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May 3, 2020 - 5:32:46 PM
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98 posts since 2/18/2008

I’ve noticed for the last several years that the professional banjo players favor a
Continuous roll pattern during vocals and breaks from other instruments. The older pickers
Seemed to use vamping techniques and high up the neck licks. I don’t see many
Of the younger players using the vamp and other classic techniques. Is it just me
Or has anyone else noticed this? I’m curious if any of you have noticed this.

May 3, 2020 - 6:09:26 PM
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202 posts since 5/9/2017

I have definitely noticed this. I personally like the sound of vamping backup, especially during a mandolin or guitar break, or when the mandolin is playing fills for instance. The goal is to make sure you never step on the toes of another instrument, and vamping contributes to the off-beat, while not adding extra notes that might overshadow someone's break. To me, it's also one of the things that sets apart traditional bluegrass from modern bluegrass.

May 3, 2020 - 6:51:24 PM
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98 posts since 2/18/2008

Nathan, I agree with you on that. Whether I’m am playing with an experienced picker or someone who is not so experienced, I try to complement what they are trying to do.
The most common problem I have with other pickers is the fact that they try
As hard as they can, but they have no sense of keeping time. I’ll vamp the the timing
But some folks can hear it and others can’t. Speeding up and slowing down or dragging
Is what I find.

May 3, 2020 - 7:02:17 PM
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Westvon

USA

3268 posts since 4/16/2006

Personally, vamping is a small part of back-up.  It truly imitates the off beat chop of the mandolin.  If one vamps during a song, are they playing back-up or are they merely vamping the off beat like a mandolin player would do?  When mandolin players chop and pop out that off beat, do we say they are playing back-up?  Nope, they're chopping an off beat rhythm that plays a significant role in a band's timing, drive and feel.  If you're vamping in a band situation you're really just trying to be another mandolin, IMO and a band does not need two mandolins chopping and vamping the off beat.  Back-up is intended to be a flavorful compliment to the lead singer where you come in, typically at the end of a phrase being sung, and play your own musical phrases in a way that compliments and teases (you could even say mocks) what the lead singer has just sung.  The best way to learn this kind of back-up is to listen, listen, and listen some more to banjoists that have mastered this form of playing.  Start with the best one of them all........... Earl Scruggs!  He was a master of back-up and yes, he did vamp here and there (often he played without a mandolin player in the FMB) but he did not rely on it as a constant for playing back-up.  Other great back-up masters include, J. D. Crowe, Bill Emerson, Alan Munde, Sammy Shelor, Ron Block, Ron Stewart, and Steve Dilling (of course there many more I did not mention).  

One of the best examples of brilliant back-up playing, besides Earl, is in the song, Rounder's Spirit, by The Lonesome River Band. Listen to Sammy Shelor's back-up, especially on the second verse.  Down and dirty great!!!

For less experienced banjo players and for newbies, vamping is an excellent way to get a sense of timing, drive and pop in a band situation.  It's okay to utilize it while you're learning to play but it should not be confused with real back-up.  Just my opinion based upon 45 years of playing, more than half of that time professionally. 

May 3, 2020 - 7:08:23 PM
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Foote

USA

365 posts since 3/25/2009

I started playing in bluegrass bands when I was 14 in 1961. The rule was that when the mandolin took a break, the banjo vamped or chunked to keep the beat, the function of a drummer. Behind the guitar break, be as quiet as possible and not distract. I've also noticed the change and am against it. I thought this was an interesting question to raise. I feel older now. Thanks.
Speaking of older, I just realized we are now all shut-ins!

May 3, 2020 - 7:20:54 PM
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98 posts since 2/18/2008

My intent was not to infer that someone should just use the vamping technique.
If you watch the Martha White DVDs, Earl vamped and also did his back up licks, whether
Up the neck or low at the other end, and Curley Seckler was usually there also.

May 3, 2020 - 7:21:29 PM

chuckv97

Canada

50059 posts since 10/5/2013

On most tunes I’ve never been a fan of continuous rolling backup, or even utn licks right through the whole song. When an instrument lays out for a verse or chorus by vamping/chopping, it sounds more impactful when it comes back in.

May 3, 2020 - 7:30:30 PM

98 posts since 2/18/2008

I’m not trying to be critical of anyone. I just raised a question out of curiosity.
Playing music for a living is a hard life. It’s one thing to be able to pick for for fun
As a hobby. It’s quite another when you have to travel all the time, be away from
Your home and family, and that is your only income. I respect them for it. I don’t
Believe a lot of folks think about this aspect of it.

May 3, 2020 - 7:57:19 PM

98 posts since 2/18/2008

I’ve been playing for 45 years myself. I may be great or not worth a s@#$. It’s all
In the opinion of the listener, I guess.

