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Banjo Lessons: “Watermill”

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[MUSIC]
Now
as Monty Python 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 it 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 Cylinders
were coming in.
And people were playing in those days
marches like classical music,
ragtime music.
And this fingerpicking, it was the first
kind of finger picking that was being done
on a banjo in any official way.
And fingerpicking 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 kinda what we today call
clawhammer style, it was based on that.
Or, I mean, the minstrel led to
clawhammer, I should say.
And on page 37 of this book by Frank
Converse in, 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
a move towards 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 in 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 to 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.
And 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.
By 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 appears in the book from 1923.
The book was written by a man named
Septimus Winner.
And you will be a winner when you know how
to play this tune.
And again, it's some pl, 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 us 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.
[MUSIC]
That's a little lead in to the down beat.
[MUSIC]
And this is in the key of C, so
even though it 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 onto 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.
[SOUND] It's a very pretty sound.
[MUSIC]
Back to C.
[MUSIC]
Hold that index down on the C.
[MUSIC]
G seventh.
[MUSIC]
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]
And 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.
[SOUND] So I'm using the pinky, because
that gives you the most economy
[NOISE] of motion and if you're using the
index you really gotta jump.
[SOUND]
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.
Pinky.
[SOUND] Index.
[SOUND] Fifth string.
[SOUND] Pinky again.
[SOUND] Go to the ring [NOISE] twice
[NOISE] to the index.
[SOUND] Open fifth string.
[MUSIC]
And that 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, it's, quaint music but it's
beautiful and
it's a nice way to get a different angle
on the banjo.
[MUSIC]