Hi everybody! Peghead Nation has lift off! Thanks for joining me for what’s going to be a fantastic musical journey.
by Bill Evans
August 26, 2014
Hi everybody! Peghead Nation has lift off! Thanks for joining me for what’s going to be a fantastic musical journey. Take some time to explore the banjo offerings and let me know what you think - I’d love to create lessons around your specific requests, whether it’s a tune, technique, lick or concept. Let's make Peghead Nation your destination for all things bluegrass banjo!
Comments and Discussion
We've just gone live with a lesson on finding the melody notes and adding roll patterns to "Blue Ridge Cabin Home," so be sure to check that lesson out when you get the chance. Ear-training is a lifelong process. After you learn the scales and modes you need (in the keys that you're wanting to play tunes), the best practice is to *just do it*. Hunt the notes out and don't be afraid to learn from "mistakes." Try finding the melody (without rolls or any specific bluegrass techniques) to songs you know - whether it be something like "Happy Birthday" or a bluegrass standard or a Christmas song. You're stretching your brain-ear-finger connection in this way. Then after you find the melody, you can think about how to add rolls and licks to make it sound like great bluegrass banjo. We all want to improvise well on the fly and I still have a lot of work to do in this department after playing for over forty years. Just keep at it!
All the best,
I don't do any kind of pre-playing stretching but I do begin practice sessions by making sure I'm using the best hand technique possible (maintaining good hand positions, etc.) and I start off by playing things slowly, with a metronome. And I try to be relaxed. I put the emphasis on playing with good tone and staying in rhythm. When things then start to flow and I'm feeling more warmed up, I'll increase the tempo.
I hope this helps!
All the best,
You're explanation regarding finding a melody first then adding rolls that fit was reassuring to me, I've been using that approach for some time. How do you approach working a tune up in a melodic style? A lesson on this subject would be truly helpful to me.
Thanks for your question! Are you checking out the beginning banjo or the bluegrass banjo lesson track? There are two lessons already up on the bluegrass track that show you how to play the G major scale and teach "Devil's Dream," which is one of the first tunes that bluegrass banjo players often attempt in melodic style (thanks to Bill Keith, who recorded it with Bill Monroe back in the 1960's).
Once you have the mechanics of the scale down, you have to have the melody in your head. If you're not working from someone else's arrangement via tab, it can be a painstaking process.
For bluegrass vocal tunes, melodic style isn't needed very often to capture the song's melody as these melodies don't move fast enough - Scruggs style tends to be just fine. But there are melodic licks that you can insert in any song if you're improvising. Melodic is great for fiddle tunes and even Bach, if you're adventurous.
Is there a specific song you're interested in working up, Bob?
Yes, you are right on track. First off, you can improvise using the melodic style but sooner or later, I know that I would want to head back to something that's roll-based, if for no other reason that to catch my breath. At some point, I'll definitely create a lesson that discusses how to create long flowing melodic-style licks. For now, here's a huge hint - in the key of G, when you head to a C chord, try to include an F instead of an F# in whatever you're playing. Then when the progression heads to a D or D7, go back to the F#. This will work for most major key bluegrass songs (but not for bluesy oriented things!). Try this and see if it works! All the best, Bill
What key for Deep Elem Blues? :)
All the best,
I look forward to a lesson that discusses how to create long flowing melodic-style licks. In the meantime, when you're playing a tune in the Key of G and the tune changes to a C major chord, can you continue to play in or around the melody using notes in the G major scale or should you switch to notes in the C major scale?
Thanks for your cheerful enthusiasm! It does pump up us students and gives us a little more confidence tacking things. Really appreciate you sharing your knowledge!
I like how you teach us to learn the melody and then add rolls to it. I have been looking for this kind of instruction for a long time. Do you think that it is possible you could teach us country roads by John Denver in the future? Also , can you have a discussion on how to have a very productive and structured practice time. Thank you so much !
I know it's a cliché but a lesson on Duelling Banjos would be great (with a play-along with Scott N). Particularly how to break-down the second part into manageable learning chunks.
Editor and Co-Founder
In the meantime I am working on "Foggy Mountain Special" Thanks.
Thanks for practicing using a strap! It makes sense to do this whether you're sitting or standing as it helps to balance the instrument. You don't want to be using your fretting hand to also be supporting the weight of the neck.