May 4, 2020 - 2:39:12 AM

maxmax

Sweden

1417 posts since 8/1/2005

While you are in the moment, rolling backup is so much fun to play! In my opinion it's the easiest way to feel like you are improvising and just getting into it. Maybe too many people get caught up in the sheer enjoyment of doing it and loose track of what might be the best sounding at any given time? Don't know, just thinking out loud.

May 4, 2020 - 3:07:06 AM
Players Union Member

Helix

USA

12681 posts since 8/30/2006

"We found her little footprints in the snow" are lyrics that I wish to hear, always,

Take a look at Cisco and the Racecars , that's melodic, but I watched him grow as a young person.

Then teach them.

All the old time jams just play the same song over and over, it's a dance thang.

All the bluegrass jams in my experience, have had good manners, the singers get to sing and players get to play

Performing, however, I frail and clawhammer softly on the verses myself and others are singing, I may pick and sing on a chorus.
Vamping improves listening in my opinion

It's something that can be taught and learned.

"You still have to play the melody so people will recognize the song", and that's being yelled from the kitchen by the elders. Play much

But teach them.


Edited by - Helix on 05/04/2020 03:10:11

May 4, 2020 - 4:01:02 AM
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3366 posts since 7/12/2006

JD Crowe to me epitomizes what proper back up is all about

May 4, 2020 - 6:02:46 AM

266 posts since 4/26/2007

I've found that, when jamming with either a fiddle or dobro, I vamp much less than with a regular four-piece. Reason being, when the mandolin is taking their break or doing their fills, then the fiddle or dobro can provide the offbeat in the absence of a mandolin chop; no need for the banjo to vamp. At the same time, the banjo can roll in the background and still provide more "meat" to the song that would otherwise be lost. Volume and dynamics still play a huge part, however. The banjo roll must not be so loud that it covers up what should be the lead instrument.

I also think it's part of a more contemporary style. In that style, the banjo rolls are used to build and keep momentum of the song. In a more modern banjo style, banjo players use licks that help lead into chord changes quite often, and vamping takes away from that. It's not just melody that can be heard from a continuous banjo roll, unless it's a break or kickoff, but rather keeping and sustaining that momentum and contributing to the wall of sound.

Vamping is still a very important part of banjo backup, and when used correctly, it can provide some great rhythmic dynamics to a song.

May 4, 2020 - 7:00:34 AM

1855 posts since 2/10/2013

This observation applies to more than banjo players. Some people think rhythm techniques favored by todays fiddle professionals are more melodically oriented than a decade or more ago.

I always liked Sonny Osbornes rhythm work best. Interesting, appropriate, and not distracting from the featured singer/instrumentalist.

May 4, 2020 - 8:25 AM
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2676 posts since 11/15/2003

This isn't to slap the younger generations in an attempt to relive my past...but the timing of today's bluegrass, isn't the same timing as flatt and scruggs...jimmy Martin..the Osborne brothers and jd and the new south...so the type of backup that the legends used years ago sounds to busy, and in some cases..millenials and gen xers have never learned or thought in those terms...it is more complex to them.

In this age of rhythm slam chords,..traditional scruggs style backup isn't politically correct....a by gone era for sure!

Warp!

May 4, 2020 - 8:51:31 AM
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Players Union Member

gDGBD

USA

504 posts since 2/7/2005

quote:
Originally posted by stanleytone

JD Crowe to me epitomizes what proper back up is all about


JD's backup I'll Stay Around (especially on the third verse) is, using a Bill Monroe term, powerful.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pS7vcNUq07E

May 4, 2020 - 9:27:53 AM
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12959 posts since 10/30/2008

Jimmy Martin's later bands kind of started a trend toward more constant rolling back up (after JD's time). I think Jimmy liked the propulsive drive.

Since the 1980s, I attribute a lot of the constant roll to banjoists like Sammy Shelor and Ron Block, and it "caught on" with the younger pickers. Just my short-hand opinion. Although to be fair, Ralph Stanley and his followers pretty much abandoned the vamp too since the 1980s or so. But I don't think their playing had the widespread effect like Shelor and Block and their ilk.

May 4, 2020 - 9:28:07 AM

98 posts since 2/18/2008

Kevin, that is a good point. I guess I am old fashioned. Times change, as does music.

May 4, 2020 - 9:50:12 AM

586 posts since 11/21/2018

I think a lot of the continuous rolling back up these days comes from players who grew up listening to a lot of rock music, go to jam band concerts where the material is often more swirly, dreamy, extended improv. like the Grateful Dead, Phish, Trampled By Turtles, Greensky, etc. Most of that material doesn't contain a chopping back up style and the propulsion is key.
I've met a number of younger players who didn't "know" about "the chop" until they discovered trad Bluegrass later.

