playing with banjo?

Discussion in 'Music Theory [DB]' started by D McCartney, Aug 28, 2005.

  1. D McCartney

    D McCartney crosswind downwind bass

    Aug 1, 2005
    Tacoma WA
    I hope this is the right forum for this question.
    I have always thought that I had pretty good timing, I love playing with piano, mando, fiddle, guitars, horns etc. But when I play with some banjo players, something about their playing just throws me completely off. :help: It is especially bad if they are playing very fast. I think part of it is that they run all their notes together :eek: and it becomes hard to hear a melody. Is this me or does anyone else ever encounter that? Are there any techniques to improve my listening to know what they are doing?
  2. Just a thought to cheer you up? - you might have good time but they may not - it happens and you wonder if it's you but in my experience some (not all) folkies - singer songwriters holding a guitar in particular - don't have a steady pulse running through their playing. I'd try listening to the players concerned without you playing and just seing if you can hear a beat. However, I hardly ever run into banjo players.
  3. From my little experience with banjo players i´ve learned that banjo ( especially bluegrass banjo ) is not an easy instrument to play in good steady time, because of the picking technique.
    It takes a lot of shedding to master the "banjo roll" with thumb and finger picks. But if you listen to good bluegrass players, there´s nothing wrong with their time or pulse.

    I was in the studio last week, recording music for a new tv show. It was banjo, piano and me on bass. The title tune was a kind of combination of ragtime piano and bluegrass banjo. Keeping time was a trial-and-error thing, but I think I finally got it together, because the guys were so great. It´s under mixing right now, but I´ll ask for permission to put it up to Sampler page when I get my copy.

  4. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    There may be a few things going on here.

    Most banjo rolls are triplet based which is syncopated against the 2/4 pulse of most bluegrass.

    Soloists in bluegrass often play AHEAD of the beat as an effect. As bassist you are expected to stay right on the beat which can be uncomfortable if it's just banjo and bass playing.
  5. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    I haven't played with a banjo player yet that doesn't rush like a bitch.
  6. Five string banjo, like any other instrument, can be played well, with good time and rhythm, or it can be played poorly. About twenty years ago I played with a phenomenal banjo player who was seriously into jazz as well as bluegrass (and lots of other stuff.) Ever heard Giant Steps played on a five string? He blew Bela Fleck away first time they met, they spent a lotta time together whenever possible after that.
    Some time ago I sent Damon a cd for the sampler page, dunno what happened, maybe he decided not to put any of it up because it's so old... This guy is worth listening to if only as a curiosity.

    Edit: That last paragraph reads like I'm slagging Damon, which was certainly not my intention. He'll put some of that stuff on the Sampler page when he has time.
    We don't often enough express appreciation for the time and effort he spends hosting our music.
    So, thanks Damon!!
  7. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    It's true that there are probably a lot of rushing banjo players out there. That's related to the large number of beginners and under-developed players in 'grass and roots music.

    I've been lucky enough to play with some guys with excellent time and once they get that finger-picking really under control they can sound like machine guns or a military snare drummer.

    In Scruggs-style banjo, the melody should be quite discernable but it's going to have a lot of syncopated sh*t going on around it as the fingers fly. A player unskilled in that style could generate a lot of meaningless expression if they aren't taking care of business the way Earl did, with a clear statement of the melody. Also, the very syncopation of it -- even if done well -- can be a bit disorienting.

    Make sure you're working together with your mandolin player and/or guitarist. In bluegrass the bass works with those guys to create the equivalent of a drum kit. Are your rhythm partners also having trouble with the banjo player? If so, you gotta work with the banjo player. If not, maybe you've gotta spend some time shedding with a metronome.

    Does it only happen at very fast tempos? Bluegrass has got some ridiculously fast counts and it's really easy to turn the beat around at those speeds...
  8. Ric Vice

    Ric Vice Supporting Member

    Jul 2, 2005
    Olivette, Missouri
  9. D McCartney

    D McCartney crosswind downwind bass

    Aug 1, 2005
    Tacoma WA
    Thanks to all. I should say there are some banjo players who give me no trouble at all, delightful to play with. Sync isn't a problem, but playing ahead of the beat may be, if it is going so fast that I can't tell. I will watch for it. But hearing what the solo banjo is doing may be the biggest part of it for me. (do they get paid by the note?) :eyebrow: For bluegrass, rhythmically, I try to be the bass drum/metronome, and play off of the mando and guitar.
    Will copy and paste all the ideas here and re-read.
    I know some don't, but I actually like practice with metronome, a great way to improvise.
    Thanks again.
    Dwight McCartney
  10. Mike Goodbar

    Mike Goodbar Supporting Member

    Jun 6, 2001
    Charlotte, NC
    Edgar Meyer and Bela Fleck don't seem to have too big a problem with it (though if you watched the "Obstinato" DVD that came with "Music for Two," you'd think otherwise. After the tour, Bela dropped by Edgar's house, and they were joking around. Edgar told Bela to ask him how he like playing together. So Bela asked, and Edgar replied, "We never did!").


    Aug 26, 2005

    That's true, though the bass must be in absolutely the same pocket as the guitarist or the whole band goes to hell. As for ridiculously fast counts and getting the beat turned around, you should try playing bass for Frank Wakefield, who deliberately tuns the beat around right in the middile of many of his compositions. I point to his compositions, "Mexican Stomp" and "Bluegrass Band No.1" In the former, the head goes about 180 miles an hour and then the bridge goes into a waltz-time (although some of his bassists have actually done the bridge with a reggae beat), then off at 180 miles an hour again. Similarly, in "Bluegrass Band No. 1" the whole tune just stops suddenlyright in the middle, with a 3-second silence, followed by a G-run from the guitarist and the whole band takes off in another direction. But since Frank is the finest mandolin player in the world, you can be certain he's never lost or out of time. But that is what is expected of the bassist in his band.....(its also a good idea to work out and get in good physical shape before going onstage with him, as he plays at breakneck speed most of the time, unless he slows down to play a blues tune). But whatever happens up there, you've got to be in total synchronization with the guitarist in any BG group.....
  12. This has been my experience. I've played with guys who try to play too much and too fast and all of a sudden it is the musical equivalent of Tourette's Syndrome. When that happens, I just try to lock in with the guitar and especially the mandolin and we can usually keep it between the ditches until the banjoseizure ends.