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Nov 28, 2021 - 4:18:12 PM
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7378 posts since 11/4/2005

R.D. Lunsford wrote: “Take a listen to the many different versions and styles of the same tune. As different as they can be, it is this basic melody, the notes they have in common that makes them recognizable as the same tune. This is what you want to distill down to and then base a banjo version on.”

it is just so. This is the way I have long stated that advice: hum along with the fiddle, and then find the melody you are humming on the banjo.

My thanks to Chip and Jeff for the nice compliments, it is quite an honor to get a nod from two truly superb players. I have a copy of Jeff’s recent CD, Stripey Cat, and it is wonderful. Among the tunes are some of my favorite tunes to play, including Texas, Five Miles From Town, Yew Piney Mountain, and Snake Chapman’s Tune; the last one I just recently learned a few months ago, and is still one of my current obsessions.  Jeff, I’m just a few weeks away from seventy-one now, and my memory fails me sometimes, but I’m almost certain we have played some tunes together, maybe at Clifftop or Lake Genero. Chip I have played tunes with countless times; to my ear he does the best two finger up picking I have ever heard.  Check out his YouTube channel.  So praise from these two masters gives me the courage to keep tackling fiddle tunes that pickers like Jimmy warn cannot be done on banjo without dire consequences.

Now, I admit that it is with some trepidation that I continue to disagree with Jimmy, a picker who was destined for musical greatness from the day his mama named him after a fiddle tune. But I fear that his position is a very destructive one for old-time music. If players accept the idea that some tunes just cannot be played on banjo, they will be that much quicker to surrender when they are struggling to work out an unusual tune. Some wonderful contributions to old time music might be lost as a result. Of course, this leads to a bigger question- do we care? Is old time music best preserved by treating it as an artifact, something to be carefully protected, by always hugging closely to the techniques used when it was first recorded? Or is old time music a living thing, something that grows and expands, absorbing new ideas and approaches, while still staying true to its original spirit? In my opinion, if it is not the latter, it will eventually die.

It was no accident- the thing Jimmy objected to- my use of an extended forward roll to try and capture some of the feeling of that long bow that Fraley puts at the end of each strain of Wild Rose of the Mountain. Jimmy stated adamantly that I had failed, but I don’t agree with him. Not only that, I recently applied the idea to another similar Fraley tune, Maysville. In both tunes, I repeat the long bow note multiple times over the course of the syncopated roll, but play it directly on the beat only on the first and the last beat. The object is to suggest the essense of a single, sustained note, even though the audible vibrations of the original note have long since decayed. In Maysville, those long bow notes occur in the second part. The tab below lays it out that second part the first time through, with the emphasized melody note highlighted in yellow in the banjo tab, and Fraley's fiddling, as I hear it, in standard notation underneath. Obviously, the fiddle notation cannot do justice to all of the subtleties of Fraley’s expressive bowing, but it does help illustrate the banjo concept. This is not something I invented, old-time three pickers have been doing this on the banjo since the days of Mack Woolbright and Snuffy Jenkins.

Yup, I've aged some from days of that first video. 

- Don Borchelt

Edited by - Don Borchelt on 11/28/2021 16:20:12

Nov 30, 2021 - 12:11:50 PM

8318 posts since 3/17/2005

So one man's meat is another man's poison, I guess. I was fortunate to be around JP a bit and got to play in a few small jams with him. I know he was always happy to be accompanied on banjo by a good player. Will Keys was a picker he loved, and Will could do justice to a waltz. For my ears, Don Borchelt is a master at paying waltzes. I'm getting old and can't play up to speed anymore, so I'm thankful for the waltzes I've learned over the years. I can still play them and enjoy them. I agree that Jimmy's attitude is not helpful. My suggestion would be for him to just not listen :-)

Dec 2, 2021 - 5:19:43 PM
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6062 posts since 3/11/2006

Astute observation by janolov.

I might add, that it depends on what the banjo version is going to be used for.  If it is to back the fiddle, rhythm is paramount with some of the main points of the melody reinforced.  The presence of backing guitar will also be a factor in determining how rhythmic the banjo will need to be.

