Which notes to leave out?

At the risk of turning this into a “real” blog with text, I’ll post a comment I just left on the Banjo Hangout discussion about leaving notes out, and then rant a bit. The question was, basically, “I want to be less notey. Which notes do I take out, and what do I replace them with?”

In case it’s helpful, here’s what I cut:

1. “Dit” notes. I’m a big fan of M-skips because they simultaneously syncopate and clear up a tune. Instead of playing the “dit” note, I just do a sort of “air” note with my frailing finger, then hit the 5th string as usual. So:

bum pa dit ty becomes bum pa __ ty
bum __ dit ty becomes bum __ __ ty

2. Any tricky notes that mess up my drive. However, some tricky notes are worth the effort and should be saved because they’re unique to the tune, add an emotional edge, or whatever. Practice usually makes them work. If after diligent practice they still interfere with my drive, they’re history.

3. “Pa” notes. Those are less likely to get cut, because if I cut too many of them, I end up with a plodding “bum __ dit ty”

4. “Bum ditty” fillers, like when the last measure of a tune is just one note. Instead of playing “bum __ dit ty bum __ dit ty” on that one note, I just play a decisive “bum” and let it really sink in.

5. “Filler” notes that I’m tempted to leave in place just to show everyone I can play them. For example, cutting 17 triplets down to 3 is usually best for the tune and drive, in my opinion.

I tend to avoid brushes because I like to syncopate, and brushes can make a tune seem too square for me.

I failed to share my opinion about double-thumbing because it’s a popular technique among some on the Hangout. (Double-thumbing is hitting the 5th string on every other beat, such as bum-5th-dit-5th.) But this blog is my turf, so:

  • Insistent double thumbing makes a banjo sound like a metronome.
  • It forces you into a very square place where syncopation not only isn’t welcome, it isn’t possible.
  • It fills every available opening with banjo sound, restricting other instruments’ chances to be heard and keeping the group dynamic on one flat plane.

So when I’m looking for notes to take out, fifth string notes are some of my favorite targets. In case you were wondering.

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2 Responses to “Which notes to leave out?”


  1. 1 Tim November 20, 2008 at 7:45 am

    very prudent, BHO can be pretty factional from what ive seen in a few days as a member. who would have thought a thread about tunings could get locked and deleted?
    i do use double thumbing sometimes but only as an effect not as a style

  2. 2 Cathy November 20, 2008 at 10:49 am

    Yeah, it wouldn’t have been a good idea for me to trash double thumbing with that group. My problem is only with double-thumbing that’s used all the time throughout a tune. Double-thumbing as a technique is useful for occasional emphasis or perkiness. When used as filler throughout a tune it doesn’t float my musical boat.


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