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Banjo versus TV week 109: Constructing solos and such

Posted by jrjenks on Sunday, May 9, 2010

A check-in on the Banjo versus TV project — J.R.'s ongoing plan to spend more time on his banjo than on TV. This post covers 3/28/2010 through 4/3/2010.
Banjo 642 hrs, TV 640 hours

It's been another week of reviewing my recordings of Midwest Banjo Camp sessions. Here's what I learned:

  • From Danny Barnes "Bluegrass Mentor" session:
    • Pat Cloud says there's no such thing as rolls.
    • Ned Luberecki has a great 20 second banjo lesson that I should ask him for when I see him this year.
  • From Peter Knupfer, James McKinney, Mike Sumner, Pete Wernick: "Tips on Constructing Breaks" session:
    • This is one of my favorite sessions to listen to because the various teachers (especially Pete Wernick and James McKinney) discuss their differences on some topics.
      • Learning from tablature
        • Peter Wernick says he tells students who are just getting started to learn two breaks from tablature, but then to stop learning from tablature and to begin doing your own breaks.

          Wernick likens learning a lot of breaks from tablature to learning to "speak Chinese" by phonetically memorizing a lot of Chinese poems — you're left with great parroting skills but are unable to order food or to find a bathroom in China.
        • James McKinney says that one should pursue multiple learning paths in parallel. It's good to continue to learn breaks from tablature as long as you're also training your ear and working on your break skills. Also, two songs probably isn't enough for someone to gain enough vocabulary.

          McKinney counters Wernick by actually speaking in Mandarin and explaining that you're only going to learn a language well if you listen to it and pay close attention to the way people use it.
        • Sumner falls somewhere in the middle, suggesting that there is a point in everyone's learning where it's appropriate to learn others' breaks in detail and to incorporate it into one's own skillset. He says the timing of this period varies with individual learning style.
        I go with McKinney on this one.
      • Essential bluegrass songs
        • McKinney says that Don Reno, Earl Scruggs and Ralph Stanley are the founding fathers of bluegrass banjo. He lists some of their songs that the beginning bluegrass banjo player must listen to over and over.
          • Cripple Creek
          • Foggy Mountain Breakdown
          • Groundspeed
          • Home Sweet Home
          • Lonesome Reuben (in D tuning),
          • Shuckin' the Corn
          • Ballad of Jed Clampett
          • Double Banjo Blues
          • Follow the Leader
          • Remington Ride
          • Missile Ride
          • Charlotte Breakdown
          • Various fiddle tunes like Sally Goodin
        • Wernick disagrees with the high percentage of instrumentals on McKinney's list. He says that bluegrass music is mostly songs: voices plus instruments. Instrumentals are banned during the day at Wernick's banjo camps.

          Wernick's essential song list is his list of 74 Two-Chord Songs and Favorite Songs That Use 2 Or 3 Chords.
    • Pete Wernick has a couple of theories about the banjo and male or female voices.
      • He says the banjo must have been invented by men because the middle of the male singing range is conveniently placed on the G3 third string while the middle of the female singing range is inconveniently located on the D4 first string.
      • He also thinks that this is why women tend to play clawhammer. The clawhammer style emphasizes the use of the first string.
    • James McKinney recommends This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession.
    • James McKinney describes two approaches to banjo breaks.
      • The modular approach: Stringing together licks that match the chord progression with less (sometimes no) regard for playing the melody notes.
      • The melody approach: Playing (most of) the melody and fitting in licks around it.
      He says both approaches are valid. He finds it interesting that Earl Scruggs was a champion of the melody approach but that the generation that followed Earl seems rooted in the modular approach.

Also in the last week:

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