Welcome to Step 5! On the home stretch!
In this video, you’ll learn your first technique for sounding notes on the offbeat with your fretting hand.
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 5)
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 five in the How to Play 2 Finger Thumb Lead Style Banjo in Seven Essential Steps crash course for the total beginner. So we are on the home stretch. Once again, this is step five. So if you haven’t seen the other steps leading up to this one, I strongly suggest watching those first. Otherwise, let’s go.
So like the other episodes before this one, today we going to be learning a new technique and adding that technique into our song Pretty Polly. And as usual you have an exercise to practice that integrates this new technique after the conclusion of this video. And remember that all of the videos and course materials can be found at fingerstylebanjo.com/two finger with two finger spelled out.
There you’ll find a page dedicated to each lesson which has the tab for each of the exercises along with full transcript of each episode. And if you go to that page, you can sign up to get the book for the course emailed to you when it is ready.
Okay. So our last episode, we talked about our first technique for playing notes on the offbeat. And remember we divided our music, much of the music we play in 2 finger thumb lead style occurs in this repeating four unit pattern that consists of a downbeat and an upbeat and in between those are two offbeats.
And last episode we covered playing the index finger on the open first string on the offbeat as a drone. So that’s our first technique for playing on the offbeats. I mentioned in that video that the other way we get notes on the offbeats is actually by playing them with our fretting hand. And one of those techniques that we’re going to be covering today is the hammer-on.
So if you’re not familiar with the hammer-on it simply refers to a changing the pitch of a string by fretting it while the string is vibrating. So for example, if I play the fourth string and then I hammer-on to the third fret of the fourth string, I change the pitch of the note to that note.
And so all I’m doing is first playing it first with my picking finger and then I’m hammering onto it with my middle finger at the third fret there. And you can hear there there’s differences depending on how quickly I hammer-on after striking the note. Fast. Slow. And the technique overall is pretty straightforward. It’s simply fretting the string after you’ve struck it. So the first thing to do is simply practicing doing that. Again, you’re mainly going to be doing this with either your index finger or your middle finger, maybe occasionally with the ring, and even more with the pinky. So practice that at least with those first two fingers, index on second fret, middle on third fret. Sounds a little odd in some of those spots, but again, the idea is just to get the basic technique down so you want to get a nice clear note when you hammer-on.
You may find there are certain spots where it’s a little bit softer. Sometimes the first fret is a little softer than other spots. And this will vary by the types of strings that you have, your action on your banjo, so how high the strings are off the fret board. But you should be able to get a nice clear note. This fourth string, generally the best string for getting a nice clear hammer-on it. So that’s a good one to start with.
So again, the first thing is just to get that basic idea down. And then we’re going to add this into our arrangement for Pretty Polly. So again, in 2 finger thumb lead style, we are playing these notes with our fretting hand. In this case, the hammer-on, on the offbeat. So the last time we covered playing a drone note on the first string on the offbeat. Here, we’re going to be playing melody notes typically on the offbeat. And one other thing to note here is that we can do this, we can do a hammer-on either on a string we just played. So there I’m hammering-on from the open fourth string to the third fret of the fourth string.
But if I pick the open third I can then I can then hammer-on to the third fret of the fourth string and I will still get a sound. So that’s sometimes referred to as an alternate string hammer-on. It’s a technique that’s not used that much in finger style, used all the time in claw hammer banjo, but it works really well for 2 finger thumb lead, and is really an indispensable technique for playing fiddle tunes 2 finger thumb lead style, which is one of my favorite things to do.
Now, one thing you’ll notice is that generally the sound of your hammered note will be a little bit softer in volume than the sound of the open string. And that’s simply because when you’re hammering down, you’re typically dampening the vibrations just a little bit. So that’s normal. So we’ve talked before about one of the things about the banjo is you have a lot of extra notes going on in addition to the melody, and that part of the process of learning a new song or developing your own way of playing a new song is deciding what melody notes we’re going to keep and what we’re going to drop in favor of things like a drone.
