Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ending endings month

Endings Month

I've gotten a lot of understanding out of endings month. I haven't had time to blog about everything I've learned as I dedicated this month to a study of endings on the 5-string banjo. Among the things I've learned about but haven't blogged about:

  • Shave-and-a-haircut ending. Now, don't tell me that you don't already know exactly what I'm talking about. All right, if you must have an example, here's Jackie Phelps on the banjo as one of Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys, showing us (at about 2:25 on) what I'm talking about with Roanoke:

  • Amen ending. That's ending with a plagal cadence, which is a IV-to-I cadence. For an example go to church.
  • Ending after ending after ending. You'll find no better example than Roy Clark wrapping up the Pickin' and a Grinnin' segment each week on Hee Haw. Roy layered on one ending after another. Start at 1:38.

But even endings month must come to an end. Thanks for joining me. See you in January for beginnings month.

Cross-posted at J.R.'s Banjo Hangout blog

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Endings month: Abrupt novelty ending

Endings Month

I can't complete endings month without mentioning one of my favorite novelty endings: The Smothers Brothers singing Hangman, from 0:00 to 0:42 on this video:

That's similar to the ending that Johnny Cash used in 25 Minutes to Go at 2:24.

I'm not sure what musical lesson can be learned from all of this.

Cross-posted at J.R.'s Banjo Hangout blog

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Banjo versus TV week 94: Update on the little plastic foot

A check-in on the Banjo versus TV project — J.R.'s ongoing plan to spend more time on his banjo than on TV. This post covers 12/13/2009 through 12/19/2009.
Banjo 589 hrs, TV 526 hours

It's been a slow week so this is a good time to follow up on something.

Remember how, back in September, I put a little plastic foot on my banjo to train my right ring finger to maintain its position? It's been going really well. I can really feel it when my finger slips off of the disk and my right hand foundation has been improving.

I did make one change from my original plan: I got rid of that crescent-shaped plastic foot...

I'm no longer using this crescent-shaped plastic foot...

...and replaced it with a circular foot.

...because the circular one is better.

Things I learned at this week's banjo lesson:

  • David showed me a bunch of variations on a common ending lick. I'll be posting more about that as endings month continues.
  • David recommends Killer Tone, an 80-minute DVD by Steve Huber about banjo setup. I've placed it on my Amazon wish list.

    Steve Huber - Killer Tone

Cross-posted at J.R.'s Banjo Hangout blog

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Last week to order Band Geek Hero shirts

According to the banner at

...this is the last week to order Band Geek Hero t-shirts, including the Banjo Hero t-shirt (which I just now ordered).

Here's a selection of patterns from the Band Geek Hero line:

If you like one of these you'd better order it by Sunday December 27th at 11:59 PM EST, which their Facebook page says is when the shirts will be gone forever.

Cross-posted at J.R.'s Banjo Hangout blog

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Santa Tracker: 88.7 percent

Christmas isn't a season. It's a feeling. - Edna Ferber

Shh! Don't tell the people who we're meeting after Christmas that we haven't got some of their presents yet.

But the rest of them are good to go! (And it's not even Christmas Eve!)

Endings month: Ending on the 7

Endings Month

Here's a variation on the end-the-song-by-returning-to-the-tonic trick: end-the-song-by-returning-to-the-7-of-the-tonic trick

So if your song is in G you bring it back to G at the end, but you slap on a G7 for the final note(s). Or if you're in Bb, end it in Bb with a Bb7. And so on.

It's kind of a bluesy thing to do, so let's look to Robert "King of the Delta Blues Singers" Johnson to show us the way in Sweet Home Chicago at 2:48 in.

And for another example of this technique it's Sweet Home Chicago again, this time by The Blues Brothers with an ending at 3:30.

Cross-posted at J.R.'s Banjo Hangout blog

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Santa Tracker: 71.4 percent

The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.

