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"Little Maggie"-- Question

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Nov 21, 2019 - 1:54:14 PM

Eric A

USA

157 posts since 10/15/2019
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I'm curious about why "Little Maggie", a very modal sounding tune, is generally played out of open G tuning. Is there some use for an open 2nd string that I'm not seeing or hearing? Is it just to convenience Scruggs style pickers who don't want to change their rolls? Is it because (fill in the blank) did it that way? What?

If you already play a lot of tunes in sawmill tuning, why not just leave it there and rip into "Little Maggie"?

Nov 21, 2019 - 2:10:21 PM

Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

22565 posts since 6/25/2005
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It’s most often (almost always) part of the bluegrass repertoire. The players tend not to retune. Further, it’s almost always played at a fast, driving tempo, not the best for sawmill tuning. Of course, if you want to play it as a solo piece in sawmill, there’s nothing wrong with that. Note that there are a fair number of players (I’m one.) who play Cluck Old Hen in g tuning. Works just fine. Clinch Mountain Backstep is another modal tune that’s almost always played in g tuning.

Nov 21, 2019 - 2:22:56 PM

Eric A

USA

157 posts since 10/15/2019
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That's interesting. I think you hit the nail on the head early on, with the preference not to retune.

Personally, I hadn't even imagined that people play Clinch Mountain Backstep in g tuning. Several years ago, I sat down to figure it out, by ear, and automatically put my banjo in sawmill.

Nov 21, 2019 - 2:34:01 PM

Texasbanjo (Moderator)

USA

23479 posts since 8/3/2003

I agree with Bill: bluegrass banjo pickers don't do a lot of retuning. We play out of open G tuning the majority of the time. Occasionally we'll tune to D maybe, to play something like Reuben or a few other songs, but basically, open G tuning is what we use. If we need a different major key, we just capo. Why spend time changing tuning when it's not necessary. On stage during a gig, if you stopped and retuned every time you played a different song, you'd lose your audience and your time for playing at the gig.

Nov 21, 2019 - 4:09:42 PM

3724 posts since 10/13/2005

It is easy to play songs in the key of Em and C out of standard G tuning. With my banjo in C tuning (G tuning raised/lowered to open C tuning) I guess those relative keys would be Am and F. banjered

Nov 21, 2019 - 6:24:18 PM

1359 posts since 2/10/2013

Playing "Little Maggie" using the minor pentatonic scale will create some bluesy versions, and it doesn't take a lot of effort.

Nov 24, 2019 - 7:12:48 AM
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3289 posts since 3/28/2008

FWIW, "Little Maggie" doesn't use a minor pentatonic scale. That open B string could be used in the melody--depending on how you're used to singing it--and certainly in some of the classic Scruggs-style licks you might want to play.

Nov 24, 2019 - 5:35:34 PM

Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

22565 posts since 6/25/2005
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Playing it in sawmill, you lose the hammer-on note from B to C, which I play all the time. To be sure it’s a matter of taste. You can use most all of the lyrics with “Hustling Gamblers,” “Darlin’ Corey,” “Country Blues” if you prefer the modal sound. But Ira’s right, Little Maggie’s tune does not really fit in that modality.

Nov 25, 2019 - 1:37:27 AM
Players Union Member

janolov

Sweden

40040 posts since 3/7/2006

Sawmill tuning is used for tunes in Dorian mode, based on a Gm and F chords. I associate Little Maggie as a Mixolydian tunes based on G and F chord used. All older versions of Little Maggie (Stanley Brothers, Grayson and Whiter) seem to be in Mixolydian (based on a G chord). However, Little Maggie use to be played with a bluesy feeling with blue notes, slides and chokes/bends which may give the melody associations with Dorian mode, but not the accompaniment.

But of course you can play Little Maggie in Dorian mode, but the nature of the tune will change. There is never wrong with seeking new ways to play a tune, 

Nov 25, 2019 - 3:31:43 AM

Eric A

USA

157 posts since 10/15/2019
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Thanks everyone for the great comments. Just goes to prove that I actually know nothing about music theory. I just go with what sounds good to me and is easy to play. (The "Keep It Simple, Stupid" School of Music) I've written down a few of my own tabs but it's probably safest for all if I keep them to myself!

Couple of quotes come to mind:

Can you read music? Not enough to hurt my playing.

There are no notes to a banjo. You just play it!

