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May 9, 2021 - 9:43:21 AM
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641 posts since 6/8/2005

Hello!

I started learning banjo in 1964 when I knew absolutely nothing about music. It was a few years before the publication of the Earl Scruggs Book. I had the red Pete Seeger book, but I could not learn from tablature. To anyone who remembers what a phonograph record player is, I learned by placing a phonograph needle on a vinyl disc. I ruined many records, but I learned banjo note by note by sound and taught myself how to play. It was a dubious “gift” of being obsessive-compulsive. It was a dreadfully slow way to learn. I used to be opposed to tablature. But now, I think it has its place. I now know how to eliminate it quickly and turn it into sound. Tablature is meant to be temporary. You don’t rely on it.

I am an advocate of teaching people how to teach themselves. Everyone is different and so there are different ways of learning. So, I have been reconstructing the things I used to do when I started back when I knew nothing. It was hard to remember because recovering old memories is slow. But by a long hit-and-miss process I’m remembering what used to work. The techniques are deceptively simple. Here, I’ll show you just one of them.

In order to play fast and accurately, you have to play slow. Painfully slow. So slow that it’s boring. In order to achieve eventual accuracy and speed, you start with the right hand. You have to be able feel the strings and their location without looking at the right hand. You have to free up your right hand by associating a feeling in your fingers to a sound. If you look at your right hand as you play, you will delay this very important process. Your eyes cannot help you to accomplish it. You have to let go and trust your tactile sensation. In order to do this, here’s a simple exercise. You can first look at your right hand at first, but then you must look away as you build this chord sequence.

Here it is:

String Location Exercise:

First look, then look away at the fret board. Play these chords one at a time slow, gradually picking up the speed. Switch between each three-note and build the exercise.

Three Note Chords

5-3-1

4-3-1

4-2-1

3-2-1

4-2-1

4-3-1

5-3-1


Start very slow. You must play each string evenly and with the same amount of energy. Take care that the middle and thumb do not overpower and obscure and weaker index finger. The goal of this exercise is to play it as fast and as accurately as you can without your eyes. You must be able to do it every day and the very first time you pick up your banjo to practice. If you look at your hand even once, then you have not mastered it. When you have accomplished this exercise quickly with great accuracy, record yourself to make sure that you can hear each note of these chords. When you have completed this, you are ready for a metronome and 4/4 time.

Forever Yours,

Pat Cloud

patcloud.com
banjolessons.com

Edited by - banjola1 on 05/09/2021 09:55:10

May 9, 2021 - 9:51:03 AM

21 posts since 5/8/2021

This is great advice! We get so caught up in our instruments, playing fast, rushing into the standards before we're ready (I'm looking at you, FMB) that we forget to learn HOW to practice.

May 9, 2021 - 10:18:35 AM

112 posts since 5/21/2020

Hi Pat, Glad to hear you now see the value of tablature. I started off learning by ear with the Murphy Method it really helped me to visually see which strings were being picked and fretted as I listened to the notes being played Then I learned to read TAB with the help of Geoff Hohwald this opened the door to learning from TAB books which was painfully slow and frustrating then I discovered TablEdit soon after I found Banjo Ben Clark now I combine both methods and my skill level took off. We all learn differently finding a method that works is a bit of trial and error.

Edited by - FenderFred on 05/09/2021 10:22:30

May 10, 2021 - 1:11:51 AM

phb

Germany

2730 posts since 11/8/2010

Tabs are like canned music. You can store them for a long time and when you open a can, you put away the can right after that, you don't cook your meal in the can.

May 10, 2021 - 1:15:26 AM

phb

Germany

2730 posts since 11/8/2010

As for the subject of feeling the strings: this can't be over-emphasized. Eyes only get in the way of feeling. Processing visual information takes much longer than tactile information which is almost instant.

May 13, 2021 - 9:46:15 AM
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2484 posts since 4/5/2006

Unlike tab, is type of stuff rarely comes to the surface. Although I discovered this on my own simply by playing in the dark, I have always regretted passing up the opportunity to study under some of my favorite players in the So Ca megalopolis. Not so much for tab on how to do this or that, but to get inside their head & be able to see things from their point of view. 

Thanks for posting Pat.

May 14, 2021 - 12:41:21 AM
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641 posts since 6/8/2005

Tablature visually emphasizes right hand activity to a much greater extent than it does left hand fretting. There's plainly more to the left hand than just fret numbers. The G tuning is the greatest thing about the five string banjo. In G tuning everything comes out in three's. You get the five basic chord qualities in 18 unique three-note chord forms. The devil is in the details and for this tablature is needed. However, standard music notation is also important because it is a visually better representation of musical angularity, form and intervallic distance than tablature. It is also is the standard language of all other musicians and instruments. It's best to have both.

