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Banjo Lessons: Scruggsy Improvisation

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not too early to start talking about
In other words as you go along in, in
especially in these lessons here.
You're going to find things written out
exactly note for note in a certain way but
right off the bat I'd like you start
thinking about how can you change things?
How can you put some of your own
personality into things and it's, it's,
you're speaking a language basically.
When you're a little baby you learn a
word, you learn a second word, and
you're just saying certain things but
almost immediately you start working the
words in different ways.
And the same thing here, you're learning
certain licks, certain rolls,
certain patterns, and how can you mix and
match these.
So right off the bat.
With Boil them Cabbage Down, as I had you
First with alternating thumb on the Gs and
then forward backward on the C.
I'm sorry, alternating thumb on the Gs.
Forward backward on the D seventh.
Alternating on the G.
Forward backward roll on the C.
Alternating, alternating.
Well, if we flip the alternating thumb and
the forward backward rolls, you get an
So, in other words, now, instead of doing
alternating thumb on the G,
we'll do a forward backward roll on the G.
And then two alternating thumbs on the C.
Forward backward on G,
alternating thumb on the D seventh.
The same on the G with a forward backward
role, alternating thumb on the C.
And then a forward backward.
On the G, D seventh.
So the first way I had shown you with the,
I'll play them both back to back so you
can get a feel of how these sound.
Alternating some on the G's, forward, back
roll in C and D seventh.
Now let's flip them, and
we'll have the forward backward roll on G.
The alternating thumb on C and D seventh.
I almost like that second way better.
But anyway it's, it's a fairly easy way to
do things.
And maybe you could just switch, rather
than doing the forward backward roll on,
on the C and D seventh, just do it on the
And do an alternating thumb on the D
You can just mix and match with rolls
right off the bat.
Just think of all the different variations
you can do on this.
Let's say you're doing.
Very small improvisational.
All you need to do is change one note and
that's an improvisation.
Just to get you started, it's not such a
bad idea.
Just try changing one note.
So, if you're doing alternating thumb on
the D seventh.
Instead of hitting the third sting both
times to start the roll.
You can start with the.
Do the first alternating thumb on
D seventh with the third, second, fifth,
and first.
And the second time, start on the fourth
Just change that one note.
So you have an alternating,
alternating thumb roll.
Third, fourth.
You get that nice low D note,
which really helps bring out the flavor of
that D chord.
So put that in to the context of Boil them
Cabbage Down.
We'll do forward backward roll on G,
alternating thumb on D, on C and
D seventh.
But on the D we'll go to that lower note.
gonna talk a little more about
improvisation right now,
and to do that we're gonna use the
template of Nine Pound Hammer,
Nine Pound Hammer's a really important
tune in the bluegrass canon.
I believe this was also done by Bill and
Charlie Monroe back in the thirties.
And I'm sure before them also other folks
were doing it.
So I'm gonna just play you Nine Pound
Hammer and
again I'm trying to play the syllables
here as closely as possible.
And then we'll deconstruct it and put in
different licks so I can show you ways
you can improvise using that basic
framework of Nine Pound Hammer
So you have.
That's literally playing the syllables.
Why you roll so slow?
How can I roll?
When the wheels won't go?
I want to apologize for that high note.
I, I'm sorry it wasn't a little purer.
One thing you're gonna do here.
There are couple things I want to point
out just about this before we get into
the improvisation.
When you're hitting that second fret
of the fourth string.
It's another opportunity to get,
to get the separation of notes, even
though you're hitting that.
Second fret of the fourth string twice in
a row with a, one note between them.
You could just easily leave them down but
it, it's a little,
little punchier to just let go and bring
it back down.
As opposed to.
it's a good opportunity to use some
separation of notes.
The other thing I want to point out is.
This business at the end of the first
This business right here.
We take the top part of the F position G
chord this is an Earl trick, this is
something I didn't pick up till much
later, cuz you can just go
Hit the second fret of the first string,
and then maybe pinch the out strings
But it's punchier.
I first heard, heard Earl Scruggs do that
in a version he played
of Swing Low Sweet Chariot with Bill
Monroe in the Grand Ole Opry.