Nov 25, 2019 - 3:36:01 AM

Eric A

USA

157 posts since 10/15/2019
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I'll also admit to being somewhat obsessed with sawmill tuning lately, and can't help thinking about various "regular" G tunes and what they might sound like if adapted to sawmill. Would be different of course, but that's ok, and might even be good. ;)

Nov 26, 2019 - 10:58:37 AM

902 posts since 8/7/2017

Old Joe Clark is played in Gmodal by Steve Baughman on his CD "The Power of Claw" (which is a teaching CD for guitarists who want to frail their guitar...like me). I play OJC out of G and Gmodal, it sounds nice in each tuning, to my ear.

Most of my Gmodal arrangements use the forefinger on the 2nd string at 2nd fret, making it same pitch as the 1st string. This gives a different feel (musically) to the strum of the normal frail stroke. With only G's and D's, you get a power chord of 1's and 5's.

I too like Gmodal, and leave one of my 4 banjos tuned to that exclusively....so I could change tunings on stage by simply picking up another instrument.....grin.

btw, I read that one recording session artist takes 20 guitars to a session; I don't think they are tuned differently (he did not say), but each has a different voice, so he can match what the lead artist wishes to achieve (or the sound engineer). They may have minor tweeks to standard guitar tuning to achieve better consonance with certain chords; for instance, one recording artist will ask the sound engineer to patch in an improved chord at specific places in the song. If Taylor can be believed, their new V-bracing solves some of the bad chord problem of X-braced guitars.

Edited by - BrooksMT on 11/26/2019 11:04:55

Nov 26, 2019 - 12:31:43 PM
Players Union Member

janolov

Sweden

40040 posts since 3/7/2006

What do you mean with "G modal"? Is it the tuning or is it a mode (and there are seven different modes which has G as a tonal center). Old Joe Clark is usually played in G Mixolydian mode based on the scale G A B C D E F G (and it can be called G modal) and played in standard G tuning. A lot of people mean G Dorian mode when they talk about  "G modal" and is based on G A Bb C D E F G and often played with sawmill tuning gDGCD. 

Nov 26, 2019 - 12:48:30 PM

Eric A

USA

157 posts since 10/15/2019
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quote:
Originally posted by janolov

What do you mean with "G modal"? Is it the tuning or is it a mode (and there are seven different modes which has G as a tonal center). Old Joe Clark is usually played in G Mixolydian mode based on the scale G A B C D E F G (and it can be called G modal) and played in standard G tuning. A lot of people mean G Dorian mode when they talk about  "G modal" and is based on G A Bb C D E F G and often played with sawmill tuning gDGCD. 


Old Joe Clark seems like a natural one to me to go ahead and tune that B string up a fret to C and just start fooling around with it.  Might just stumble onto something that sounds pretty good, whatever it's called.

Nov 26, 2019 - 1:04:02 PM

32 posts since 10/25/2019

I don't think I've ever correctly played Reuben, but I've always used gDGBD with a finger rooted on the C. I believe it's a modal song, but I play it out of G standard (capo to A)

Nov 26, 2019 - 4:50:02 PM

902 posts since 8/7/2017

@janolov

I'm not a Music expert. I have just read that the tuning gDGCD is called "Mountain Minor" or "Gmodal". If you say a song is Mix. or Dor. or any of the official modes, I won't argue against your judgement. I honestly don't know what chords occur in the mountain minor tuning that Steve plays; I just try to sound similar to his arrangement. I hear an arrangement (by anyone), then fool around with my banjo to get something similar-ish that I like. Not very helpful for teaching by words, of course, sorry. I don't post recordings cause I play too slow...sheepish grin.

Nov 26, 2019 - 10:24:40 PM
Players Union Member

janolov

Sweden

40040 posts since 3/7/2006

Gmodal is a bad name for gDGCD/mountain minor/sawmill, because there are also other tunings that are used to play modal tunes in G.

Nov 27, 2019 - 7:10:32 AM

Eric A

USA

157 posts since 10/15/2019
Online Now

I did a little digging. I have Wayne Erbsen's clawhammer ignoramus book. 30yr edition (I bought it a while back and then never got around to going through it)

In his sawmill section he has "East Virginia" and he says right in the introduction that it's the same melody as "Little Maggie", so now I feel vindicated. I wasn't crazy (or ignorant) after all.

Nov 27, 2019 - 9:44:10 AM

1652 posts since 2/10/2003

quote:
Originally posted by BrooksMT

btw, I read that one recording session artist takes 20 guitars to a session; I don't think they are tuned differently (he did not say), but each has a different voice, so he can match what the lead artist wishes to achieve (or the sound engineer). They may have minor tweeks to standard guitar tuning to achieve better consonance with certain chords; for instance, one recording artist will ask the sound engineer to patch in an improved chord at specific places in the song. If Taylor can be believed, their new V-bracing solves some of the bad chord problem of X-braced guitars.


