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Sep 17, 2020 - 3:45:22 PM
109 posts since 2/10/2005


I've got a song that I want to write but am having considerable trouble. I've written a verse and chorus and have strummed out a basic chord progression and have even plunked out some of the melody notes. However, whenever I try to fit any rolls or anything it just sounds so blah. Any tips?

Sep 17, 2020 - 4:26:14 PM
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5777 posts since 9/5/2006

work out your melody first,, then find the notes one at a time on the banjo.. take note to fitting them into the chords... then your rolls at half speed so the banjo copies the singing words.... then work your way up to the speed desired....... thats how i do it...others may have different methods,, but this works for me when having trouble.

Edited by - 1935tb-11 on 09/17/2020 16:26:52

Sep 17, 2020 - 7:36:47 PM

22 posts since 3/26/2017

Are you singing with 3 finger bluegrass style picking unaccompanied by other instruments?

If so, take a look into John Hartford's songs. Specifically ones where he plays the banjo and sings like Old Time Riverman or Gum Tree Canoe. Pay attention to the way he uses little fills to back up his singing. You likely don't have to worry about really doing the complex/up the neck stuff, but stuff like the kinds of rolls he does, the little bass runs and fills, and even the way he raises and lowers the volume as he plays has helped me a great deal.

Or, if you want something a little more bluegrassy, technical, and fast paced, check out Noam Pikelny. I reccomend Old Banjo. Again, probably don't have to imitate the really complex near impossible licks he's doing during the breaks, but you can hear a different take on the accompaniment and probably imitate or do something inspired by it.

Edited by - Melchizedek on 09/17/2020 19:37:16

Sep 18, 2020 - 2:28:46 AM



12903 posts since 8/30/2006

I use claw and frailing to vamp with while singing , I can pick and sing at the same time on choruses, but don't confuse the crowd.

I like to write out the whole lyric scheme and rhyme pattern even if I have to use an outline. It gives the song a coherence. You have to state your premise, then the 2nd and 3rd verses need to be more interesting and the bridge and then the last verse and chorus.

Use any form you like. We need new banjo music.

I also think of the words strung together like on a string, too fast and nobody gets it. Too slow and nobody cares.

Sometimes the music IS the spaces between the notes, grasshopper

Keep a paper and pen by your bed, give yourself the suggestion to grab one of those songs. Be nice to the muse, don't ask for permission to use your gift. Flap your wings, man, make some noise.  The photos of natural things is to help inspire you.  And don't tell the secrets of your heart just to anybody,  Encourage others.  

Edited by - Helix on 09/18/2020 02:43:05

Sep 18, 2020 - 4:47:40 AM

Texasbanjo (Moderator)


24936 posts since 8/3/2003

Instead of trying to work only rolls into your melody, instead try using slides, hammers, pulls and partial rolls with a hot lick at the end of a musical phrase or where the vocalist takes a breath. Just having all rolls in a melody break is rather boring both to listen to and to play. That's just my opinion, others may not agree.

Sep 23, 2020 - 7:12:36 AM

2145 posts since 2/10/2013

Are you writing a vocal tune or an instrumental tune ?

Sep 23, 2020 - 6:28:06 PM
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Alex Z


3943 posts since 12/7/2006
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"have even plunked out some of the melody notes"

Before trying to arrange anything for banjo, be able to plunk out all the melody notes.

Melody first, arrangement later, as Mr. Martin said above.

The melody is in a sequence.  If you're trying to "arrange" by one melody note at time and then fit in "rolls" around it until the next melody note occurs, the finished product is not likely to sound like the intended melody to a listener.

The fill in notes have to have direction -- have to know where and when to end up -- which is at the next melody note.  Often what starts off as "fill in" may carry a good part of the sequential melody.

Hope this helps.  Take a look at some Scruggs arrangements where the melody distinctly comes through, such as "Your Love is Like a Flower."  See how he brings out the melody within the roll patterns.

Sep 25, 2020 - 8:24 AM

2145 posts since 2/10/2013

IMHO the first step is to get the melody "in your head". Then try to sing, hum, or whistle the melody. Your voice is your most experienced musical instrument. In some instances, it can take time to conceptually develop the complete melody for a tune. Over time, something can inspire you and provide your answer.

Tunes benefit from phrases that are memorable and get the attention of listeners. I have known people who carried small spiral bound notebooks and pencils around with them. When they heard something that caught their attention, the wrote it down in that notebook.
Some of the phrases in the notebook end up in tunes.

Edited by - Richard Hauser on 09/25/2020 08:24:40

Sep 26, 2020 - 6:52:45 AM

2145 posts since 2/10/2013

On streaming TV last night, I watched a documentary about Gordon Lightfoot. Among other things it described the process he went through, and methods he uses to write music. I was aware that he was a prolific song writer - but not that prolific. Anybody wanting to learn to write music will learn a lot from watching this documentary. He also sang in church, with barbershop quartets, in a small band, and as a solo performer. So he was developing his musical skills for most of his life. He put a lot of thought into developing his music and his musical career.

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