I heard him do that and thought,
man, that is cool.
So you,
you have the same notes that you have two
to zero on the first string.
But here he's doing five to three on the
second string.
And he has the pinky down on the fifth
fret of the first string.
So you get the double pinch there.
I just wanted to point those two things
Now, how can we mess around with this a
little bit.
And turn things around and make it a
little more interesting.
One little thing you can do.
Hold a nine pound hammer,
instead of hammer
You go ham and
then just do two forward rolls.
Quarter note, two forward rolls.
And the way I have this in the tablature,
I have the numbers of the measures, and
then what lick would go into those
So, right now this
Lick, that's replacing the second measure.
Oh the nine pound hammer.
And then Everything else continues on as
before Another thing you could do,
you could replace measure two and three
with this lick.
I'm sorry.
You could do.
Or a nother lick you could do, and
this would replace measure three, and
this is a lick that comes from the playing
of Bobby Thompson.
Who was one of my all time banjo heroes.
Who was doing the melodic style back in
the 50s.
And without digressing too far I'll just
say you should check him out.
Go to and there's some
music available there.
So anyway, this is I'm going to stick this
lick into measure three which at
the moment is
Instead of playing that we're gonna go.
It's combining a Scruggs and
a melodic approach.
So it'll sound like this put together.
Another thing
you can do in measures ten and eleven is
just stack up three forward sorry,
alternating thumb rolls with a slide.
And it'll sound like this.
Okay here we go.
So just stick those two measures in and,
it will give you a nice little flavor.
And those, those are measures ten and 11.
Okay here's measures 11, 12, and 13.
You can throw this little passage in.
I set up a C seventh lick.
This is something that Earl does.
I, elsewhere in these in these lessons I
have Earl playing
Which is such a cool lick.
Where he's going backward,
backward, forward, backward, backward.
In this case it's all backward rolls.
And he's done this too in certain places.
In the measure that precedes it,
and again, this is for measures 11, 12,
and 13.
I just need a quarter note at the end of
measure eleven to set up the,
the C-seventh lick.
So let me put this in context.
Okay, and here's another substitute for
measures four and five.
Just a variation on the C chord.
This is a nice thing to be aware of just
in general.
This is a really good kind of back up
thing to do.
There's a little motion going on but it's
not too in your face so,
when you're playing backup and need a
couple of measures of C,
this is a nice thing you could stick in
there as well as well as using as a solo.
So here we're replacing measures 4 and 5.
excuse me, that's leaving the open first
You can also fret the first string at the
second fret and
have almost the same sound but just a
little fuller.
[SOUND] And it sounds like this.
Now for the C seventh,
we can do something that we just talked
about a little bit before this,
which is the double forward roll.
If you haven't checked that out yet,
look at that first before you do this.
And we're gonna use it on the C-ninth.
this will take the place of measures four
and five.
It's basically a C-chord with the pinky on
the third fret of the third string,
giving you a C-seventh.
Except you open up the first string.
Let go of your ring, [SOUND]
And you get a little bit of
a jazzy sound there, so here it is in the
context of Nine Pound Hammer
And here,
another way of dealing with measures three
and four.
So it'll sound like this.
Okay here's the last lick we're going to
insert into Nine Pound Hammer.
Little melodic touch.
it'll just be a tag ending instead of
At the end you can go.
I'll play the whole thing one more time
with that at the end.
If you wanna get fancy,
Get a double pull off instead of
just going.
Just get into that position then pull off
of the pinkie.
Five to three on the first string.
So you have a pull off here.
And a pull off here.
So, now in each of these cases I;m
just taking one lick and substituting it
for the whole thing.
But you could actually throw in two or
three of these things in different
places and you know, change two or three
things or not.
So there are a lot of ways you can kind of
scramble this around.
So good luck with this and, just think if
you have some other C licks that you can
throw in double C licks, two major C licks
or two major D lick.
Or instead of going.
You could slide,
pull off, slide, pull off.
Think modularly in this case, with this
kind of improvising.
So that's the Nine Pound Hammer in the
improv mode.