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Mandolin Lessons: Big Man From Syracuse

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They had asked me to teach a tune,
called the Big Man From Syracuse.
It's a tune I wrote, actually,
and it is dedicated to our good friend,
Tony Trischka,
a great banjo wizard who was over there
teaching also with the same academy.
Tony has his own banjo school, and he and
I go back, gosh, at least 30 years or
more, and I'm just really admired him for
all he's done for the banjo.
Opening up, that instrument to so
many possibilities that folks could not
have dreamed of.
It's a pleasure to be working with him
here at the school.
So here's a, here's Tony's tune, it's
called the Big Man From Syracuse.
I just played you a little piece of it.
That was the A section, and of course,
I'll, I'll put up the sheet music for this
with the tablature.
Somewhere in this program, you'll get
access to that.
So, here's the A section.
It starts with a couple of pickup notes.
E and G.
And you'll notice, you know, I'm,
I'm strumming these, these, these chords.
As if they're,
they're really full blown chords.
And, you know, sometimes I add a little,
a little bit more than what's actually
written on the page.
I'll attempt to, to explain that.
All right, so that's your A section right
So it starts with two pickup notes.
And then an A note and a back beat.
These, these chords happen on back beats.
Almost like the whole tune is
functioning out of this idea that you've
got this steady groove going.
One, two, one, two, three.
So the second bar.
then at the third bar you're on a G chord,
so you play this B note.
A D note.
And, then a little line.
D, E, D, C, B, E, E, E.
And that is on the E, the E bar, bar 4.
Back on bar 5,
it's just like the beginning.
Slightly different line now,
bar six is a little bit different than bar
2, but they're related.
just a simple descending from the C note,
up down to the F-sharp, and back up.
Then you're on the bar 7.
That's a D chord,
so you're playing off of this F-sharp
Then bar 8 is a C chord, so
it's the same riff that you played in D.
Only now you're playing it in C.
Then you're on a D chord and you've got
these same kind of back beat things.
Now this is where I, I do a little slide.
Into the, the chord, so
I'm actually playing on the fourth string
from C to D.
That brings us all the way to bar, bar 11.
On bar 10 it's a scale up, and
arpeggio of a D, then an A-minor arpeggio.
Now this funny bar of two,
this song has a couple of odd meter things
in it that you want to pay attention to.
Bar 12 is a short bar.
Just has the two beats.
Then bar 13 is a, it says cut time there,
it's fourth, beat, four beats.
And I do the same thing on that bar,
I play the open D and I slide into the D.
For the, for the full, it's actually, a,
you could call it a three note, cuz you've
got the fretted D, the open D, and
the open A.
Then you got another 2-4 bar, bar 14.
Before coming into 15 with this
simple little A note with that same chord.
And another 2-4 bar.
Leading you into an E chord at the first,
the ending.
Here's where I just kinda keep time on
that E chord.
Just improvise rhythm.
And you repeat.
Back beats.
Bar 6, 7, 8,
9, 10, 11, 12,
13, 14, 15.
Here's the second ending,
improvised rhythm again.
then that brings us to the B section.
[COUGH] And it starts, now the B section
is is a lot of E chord on the,
on the B section.
And it's, it's as if we're going to the
five chord now and hanging out there for
a long time.
And to the A.
Back to the E.
There is a, there is a short bar on that,
on that second E chord, here at bar 27
that you have to watch out for.
But let me walk you through the melody
part of it.
There are two pickup notes.
G natural and G-Sharp.
Okay, that's the opening phrase.
I kind of slide into
that G-sharp just to give it a little of
that bluesy effect.
In bar 21.
There's our A chord, bar 24.
Here's, coming into 25.
One, two.
27 and 28.
27 is the short bar.
Here's bar 28.
So this is, this is you know?
It's got this bar of two, bar of four, bar
of two thing happening again.
Bar 27, 28, and 29.
So here, I'll go again, coming into 21.
One, two, one, two, three.
23, 24, 25,
26, 27, 28.
Three, four, one, two.
Here's 30, 31.
very similar, just repeating exactly what
the beginning phrases were.
But were gonna tag it with something
different here.
Okay, there's our tag.
And it's all over in E chord.
So, so.
It's a slide from the G natural into
the G-Sharp.
You see that little grace note in bar 30,
The little miniature note,
that's called a grace note.
