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Oct 5, 2021 - 9:56:40 AM
250 posts since 9/14/2019

I was at the Kennedy Creek Festival this past Friday and did a workshop and private lesson with Frank Lee. Both were great. I noticed that on Saturday John Herrmann was doing a workshop called "Playing Tunes You Don't Know." I didn't get to stay for Saturday. Does anyone know what strategies he might use for playing tunes he doesn't know?

I'm used to improvising blues on the guitar, but that isn't following the melody per se. I assume he is using similar ideas to improv?

Thanks,

John

Oct 5, 2021 - 11:20:09 AM

Texasbanjo (Moderator)

USA

26504 posts since 8/3/2003
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I don't know how you'd do it in clawhammer, but in bluegrass, I have devised a set of what I call "melody phrases" that fit many tunes and can be put into a song you don't know and still make it sound like the song and the melody. It usually has to be chord specific and contain at least one or two of the melody notes.

To start with, I figure out the key (if it isn't given or known), then the chord sequence, then listen to the melody and then plug in my melody phrases. Easy to do once you've done it a few thousand times (G). Usually by the time I get a nod for a break, I can manage some sort of break, maybe not earth shattering, but passable.

Oct 5, 2021 - 11:21:37 AM

250 posts since 9/14/2019

quote:
Originally posted by Texasbanjo

I don't know how you'd do it in clawhammer, but in bluegrass, I have devised a set of what I call "melody phrases" that fit many tunes and can be put into a song you don't know and still make it sound like the song and the melody. It usually has to be chord specific and contain at least one or two of the melody notes.

To start with, I figure out the key (if it isn't given or known), then the chord sequence, then listen to the melody and then plug in my melody phrases. Easy to do once you've done it a few thousand times (G). Usually by the time I get a nod for a break, I can manage some sort of break, maybe not earth shattering, but passable.


I do the same in Scruggs-style. I also do ok with clawhammer and songs. More curious about clawhammer and fiddle tunes.

Oct 5, 2021 - 11:49:32 AM
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doryman

USA

1078 posts since 11/26/2012

quote:
Originally posted by Texasbanjo


To start with, I figure out the key (if it isn't given or known), then the chord sequence, then listen to the melody and then plug in my melody phrases. Easy to do once you've done it a few thousand times (G). Usually by the time I get a nod for a break, I can manage some sort of break, maybe not earth shattering, but passable.


Why is it that when you don't know a song, and you're working out a break in your head while everyone is playing, that you are inevitably picked first to take a break. The corollary to the rule, of course, is that when you know the song very, very well and you've a wonderful break to throw out there, the leader runs out of lyrics before they get to you for a break and ends the song.  The other corollary...you work out a break for the chorus on the fly and they ask you take a lead on the verse!  

Oct 5, 2021 - 12:47:47 PM
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carlb

USA

2306 posts since 12/16/2007

quote:
Originally posted by watercarving

.......... John Herrmann was doing a workshop called "Playing Tunes You Don't Know." I didn't get to stay for Saturday. Does anyone know what strategies he might use for playing tunes he doesn't know?


I played guitar in an old time band and had good chord sense in knowing a chord from hearing the fiddle and banjo play. So when I started learning clawhammer banjo , and since I had a musical background and knew which three notes were in a chord and knew the names of the strings on the banjo, in different tunings, I could figure out where to put my fingers to make the appropriate chord. From  following the fiddle and playing the chords, the melody notes often fell right out.

This also led to the chord charts I created.




Oct 5, 2021 - 12:58:29 PM

250 posts since 9/14/2019

I'm fine with the chord changes. I can fake a good rhythm with them, just not used to some of these fiddle tune melodies.

Oct 5, 2021 - 1:46:15 PM

3252 posts since 10/17/2009

I don't think John would have likely been talking about taking a break, playing a lead; or improvising a melody.

Likely about how to join the fiddle or song on a tune you don't know in context of banjo role used to accompany, rather than purely melodic or lead. One is, of course similar to how guitar player, chord based. But often is more of following the basic contour of the melody; neither pure melodic nor chord.