One of the cool things about these fretted hand melody notes that we can make, in this case with a hammer-on, is it allows us to actually steal back some of those melody notes that we previously sacrificed in the name of playing a drone. And in doing so, we also get some natural syncopation of the melody, which sounds really cool and even makes it even more traditional sounding. If you don’t have any idea what I’m talking about with syncopation, don’t worry, I’m going to cover that in just a minute.
So to demonstrate all this, let’s bring up our second measure of Pretty Polly. So if you recall, let’s see, our song goes, (singing) so that second measure is (singing). So as of the last exercise, this is what we were playing in that second measure. So we had dropped the very last note in the melody (singing). And then we were playing that at the end rather than (singing) the node that corresponds to come in the melody. So we dropped our last melody note. What we’re going to do now is add back in a hammer-on after that open fourth string. So it’ll sound like this.
So now if I take out everything but the melody notes, we’re playing this (singing). So now you here we’ve added back the note that corresponds to the word come in the melody, but we’re actually playing it a beat early, we’re playing it on that offbeat, whereas previously it was falling on the upbeat. So again, that’s the original way we had it (singing) where the notes were all falling on downbeats and upbeat. Now we have (singing) and that’s a syncopation.
So syncopation is essentially shifting a note, a melody note, from the down or upbeat to an offbeat. And by playing a melody note with our fretting hand, we’re syncopating it. We’re shifting it to the offbeat when we do so. So now in this measure we’re getting our melody note that we lost earlier and we’re still getting that drone on both the fifth and the first string afterwards. So we get to have our cake and eat it too with this technique.
Syncopations also really help to make music sound more natural or more like singing. So if you hear that first way we played it (singing) it’s kind of robotic, whereas (singing) kind of evokes the way you might sing it. And so syncopations are another way of helping music that you play on the banjo or any instrument sound a little bit more like a person singing. And that is precisely what a lot of great musicians do when they play. They’re really great at recreating the sounds of the human voice on their instrument, which kind of helps to form a natural connection with the music.
Okay, so let’s run through each section with our hammer-ons added. So you’ll note again hammer-ons are indicated in the tab here with an arc between the first note and the second note and an H over it to indicate a hammer-on. So you’ll see our first measure is exactly what we are already playing after the last video. Second measure has got the hammer-on that we just went over where we’re hammering on from the open fourth string to the third fret of the fourth string. That’s it. And here’s the whole measure.
All right, third measure. We’re going to open with a hammer-on, this time from the open third string to the third fret of the third string, again with the middle finger. So the hammer-on is just. The whole measure. Last measure is the same as what we were playing before. So the entire first section now sounds like this.
All right, next section, we’re going to open with a hammer-on from the open second string to the second fret of the second string. This time fretting with the index finger. That sounds like this. It’s a really nice kind of old time sound. Right? Okay, so that whole measure sounds like this. One more time. All right. Next measure is the same as before. Now the next measure, same hammer-on we just did, and the whole measure sounds like this. One more time. Last measure, same as before. And the whole section two sounds like this. All right, last section, first two measures are the same as we’d played before. And then the second to last measure opens with a hammer-on, open third string to third fret of the third string. The whole measure. Again. And then ending on the open third. So that whole section three sounds like this. And again, if you want to loop back. Whatever you want to do to fill out that space. All right, let’s play through the whole thing here one time.
So you can hear that after we’ve added these hammer-ons and so forth and we’ve syncopated the melody more, it really does sound more like someone might sing the song rather than maybe the first ways we were rendering it where it had a little bit more of a robotic sound. All right, so your exercise is to play the song as we have it now with our hammer-ons added along with the beats for banjo backup track. So I’m just going to demonstrate how that sounds. I’m going to pull up the 70 beats per minute backing tracks.
And just as a reminder, remember that they booma-chucka beat of the beats for banjo corresponds to our downbeat, offbeat, upbeat, offbeat structure. Booma-chucka, down, off, up, off. Booma-chucka. so it corresponds to a role like that, here, I’ll play it along with the track. Booma-chucka, booma-chucka, booma-chucka.
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.