My gratitude always to the genius of Earl Scruggs who made me want to learn how to play.

patcloud.com
banjolessons.com

Edited by - banjola1 on 05/14/2021 00:44:35

May 14, 2021 - 1:19:51 AM

112 posts since 5/21/2020

quote:
Originally posted by banjola1

Tablature visually emphasizes right hand activity to a much greater extent than it does left hand fretting. 

patcloud.com
banjolessons.com


I'd have to disagree with you on that statement Pat. I would say tablature visually emphasizes both hand activity equally when you take into consideration  the elements and sequence of movements the left hand has to perform to reproduce Earls classic signature licks.  

Edited by - FenderFred on 05/14/2021 01:21:50

May 14, 2021 - 3:24:21 AM

banjoy

USA

9530 posts since 7/1/2006

Excellent and spot-on. I am always advocating removing the mind from the equation once the body has absorbed what's going on. I never thought about the role the eyes play, but what you're saying makes a lot of sense to me. I never thought about that before.

And playing slow, a tune that's normally fast, is not as easy as it sounds. It can be pretty dang hard, in fact. And that's easy to prove, just ask any picker who blazes a tune, to slow it down to say, 20bpm. Most cannot do this. When I first realized that it was an eye opener. That forces the mind back into the equations since auto-pilot is tuned off. It's a fantastic exercise you are suggesting.

Jens Kruger says the same thing basically, he will demonstrate p;laying a tune so painfully slow, but it forces you to be aware and in the moment, something that gets lost when in auto-pilot mode. It's kind of a training session for the body.

(On my first cup of coffee and saw this thread first so I'll shut up now before I ramble on any more than I already have...)

Thanks Pat.

yes

Edited by - banjoy on 05/14/2021 03:26:01

May 14, 2021 - 6:10:09 AM

6121 posts since 10/13/2007

Pat,
Much thanks for coming on here and posting and sharing. Because of your talents, works, and studies you have insights that most of us would never come to on our own. Thank you.
ken

May 14, 2021 - 6:36:03 AM
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641 posts since 6/8/2005

quote: Originally posted by FenderFredquote: Originally posted by banjola1

"Tablature visually emphasizes right hand activity to a much greater extent than it does left hand fretting."

"I'd have to disagree with you on that statement Pat. I would say tablature visually emphasizes both hand activity equally when you take into consideration the elements and sequence of movements the left hand has to perform to reproduce Earls classic signature licks."

Reply:

Disagreement noted and thank you!

I'll bet you think Earl does "pull-offs?" Not exactly. When I saw my first video of Earls's playing, I was surprised to see that he does not perform a "pull-off" as is the description, but he "flicks off" in the opposite direction. Performing a left hand "pizzicato" where a lower finger stops the string while a higher finger plucks it is not physically describable with tablature nor standard music notation. Earl does not pluck, he flicks away. When you have only tablature fret numbers to look at, it's difficult if not impossible to tell what the actual sound is. It's even more difficult to teach yourself how a song sounds with tablature. Listening first to a song 100 times will help you get away from tablature.

Let's avoid the old useless arguments of "which hand is more important." Tablature is only meant to be a temporary and transitional step towards learning a piece of music. I only once saw a person set up a music stand at a jam session to read tablature when it came their time to play. It's the sound that matters. Not the paper. You don't go to a restaurant to eat the menu.

It's useful for me to see how someone plays. I like to look at the left hand. That's how I gain better insight of how someone thinks about the fret board. That's where my initial focus goes when giving online lessons. The left hand technique shows me a player's psychology behind technique. For instance, it shows me where they have a glitch and how they have practiced that glitch or difficulty into their playing. Looking at the right hand shows you nothing! But this is not saying that the right hand is not as important. It is!

I believe that in order to get rid of tablature quicker, it's beneficial to train yourself to look away from your right hand and transfer your concentration to the left hand. You learn to "feel" the location of the strings with the right hand and let the left hand lead you through a song as the right hand follows. This accelerates the learning curve. The left hands leads and the right hand follows. That too, does not mean that the left hand is more important. Both hands are important. It's always the sound.

