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Jul 22, 2019 - 1:59:13 PM
494 posts since 4/27/2009

Last Saturday I played with a small group that had two pro fiddle players and found myself left in their dust. I realize that I can't just speed up what I have been doing and need to find a new strategy if I am going to play with them. Melodic playing is a non-starter. Simply strumming chords is not going to cut it. What do you all suggest. Examples I can listen to would be greatly appreciated.

Edited by - Ernest M on 07/22/2019 13:59:39

Jul 22, 2019 - 2:13:23 PM
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51962 posts since 12/14/2005

I recall something about not taking speed in LUMP form, but grinding it to a powder.
This advice was secretly encoded in a tune ( with no lyrics) by Flatt & Scruggs, titled
"GROUND SPEED".

 

Jul 22, 2019 - 2:22:15 PM
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m06

England

7658 posts since 10/5/2006

To answer your question we'd need to hear the fiddle players. How you play with them is going to be shaped to a large extent by what they are doing.

A more minimal rhythmic approach would no doubt give you more breathing space than a notier melodic approach. The master of minimal at pace was Kyle Creed. He is on record as describing wryly how the fiddle can bow out notes faster than a banjo can be picked so he didn't even try and go note for note with the fiddle player. He is also a masterclass in economy of motion. Listen to the album 'Liberty'; if you haven't heard it before it is an absolute jaw-dropping revelation in up-tempo, driving, but less-is-more clawhammer banjo.

The fact you use the pretty conclusive term that you were 'left in their dust' suggests you may need to reassess why or how you found yourself in that situation where there was such a gulf in facility to play at the set tempo. There is the positive experience of playing with better players at the right time if that 'slingshots' you and you can raise to the faster level. But equally there is voluntarily being out of your depth and needlessly damaging your confidence.  The reality is that changing approach takes time and practice. My guess is that for the time being you may need to find a setting that is matched to your current tempo and work on alternatives.

Edited by - m06 on 07/22/2019 14:32:24

Jul 22, 2019 - 2:39:24 PM
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m06

England

7658 posts since 10/5/2006

Here is the 'Liberty' album with Kyle Creed's banjo clear as a bell.

youtube.com/watch?v=BM5IL4djhxM

Here is Kyle Creed playing with the Camp Creek Boys in a setting with up-tempo fiddle.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7A6L1n2WT9U

He's not busting his gut but is right there with the fiddle.

Edited by - m06 on 07/22/2019 14:43:42

Jul 22, 2019 - 4:16:53 PM

Alex Z

USA

3559 posts since 12/7/2006

"I realize that I can't just speed up what I have been doing and need to find a new strategy"

Could you post a short audio clip of what you've been doing?

That will help a lot for those who may have some useful advice.

Jul 22, 2019 - 7:01:05 PM

Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

22107 posts since 6/25/2005

Do you drop thumb? If not, learn that skill. If so—practice following recordings. Practice is probably the key. Can you play melody at speed with a fiddler? You can, but it won’t come overnight.
https://www.banjohangout.org/myhangout/media-player/audio_player2.asp?musicid=17623&archived=

But then there’s Walt Koken:

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=8twVBIMbnTU

Edited by - Bill Rogers on 07/22/2019 19:09:44

Jul 22, 2019 - 10:45:10 PM

206 posts since 10/11/2008

I would suggest an fairly simply solution:

YOU kick 'em off and do so at a comfortable speed for you.

Jul 22, 2019 - 11:02:15 PM
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Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

22107 posts since 6/25/2005

Unfortunately, the basic rule is to follow the fiddle(s). Only if the banjo player is the acknowledged leader of the jam will he or she be able to set the time.