If you're trying to come up with a banjo solo, you're going to need more of the melody, and depending on what style, the balance between typical rhythmic devices and pure melody will vary.

Dec 7, 2021 - 3:57:43 AM

18 posts since 11/28/2017

I believe there are two issues relating to whether or not a fiddle tune can (or should) be ported to the banjo. First, some slower tunes need the sustain that a fiddle or guitar can provide; the quicker decay of notes - which is an important element of the banjo - can make some tunes awkward on the banjo. For example, while "Ashokan Farewell" or "Da Slocket Light" can certainly be played on the banjo, I try to grab a guitar when those tunes come up (DADGAD guitar - much better for those Celtic items!)

The second issue is that some fiddle tunes are best played in keys that are less common or awkward on the banjo. For example, Democratic Rage Hornpipe is commonly played in F, and just doesn't work as well when transposed to some other key.

But all this aside, the reality is that ANY tune can be played on the banjo - there are just twelve tones to deal with - but sometimes a tune can benefit from some modification into a hybrid tune. I sometimes have fun doing what I call a "bluegrassification" of Celtic tunes, changing the timing, adding bluegrass rolls, doing closed chord walkups, etc., even though I sometimes get strange looks from the fiddlers when I do it.

Dec 7, 2021 - 5:50:07 AM
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8318 posts since 3/17/2005

calicoplayer Since you mention this tune .......
Hearing only fiddle versions, I was never inspired to learn it, until I heard Don Borchelt's banjo rendition. I spent the rest of that day working it out in 2-finger style. Perhaps not enough sustain for you, but I love playing it with or without a fiddler :-)

banjohangout.org/myhangout/med...archived=

Dec 8, 2021 - 5:29:22 PM
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7378 posts since 11/4/2005

Chip, (chip arnold), your rendition of Ashoken has always amazed me, it's just beautiful. Smooth and natural.

Dec 9, 2021 - 2:47:34 AM
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m06

England

10690 posts since 10/5/2006

quote:
Originally posted by Jimmy Sutton

>Short staccato banjo notes just cannot reproduce what J P does with his bow.<


No, of course not. But we banjo players do have a range of options at our fingertips. Maybe wider than we give ourselves credit for? Note length is only one element. We can modulate volume and emphasis too and dial forward and back in relation to the fiddle lead. That has a big effect on our contribution to a group sound. When heard in unison with the fiddle (and other instruments) the banjo can play its role to enhance the overall sound in a variety of ways. The tonal fit (I mostly think of banjo and fiddle individually as two incomplete halves of a characteristic sound) is the beauty of their relationship.

The unique capability of the fiddle means that 'reproducing' what the fiddle bow does is never the aim. Everyone attempting to replicate each other note-for-note seldom makes for a pleasing sound. The aim is musicality and sensitivity to the tune.

In a session I was at last night we played Midnight On The Water a lovely 3/4 fiddle tune. I find I completely change how I play for that one tune, switching to 2-finger thumb lead and slurred triplets start appearing as well as very deliberate adjusting of volume and dynamics at different places in the tune. I guess that is just how the fiddle lead on that tune makes me respond on banjo. Vastly different to, say, my clawhammer approach with a driving and often playful rhythmic emphasis on fiddle tunes like Rock The Cradle Joe or Julianne Johnson.

BTW I'm not seeking to 'attack' your view. If you feel that way about a tune that's fine and your personal taste. I just happen to feel differently. Actually this is a really interesting thread and other posts wonderfully insightful and informative. A great example of why we keep reading BHO.
 

Edited by - m06 on 12/09/2021 03:02:16

Dec 9, 2021 - 3:53:27 AM

Jimmy Sutton

England

253 posts since 9/30/2013

I thought that it was clear from my posting (perhaps not?) that the problem to which I refer is the banjo player believing that he could lead the tune, in other words replace the fiddle. There were/are often times when no fiddle was present and it just doesn't work.

Of course I am only speaking of my personal taste. I don't understand how my humble opinion could affect old time music.

