Welcome to Step 4! In this video, you’ll learn about the fundamental structure of 2 finger thumb lead banjo, and we’ll start adding first string drones with our index finger. This is starting to sound like bonafide banjo music now!
Your Mission: Watch the video, and then practice the assigned exercise along with the “Beats for Banjo” practice tracks.
When To Move On: Move on to the next lesson when you can play the assigned exercise cleanly and with good timing along with the backing track (any tempo is fine).
THE LESSON (STEP 4)
YOUR PRACTICE EXERCISE
1) Click here to subscribe to the Fingerstyle Banjo Channel
2) The Laws of Brainjo: The Art & Science of Molding a Musical Mind – the book outlines the theoretical principles of the Brainjo Method of instruction.
3) The Course Book (when ready):
BEATS FOR BANJO TRACKS
Welcome to step four in the How to Play Two Finger Thumb Lead Style Banjo in Seven Essential Steps crash course for the total beginner.
In this episode, like the previous episodes, we’ll be learning a new technique for 2 finger thumbing style. Or, I should say, maybe a new application of a previously learned technique. And we will be integrating this into our song Pretty Polly. In the last episode we picked out the entire, we finished picking out the entire melody, so now we have the entire song on the banjo. And we’re continuing to add more embellishments in the style of 2 finger thumb lead to give it a complete sound.
One of the things that is so great about the banjo is that when you add all of these elements together, it sounds super rich and it sounds like a full band. It really sounds like there’s more than just one person playing. You have melody notes, you have harmony notes, you have drones, and you have all these different rhythms that you can play. And it just starts with building from these simple foundations to create this thing that’s really complex and intricate. It sounds fantastic.
In this particular video we’re going to be using our index finger again. So the index finger plucking on the first string, just like we did in the last video, but in that one we were doing that in the context of a pinch. And whereas we were playing a pinch on the upbeats, here what we’re going to be doing is playing the open first string with our index finger on the offbeats.
So what the heck am I talking about by upbeats and off beats? I told you I’d get to this at some point and that point comes now. So let’s talk about beats for just a minute. A lot of music on the banjo, and where the banjo really shines, is organized into these repeating patterns of four.
You can play other kinds of music that have different beat structures, like waltzes and jigs, which occur at odd-numbered beats. But most of the music that people associate with the banjo is even beated. I don’t know if that’s word, but meaning it has an even number of beats in this recurring pattern of four.
And within this pattern of four we can break it down into a downbeat, an upbeat, and in between that down and upbeat are two off beats. And there are different ways you can count these beats if you want to. I think the simplest way to represent this music is in a recurring two beat structure. And the count is one and two and one and two and. So each measure that we’re playing when we see a measure in the tab is a full one and two and. So that’s two full beats.
Now let’s pull up our first measure of Pretty Polly and we’re going to label our down and upbeats. At this point our off beats are empty, we’re not playing any notes during that space. And in this next series of videos what we’re going to be covering are the kinds of things that we can play on those off beats and the techniques that we use to do so.
So again, this is a full measure and there are two beats in the measure. And the beats here are referring to the down beats. So if we were to count this like one and two and one and two and, then our numbers, the one two are corresponding to the down beats, whereas the ands are on the upbeats.
If we want to then count out the off beats, usually the convention would be to say one E and a two E and a, and that gets all of the beats here. But again, it’s a recurring four unit structure as you can see. There’s two of these patterns of four in this single measure.
And that one and two and, pulse on a rhythm instrument like a guitar is often counted as boom, chuck, boom, chuck, boom, chuck, boom chuck. So the booms are on the downbeat, the chucks are on the upbeat. But you can also have booma chucka, booma chucka, booma chucka, booma chucka, which is a rhythmic pattern that’s oftentimes emphasized in music on the banjo.
And you’ll notice, if we play the beats for banjo backup tracks, you have this booma chucka, booma chucka, booma chucka, booma chucka. So you have this entire repeating four unit structure that underlies so much banjo music, there in the beats for banjo tracks. Which is why I think they work so well to help you kind of emphasize that fundamental rhythm that you’re oftentimes going for and wanting to emphasize when you’re playing something on the banjo.
And our options are, we can either play a note on the offbeat with our index finger playing open first string, again, playing a drone on the offbeat. Or we can play a note with our fretting hand on the off beat there as a hammer on or pull off, which we’ll be covering in subsequent episodes.