One of the benefits of living in a big city: the post office on Harrison Street is open until midnight.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Endings month: Slowing down

Endings Month

This is a simple ending trick but it requires you to make sure you have everyone on the same page before you do it: slowing down.

It's a popular ending for train songs, giving the audience the feel of a train slowing down. Bob & Rose Savoy use this ending starting around 1:45 into Ruben's Train:

It's not just for train songs. It's also good for hymns and for just-plain-songs like Reno and Smiley's Talk of the Town (at 2:12):

Cross-posted at J.R.'s Banjo Hangout blog

Santa Tracker: 67.7 percent

At Christmas play and make good cheer, For Christmas comes but once a year. - Thomas Tusser, The Farmer's Daily Diet

Shopped locally, if by "locally" one means "by driving around the suburbs".

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Friday, December 18, 2009

Someday/maybe list

Selected items that are on my GTD someday/maybe list, which I'm reviewing because we're coming up on the end of a quarter:

  • Repair seat in car
  • Learn to play mandolin
  • Learn to play ukulele
  • Learn to play harmonica
  • Take Chicago architecture tour
  • Look into ways to prevent the interference from iPhone when you connected to 12v car adapter
  • Dance lessons
  • Look for Gasoline Alley comic strip for January 1st 1991 or so, featuring the new year playing a banjo
  • Learn to shuffle cards
  • Get screen protector for digital cameras
  • Learn to play Cuban box drum
  • Add Wachet Auf by Johann Sebastian Bach to my list of songs I want to learn on the banjo
  • Learn to roll Rs
  • Find a T-shirt that says, 1 fish, 2 fish, red fish, blue fish
  • Research Sunni and Shiite differences
  • Costume idea: Thanos playing the banjo with the Infinity Gauntlet
  • Take more vocal lessons
  • Vacation in Napier, New Zealand, the Art Deco capital of the world

Anyone got any someday/maybe items of their own?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Endings month: Remember variety

Endings Month

An important lesson that my banjo instructor, David, emphasized when we were discussing my endings month project: Remember the variety. Don't just play the same ending for song after song.

I'll illustrate, but first I'd like to apologize to Barry Scott and Second Wind for using them as an example of what not to do. Sorry, guys. But you did put yourselves out there on YouTube.

So here's what not to do. Two years ago YouTube user wright98 posted several recordings of Barry Scott and Second Wind. Listen to what they play at 2:27 into I'm Waiting To Hear You Call Me Darling...

...and 2:40 into I Want To Live Beyond The Grave...

...and 2:27 into Oh What A Day.

It's the same ending lick. All three times.

These guys have great rhythm and wonderful voices but — just judging from this small sample set from 2007 — their single way of ending makes them come off as unpolished and repetitive.

When you're jamming or especially if you're doing a set on stage, make sure you vary your endings.

Cross-posted at J.R.'s Banjo Hangout blog

Endings month: A cappella endings

Endings Month

Here's an easy ending trick that works well for songs with meaning: the a cappella ending. Basically you drop the instruments and just sing.

Some options:

A demonstration of that first option at 1:30 of the Austin Lounge Lizards singing One True God:

That's one of my favorite Austin Lounge Lizards songs. Unfortunately the first line — "You say your god is the one true god but my one god is the one true god..." — got clipped on that video.

Speaking of the Lounge Lizards's irreverence, here's another example of them doing a cappella for the first verse (0:28 to 1:18) and as a penultimate ending by repeating the last line (2:35 to 2:41). The ultimate ending is a banjo tag at 2:42.

Cross-posted at J.R.'s Banjo Hangout blog

Banjo versus TV week 93: Chicago Bluegrass & Blues Festival

A check-in on the Banjo versus TV project — J.R.'s ongoing plan to spend more time on his banjo than on TV. This post covers 12/06/2009 through 12/12/2009.
Banjo 587 hrs, TV 519 hours

I went to Chicago Bluegrass & Blues Festival at the Congress Theater. Not all of it, but a bunch of it.