BTW, the right hand is crucially more important if you are playing non-patterned across string styles other than ensemble Scruggs' style bluegrass. That's why I recommend tablature in conjunction with Standard Music Notation.

patcloud.com
banjolessons.com

Edited by - banjola1 on 05/14/2021 06:40:42

May 14, 2021 - 7:20:33 AM

3476 posts since 9/12/2016
Online Now

I was one of the laziest for learning Earl songs after stealing his roll patterns,music fundamentals ( notes on fret board} how to build chords etc. Even though his stuff was the best and most awarding,I just always had to wonder where did he come up with that, .I had to find my own pictures to paint,.Own well to draw from .I could not read his mind that deep.
One thing that brings me back to reality now is trying to play 2 hand arrangements on the key board,such as Ray Charles's What I say..This ain't left hand -bass right hand treble ,just all fingers grabbing any where to make one music. I am about on the level of first learning Earl's cripple creek ,I am going to need another decade or 2 here
rambling on here ,thanks Pat keep up the good and very informative work.

May 14, 2021 - 7:21:46 AM

5616 posts since 12/20/2005

quote:
Originally posted by banjoy

Excellent and spot-on. I am always advocating removing the mind from the equation once the body has absorbed what's going on. I never thought about the role the eyes play, but what you're saying makes a lot of sense to me. I never thought about that before.

And playing slow, a tune that's normally fast, is not as easy as it sounds. It can be pretty dang hard, in fact. And that's easy to prove, just ask any picker who blazes a tune, to slow it down to say, 20bpm. Most cannot do this. When I first realized that it was an eye opener. That forces the mind back into the equations since auto-pilot is tuned off. It's a fantastic exercise you are suggesting.

Jens Kruger says the same thing basically, he will demonstrate p;laying a tune so painfully slow, but it forces you to be aware and in the moment, something that gets lost when in auto-pilot mode. It's kind of a training session for the body.

(On my first cup of coffee and saw this thread first so I'll shut up now before I ramble on any more than I already have...)

Thanks Pat.

yes


20 BPM !

Wow !  That's never crossed my mind. I thought 60 BPM was slow. For me, that seemed to be a threshold. At 60, it seems to be the highest speed, with which I can consciously process what is happening and what the next step will be. 65 BPM seems different. Autopilot starts entering into the equation.

I'll have to give this a try. I have no idea how this is going to go.

Great topic.

May 14, 2021 - 7:25:56 AM

RB3

USA

981 posts since 4/12/2004

In your last post, Pat, you used the terms "musical angularity" and "intervallic distance. Could you explain your understanding of the meaning of each of those terms?

May 14, 2021 - 7:32:53 AM
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banjoy

USA

9530 posts since 7/1/2006

quote:
Originally posted by Leslie R
20 BPM !

Wow !  That's never crossed my mind. I thought 60 BPM was slow. For me, that seemed to be a threshold. At 60, it seems to be the highest speed, with which I can consciously process what is happening and what the next step will be. 65 BPM seems different. Autopilot starts entering into the equation.

I'll have to give this a try. I have no idea how this is going to go.

Great topic.


I pulled that bpm out of my rear. Jens' demonstration was even more extreme than that, like one or two notes per second. It really makes you think about everything, it's an alternate universe when you do that. When he did that demo, almost no one in the workshop could do it. It's not easy.

I think Pat's approach to these things is always thought provoking (to me anyway) and requires that we push our personal boundaries and comfort zones (at least, that's my take away). When Pat posts, I pay attention ... whether or not I can do what he suggests is an different thing entirely LOL, but I try to soak it in as best as I can. Unfortunately, banjo is way down on my list of life priorities at the moment, but it's still on the list.

May 14, 2021 - 8:26:27 AM

112 posts since 5/21/2020

Not out to challenge your knowledge, skill or years of experience Pat. As a banjo student, I have tried pretty much every teaching method that is available to a remote learner and I know what works for me. I am not saying the way I study is the right and only way but through years of trial and error I have found a great solution that works for me.

If I'm working from video lessons my focus is on the teachers left hand, as I listen to the audio, if TAB is available on screen that is an added bonus.

If I am working from printed TAB books I'll most likely TAB out the tablature again in TablEdit that way I can hear the TAB played back in the form of a midi file. This is probably not the perfect solution but as I say it works for me.

As regards what Earl did unfortunately I never got to see him up close in person. So I don't have an opinion as to whether he did a pull-off or flicks the strings I have to rely on the knowledge and expertise of those who knew Earl and worked with him.

Alan Munde has been a key element in the way I learned to play banjo. He uses the term Pull-Off Push-Off as do many of the other instructors I 've worked with. If you say Earl flicked the strings I wouldn't get into a heated debate about it. Instead I would respect your interpretation since you have had first hand experience.

