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Apr 15, 2024 - 10:33:21 PM
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421 posts since 3/17/2005

I was transcribing, and I think I cracked open a mystery tune. Hear me out folks: I propose that Bill played this tune in gDGCD. Have a listen to Bill Keiths 'Mead Mountain Blues' and let me know what you think of my sleuthing.

Youtube link: youtube.com/watch?v=eNWT88OUluE

Bill plays a harmonic C note that is not a false harmonic at about 0:03-0:04 in. The harmonic C note is interesting. It doesn't exist in regular G tuning, not to the pitch that he did it. But a B does.
Ok, so if you tune the B to C (gDGCD), the harmonic works out perfectly. And it also happens that the C is a frequently repeated melody note in the tune; not surprisingly, when you listen carefully, you can hear the C note ring out as a open string would in a melodic line. Further to this, near the end at 2:30 just as the other soloist finishes, you can hear him tune the B-string back up to C.

It's a really cool tune I think.

So what do you think, did he play it in g-D-G-C-D?

Apr 16, 2024 - 8:59:24 AM
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3495 posts since 4/19/2008
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Yep, your deductions are correct, here's my under hood explanation:
Every song is in at least one key and one mode. In this case it's in D Mixolydian D E F# G A B C . The C note here is what changes the Ionian mode (Major Scale with C#) into Mixolydian.
If you're improvising like this song and don't play lot's of C's you won't get the "flavor" of the Mixolydian mode.
BTW the next part is in G Mixolydian where the F note gives the "flavor".

Apr 16, 2024 - 9:14:14 AM

15219 posts since 6/2/2008

Does second string raised to C produce fluid and logical fingering? Does the fingering make more sense? That, to me, would be the clincher.

I agree the opening harmonic C chimes as clearly as the other note(s), which supports your hypothesis.

I haven't listened in headphones to pick up the other details you describe. But I would ask you another question: How does the octave C sound to you? In particular, the one at 1st string 10th fret (if that note is used). Reason I ask is that on all my banjos, that note is mildly nasal and honky. It does not ring like other notes and does not generate the same type of sympathetic vibrations on the other strings as do other notes. Usually it doesn't matter, because in banjo music notes are such short duration that by the time you can think about the quality of a note, it's already many notes in the past.

I think C isn't a harmonic of the other strings. But with the second string tuned to C, I'd expect the octave C on first string to make the second string vibrate.

Final comment: There's a character or quality to the tune that typically suggests to me it's either in a non-typical key in open G tuning or it's in an alternative tuning -- though I rarely know which unless I actually try to work out the tune, which I rarely do.

Good detective work.

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