I might differentiate - "a tune you don't know" - One is a tune you haven't heard or don't recognize. The other is a tune you recognize... know how it goes sound wise in mind, but no prior experience of playing it, don't know how to physically play it.

Not sure can describe in a paragraph or so (that's why they have workshops). For overview, what I use involves to try find/hear or recognize the simple basic core melody. One trick is to focus on the downbeat melodic notes and direction... then with upbeat filling in logical bridge. With that is applying a bit of music theory recognition... using pentatonic framework, interval, and/or chord as aspects to help guide. There are some other aspects about recognition; of common phrasing, chord progressions, turnarounds... expectations, help make somewhat intuitive.

Oct 5, 2021 - 2:21:10 PM

Texasbanjo (Moderator)

USA

26504 posts since 8/3/2003
Online Now

quote:
Originally posted by watercarving

I'm fine with the chord changes. I can fake a good rhythm with them, just not used to some of these fiddle tune melodies.


Best idea I have for you is to get a good book for whatever genre you're wanting to pick and do a lot of woodshedding.  if you go to a  jam and they play something you've never heard and/or don't know how to play, ask for the name, then look in the tab archives and see if it's been tabbed out.

Playing fiddle tunes on the fly is NOT easy since most fiddle tunes are almost completely melodic and you have to know every note.  Just my take.

Oct 5, 2021 - 3:20:58 PM
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m06

England

10483 posts since 10/5/2006
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There are combinations of strategies we use to pick up new tunes on the fly. It’s not witchcraft or restricted to a few who possess a special talent. It is an ability that can be practiced and learned.

The more strategies we combine and utilise, the better we get at joining in with new tunes at sessions. It's also fun and challenges us, keeping us on our toes musically.

Different folks will prioritise different strategies. Personally I don't think chordally when playing; when I pick up a tune on the fly I rely on the fiddles rhythmic phrasing, pitch and relationship, tune structure and recognising repeat phrases, and similarity. It is a dynamic process and we have to have momentum to climb aboard the tune. Listen first, let the tune go around A and B parts but listen with attention to what is happening musically: is the A part high or low, does it have a 1-2-1 pattern of repeat (or near-repeat phrases), do these ascend or descend, does the Second A part have a different resolve to take it into the B part etc. The fiddles rhythmic phrasing is my way in. With momentum and being synced with the fiddle, the other strategies come into play simultaneously.

Edited by - m06 on 10/05/2021 15:42:16

Oct 5, 2021 - 9:54:55 PM

Paul R

Canada

15134 posts since 1/28/2010

I found that there are phrases that will fit a tune/song. It's usually not hard to figure out the chord pattern. Then find the phrases/licks that will fit. In a jam, it helps if you have time to work things out before it's your turn. Fiddle tunes have certain similarities that can allow for improvisation.

Oct 6, 2021 - 10:44:46 AM
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919 posts since 3/23/2006

After learning many tunes (ie, ones that you do know), your fingers be used to playing a lot of phrases that will be the same or close to those of the tune that you don't know. And those tunes and phrases will be in your head, too. You'll find three to five notes or so going up, or going down, or in another pattern. (Those phrases will often be under the main notes in a chord position which may help.) By listening to the new tune, you'll hear identical or similar phrases that you can then put together. I usually find that will get me at least to 70%+ of the tune, and then I can focus on figuring out the rest. Being able to sing/hum/whistle the new tune is invaluable, and that also comes with practice if it's not natural to you. (Reed Martin said that after hearing a tune once, he could whistle it perfectly. I don't know many folks who can do that.) Anyway, I'd be interested in what John H said -- I am a fan of his playing.

Oct 6, 2021 - 4:22:50 PM

727 posts since 2/15/2015

Sometimes at a reunion or party, bbq... I'll pull out a banjo and start warming up, start up something in any key, keep playing and noodlin' morph it... you know.

After a while somebody would come over and tell me it was really good - what song is that?

I'll make up a name like "noodles and gravy" or whatever, and... on it goes...

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