May 4, 2020 - 9:58:34 AM
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1976 posts since 1/10/2004

There's the lead during the breaks of course, but there is also such a thing as a lead during backup (ie the vocal sections), who does the primary fills and flourishes while somebody is singing. It can't be everybody or it just sounds like a zoo. So banjo players need to not think it's supposed to be them with their rolls and licks all the time. I primarily vamp behind any mandolin break, but sometimes the mandolin or another instrument can do very nice backup that I try to stay out of the way of. On rare occasion, fiddle tunes probably, I might treat the mandolin sort of like a fiddle and do subdued rolling backup behind them.

May 4, 2020 - 10:12:33 AM
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36 posts since 2/7/2020

There's a video on YouTube of Jimmy Martin playing some festival in the mid-1980s when Tom Adams was playing banjo for the SMB. A YouTube commenter noted that the banjo kept rolling through the mandolin break, and Tom Adams came on to let everyone know why: because Jimmy wanted it that way.

I used to do the vamp thing when a mandolin was taking a break, but now I prefer to roll through it, albeit at a lower volume depending on the mandolin player and instrument volume. Same with the fiddle. If it's a performance situation, just back up from the mic.

If a guitar or dobro is taking a break, I either (1) don't play anything or (2) lay my right hand heavily on the bridge and mute it. We don't have to play all the time.

May 4, 2020 - 10:22:36 AM

3366 posts since 7/12/2006

Lack of vamping on recordings can be controlled on recordings simply by volume. You can hear it but it doesn't necessarily interfere with lead. I myself prefer to vamp for Mando or guitar lead. If a fiddle is also vamping I will mix it up a bit . How do some of you back up a dobro?

May 4, 2020 - 10:50 AM

4141 posts since 6/15/2005

I think rolling backup can work well in a band situation, where everyone knows what's expected of them and everything that's played contributes to the overall band dynamic. But jams are another matter, except perhaps for the kind of ultra-high-level jam that Russ Carson posts on YouTube in his 81 Crowe videos. (And even Russ has mentioned that regarding some of his posted jams with guitarist Jake Workman he got feedback that people couldn't hear Jake's guitar over his banjo!)

Many years ago I got to talking with Richard Underwood at a festival where he was appearing with Bob and Dan Paisley and the Southern Grass. I'd noticed that he never vamped, and I asked why. He said that was how Bob and Dan wanted him to play. With their two rhythm guitars on the downbeat and Jack Leiderman's equally strong mandolin or fiddle chop on the backbeat, there was no need for him to vamp and his rolling backup delivered exactly what they wanted rhythmically.

May 4, 2020 - 11:14:56 AM
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5576 posts since 10/13/2007

quote:
Originally posted by Judgejeb

I’ve noticed for the last several years that the professional banjo players favor a
Continuous roll pattern during vocals and breaks from other instruments. The older pickers
Seemed to use vamping techniques and high up the neck licks. I don’t see many
Of the younger players using the vamp and other classic techniques. Is it just me
Or has anyone else noticed this? I’m curious if any of you have noticed this.


Yes I have noticed it! Great post.  IMO great backup is a fading art. Some of the new excuses for backup are called microwave backup. The great ones. JD, Earl, Bill Emerson, SONNY, man, they were always throwing in a different bump or wrinkle thru changing the timing or the place on the neck of the notes . And their back up was liked driving up over the smokey mountains - which each curve you rounded, you would catch just a brief glimpse of something new beautiful. Or like a beautiful girl dressed just right. not naked like a lot of hollywood jv wannabe's try to be and not too proper to get passed by, but just little alluring glimpses here and there.blush Really kept your attention! Quite and art!laugh  Did I happen to mention I love great backup probably more than the leads. Man, I used to sit front row at bean blossom and listen to Sonny. What  a treat! I told him about listening to his backup one saturday nite and he said: "If I had known someone was listening I would have really gone after it. laughsurprise

ken

ps, i really liked that the op talked about both the vamp and the high up the neck..the variety.

Edited by - From Greylock to Bean Blossom on 05/04/2020 11:17:35

May 4, 2020 - 11:22:56 AM

5576 posts since 10/13/2007

quote:
Originally posted by warpdrive

This isn't to slap the younger generations in an attempt to relive my past...but the timing of today's bluegrass, isn't the same timing as flatt and scruggs...jimmy Martin..the Osborne brothers and jd and the new south...so the type of backup that the legends used years ago sounds to busy, and in some cases..millenials and gen xers have never learned or thought in those terms...it is more complex to them.

In this age of rhythm slam chords,..traditional scruggs style backup isn't politically correct....a by gone era for sure!

Warp!


crying

May 4, 2020 - 11:48:38 AM
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10801 posts since 2/12/2011

Great vamping and backup lessons from John Boulding and also Youtube has some good ones from Mike Hedding. Teardrop is another nice backup variation.

For those who did not see my earlier tip on Boulding, you just have to go to jsutergraphix.com/LOTW/.

Edited by - kmwaters on 05/04/2020 11:49:50

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