You might want to try adjusting the strap upwards a bit (in other words, make it shorter). This might position the banjo so that it's naturally tilting upwards just enough for you to see the chords. This comes easy for those of us with "Dunlop's Disease," like me (what's Dunlop's Disease you ask? That's where your belly done laps over your belt!!).
But...seriously! My advice is not to tilt the banjo too much to see the fretboard. Many players actually play by not looking at the fretboard in this way but they keep track of where they are on the banjo neck using the position dots that are on the top of the neck. For those first down the neck chords you learn, this isn't needed, of course.
Try getting used to the feel of each chord and the movement of fingers and it's always fine to look at your fretting hand while you're playing, but don't tilt too much. With practice, your fingers will automatically go to where they need to go without you having to look directly down upon the fretboard.
Keep practicing and it'll happen!
I continue to enjoy these lessons and as a native from NC of course you can never go wrong with Earl Scruggs. I hope everything is going great for you and your family. See you at banjo camp!! I really love when you are showing how to find the melodies for I am definitely ear challenged:)
Thanks for providing these banjo lessons. I have learned a lot in a short amount of time due to your attention to detail by going over each tune note by note and measure by measure. I've been playing mandolin over 15 years and have made the 5 string banjo my new brain game. It's helps that I know most of the songs you teach so I have them in my DNA, now it's getting the finger rolls to brain communication wired in.
I am so happy to have found your teaching style so accessible and can put it to application in our jam group "The Cedar Street Boys" here in Auburn, CA.
We have been looking for a banjo sound for sometime, so I figured what the hell just do it. It adds a whole new element to our sound, now I just have to manage my practice time so I don't lose my mandolin skills along the way.
Thank You and keep the lessons coming. Do you ever play around the Auburn/Grass Valley/Nevada city area?
Just spent the week with you at Camp Bluegrass and am very interested in this course. What is your recommendation about how to get started in the course, are there different levels? really enjoyed your playing at the camp, what a great experience for me.
It was great seeing you at Camp Bluegrass this year and thanks for this great question. I'd begin on the Bluegrass Track by making sure you're familiar with the material presented in the roll patterns and the Essential Earl down-the-neck licks sections. You could then try and tackle Earl's version of "Fireball Mail," which puts many basic techniques to good use and then move on to "Dixie Breakdown" for a bit of up-the-neck passing chord work. The forward-roll backup lessons are also going to be really useful for playing in jam sessions.
Try this sequence and let me know how it's going - and thanks for being a part of the PN banjo community!
I finally got signed up. It was a genuine honor to meet you the past couple of years at the Midwest Banjo Camp. My very best to you and your family. I really hope our paths cross again.
All the best,
I am enjoying the lessons! I like your cheery encouraging style! Thinking of a song I would like to learn. I'll come up with one. :)
Thanks so much.
These lessons are fun. Is your ending lick on Turkey in the Straw play along on a tab you have handed out in a class? I could not find it. If not it would be nice here. Ever consider doing an intro lick/ending lick class? There are a lot scattered through these lessons but it might be interesting to see what a bunch of them all together with examples of how to use them.
Love your teaching style and the course is very easy to follow. I just got finished learning the module on "Cripple Creek" and am wondering how I can learn to play that song (and I guess, any song) a bit faster. Your "up to tempo" version at the end of the fourth video is great; does playing like that just take time or is there anything I can do to learn to play faster?
I wouldn't start using a metronome to increase speed on a song until you can already play the song smoothly, at a slow speed, without interruption. However, most all of us can hit the ground running now with the metronome by using it in warm ups with roll patterns.
Another option is to seek out the play along tracks on the Peghead Nation website, where guitarist Scott Nygaard provides rhythmic accompaniment. Several individuals are now also offering online backing tracks at various speeds. Google "bluegrass backing tracks" and see what comes up.
I hope these recommendations help! Remember to practice at a speed where it's sounding good and as you try to increase tempo, work on those specific small parts of the tune that are giving you trouble.
All the best,
Yesterday I heard Loretta Lynn's song Blue Kentucky Girl and noticed it was all banjo background to her singing. This would be a nice slower song to learn to play. Still having fun playing.
finally signed up for your Bluegrass Banjo course and am very happy with it. I am currently working on Big Sciota. I love that tune. There is one part of the tune I always get stuck. And that is the part where the role pattern is turning from forward to backward roll. Do you have any ideas how to practice that, maybe in combination with scale workouts?
Love your teaching method very much!
Many greetings from Heidelberg, Germany (and from Alex, too!)
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