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Banjo Lessons: Straight Time vs. Bounce Time

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In 1976,
I was involved with a Broadway production
of a show called The Robber Bridegroom,
which was the first bluegrass musical that
there ever was.
And it's made many stops around the
country in more local theater companies.
Anyway, as I was learning the music from
the composer
he was asking me to play this line here.
His name's Bob Waldman, a great guy.
And he wanted to have his bluegrass music
all, and
most of it was just chords that we would
just roll over and do bluegrass on.
Just whatever we did.
But there's one thing, he wanted a
specific lick to be played,
or a passage, so I went.
And he said, well, that sounds
really good, but now do it in straight
time, not bounced, but straight time.
And I went.
He said, no, no.
No, straight time.
Don't bounce it, just play it absolutely
And he went to the piano and
said, no, do it like this.
And he went.
And that was the first time that it dawned
on me that, oh, you don't have, there's
not just one way to play something.
There, you could have bounce or straight
And my eyes were opened at that point to
this possibility.
And let's take it.
Let's do this here.
The two to three slide that you do in
Boil Them Cabbage Down.
And you have variations on how you could
play this in terms of how your right hand
approaches it.
You can do it absolutely straight,
metronomic time like this.
Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop,
pop, pop, pop, pop, pop.
Or you can bounce it where you have two
groupings of notes, couplets if you will,
where the third note is longer than
the second one, and you have
long, short, long, short, long, short,
long, short, long, short, long, short,
long, shot, long,.
Or a long short, long short, long short,
long short, long short.
It's a very severe,
this is called bounce time, a lot of
people call this bounce time.
Because it kinda bounces and you have a
hard time standing still when you hear it.
So, the options are again,
I'll play just, Boil Them Cabbage Down
with absolutely straight time.
Called a bounce.
Okay, you can see I'm sort of bobbing my
head and it's I mean, a lot of this is
supposed to be played with dancers.
Anyway, that bounce feel is really nice.
The Straight Time is really nice.
I find that The Straight Time drives a
little bit more.
Has little more oomph.
A little more, you know, just drives,
especially at slower,
medium tempo kind of tunes.
Instead of this.
It's not right or wrong.
Either way, you can do it any way you want
to, but
you should be aware that there are these
two different ways of doing it.
And a friend of mine says that there are
gradations of bounce, which is true,
that it's not always just one kind of
You could have it, you know, really
bouncy, or slightly bouncy.
But you get the idea, and I'm not gonna
get into all the technical details or
theoretical details, but they talk about
dotted notes,
where instead of having all eighth notes
let's say.
One, two, three,
four, five, six, seven, eight.
each grouping of two notes where the first
note's gonna be longer than the second,
as, which is how we per, get that sound of
this bounce.
Long, short, long, short, long, short.
The, the first note would be a dotted
eighth note, which means, and if this is
too confusing, don't worry about it right
now, but I just wanna put this out here.
That the first note is a dotted eighth
note, so you,
instead of having all eighth notes, the
first note has a little dot next to it.
And the second note in the couplet would
be a 16th note, and that
dot with the first 8th note means that you
add the value of half that 8th note.
So, half of an eighth note would be a 16th
Sorry to get so mathematical on you.
But it's so you have an eighth note plus a
16th note, coupled with just a 16th note.
Now when you add up those fractions, you
come up with two eighth notes.
But you've added, you've taken away
half of the second eighth note and given
it to the first one.
So it's half again as long as the next
I think you see the, bounce be a long
short, long short, long short.
All you have to know is that the first one
is longer than the second
one for right now.
You're just trying to have fun playing the
You don't need to get into all the
mathematics at this moment.
But anyway that's one way to think about
Just long short, long short.
some of you who have sent in VE's do have
a lot of bounce and it sounds great.
It's not wrong at all.
But you should also, if you are playing a
lot of bounce in your playing,
if you have a lot of that in your playing,
try it again with a,
just absolutely straight time.
Bela Fleck tends to play with
very straight time, Noam Pikelny does, Don
Reno played with very straight time.
Ralph Stanley played a very straight time.
Earl Scruggs, I would listen to some of
his recordings and
transcribe them at half speed or even less
than that.
And in the space of one solo certain pass,
you know, two or
three measures might be in straight time
and then he would bounce a little bit.
So he was not consistent.
It didn't matter.
He was great.
It's just how he felt it.
But I just want you to be aware that there
are these two different ways of
approaching things, and whichever way you
choose is gonna be fine.
So, keep that in mind while you're