I can only state what my experience has taught me, working from printed tablature I agree that it is very difficult to hear the tune and very frustrating when learning to play banjo.

I agree that tablature is a temporary tool, but I also think it's a very valuable tool to a student learning to play banjo when used as a TEF file in conjunction with TablEdit.

I agree it is very important to "look away" from the TAB and the right hand as you gain experience. I also believe it is important to develop listening skills and the ultimate goal is to be able to use your internal autopilot to anticipate the flow of the melody and the dynamics of a tune.

I have no experience of using standard notation, I have heard from other sources that it is pretty difficult to use standard notation with the banjo because of the number of octaves on the banjo. But I guess if you've been classically trained or come to the banjo from experience of another instrument that uses standard notation then the ability to read standard notation might be a useful tool to have.

I take your point about the person at the jam session with the music stand. But when you consider a bagpipe player learns to play the bagpipes from standard notation set on a music stand at piping school but your never likely to see a piper perform with a sheet of music in front of him/her it kinda blows away the argument that learning a banjo tune from TAB is detrimental to ones progress.

Edited by - FenderFred on 05/14/2021 08:31:51

May 14, 2021 - 8:57:48 AM

3476 posts since 9/12/2016
Online Now

Slower playing can be harder,, is something that is pretty well ignored by the newbies. They want to topple the tempo mountain. This is what the non playing public wants most anyway.If they want anything at all.
To get a note to ring twice as long at half tempo takes twice the pull , to set the resonance in motion . That means better alignment of the contact areas , bad intonation and timing gets magnified twice as big. Get it right and if you have an instrument set up for it .The colors now available might be surprising.
I ask no one to agree

Edited by - Tractor1 on 05/14/2021 08:58:39

May 14, 2021 - 10:37:03 AM

641 posts since 6/8/2005

quote:
Originally posted by RB3

In your last post, Pat, you used the terms "musical angularity" and "intervallic distance. Could you explain your understanding of the meaning of each of those terms?


Sometime in standard notation and  with some kinds of music, there are visually attractive patterns. A person who is an excellent sight reader (I'm not) will see an upcoming pattern of notes and will pre-hear the passage in their head before they actually play it.  Angularity is wider intervals or arpeggios and smaller interval skips are scales or portions of scales. Try to sing the notes to Foggy Mountain Breakdown (not easy) and you experience musical angularity. Sing Turkey in the Straw and you experience melodies or scales.

Edited by - banjola1 on 05/14/2021 10:52:48

May 14, 2021 - 10:50:10 AM
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641 posts since 6/8/2005

quote:
Originally posted by FenderFred


I take your point about the person at the jam session with the music stand. But when you consider a bagpipe player learns to play the bagpipes from standard notation set on a music stand at piping school but your never likely to see a piper perform with a sheet of music in front of him/her it kinda blows away the argument that learning a banjo tune from TAB is detrimental to ones progress.


Bagpipe notation - I love it!

I learned the hard way with a phonograph needle. I don't recommend it. Everybody is different, but yet the same when it comes to proven scientific data of how music is experienced and expressed. What I say on this forum is meant to be suggestive only. It comes from the success I've had over the years with my own students. If a person can learn standing on their head upside down against a wall then great!

patcloud.com
banjolessons.com

Edited by - banjola1 on 05/14/2021 10:51:41

May 14, 2021 - 11:09:49 AM

112 posts since 5/21/2020

quote:
Originally posted by banjola1
quote:
Originally posted by FenderFred


I take your point about the person at the jam session with the music stand. But when you consider a bagpipe player learns to play the bagpipes from standard notation set on a music stand at piping school but your never likely to see a piper perform with a sheet of music in front of him/her it kinda blows away the argument that learning a banjo tune from TAB is detrimental to ones progress.


Bagpipe notation - I love it!

I learned the hard way with a phonograph needle. I don't recommend it. Everybody is different, but yet the same when it comes to proven scientific data of how music is experienced and expressed. What I say on this forum is meant to be suggestive only. It comes from the success I've had over the years with my own students. If a person can learn standing on their head upside down against a wall then great!

patcloud.com
banjolessons.com


I have a high respect for your knowledge, experience and advice. Pat. I take my hat off to you for being a pioneer of the phonograph method. It says a lot about your patience, determination and perseverence. I don't believe I could have done that. 

Edited by - FenderFred on 05/14/2021 11:10:45

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