Jul 23, 2019 - 2:54:32 AM
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2689 posts since 10/17/2009

A good strategy is to Simplify. (KISS principle)

First rather than focused on what notes are written on paper/tab... or what notes you hear on a recording by much more skilled players... is the idea to find something to accompany the tune. Starting with a bit of minimalist idea. (least you can do and still fits)

For CH, focused on a simple rhythmic accompaniment but follows basic melodic contour. One exercise is to just try find and play the down stoke notes; the basic Bum and Dit... and get that up to tempo. Thumb still lands on the fifth string, but initially not concerned with sounding it; just focus on the down beat. Once that is solid and up to tempo... introduce thumb, as well as HO, PO, slides, drop thumb notes within that same frame. Another trick involves substitutions, and for a lot of tunes can focus on just pentatonic notes. Should note that, this simple approach, by itself might not sound like much (boring?), hard to recognize much of any melody. But with the fiddle; as it's carrying the melodic intricacy; combination can sound quite good. 

Edited by - banjoak on 07/23/2019 03:01:56

Jul 23, 2019 - 3:46:13 AM

2085 posts since 4/29/2012

I play in a session where we sometimes play the same tunes either slow or (sometimes lightning) fast (Little Billy Wilson is one that comes to mind) . I do different things in each case. Slow I can get all the melody notes, lots of embellishments etc. Fast I leave out the extras, often just doing repetitive rolls of ITIT (index-drop-index-5th) or index-hammer/(as)po-index-thumb on the chord shapes of the song hitting the melody strings if and when possible. But it is a matter of practice and experience. Simplify as much as possible. With time you'll be able to add more bells 'n whistles. But the simpler version will still complement the fiddlers and provide the percussive drive that a banjo can give.
If you haven't got double/drop thumbing yet then Bill's advice is spot on. That extra note on the thumb string paradoxically makes speed easier not harder as you are repeating a shorter simpler pattern.

Jul 23, 2019 - 7:45:36 AM
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3518 posts since 5/12/2010

Andrew,

Double Thumb and Drop Thumb are two entirely different things. You may already understand that, but your "double/drop thumbing" phrase makes me wonder.

Earnest,

We all find ourselves early on encountering this situation. A beginner banjo player will always have trouble keeping up with an experienced fiddler unless the fiddler is trying to help teach by playing a slower tempo.

I suggest, for now, you forget about the advice given considering adding in embellishments such as "Drop Thumb", because that certainly will not help you gain speed.

I like the advice given about keeping it simple, because that is the only way you are going to be able to get in time with such a fiddler.

Don't worry about trying to get every note. It is a lot better to get a note in the right place, if only here and there, than it is to get notes in the wrong places behind the fiddle, or too far in front of the fiddle. You need to stay out of the fiddle's way, or that fiddler will not want to play with you next time.

If you can hit the right note only on the down beat, you will be doing good, because that is where the timing is, and doing that will keep you from dragging the fiddle, and the fiddle player will be happier. The rest of the melody requires syncopation which takes some practice, and a lot of it. You need to get a real loose right hand to be able to gain the speed needed for keeping up with the fiddle on that.

You don't need to start throwing in newly learned skills at this point, and just get that down beat.

Edited by - OldPappy on 07/23/2019 07:48:34

Jul 23, 2019 - 9:10:11 AM

206 posts since 10/11/2008

quote:
Originally posted by Bill Rogers

Unfortunately, the basic rule is to follow the fiddle(s). Only if the banjo player is the acknowledged leader of the jam will he or she be able to set the time.


In a jam,  there are no rules and there are no leaders,  only unwritten etiquette protocol.  If said fiddlers refuse to respect and acknowledge others' limitations,  then I would suggest all find a different group to jam with.  Nobody likes jamming with a Look-at-Me showdog who looks at a jam as an opportunity to "showcase" his talent.

The idea is that all have something to contribute to the overall music being made.  The REAL pro let's 'em,  even if that means adjusting their speed,  which should be no problem for the REAL pro.  It's only common courtesy. 