Whenever I am recording/tracking a song that has an acoustic guitar rhythm part.  I always have a guitar on hand strung and tuned Nashville style (replace low E,A,D,G with smaller guage and tuning them up an octave). I usually have the guitarist or myself double the rhythm part with a couple passes with this guitar, then mix it in with the main guitar track to help brighten the low end without taking too much of it away. 

Nov 27, 2019 - 10:25:29 AM

902 posts since 8/7/2017

janolov

In respect to Jan's well known sense of humor over on the Loooong Joke of the Day thread, I'll try to remember to call this tuning sawmill on BHO from now on. I'd not like to piss him off so that he quits favoring us with his really fun jokes. Thanks Jan, for all that you do for BHO.
-------------------
What do words mean? On BHO, the meaning of the word "modal" stirs strong feelings.

On the one side of the Ring we have:

"The principal characteristic of the individual's refinement of his potentials under Sabian direction is the demand for a rigorously precise use of the words of particular significance in the presentation of arcane principles." (1)

On the other side:
'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'

'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master — that's all.' (2)

References:
(1) Under topic "The Solar Path of Initiation"
sabian.org/about_sabian_assembly.php

(2) Under topic "6. Humpty Dumpty
Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll"
sabian.org/looking_glass6.php

Note: I have no personal connection to Sabian Assembly. Google search presented the url's when I looked for the Lewis Carroll quote and it's antithesis.
---------------------
English words derive meaning from context, one of the reasons learning English as a foreign language is so difficult. Add in regional dialects, and it's a fruit salad of meanings for many many words.

You won the banjo contest! That's Great!

You just hit my parked car! That's just great.
--------------------
Does anyone know the origin of the term sawmill for this specific tuning? I've read that a tune Sawmill has not been located (in contrast to Sandy River Belle tune for sandy river belle tuning). Maybe the term refers to the old sawmill buzz saw - through some wood it sings, through some wood it moans.

Nov 27, 2019 - 2:43 PM

902 posts since 8/7/2017

Ah, I should have used BHO's search function. There are many threads on sawmill. This one is interesting, and covers "where's the name from?" pretty extensively:

banjohangout.org/archive/190042

Nov 27, 2019 - 10:25:28 PM

chuckv97

Canada

44784 posts since 10/5/2013

Old Joe Clark has the 3rd of the tonic chord in it, so it would be Mixolydian, as per Jan Olov’s post. I play Clinch Mountain Backstep, Blue Night and High on a Mountain - with no 3rds of the tonic (although Bill Runkle played a couple on the early Del recording of HoaM, and Ralph Stanley also did on CMB) but lots of flatted 3rds. So those two would be in the Dorian mode, at least the way I play them.

Nov 28, 2019 - 4:29:31 AM

Eric A

USA

157 posts since 10/15/2019
Online Now

My comment about fooling around with Old Joe Clark using sawmill tuning, gDGCD, was clearly meant in the spirit of improvisation. I would not walk into a jam and do that. It would sound terrible. But plunking around at home? Why not? You'd have to do something about that B note. Try a D instead, try a Bb, whatever. If you find something that is pleasant to your ear, keep going. If not, trash the whole idea and move on.

If I did end up with a complete tune that I liked, it wouldn't be Old Joe Clark any more and I wouldn't call it that. I'd probably make up a working title like Lonesome Joe, or Almost Joe Clark, or Modal Joe, etc.

Note, my banjo is currently in the shop, so I can't just work this out right now. I'm just "playing the banjo in my head" at the moment.

Nov 28, 2019 - 12:56:04 PM
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chuckv97

Canada

44784 posts since 10/5/2013

Hate to tell you this, Eric, but playing the banjo in your head is the canary in the mine. You’re on a path of complete and utter obsession that could lead to a life of soup kitchens, mission hall beds, and freight-hopping. Read’em & weep, brother. ;-)

Nov 28, 2019 - 5:39:55 PM
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Eric A

USA

157 posts since 10/15/2019
Online Now

quote:
Originally posted by chuckv97

Hate to tell you this, Eric, but playing the banjo in your head is the canary in the mine. You’re on a path of complete and utter obsession that could lead to a life of soup kitchens, mission hall beds, and freight-hopping. Read’em & weep, brother. ;-)


Looks like I better brush up on my Woody Guthrie tunes.   And stop with the bum-ditties on my thigh before it's too late...  ;)

Dec 3, 2019 - 4:41:15 AM

3202 posts since 12/6/2009

the model "sounding" is more how Ralph plays the stings .... what sequence with his forward rolls. He plays in open G. You may be able to catch what he's doing with this;
youtube.com/watch?v=mCBRbJVZZzk

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