Mudcat Café message #440665 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #33062   Message #440665
Posted By: Uncle_DaveO
14-Apr-01 - 06:00 PM
Thread Name: To Play What You Like or What They Want.
Subject: RE: To Play What You Like or What They Want.
Guest Russ exulted about hearing someone play old chestnuts with variations that brought them alive. This brought to mind a wonderful experience I had about a year ago, at the Maryland Banjo Academy.

There was a class with Mac Benford, a fine banjoist/singer. Well, he's a fine banjoist, and he's a singer. The name of the class was "Spicing up Banjo Solos with Phrasing" or something close to that.

Besides Benford there were maybe as many as 12 in the class. First Benford asked us to pick out a banjo piece in G tuning that we all knew. After a little jockeying, we came up with--what else?--Cripple Creek.

Now, for non-banjo players, you should know that almost every banjo player's first tune was Cripple Creek. If it wasn't the first, it was surely one of the first. We learned it with the minimal ability and understanding we had then, and moved on to other things as we expanded our abilities. Cripple Creek was left behind by most of us as a "baby tune" or something.

Benford had us identify the few absolute notes that form the skeleton of the tune, with no chords, no grace notes, nuthin--just enough for one who knows the tune to recognize it. They we considered the first phrase, that would be covered by I believe the first two measures, and went around, person to person, each of us to put forward a different way of playing the tune--any way, so that those skeleton notes were there (or strongly implied).

We went around, using slides, using hammer-ons, pulloffs, chokes, head-taps, rhythm inversions, rests, and so on until we'd worked out what seemed to be ALL the ways those two measures could be played and still be Cripple Creek. It was enlightening!

Then the next two measures, and so through the song. It was a treasure box! That simple (or maybe simple-minded) tune had so much available.

Then in Double C tuning we did the same thing for Angeline the Baker. Same experience.

That class was SUCH an eye-opener! I've gone back into most of what I played and taken a look at what could be done, and of course for new tunes I try to apply the principle. It gave me a big jump-start, I'll tell you!

DAve Oesterreich