Jul 23, 2019 - 9:18:55 AM
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2085 posts since 4/29/2012

quote:
Originally posted by OldPappy

Andrew,

Double Thumb and Drop Thumb are two entirely different things. You may already understand that, but your "double/drop thumbing" phrase makes me wonder.

 


I do understand. But don't agree that they are entirely different. In both cases note 2 out of 4 is a thumbed note rather than a no-note. IMHO the key to drop thumb is to treat it just like double thumb but not (necessarily) thumbing  the 5th.  Thinking that way was what got me into drop thumb. YMMV.

Jul 23, 2019 - 9:47:58 AM

AndyW

UK

434 posts since 7/4/2017

quote:
Originally posted by AndrewD
quote:
Originally posted by OldPappy

Andrew,

Double Thumb and Drop Thumb are two entirely different things. You may already understand that, but your "double/drop thumbing" phrase makes me wonder.

 


I do understand. But don't agree that they are entirely different. In both cases note 2 out of 4 is a thumbed note rather than a no-note. IMHO the key to drop thumb is to treat it just like double thumb but not (necessarily) thumbing  the 5th.  Thinking that way was what got me into drop thumb. YMMV.


I'm only a beginner of two years but I'll have my tuppence.

What AndrewD says above is certainly the way the likes of Dan Levenson/Tom Collins and many others teach beginners nowadays.  Double thumb first and then straight into drop thumb taught basically as double thumb just altering the frail finger/thumb gap as appropriate.

Learning that way for me means drop thumb doesn't hinder my rhythm(in my opinion) as it is ingrained right from the start.

I think you are probably right Andrew D that drop thumb can actually be faster sometimes as picking up the notes on the right hand simplifies the left hand and makes synchronising left and right much easier(and therefore faster).  

Jul 23, 2019 - 10:17:12 AM
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m06

England

7658 posts since 10/5/2006

quote:
Originally posted by OldPappy


>I like the advice given about keeping it simple, because that is the only way you are going to be able to get in time with such a fiddler.

Don't worry about trying to get every note. It is a lot better to get a note in the right place, if only here and there, than it is to get notes in the wrong places behind the fiddle, or too far in front of the fiddle. You need to stay out of the fiddle's way, or that fiddler will not want to play with you next time.

If you can hit the right note only on the down beat, you will be doing good, because that is where the timing is, and doing that will keep you from dragging the fiddle, and the fiddle player will be happier. The rest of the melody requires syncopation which takes some practice, and a lot of it. You need to get a real loose right hand to be able to gain the speed needed for keeping up with the fiddle on that.

You don't need to start throwing in newly learned skills at this point, and just get that down beat.<


If you go to 18:42 on the Camp Creek Boys LP and listen to their version of the tune 'Cider Mill' you will hear very clearly Kyle Creed employing exactly that simplicity and downbeat emphasis Andy F is referring to. The whole album is a demonstration of the same but it is particularly easy to hear on 'Cider Mill'. Notice when the fiddle player bows into fast runs of notes and listen through that arpeggiated playing to what the banjo plays with it - still clearly homing around those downbeat melody notes but vastly simpler and rock solid bang-in-time with the fiddle. 

The album also superbly demonstrates another aspect that gets mentioned from time to time: complimenting. The simplicity of the banjo approach is not a 'fudge' or a 'get-out'; it is hugely effective and compliments the greater complexity of the fiddle line. Two musicians note-for-note at breakneck speed is actually not that pleasing to the ear or musically clever or thoughtful. But when musicians compliment each other's sound is when things start cookin'. And bands don't come more cookin' than the Camp Creek Boys of that extraordinary line-up. And they are right there on record to learn from.

What is also noticeable is how Kyle Creed uses occasional slides to contrast and compliment the fiddle sound very effectively.  Drop thumb is a basic technique but it has no particular relevance to the OP's query about how to adapt to cope with the higher tempo of a fiddle player or how to compliment that up-tempo fiddle.

