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Banjo Lessons: Separation of Notes

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[MUSIC]
I
wanna talk about something that's
extremely important to your overall sound,
and this will hold you in good stead for
as long as you play the banjo.
It's a term called separation of notes,
and
a guy named JD Crowe who's one of the
leading lights of.
Traditional, and slightly more progressive
than traditional, banjo playing.
Talks about this and when he talks about
this apparition of neal, of notes,
he means that every single note you play,
I mean every single note you play,
should be strong and clear and powerful.
Particularly in talking about bluegrass.
There might be a few exceptions to that
rule but generally that's the case.
It doesn't mean that every single note
will be equal.
It's sort of like Animal Farm if you ever
read that book or saw the movie.
All animals are equal.
But some are more equal than others, and
in terms of banjo playing, that means that
certain notes like melody notes will, will
jump out at you a little bit more.
[SOUND] I'm gonna give you an example.
I'm gonna play the alternating thumb slide
roll, and
I'm gonna do it two different ways.
Then I'll A-B them.
And I'll play A, then I'll play B, and you
just listen.
See what you think sounds better.
Here's A.
[MUSIC]
Here's B.
[MUSIC]
Now, which do you think?
Okay now I didn't, I say B.
And the thing is.
[SOUND] I'd say about 50% of the people I
teach, whether it be one on one or,
or in workshop situations, have problems
with this.
And it most often has to do with the first
string.
They're a little weak on the first string.
[MUSIC]
You can see them touching the string.
But it's just weak.
You're not hitting it very hard.
[MUSIC]
Cuz many times in Scruggs style,
the first string is just open.
[MUSIC]
To that point, the first string,
that's a tune called Fireball Mail.
Until you get to that note right there.
[MUSIC]
It's all the first string is just open.
[MUSIC]
And so
I think people feel well it's not that
important just to drone string.
[MUSIC]
But you need to hit it.
[MUSIC]
Not too hard, but.
[MUSIC]
Very clearly like that.
[MUSIC]
It gives you a lot more rhythmic vitality.
If you're not doing that,
and you're kind of quiet on the first
string, all you hear is the down beat.
[MUSIC]
Little bit plodding.
[SOUND]
When you get that first note, I'm sorry,
the first string going.
[MUSIC]
It kicks you into the downbeat.
It creates a syncopation.
Basically syncopation occurs when you
accent a note that you don't expect to be
accented.
You always expect the down beat to be.
[SOUND] The accent.
When you have a note bes, that's not that
way, for instance when Earl Scruggs plays.
Cripple Creek, he slides on the downbeat.
[MUSIC]
And in one of his variations, he goes.
[MUSIC].
So he slides on the downbeat.
One-
[MUSIC]
And two, and one, and two,
and then he goes, one and two, and one.
See?
Emphasizes the and, the upbeat which is,
it kind of catches you by surprise.
And in this case.
[MUSIC]
We emphasize that last note of the roll.
[MUSIC]
A little bit more.
That's a syncopation because you're
bringing out a little bit more than you
might ordinarily.
[MUSIC]
And that's in, it's,
if you count these notes as one.
[MUSIC]
See, one e and a.
You have the one and the and.
[MUSIC]
One, and.
But the notes between the.
Downbeat and the and are the e, let's see,
one e, and a.
The second and forth notes in the roll.
So we're emphasizing the a.
One E, and, a.
And it kind of kicks you into the
downbeat.
[MUSIC]
So that
string is very important even though you
are not playing a melody node on there.
You are not even fretting it.
It's just there.
[MUSIC]
And
you have to listen to yourself play this
because you may be completely un,
in fact if you are having this issue you
probably are completely unconscious of it.
And I've had students where I just sit and
say okay, try it again.
Try it again.
And after a minute or so,
they're getting it loud enough.
[MUSIC]
Cuz it feels really weird,
cuz you're used to playing it kind of
quietly.
Anyway, so that's, it's a really extremely
important issue.
And you'll always have to be self-vigilant
and make sure you're kinda backsliding and
hitting it too lightly.
[MUSIC]
[MUSIC]
Another aspect of the separation of notes,
and I'll be talking about this as I go on,
is sometimes.
[SOUND] Rather than letting a note ring
across.
And let's use the water mill that we just
played as an example.
[SOUND] Let's take the B part of the water
mell, mill.
We'll take the second ending of the A part
and go into the B part where it goes.
[MUSIC]
When we get to the 10,.
[MUSIC]
Rather than just holding it down.
[MUSIC]
I let go each time.
[MUSIC]
It punctuates a little bit more,
gives a little more definition, the
separation of notes.
They're not separated when we go.
[SOUND] But it's.
[SOUND] When you're playing eighth notes
it's a little harder to do but
I do it there a little bit too.
[MUSIC]
Just to make them jump out at you a little
bit more instead of going.
[MUSIC]
Going.
[MUSIC]
Just quickly letting go.
Separation of notes.
[MUSIC]