There was a lot of good stuff which I'll get to in a moment, but let's start with the big disappointment: no jamming. We were promised jamming. See?

What can I bring, and what can't I bring in to the theater?
There's two things we strongly encourage you two bring: Chairs and Instruments. It's a long day, so bring your camping chairs to pop a squat on when your dogs are barkin', and there'll be an open jam session and picking circle from the second the doors open. Musicians are all invited to bring their instruments and participate. There’ll be an “instrument check” along with the coat check so that you don’t have to lug your noisemaker around with you all day.

But somebody dropped the ball. There was no open jam session and no picking circle. I tried to get some jamming started but there wasn't even a quiet corner in which I could gather the several people who brought instruments. What a bummer. I hope the organizers get it together for next year.

On to the good stuff. The best part of the night, for me, was learning about slap-style instrument play from Lucy, a hula hoop vendor and drummer from Hawaii. Here she is, using my Nechville banjo to illustrate:

Lucy at Chicago Bluegrass & Blues Festival

Yeah, it was a dark (and noisy) hallway. But her slap style of play sounded AWESOME!

What she was doing was similar to a slap bass guitar technique that Chrisophe Godin teaches, but Lucy uses her whole left hand while Christophe mostly uses his thumb.

Anyway: Sounded great. I'm going to learn more. Stay tuned.

The rest of the good stuff: act after act after act. Here's a smattering of photos to show you what I mean:

Chicago Bluegrass & Blues Festival 2009 schedule Eddie 'The Chief' Clearwater at Chicago Bluegrass & Blues Festival (1) Environmental Encroachment at Chicago Bluegrass & Blues Festival (12) Environmental Encroachment at Chicago Bluegrass & Blues Festival (15) Environmental Encroachment at Chicago Bluegrass & Blues Festival (17) Emmitt-Nershi Band at Chicago Bluegrass & Blues Festival (4) Holy Ghost Tent Revival at Chicago Bluegrass & Blues FestivalJPG (4) Holy Ghost Tent Revival at Chicago Bluegrass & Blues FestivalJPG (5) Béla Fleck and the Flecktones at Chicago Bluegrass & Blues Festival (4) Béla Fleck and the Flecktones at Chicago Bluegrass & Blues Festival (7) Béla Fleck and the Flecktones at Chicago Bluegrass & Blues Festival (11) Jaik Willis at Chicago Bluegrass & Blues Festival (3) Jaik Willis at Chicago Bluegrass & Blues Festival (7)

The night's big headliner was Béla Fleck & the Flecktones, but I have to admit that I missed most of their main stage performance in favor of the act playing on the pavillion stage: Holy Ghost Tent Revival. I figured that (a) I've got tickets for Béla and his crew for their February show at the Old Town School and (b) Holy Ghost Tent Revival was really terrific! I mean it. They've got this incredible mix of electric bass, drums, guitar, 5-string banjo and trombone that's full of energy. It's a mix of different musical styles that reminded me of both Squirrel Nut Zippers and riverboat banjo jazz.

I didn't miss all of Béla Fleck's stuff. After the Holy Ghost Tent Revival performance and after I purchased the HGTR's two CDs...

Holy Ghost Tent Revival - Family Holy Ghost Tent Revival - So Long I Screamed

...I joined the huge crowd in the main room in time to see Alash, a Tuvan throat singing group travelling with the Fleck brigade. The raw strength of the throat singing is hard to describe. Here's a video I found of a show from Christmas Eve of last year that will give you a feel for it:

I also caught Béla Fleck wrapping up his part of the show with my favorite thing that he does: beautiful Scruggs-style banjo play. (I must admit that Béla Fleck's jazzy stuff leave me cold. It's a little too John Tesh for my tastes.)

All-in-all it was a nice evening. This is an annual event and I'm sure they'll do it again next year. Hope there'll be jamming.

Also in the last week:

Cross-posted at J.R.'s Banjo Hangout blog