Edited by - m06 on 07/23/2019 10:32:00

Jul 23, 2019 - 1:22:40 PM
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3518 posts since 5/12/2010

"What AndrewD says above is certainly the way the likes of Dan Levenson/Tom Collins and many others teach beginners nowadays. Double thumb first and then straight into drop thumb taught basically as double thumb just altering the frail finger/thumb gap as appropriate.

Learning that way for me means drop thumb doesn't hinder my rhythm(in my opinion) as it is ingrained right from the start."


Yes, learning Double Thumb first makes learning Drop Thumb much easier than when the Bum-Dit-Ty is learned first. I think I said as much in an earlier post, however these are indeed two entirely separate things.

Drop Thumb is part of a "Basic Stoke", Double Thumb is an enhancement, just the same as ASPO, which serves a similar purpose, is an enhancement.

Whether or not you agree it can interfere with Rhythm when a beginner throws it into the mix doesn't matter much to me.
I have seen it do exactly that many times over, and especially when someone who has started out with the "Bum-Dit-Ty" starts trying to add that enhancement into the mix.

In my reading of the original post it seems he is a lot more concerned with getting in time, so he can play with a fiddler, than he is in learning new tricks.

Suggesting someone add a new embellishment at this point, no matter what embellishment it is, seems perfectly contrary to a "need for speed".

Edited by - OldPappy on 07/23/2019 13:25:09

Jul 23, 2019 - 1:42:46 PM
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3518 posts since 5/12/2010

Music has rules, and number one is timing, and in a "jam", unless it is specifically a "SLOW JAM" for beginners, everyone in it will be playing the best of their ability. And the Fiddler calls the tune.

Unless I am taking lessons from him or her, I hope I never play with a good fiddler who slows down while playing real music, just so I can keep up. That completely invalidates my goal of playing with any fiddler. It is my job not to cause a need to slow down.

You can learn a lot about becoming a better banjo player by playing with a fiddler, or another banjo player, who is better than you are, and if you just do only what you are capable of at first, and stay out of their way, you will eventually be able to start adding more to your part of it, but you absolutely have to get in time with the other player before you ever even try to start adding in anything else between the down beats. Doesn't matter if you just throw in a note every now and then, as long as it is in time with the music. 

If you try to do more than you are really capable of, and throw everyone else off, you just might not get a lot more chances to learn from the better player in a JAM situation.

Edited by - OldPappy on 07/23/2019 13:44:10

Jul 23, 2019 - 2:15:27 PM

494 posts since 4/27/2009

Thank you for all the responses. To be clear, this was not our regular jam. A few players have been getting together and playing in an old shed at one of the oldest ranches in Chaffee County, Colorado which is a now a non-profit interpretative center where visitors can stop by and get a look at the old ranch house and out buildings. Our regular fiddler was joined last week by another fiddler that I invited and when they got together, well they were a wonder to listen to. I don't want them to slow down for me. I can play at a pretty good clip, just not where they went to on that occasion.

And if you find yourself in Salida, Colorado this summer on a Saturday, you will be welcome to haul out your ax. Just drop me a line.

Jul 23, 2019 - 2:34:42 PM

206 posts since 10/11/2008

I respectfully disagree, Pappy. First, timing and speed (tempo) are two totally different things. Jams are exactly what the word says--different skill levels on different instruments all "jammed" together purely for the entertainment and participatory factor-- not for any "instructional" purposes. Never heard of a "slow jam" unless it's in a workshop or classroom setting, but it has no connection whatsoever to a sho-nuff jam session.
That said, there is such a thing as jam etiquette, which basically is nothing more than respect and courtesy to your fellow participants. There's absolutely no reason why a true professional on any instrument should have a problem adjusting the tempo of a tune in order to accommodate those less proficient on their chosen instrument. Like I said before, it's just common courtesy. And the tempo of any bluegrass or old time tune isn't exactly written in stone, despite some saying, "it's supposed to be played fast."
Any tune can be played at any tempo, truth be told.