Can I also add that I wasn't named after a fiddle tune but a banjo tune played by the Reedy/Ball family (Wade and Orna) accompanied by Walt Henderson's fiddle.

Dec 9, 2021 - 7:01:30 AM

m06

England

10690 posts since 10/5/2006

Maybe my replies are influenced by not being familiar with the J P Frayley version? Without that comparison there’s no inherent reason for me to be disappointed. I’ve since googled J P Frayley’s version. Any banjo version is going to have to find a compromise for those long bow notes. If someone considers the long bow phrases are the essence of that tune then no banjo version is going to satisfy their rigid requirement. But to say a banjo cannot tackle the tune beautifully has been contradicted by Don’s video. Replication of J P Farley? Nope. It doesn’t need to be; it stands alone as a banjo piece and no way to my ears is it ‘plodding’.

The crux of the question seems to lie in comparison. Why automatically compare? We don't do that when different artists paint the same scene. We understand they are basing their individual version on the same information yet creating a picture that has its own form, colour and atmosphere. We can hold an opinion that we don't like a picture but not because it doesn't look like another artist's. We form that opinion by understanding whether the artist conveyed their vision.

What Jimmy appears to be doing is the equivalent of saying the picture is ' bad' because an element of the information/scene 'doesn't look as it should'. The old realism trap applied to music.

Edited by - m06 on 12/09/2021 07:16:41

Dec 9, 2021 - 8:26:48 AM

Jimmy Sutton

England

253 posts since 9/30/2013

Mike,

I don't "appear to be doing" anything. What I am doing is stating a fact that for me, repeat FOR ME, it just doesn't work.

As for "the old realism trap", I quote the Solemn Old Judge "Keep it down to earth boys".

You indicate that you haven't heard J P Fraley's original. You can probably find it on You Tube.

Dec 9, 2021 - 9:31:28 AM
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m06

England

10690 posts since 10/5/2006

Yes I did google JP Fraley’s version.

I totally get that it’s your opinion that you don’t like the tune on banjo. None of us should comment on your opinion. That would be as daft and pointless (and rude) as criticising your favourite colour or holiday destination. My curiosity is with the suggestion/question in the OP that there are tunes that can’t/shouldn’t be played on banjo. As with anything, there's always going to be folks who like a particular result and those who don't (and folks who aren't bothered either way). To me that's inevitable and not the same as whether there are fiddle tunes that are in a category as 'undoable' on banjo and should not be attempted.

Edited by - m06 on 12/09/2021 09:41:15

Dec 9, 2021 - 10:40:43 AM
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4750 posts since 2/24/2004

There are many reasons why fiddle tunes & banjo arrangements may not mesh & many reasons have been given here--but no one has mentioned a possibility that I have seen at informal jams. 

Sometimes the fiddler has terrible timing & intonation & does not know the tune well and maybe plays it pretty crooked and references to someones historical playing--but hey--its difficult for banjoists who are in tune and in time to follow. :)

Best banjo wishes,

ps. If you play with a really good fiddler--he/she may play with you and weave the lead and harmonies with you so you aren't playing the exact same thing--which sounds really nice.

Mary Z. Cox


Dec 17, 2021 - 7:09:16 AM
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carlb

USA

2321 posts since 12/16/2007

quote:
Originally posted by Jimmy Sutton

A classic case in my experience is a the tune that a banjo player who I have played sessions with for many years, he insists on playing J P Fraley's Wild Rose of the Mountain. The lack of sustain just makes the tune plod especially when no fiddle is present. It really is painful.


My take

https://www.banjohangout.org/topic/379752

Dec 17, 2021 - 8:30:28 AM
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Players Union Member

janolov

Sweden

41326 posts since 3/7/2006

Regarding "Wild Rose Of The Mountain", I can admit it is a difficult, but not impossible, tune for the banjo. The difficulties are mainly the long sustained notes in the fiddle version, and that the melody is crooked so you have to emphasize the right notes on the right occasion. It is better to think this tune as built up by phrases, rather by measures. Otherwise I think the melody parts of this tune is very banjo friendly. And I think that Carl Baron really has caught the tune, as a banjo tune, in the version above.

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