 11/23/2023:  05:57:35


I have the privilege to teach and know Phil Jenkins. His father, Oren Jenkins played on the Folkways album American Banjo: Three-Finger and Scruggs Style

Various Artists still available on the Smithsonian web site. Phil's Uncle Snuffy showed Earl some stuff on the banjo but there were several players in the area where we live that were also influential to Earl like his brother Junie. Wikepedia says this:

Earl Scruggs did not invent three-finger banjo playing; in fact, he said the three-finger style was the most common way to play the five-string banjo in his hometown in western North Carolina. An early influence was a local banjoist, DeWitt "Snuffy" Jenkins, who plucked in a finger style. According to banjoist and historian Tony Trischka, "Jenkins came about as close as one could to Scruggs style without actually playing it".[12] At age ten, when Scruggs first learned the technique, he recalled that he was at home in his room after a quarrel with his brother. He was idly playing a song called "Reuben" and suddenly realized that he was playing with three fingers, not two. "That excited me to no end", he later recalled, and said he ran through the house repeatedly yelling "I've got it".[9] From there he devoted all his free time to perfecting his timing and to adding syncopation and variations to it. Controversy exists as to the actual origin of three-finger picking style.[17] Don Reno, an eminent banjo player who also played this style and who knew Scruggs at that young age, described Scruggs' early playing as similar to that of Snuffy Jenkins.[6] Scruggs, however, consistently referred to it as his own, saying that he adapted to it "a syncopated roll that was quite different."[6][18] On the subject, John Hartford said, "Here's the way I feel about it. Everybody's all worried about who invented the style and it's obvious that three finger banjo pickers have been around a long time—maybe since 1840. But it's my feeling that if it wasn't for Earl Scruggs, you wouldn't be worried about who invented it."[6]  If you want more it is here

Redbone - Posted - 11/23/2023:  06:24:09


S'nuff said! Thanks. There's alot to be said for "no electronics"...TV, etc to distract us. It's just nice to focus on one thing at a time!

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