Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Bridge Review-Gary Sosebee "Red Maple"

When I got my Gibson Earl Scruggs model in 2006 it came with a Grover bridge. I had it setup professionally by Mark Bramlett and he installed a Gary Sosebee Cottonmill Bridge. The bridge made a big difference; however, for some reason it wasn't "perfect" to my ears yet. I liked the banjo but it was still missing something, I thought maybe it just needed to be played in. I preface that by saying I'm extremely hard to please when it comes to instruments.

Two weeks ago I was talking to Gary and he mentioned a new bridge he was making. A soft or Red maple bridge. The wood is slightly softer than your standard hard maple that is used on most bridges. Gary gave me one to try. I put this new bridge on and could not believe my ears.

The note separation went through the roof and the bass response was now perfect.

If you play a maple banjo or an instrument that's bright and you want to increase the bass response, these bridges are the real deal. I'm not given to tinkering and I'm skeptical of new banjo products, but in this case I'm SOLD.

You can purchase the bridge from my good friends at

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Proper Stage Etiquette

The following will serve as examples of what NOT to do while on stage and how to protect yourself from damage:

1)Do not EVER stand on a stool that only has slightly enough surface area to fit both of your feet on it. The Bon Jovi Poster didn't help but playing a guitar that is not symmetrical is his greatest of violations. If he had been playing a D-18 he probably wouldn't have fallen, the wings threw him off balance. That is clearly seen in the video.

2)This guy took his "flying V" literal and tried to fly. Just stick to a dreadnaught and you'll be ALL that much safer. Also, don't impersonate a police officer onstage, it's bad karma.

3)Go Cordless. Don't let a fool from the audience onstage with you, they do not realize that wires are connected to instruments sometimes. Keith Richards wouldn't have let this happened.

4)Yet another person STANDING on an amplifier.

5)My personal favorite. Don't put your foot on the monitors ever. Soundmen don't like the guitarist anyways, because he always has his amp too loud. So the wedges might be a little loose. He also went for the "pick slide" and the head bang, that quickly led to his demise.

6)Even if you are a famous guitarist, do not and I repeat DO NOT move your pick as fast as possible while moving backwards, suddenly stop playing and throw your hands over your head. The result:

7)Oh yeah, guitarists are not the only ones susceptible to falling. If you are going to turn your back to the audience please take note of where you are in relationship to THE EDGE.

So, In summary,
1)Stay on the Ground
2)Symmetrical Instrument
3)Acoustic with no cords
4)Move forwards or side to side and limit backwards movements. Quick/Sudden movements
are your enemy onstage.
5)Monitors are not footrests, they are only there for looks or potential traps
6)Maybe think twice before becoming "the guitarist"

Monday, June 27, 2011

Plays Well With Others

Beginners are often not made aware of group intricacies early enough in the learning process.
I have actually received students that took lessons from other instructors that have been playing almost a year and do not know any chords. Their instructor only concentrated on the lead aspect of playing. A banjo solo only takes place like 15% of the time, the majority of the time you are either backing up a singer or another instrument.

So let's examine the skills you need in order to "play well with others."

-Know the proper Volume level
-Ability to play chords in a variety of positions up and down the instrument
-A common repertoire (this is why learning tunes is important). If you don't know tunes then you can't play them in the beginning stages

You will also need what I refer to as multi-dimensional hearing. In one case you'll need to listen to yourself to make sure you are playing the right thing in right time. On the other hand, you'll need to listen to those around you to make sure you are locked in time with them.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Old Time Fiddling arranged for 5 string banjo

My newest project for next year is to research and learn some old fiddle tunes. I'm looking for ones that particularly aren't recorded anymore or haven't enjoyed as much popularity.

My latest studies have taken me to fiddlers Allen Sisson, Cyril Stinnett, and Benny Thomasson.
Allen Sisson was a fiddler from north GA that won the TN state championships in 1920.
Cyril was from Missouri, a lefty who was known for his ability to play hornpipes and reels. Lastly, Benny was the guy who worked with Mark O'Connor when he was a kid. I've listened to Benny for many years. He is the only one that isn't a recent discovery. Anyways here are my attempts at some tunes:

1)Allen Sisson's "Rhymer's Favorite"

2)Kenny Baker's version of "Denver Belle"

3)Cyril Stinnett's "Pacific Slope"

4)Another one I got from Cyril Stinnett called "Lantern in the Ditch"

5)Irish Reel I found in Ryan's Mammoth Collection of fiddle tunes:

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Your Learning Process is Slightly Out of Tune

The last two weeks I've been working on the Jobim tune "Desafinado". In English it means "Slightly Out of Tune", hence the name of this blog.

If one gets out the real book to learn this tune, you will find many errors in the melody and in the chords. I learned it by EAR and then looked at the music. I was appalled. Down below I have listed those errors (for those interested).

I didn't just trust my own ears, I checked what I obtained by referring to the Jobim Songbook (that is known for it's accuracy) and had my instructor with really incredible ears listen along during my lesson.

Generations of jazz musicians have played this tune wrong. In the Real Book 5th edition, the music was even missing four bars. So you have musicians who learned it from a book playing the song with four measures missing....or worse, one guy playing the version with four bars missing and the drummer playing the longer version :)

Those four bars are no longer missing in the updated editions, but musicians are still making a bunch of errors:
There are four bars within the song that the musicians still all play wrong? Why? Because they learned from a book. Even if you listen to the Stan Getz recording he is playing the wrong changes. I love Getz's playing, but he is playing the wrong changes.

One would think that as a person learns a song, one would respect the composer and the composition enough to take the time to actually LISTEN to what they intended. In this case, simply get the Jobim recording and see if what is written on the page is representative of the recording.

