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May 20, 2024 - 5:56 PM
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16098 posts since 12/2/2005

Okay, so we see lots of questions here about speed and pull-offs and essential Scruggs technique. All valid, but some miss the mark of what it’s all about, IMO. I’m a huge fan of the Kruger Brothers. I had heard of them, but hadn’t encountered their music until roughly 20 years ago, when they were one of the lead artists at Banjo Camp North. BCN hired Jens, I suppose, but Uwe and Joel showed up too.

Someone I trusted told me I needed to attend a session they were doing. So I looked at the schedule and saw a clinic called “Unconventional Sounds on the Banjo, Presented by Jens Kruger.” I had a slot available in my sched – I was very new to the banjo at this point – so the title intrigued me, and I went.

Tiny cabin in an off-season summer camp in Massachusetts, me and maybe 20 other banjo nerds. Jens was showing different techniques by which the sounds the banjo produces can be manipulated. These included using the heel of the hand to mute the bridge, putting varying pressure on the head to create a flanging effect, using one’s belly as a fulcrum of a lever involving right and left hand to bend notes, and other subtle techniques.

Frankly while I got it as someone into producing sounds, all of this was way above my paygrade as a new banjo player. And, as it inevitably does in camps and festival workshops, the questions quickly became the usual workshop ones of “what strings do you use” and “what picks do you use” and then, the inevitable, “How do I build speed?” J

Jens answered the first ones by pointing out his preference were only his preferences, but went to the last one with this: “Speed is overrated. Let me show you.” He started playing some bluegrass classic – can’t remember which one – at a sprightly clip. “Sounds good, right?” Nods around the room. “Now listen to this.” And he started playing the same break, increasing the tempo by roughly ten beats per minute every two measures. Within short order, it became a blur of sound. Purely noise. “I have no idea why I can do that,” he said, “but I can. So what? That’s not music. It’s simply noise. THIS is music.”

And with that, he, Uwe and Joel started playing this: “Beautiful Nothing.” I wasn’t the only one with tears on cheeks when they finished. I saw them do something similar at a workship at Joe Val maybe ten years later – same question, same piece.

A few weeks ago, they did a concert here on the Cape. Tiny house, maybe 200 people, and we got there early – I was blessed to be in the front row and made a point of requesting it. Most of the audience, who’d never heard it before, was equally moved. So here’s the lesson, which the Krugers know better than anyone: you can dazzle with speed and technique, but when it comes right down to it, are you actually selling the music? Are you making people think “I want to hear that again?” Are you actually touching their hearts?

A song needn’t be fast or beautiful to do that. It simply needs to come from your heart in such a way that it enters theirs. If it’s an instrumental, it needs to move them. If it’s a vocal number… how many awesome songs do you know that were sung by someone whose voice wasn’t flawless? I can think of thousands.

The melody here is simple – but warming. The timing is crooked, but subtly so. The note selection is understandable, but contains subtle surprises.

This isn’t a piece written or performed to blow peoples’ minds – it’s a piece written to touch their hearts. This is done with studious technique, mastery, and great communication between players. It’s a clear demonstration of how dynamics and timing serve a piece of music. It’s not successful without all of those things. Slow that it might be, it requires perfect playing. Enjoy.

 

Edited by - eagleisland on 05/21/2024 06:44:18

May 21, 2024 - 5:18:51 AM

BobbyE

USA

3509 posts since 11/29/2007

Shows what a banjo is capable of in the right hands. Wow.

Bobby

May 21, 2024 - 6:05:13 AM

719 posts since 5/21/2020

Great post Skip. For many this will be a enlightened moment yes

May 21, 2024 - 8:01:59 AM
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451 posts since 4/26/2007

Jens knows how to coax absolutely every possible tone out of a banjo. One of the few who can manage that feat. He could play at 200 bpm or 12, and it's beautiful regardless.

On the topic of speed: it can be very impressive when done right. And sparingly. If everything's fast, then nothing's fast.  Otherwise, it loses it's impact.

This may be a bluegrass-only thing, but I do enjoy hearing a band play at least one "barnburner" every show and/or album. Funnily enough, Jens is the fastest on the five I've ever heard. He's so exceptional it doesn't even sound like a blur of nonsensical notes. There's structure and timing there.
 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zNPVDtPaXvk

Edited by - HuberTone on 05/21/2024 08:02:10

May 21, 2024 - 9:15:33 AM
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chuckv97

Canada

72106 posts since 10/5/2013

I saw the Krugers about ten years ago, and they performed that one. You could’ve hears a pin drop in that hall seating about 400.

May 21, 2024 - 11:45:59 AM
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543 posts since 9/22/2012

I've seen them twice now. All three are amazing.

Jen's took some time after the show to play an RB00 I brought...never heard it sound better. He is such a fun man to talk to!!

To this day I feel like every single note that Jen's plays is deliberately crafted and thoughtfully delivered.

It is a humbling and amazing experience to listen to him.

I can't tell you who the top 5 in the world are...but Jen's is one of them.....

May 21, 2024 - 8:59:42 PM

666 posts since 11/2/2009

I appreciated your moving introduction. It pulled me in and it felt as though I was watching it being written out in long hand.

Edited by - gcpicken on 05/21/2024 21:02:28

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