Respect for your fellow musicians, and your ability to "make them shine" as well, is not relegated to the ranks of us amateurs only -- quite the contrary. It's what distinguishes the so-so pro from the real pro, in my opinion.

E.g., look at the ending of the Earl Scruggs/Ground Speed video that Mike posted. I must have looked at that thing a hundred times previously, because I like the tune and I like Earl's "stage presence" in it. But notice, at the end, when it's time for Tullock's bass lick ending, Earl steps aside so the camera shot can get full on Tullock. He's indicating to the listening audience, "OK, y'all focus on him now."

Amazing that Earl could be so "camera conscious" in the new medium of television, but it was really just a carry over of what he'd practiced his whole life, as professional and amateur: don't forget to make your fellow musicians look and sound good too.

Jul 23, 2019 - 2:45:34 PM
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m06

England

7658 posts since 10/5/2006

quote:
Originally posted by Banjosephus

>Jams are exactly what the word says--different skill levels on different instruments all "jammed" together purely for the entertainment and participatory factor<

 


= recipe for disaster. And frustration for players of all levels unfortunate enough to be caught in such a disaster.

The better sessions use some form of description to advertise their broad competency. I organise a long-time regular OT session and it's indicated as a 'full-speed' session i.e. that some or most tunes are likely to be played at high tempo. Everyone is welcome to come along and enjoy the music but if participation is the intention they need to have read and absorbed the description. It is not suitable for those who cannot keep up. And it's our fun and we ain't unpaid babysitters. There is nothing more frustrating than sessions getting homogenised and pedestrianised by folks picking the wrong session to attend. It's actually discourteous to the regular musicians. Not the other way around.

Having said that we do bring on competent players who are session newbies and help and encourage them to get up to speed if that appears to be workable and we assess that the session won't knock their confidence.

That basic system works to maintain the presence of high standard sessions. There are plenty of sessions that organise differently and cater for different capability levels. That's good too. Similarly a more experienced musician would not go to an intermediate session and start cranking tunes out so fast that the others could not keep up. It's about the personal responsibility to self-assess correctly and use that knowledge appropriately and courteously. Common sense.

The alternative is the musical equivalent of the learner driver sitting in and blocking the fast lane of the motorway unaware of the disruption they're causing.

Edited by - m06 on 07/23/2019 15:00:13

Jul 23, 2019 - 6:44:57 PM

Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

22107 posts since 6/25/2005

Of course the op was not playing in a jam. He described it as a “small group.” That means something very different.

Jul 23, 2019 - 8:00:12 PM

206 posts since 10/11/2008

quote:
Originally posted by mbuk06
quote:
Originally posted by Banjosephus

>Jams are exactly what the word says--different skill levels on different instruments all "jammed" together purely for the entertainment and participatory factor<

 


= recipe for disaster. And frustration for players of all levels unfortunate enough to be caught in such a disaster.

The better sessions use some form of description to advertise their broad competency. I organise a long-time regular OT session and it's indicated as a 'full-speed' session i.e. that some or most tunes are likely to be played at high tempo. Everyone is welcome to come along and enjoy the music but if participation is the intention they need to have read and absorbed the description. It is not suitable for those who cannot keep up. And it's our fun and we ain't unpaid babysitters. There is nothing more frustrating than sessions getting homogenised and pedestrianised by folks picking the wrong session to attend. It's actually discourteous to the regular musicians. Not the other way around.

Having said that we do bring on competent players who are session newbies and help and encourage them to get up to speed if that appears to be workable and we assess that the session won't knock their confidence.

That basic system works to maintain the presence of high standard sessions. There are plenty of sessions that organise differently and cater for different capability levels. That's good too. Similarly a more experienced musician would not go to an intermediate session and start cranking tunes out so fast that the others could not keep up. It's about the personal responsibility to self-assess correctly and use that knowledge appropriately and courteously. Common sense.

