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Banjo Lessons: “The Watermill”

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[MUSIC]
That was Monty Python's said For
Something Completely Different.
This is a tune called The Watermill,
and there's a whole style of banjo playing
that is called parlor, well some people
call the parlor style, most people call it
the classic style of banjo playing.
And it's the kind of banjo playing that
was being done at the turn of the century
between the 1800s and the 1900s.
Right around the time Edison's cylinders
were coming in.
And people were playing, in those days,
marches like classical music,
ragtime music.
And this finger picking, it was the first
kind of finger picking that was being done
on a banjo in any official way.
And finger picking started on the banjo in
the 1860s,
there was a man named Frank Converse that
had a book.
There was mostly this minstrel style of
banjo playing and
on page it was kind of what we today call
claw hammer style.
It was based on that.
Or I mean the minstrel led to claw hammer,
I should say.
And on page 37 of this book by Frank
Converson, I think it was 1860,
he had what was called the guitar style,
which was fingerpicking.
The first time fingerpicking appeared in
print.
People were surely doing it before that,
but it was the first official mention of
fingerpicking on the banjo.
And initially it was kind of a moving away
from the more rhythmic aspects of, of
the minstrel style, and the move towards a
Europeanization of banjo playing.
And some very sweet music started coming
out of this and
originally the banjo was a fretless
instrument.
But they started adding frets around the
1860s because people wanted to play
fancier things and this Europeanization,
like I said.
This light classical music that was being
played meant that you needed to be able to
move farther up the neck and know where
you were going.
And so, at the as things started moving
towards the turn of the century,
it became fashionable for ladies of good
breeding to play a musical instrument.
They might play the flute, or the guitar,
or the piano.
For those women that, at least this is how
it was explained to me.
For those women who smoked cigarettes,
rode bicycles, and had tattoos,
they would be the ones to play the banjo.
And say, as I said, some of the very first
Edison cylinders featured banjo music.
A man named Fred Van Eps was one of the
leading lights,
as was another gentleman named Vess
Ossman.
And they were dressing up in tuxedos and
taking this instrument very seriously.
But today's standards the music sounds a
little bit on the quaint side.
But it's, it's a wonderful area to explore
and
there's a organization called the American
Banjo Fraternity.
There's no hazing done you can just join
up and learn some of this wonderful music.
You have to be able to read music,
however.
Because it's not written out in tablature,
although there are some indications where
you would put your fingers.
But I've taken a tune called, The
Watermill, from this style.
This is actually a slightly later tune.
It's it a, appears in a book from 1923.
The book was written by a man named
Septimus Winner.
And you'll be a winner when you know how
to play this tune.
And again, it's some completely different
from Bluegrass but
I just wanna throw this in here to give
you a, a different flavor and
to show you that there are different
things you can do on the banjo.
So let me play it once through and then
we'll talk about what's going on.
[MUSIC]
And it goes on from there.
[MUSIC]
And you notice we're moving a little bit
farther up the neck right now, because I
wanna get you used to being up here and,
and we'll be talking more about going up
the neck later but.
Another thing that you're doing is you're,
Septimus, old Septimus has a s,
starting on the fifth string.
[SOUND] Hitting it twice in a row with the
thumb.
If you've noticed so far, unless you're
doing a quarter note,
you're always alternating fingers.
[MUSIC]
With all these rolls you're never using
the same finger twice in a row to hit a
string when you're playing eighth notes.
And that's particularly true in Bluegrass
because if you're playing these faster
tempos it would really slow you down to
use the same finger.
There are some more slow to medium tempo
tunes that,
where you will, occasionally use a, you'll
double a right hand finger.
But here it's all bets are off and you can
use the thumb twice on the fifth string.
[SOUND] That's a little lead into the
downbeat.
[SOUND] And this is in the key of C so
even though it just says to just fret the
second fret of the first string,
I want you to have your index down on the
first fret of the second string as well.
[MUSIC]
And
then move the ring up to the third fret of
the first string.
[MUSIC]
Now we're on the G seventh.
[MUSIC]
Add the index on the second fret of
the third string,
while you hold this ring down on the third
fret of the first string.
[MUSIC]
It's a very pretty sound.
[MUSIC]
Back to C.
[MUSIC]
Hold that index down on the C.
[MUSIC]
G seventh.
Here's that lick again.
[MUSIC]
And you repeat that.
That's the first ending.
So, and for the first ending what you do
is you play through to the first ending,
and then go to the repeat sign at the end
of the first measure.
And then go through and play it again,
skipping the first ending but
playing the second ending.
So let me do the two A parts.
[MUSIC]
Now at that point you're gonna jump up to
the B part, and
jump up to the tenth fret of the first
string which is quite a jump from here.
[MUSIC]
So
I'm using the pinky because that gives you
the most economy of motion.
If you're using the index you really gotta
jump.
[MUSIC]
So I go ten,
ten [SOUND] To the index on the seventh
fret of the first string.
[SOUND] I'm using my middle finger,
just using it twice back to the two fifth
strings.
[MUSIC]
Back to the two and you're on C so, again,
I'm, even though it doesn't indicate it,
have your index down on the first fret of
the second string.
[MUSIC]
Back to C.
[SOUND] Pinky.
[SOUND] Index.
[SOUND] Fifth string.
[SOUND] Pinky again.
[SOUND] Go to the ring, twice.
[SOUND] To the index.
[SOUND] Open fifth string.
[SOUND] And it repeats.
[MUSIC]
Notice again, I'm moving my right hand a
little bit.
Just I just feel it, I can't explain why
I'm doing that but, trying to get a,
a slightly sweeter tone, tone on some of
these notes.
So let me play it one more time.
Again, it's quaint music but it's
beautiful and
it's a nice way to get a different angle
on the banjo.
[MUSIC]