In this video we’re going to be covering our first technique for playing on the offbeat, which is the index finger of plucking the open first string to add a drone. So just for the sake of an example here, let’s go ahead and add an offbeat, a drone on the first string in every place where we can in this measure. And now here’s what that sounds like.
That should sound like a very distinctive banjo sound, right? That is a classic banjo pattern and it’s oftentimes referred to as a roll because it gives this rolling sound like you’re just, just rolling on forever.
So that’s one type of roll pattern. Again here we’re playing on every off beat with our index finger. We could also play a different pattern where we’re leaving that first off beat after the downbeat empty and then playing on that second off beat after the upbeat. And then it sounds like this. And both of those patterns will come up all the time playing 2 finger thumb lead.
Now let’s go back to the first example where we were playing on every off beat. So notice here that we have two melody notes and we have six non-melody notes that are drones, either on the first string or the fifth string. I’ve talked about before one of the unique aspects of the banjo being that there are all these extra notes that you can play on the banjo that aren’t part of the melody.
And you can see how if you just come at the banjo and you see a fully formed arrangement of music and you don’t know what’s melody and what’s decoration and what all these things are for and how they function, it’s really hard to understand what’s going on. And it’s really hard to understand what sound you’re trying to make with the banjo. So this is why it’s so important to understand how this is built from the ground up, how all these different elements fit together.
And it’s particularly challenging with the banjo to try to learn a fully formed arrangement without going through this process because there’s so much extra stuff going on. And I would say that is the fundamental reason why so many people struggle with the banjo, is that because it’s often learned in that manner.
So the first thing that I would recommend you do is practice those two patterns. One of those being where you’re playing on every off beat. So here I’m playing the open third, open first, fifth string, first string. And again, your thumb is going to be playing either four, three or two, so you can practice that on every string.
That’s me doing it on the fourth string, second string. Again, this is something you really want to get second nature, and then practice the other pattern as well. That’s me doing it on the open third open, open fourth, open second, and then you can practice mixing and matching.
That’s a good thing, just if you’re sitting around, pick up the banjo, do that. And then once you’ve kind of feel like you’ve got that pattern down, you can test to see if it’s automatic yet by playing with beats for banjo. Seeing if you can maintain the pattern with good timing along with the beat. It’s the first thing to practice before you get into the meat of adding this technique into our arrangement, which I’m going to cover now.
All right, so now let’s start with the first section of Pretty Polly. Here’s what it looked like after the last episode. And now we’re going to add in the open first string on the off beats in various spots. And remember, as I discussed in a prior video, there is no right way here.
I’ve added it in places here where I think it sounds good, but there are many other options for where it could sound good. So again, don’t get locked into the idea that there is one way to play a thing. There are countless ways to play anything that sound really good and that are entirely within the structural rules of this particular banjo style.
All right, so let’s go ahead and I’m going to play through this particular example so you know how it sounds. One more time. Okay, that’s section one. Now the important point here is that I would highly, strongly recommend that you first listen to these sections, hear how they sound, and then get away from looking at the tab as soon as possible.
Once you kind of know the patterns and match those patterns to what you’re hearing and then start to try to learn or play through each of these sections without looking at anything, matching what you’re hearing in your head.
And if you want to mess around with inserting the open first string drone on the off beats in different spots than what I have out here, go for it. Okay, so let’s move on now to section two. This is what we had after the last lesson and now we’re going to add in the drones on the first string on the off beat. And now here’s what this sounds like. One more time.
All right, now it’s time for our third and final section. This is what we had after the last lesson and now we’ll update it by adding our first string drones. And it sounds like this. Now remember if you want to loop back to the beginning you might want to fill out that measure.
This last measure was something, again, we have one note here, the rest is just open for us to do whatever, use all of the, any of the techniques that we’ve covered. You could go. Again, lots and lots of possibilities just within this single measure.
All right, so now I’m going to demonstrate playing all three sections, along with the beats for banjo backup track, which is your assignment to practice before the next lesson. So again, I’m going to bring up the 70 beats per minute backing track.
Okay, so practice that exercise to get ready for the next step. And again, the objective is to play that exercise with good timing and clean notes. The speed is not that important. What’s important is that you were able to keep time at whatever tempo you choose. And again, if you want to, if you need to slow it down even further by using the gear icon and adjusting the speed of the video, that is fine as well.
All right, that does it for this installment. If you have any comments or questions, feel free to leave them in the comment section below the video and I will see you in the next one.