The alternative is the musical equivalent of the learner driver sitting in and blocking the fast lane of the motorway unaware of the disruption they're causing.

 


You see that word "organise" you used.  That right there disqualifies your so called "sessions" as being true "jam sessions".   The great thing about bluegrass music is that it's participatory,  i.e. it's as much fun to play together as it is to listen to.  MORE fun for some (me).  When you start culling based on skill level you've really killed the spirit of the thing. 

Yes,  its possible to "organise" a thing to death. 

Jul 23, 2019 - 8:29 PM

206 posts since 10/11/2008

quote:
Originally posted by Bill Rogers

Of course the op was not playing in a jam. He described it as a “small group.” That means something very different.


If you'll kindly look back,  you'll see that it was YOU,  Bill,   who referred to it as a jam first-- in response to my suggestion that HE kick off the tunes at a speed more conducive to his abilities. 

But that's neither here nor there.   Professional musical courtesy applies across the board,  whether a jam or pro gig--across the whole spectrum (even "organized" sessions). 

(And I still think my suggestion was a darn good one.  What would it hurt if he simply piped up with,  "Let me kick it off"?   You think the fiddlers would have had a problem following,  whatever the tempo,  them being as good as he says?   How many times have you heard "Who's gonna kick it off?"  and  "How fast you want it?"  'Bout as common as "What key you gonna do it in?"  and "You gonna want a break?")

Jul 23, 2019 - 9:21:34 PM

Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

22107 posts since 6/25/2005

I did say that—mea culpa. I’m not going to get into an argument here—it would misdirect the discussion. You and I have different concepts of informal jamming and/or playing in a small, informal group. I’ll leave it at that. Note that organized jams will generally have leaders and customary approaches to choosing tunes and playing.

Jul 23, 2019 - 9:58:33 PM

206 posts since 10/11/2008

Fair 'nuff.

But, getting back on topic, to REALLY answer the OP's question ( the "need for speed"--how best to get it?), there's only one, in my opinion: practice.

Works every time.

Jul 23, 2019 - 10:37:11 PM
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m06

England

7658 posts since 10/5/2006

quote:
Originally posted by Banjosephus
You see that word "organise" you used.  That right there disqualifies your so called "sessions" as being true "jam sessions".   The great thing about bluegrass music is that it's participatory,  i.e. it's as much fun to play together as it is to listen to.  MORE fun for some (me).  When you start culling based on skill level you've really killed the spirit of the thing. 

Yes,  its possible to "organise" a thing to death. 


...yet if no-one takes initiative to "organise" (- your quote marks) sessions would not occur and then there would be no opportunity for participatory music. Outside of festivals sessions don't invent or and maintain themselves. So the idea that to organise is a negative feature is really hard to understand.

Yes, participatory music is at heart social activity. But to be truly participatory requires space that is appropriate to each individual attending and organisation creates that. However to remain attractive and vibrant each space has to be interesting and suitable for all those attending. Your reference to 'culling' implies removing something that is already there; well-organised and appropriate sessions do not do that, instead they promote in advance what they are and by doing so provide multiple choice. A healthy music community thrives on enjoyment through choice and in fact nurturing those fewer sessions that are 'full-speed', or whatever word you want to use to describe them, is part of fully catering for the needs of all musicians in that community. Providing choice.

How that works is easily described: if all sessions are 'any ability' they default to catering for the lowest ability level. Because if they don't then by definition they become exclusive and defeat their own purpose of being participatory.  Of course, in addition to the sociability aspect, those new to playing with others need sessions that are suitable for their ability level. But if that's all there is on offer - a one-size-fits-all - one sure thing will happen; the more experienced players will avoid and instead go in search of a space that is musically more interesting and appropriate to their ability. More enjoyable.

And to create that hoped-for suitable and enjoyable space, and keep everyone happy requires the provision of appropriate choice through intelligent organisationsmiley

Edited by - m06 on 07/23/2019 22:52:00

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