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Jan 18, 2022 - 3:13:22 AM
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6 posts since 1/11/2022

As a fiddle player myself I know the melody of many OT tunes and when I first started messing with the banjo my tendency was to pick out the melody of the tune I was practicing. But I also know that when playing along with a fiddle it probably wouldn't be appreciated if I tried to do only the melody. So my question for the seasoned clawhammer players is this --- How much (if any) of the melody do you play in various situations, e.g., when it's just you and a fiddle, when you're in a jam with fiddle(s) guitar and a bass, or any other situation you can think of.

Also, if you're not playing the melody, what do you play? Various or random notes in the correct chord? Harmony? Bass runs?

Jan 18, 2022 - 4:30:12 AM
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2367 posts since 12/16/2007

I always play at the melody, but I also have to hear the chords as well, I keep my hand moving all the time and chord in the empty spaces. My best examples are the times I've played with Melvin Wine. Here are a couple of recordings that are in my media file; Black Cat in the Brier Patch and Jack of All Trades. Also, there are some solo banjo versions of well known tunes, such as Rocky Pallet and Seneca Square Dance.

Jan 18, 2022 - 5:38:51 AM
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4364 posts since 10/13/2005

Great question! I think a lot of the answer depends on the tune itself, some tunes seem to call out the banjo for more melody notes and some more rhythm. Also if you are on stage with just a fiddler, maybe a couple of other back up instruments, you have to work out some what the fiddler would like – more/less melody, runs or not, etc. and what your banjo capabilities are or aren't. In a jam situation the most important thing a banjo player can do is keep the rhythm going strong. In a jam a lot of banjo melody ornamentations are just lost in the din of the jam depending on how large the jam is. So, to answer your questions or not, it just depends on a lot of factors going into the equation and in the end, does it work? banjered

Jan 18, 2022 - 6:19:31 AM
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5066 posts since 5/9/2007

I try to counter fiddle players. When they are “heavy” on the melody I go “light” providing mainly chords, rhythm and harmony.

When the fiddle player goes “light” I rev up the melody a bit but I keep my ear on the fiddle to know when to revert back.

In large jams I tend to noodle around and experiment more.

Sounds like you already have a plan that what will work.

Jan 18, 2022 - 6:21:48 AM
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5066 posts since 5/9/2007

Thanks for the tunes carlb

Jan 18, 2022 - 9:57:21 AM
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Bill Rogers (Moderator)


25908 posts since 6/25/2005

I try to follow the fiddle. Examples here:

Jan 18, 2022 - 10:21:30 AM



331 posts since 1/9/2022

Don't know if this is relevant but I saw a link to Ken Perlman who is known for 'melodic clawhammer'. Which interests me a lot.

Jan 19, 2022 - 3:17:38 AM
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Bill H


1888 posts since 11/7/2010

I think it depends on the tune. Sometimes note for note melody it is simply too difficult.

Jan 19, 2022 - 9:08:28 AM
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814 posts since 12/19/2010

I agree with the "it depends" comments. That said, if I am playing clawhammer or 2F in an ensemble or jam with a fiddler taking the melody lead, I generally aim for hitting melody notes on the 1st and 3rd beats of a measure in 4/4 time. In terms of the boom chucka (or booma chucka), these would be the "boom" notes. So, I try to sketch the melody while keeping strong rhythm going. I'm not super-prescriptive about this, but use this a general guideline for playing something that works for the situation.

Jan 20, 2022 - 11:20:30 PM
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41553 posts since 3/7/2006

Dan Levenson's book "Old-Time Festival Tunes for Clawhammer Banjo" gives an interesting approach. The fiddle part is presented in music notation (since fiddlers often read notation) and then there is a basic banjo version, plus another more advanced banjo version. When studying the book , one can see that the basic version often is a simplification of the melody based on the most important melody notes. The advance part is more based on the fiddle melody but also contains some simplifications to make it easier to play.

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Feb 4, 2022 - 5:45 PM

330 posts since 11/9/2021

Hi swollenfingers. I am in the same boat as you, a fiddler learning to play banjo. For me, as a fiddler , theres the melody and then theres the licks to make that melody jump ( I am known for doting notes to swing things a bit). For banjo I have been removing some of the lead in and lead out noting that go to the main melody notes, and leaving out most of the celtic stuff I throw into a lot of tunes. AS I get more familiar with clawhammer this all will change I am sure.

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