I am amazed how many musicians rely only on books or sheet music to learn music. Don't assume the books are right, assume they are wrong and verify.

I believe books are helpful (especially when your ears aren't up to par), but you've got to train your ears to hear the material eventually. You might as well get started now.

In this case, we are talking GENERATIONS of jazz musicians playing "Desafinado" wrong. Not just in performance, but on numerous recordings.
An entire culture affected by a badly transcribed "real book." One guy learned it from the book and he played with other musicians who learned it the same way...the wrong changes got passed down musician to musician and pretty soon you are left with something the original composer didn't even intend.

So PLEASE, the next time you want to learn a song, try learning the song by ear first and then compare to the sheet music. Respect the music and always verify what you have learned.

Here are the errors:
Measure 11 is a D MAJOR, it is not a D7b9
Measure 13 is a G9 (the melody is supposed to be on an A, not an Ab)
Measure 14 IS a G7b9 because now the melody is Ab
Then here is the gravest error of all,
Measures 29 through 32 are COMPLETELY wrong, it does not go
Amaj Bbdiminished Bmin7 E7
The correct changes are
Amaj Abaltered G7 F#7
Why would anyone want to change the original changes? They are absolutely beautiful
As you can see, they aren't even related.

Then in measure 38 the chord is a Cmaj7 (not a F#-7)

There are a lot more errors, but that's all I'm listing for now.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Old Spinning Wheel Approach and Analysis

I decided to do this because of a thread on the Banjohangout

A poster asked, does banjo playing revolve around licks? Chords?

My answer was that it was a balancing act of licks, simple themes and variations through chords, playing things based off your fingerboard knowledge, playing things you heard in your head, and sometimes getting lucky and creating something spontaneously....just like any form of music that involves improvising.

Please understand that I am not saying LICKS are what one should rely on to play music. However, they CAN be used to make meaningful musical statements and learning licks/vocabulary is a valid form of practice.
Music is like a language. Some words don't go together, they don't form a sentence and noone can discern what you are trying to say if used incorrectly.
This is why I recommend transcribing so much; it allows one to get their vocabulary together and trains the ear at the same time. It also allows one to learn the stylistic elements of the genre one wants to perform in, what is appropriate for it.

I must add that because one is playing a "lick" it doesn't mean that they don't hear it in there head. There are LEVELS of licks.
1)Licks that you know will fit a certain chord,
2)Licks that you play when you can't think of anything better
3)Licks that follow the melody of the song logically
4)Licks that you play by accident,
5)Licks you are humming in your head as you play, etc.
6)Licks that are part of the tradition of the music that nearly everyone plays

A LOT of great players love to say they never play licks. I'm not sure why they try to pretend they don't. All one has to do is transcribe any great players music and one will find out different. Even Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Earl Scruggs, Django Reinhardt, etc used licks, and these guys were geniuses. Music is not Magic, however to those that haven't spent the time studying it, it can often seem like magic..

So here is an HONEST analysis of what I played on the Video.

1) .11 This "single-string" idea is a melody build off of a C major scale. I don't recall using it very much in the past. More of a CONCEPT and less of a lick. Here I'm not thinking about CHORDS, I'm thinking KEY. I must say I'm more of a CHORD player than a KEY player. Going back and forth between a CHORD and KEY thought process is a great way to break up your solos.

2) .20-.23 I believe this is an Allen Shelton LICK, I first heard Barry Palmer from GA do it on a tape I bought once....please notice it is used again at .40 to .43
VOILA, we have a lick

3) 0.25 to 0.30 we have the melody

4) 0.33 An Earl Scruggs modified "tag" LICK. Happens again at 1:12

5) 0.45 The melody an octave higher with thirds. Once again, more of a CONCEPT
6) 0.47 A variation on the melody that I came up with
7) 0.48 to 0.53 A CONCEPT I learned from Don Reno (See "Banjo Signal")
8) 0.59 to 1.00 Same Don Reno Concept but double-timing it and phrasing different
9) 1.05 An Fminor used after a Fmajor that is going to a C (common iv minor sub)
10) 1.06 to 1.08 I played Eminor to Dminor to C major (iii = Imajor, playing down chords diatonically)
11) 1:19 Allen Shelton inside roll LICK on a G7, This is used at 1:40 and 1:59 as well; notice that the outro part of the LICK is different each time
12) 1:21 COMMON transition LICK from G to C
13) 1:25-1:26 Original Variation on the melody
14) 1:27-1:28-part of it is a CLICHE bebop run
15) 1:29-1:31 High G7 to G13, original but based right off the chords
16) 1:34-1:35 Slide into Eminor chord (Once again thinking iiimin =Imajor)
17) 1:45-1.47 I heard this chord in my head AS I WAS PLAYING, never played it before. Got lucky
18) 1:52 A "lick" that is based off of Floyd Cramer; however rhythm is much different than original. A example of a "lick" I heard in my head as I was playing. Sort of a Call and Response answer to what was played seconds before.
19)Ending using a Variety of Diatonic chords.

The rest of the video is just slight variations on the melody.

I will say that when I made this video I CONSCIOUSLY decided to play more traditional than I might otherwise. It was important to me to quote Allen Shelton, Reno, etc, yet have myself come through as well. If I was to record it again, many parts would be different, but there are parts that would be the same as well.

As I write this blog, I recall the time I transcribed a Charlie Parker solo and found out he played the same lick every time he got to an Aminor Chord on every single chorus. I thought the man was supposed to be a genius who always "improvised" and never repeated himself?? What happened :P :P
Nothing happened, he will always be a genius. Every great musician has their licks and repeated themselves from time to time.

So next time you can't think of anything better to play and you play a "lick"; don't worry about it so much, you are in good company.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Old Spinning Wheel