Archive for the 'Lessons' Category

Lesson: Tam Lin and D minor

I dusted off the video camera to do a lesson on Tam Lin, or really a lesson about the A part of Tam Lin and how knowing the chord shapes makes a complex-sounding tune easier to play.

You might also be interested in the discussion about the tune on

Experimenting with rhythm, Arabic style

Here’s another installment in my ongoing quest to explore the lands beyond bum-ditty. I play an old-time tune on top of a sort of funky Arabic pattern to show how playing over a different rhythm can warp you. My playing is messy but you’ll get the idea.

This video is also the debut of my overhauled Stewart. It now has a sturdily re-glued neck, Elite amber head, tall minstrel style bridge by Bill Morris, and Nylgut strings. I’m getting a lot more pop out of the banjo than I did with the thick Fiberskyn head and heavier bridge, and the Nylguts invite me to mess around with rhythm more than the steel strings did.

And here’s a happy “Thank you!” to Joel Lensch of the Fatted Calf String Band for helping me reglue the neck and to Bill Banker of Bloomington’s Monday Night Music for giving me my first set of Nylgut strings and telling me about the Elite amber head. I love my new-old banjo.

How to get into an odd-meter groove

Having trouble “feeling” odd rhythms like 9 and 11? Here are some suggestions I posted on this Banjo Hangout thread. Since it’s hard to communicate the beats in text, I’ll add “Intro to Odd Rhythms” to my video to-do list.

It’s all 2s and 3s

The main thing is to be able to hear and play the “quick” (2) and the “slow” (3). Everything is built on that.

For example, the 9 of Rampi Rampi could be felt as 2+2+2+3 and counted out as “1-2 1-2 1-2 1-2-3” with each number getting the same time value and with no pause between the clumps (chant robotically “1 2 1 2 1 2 1 2 3 1 2 1 2 1 2 1 2 3”). You could also think of it as “quicka quicka quicka slow-and-a,” with each syllable getting the same emphasis and no punctuation at the end of the phrase.

Start with the big muscles

The way I got into odd rhythms was by dancing. So I started by moving mostly big muscle groups, which got the rhythm into my entire body. Then I progressed down to smaller muscles like those needed to play banjo.

So I usually recommend that you find some music in the rhythms that you like and to do something approaching dance, even if it’s just walking across the room by taking a step on each major beat. This will teach your body the difference between the 2 and 3. Continue reading ‘How to get into an odd-meter groove’

Strum your banjo for an instant banjo uke!

Here are a couple of lessons showing how you can strum your five-string banjo ukulele style. You can quickly switch to high-energy strumming when you want to kick some energy into a dance or just as a break from regular clawhammer.

Here’s an introduction to the strum I use most often:

I use my index finger for both frailing and strumming, but I recommend you use a different finger for each approach. The strumming wears your nail down fast. I’m switching my strumming to my middle finger but I’m not there yet, so I use the index in the video.

For happy strumming, you need to know what chords to play. So here’s a quick look at how to figure out the basic chords of a D tune:


Other uses for the strum

If you’re at a big, noisy jam and the players have wandered apart rhythmically, you can (politely) switch to the uke strum to bring them back together. The banjo uke sound cuts through everything and gives a steady beat for people to latch onto. Continue reading ‘Strum your banjo for an instant banjo uke!’

Lesson: Getting drive with Liza Jane

Here are some ideas for adding drive, which I’ve arbitrarily defined as “lilt” or “danceability.” The video looks at how to:

  1. Vary the volume of individual notes using right and left hand techniques
  2. Vary the duration of individual notes (anticipating a beat; M-skip)

I use a generic version of Liza Jane in A.

And here are some of the tab snippets that go by too quickly in the video.

Emphasizing beats in the high melody:

Muting notes in the low melody:
Notes to partially fret in Liza Jane

Deleting the bum-ditty filler from the end of a phrase:

Adding an M-skip to the slide in the low melody:

D by ear: Two lessons

Here’s part of my quest to get more people to learn tunes by ear.

Chords will help you find the melody
First, here are the three chords you need for most old-time tunes in D, shown with two positions each. When you know these chords, you can quickly find the melody notes for just about any D tune you’re likely to hear at a jam.

Use the chord shapes to learn a new tune
Once you know the chord positions, use them to learn “Toads in the Woodpile,” an original yet reassuringly formulaic D tune.

Rampi Rampi: The complete package

Here’s one of my favorite tunes, the Turkish song Rampi Rampi:

And here’s a lesson explaining the rhythm and right-hand technique:

“Beyond bum-ditty” lesson videos

I’ve posted some informal lessons on YouTube that show syncopation and other techniques that you can use to make an old-time tune your own. The video uses Julianne Johnson in aDADE and is aimed at intermediate players who are comfortable with drop-thumbing and plucks. It assumes you already know the basic tune.

Part 1: The A melody (covers “easing” into a note, syncopation, M-skips)

Part 2: The B melody (covers plucks and more M-skips)

Julianne Johnson with syncopation: Twice slowly and then at normal speed

How to use this site

The most recent tune appears at the top of the blog page. To download an MP3: right-click the MP3 link; choose "Save Link As." Learn more-->