It just means to slide into the G-sharp.
Again, getting that bluesy effect.
Now that's a, that's a funny bar.
Cuz that's a bar if.
You know, it's written bar 36 is a 3-4
Bar 37 is a 5-4 bar.
If you add those two up, they come to
eight, so it could have been written
a bar four a bar four, but it would have
looked funny with ties and everything.
So, we wrote it with a bar of three and a
bar of five.
Here's bar 36.
two, three, and one, two, three, one, two,
three, four, five.
Now we're into the what,
what's called the solo vamp.
Now we're into the,
what, what's called the solo vamp.
And this is all in 4-4.
And it's simply a G chord for two bars and
an A chord for two bars.
It's got a little melody here that's
playing off of an open G.
One of the rare moments in bluegrass
music where, where, we're playing around
with the major seventh interval of the,
of the, of the scale.
That sound.
[SOUND] That's a sort of a G-Major 7
really, but it's just in the melody.
[COUGH] It doesn't have to be played when
you're soloing over.
You have total freedom.
But I keep the low string ringing and, and
kind of I'm keeping time on the low
There's your A chord.
This couldn't have been written
out in a very complicated way.
I'll slow it way down and show you exactly
what I'm doing with the right hand.
One and two.
You know, so,
you could have written out every single
one of those G notes,
every time I go down there.
But we chose to keep, simplify it and just
give you the top line.
And let you fill in as you can with those
G notes, what feels comfortable,
rather, you know, properly it could have
been written with the, the low G notes
with the stems going down, and all of the
melody notes with the stems going up.
So, you're essentially playing like two
things at once.
But that seemed like it would be a little
bit of a rat's nest to look at.
So, we opted for the simplified,
written-out thing.
One, two, one, two, three.
you've got two other G notes after the
open D string.
Then, you could say you could play two G
notes at the top of the section.
One, two.
I'm dropping two in every time I have a
And your arm is swinging pretty free.
When you hit that A chord especially.
I really work it like I'm playing chords.
Here it's a little more restrained.
it's a little more attached to the, right
behind the bridge.
It's just grazing lightly.
So, that's your solo vamp section.
It goes four times.
And then, we go back to the A section,
play through the A, play through the B.
Next time we come to this solo vamp, we
actually hang out there for a good,
long time and each guy gets to take a
And the guy who's not playing the solo,
plays the vamp.
And the soloist gets to go wild.
I'm soloing now.
And, when I'm soloing,
I'm just thinking about being in G for the
G chord.
And then, begin an A.
So, I introduced that C-sharp.
When I'm in G, I'm kinda focusing more on.
The notes of that chord, G, D, and B.
Then A.
I'm focusing on the A,
you know, the A arpeggio and the A
That's pentatonic.
But I love the, the four is okay.
I love the flat 7 over that A, chord also.
So, it's very bluesy,
very open kind of blues, sound on both of
those chords.
Now, actually on the G, it's a major 7.
Because that's written into the,
the way the vamp works.
be sure to play F natural, F-sharps, when
you're playing on the G chord.
Then, when you get to the A chord.
It's an A, it's an A7.
The only note
that changes is that C-sharp, for the, for
the A chord, it becomes C-sharp.
For the G chord it's.
It's a C natural.
All right.
Then, we go back to the to the A sec, the
wha, the way we get out of this,
this solo section, is the soloist starts
playing the vamp.
And that's, that's a signal.
That's how we know that it's time to,
okay, he's done now.
He's playing the vamp or he plays a
harmony to it.
He or she.
And, it, it, it alerts the rhythm section
that okay, he's done.
He's heading back into the A section now.
So, let's assume that this is the last
time playing through the, the vamp.
do it one more time with the harmony.
Two, we come into the A.
Usually, play it twice.
I'll play the chords this time.
We hit this E chord, its a [INAUDIBLE],
second time.
Instead of the second ending, we jump to
the second page, we jump over to bar 42.
And we, we play for
four bars just an open E chord, kind of
decrescendoing as it's being held.
One, two, and we play this riff together.
we end with a dead stop right on that A
Here's that last phrase again.
It starts on beat four.
One, two, one, two, three.
I'll play it again one time real slow.
One, one, two, one and two.
All right, folks.
Hope you had fun with this thing.
I hope this this helps you break it down a
little bit, for
those of you who have scratched your head
with it.
There it is.