Banjo Hangout Logo
Banjo Hangout Logo

Premier Sponsors

Fiddle Lovers Online

The right backup . . .

Posted by bj on Friday, July 16, 2010

One of the reasons I love to play music with Jane is she is so solid on the banjo or guitar behind me that it makes it EASY for me to play well. I've got that solid pulse alongside me, that wonderful synchronicity of tones and shades of sound, the nuances that come through. When it's RIGHT, then there's that magic sum total that happens where one plus one equals much, much more than two. One of the reasons that happens is trust. I have such total trust in what she's playing and going to play that I can just dive in, close my eyes, and let the music come out my fingers.

I wish Jane would come to our jams, but that's not gonna happen.

We have a lot of guitarists who show up at our jam. One of the things I have found in leading it is that when you're talking about guitarists, there are three distinct talents an OT guitarist must have, and one of them seems to be rarer than the proverbial hen's teeth. The first talent is to keep the backbeat, that solid pulse that keeps me on target, the heartbeat of the tune. Everyone who has played with us is pretty solid on that score. The second is to play oldtime backup style, and not get too fancy with the flatpicking. All but one of our guitarists get this part to an acceptable degree, and the last guy doesn't wanna get it, so even though I personally like him a whole lot, I really wish he'd go play bluegrass or something, where his overly fancy and flamboyant flatpicking would be more appreciated, though I have a feeling he wouldn't follow BG jam rules either.

The third talent is the make it or break it talent. It's to figure out the chords to any tune, even one they've never heard before, and then consistently play them correctly through the whole tune. This is where most of the guitarists are lacking. It's funny, I'm a crappy guitarist since I don't really like playing the instrument, but it happens to be a talent I have. It comes fairly easily to me. I never realized that I'm in a very distinct minority on this. Most of our guitarists can't do this well, if at all. Luckily they seem to realize it.

In fairness to them, many have come from a rock or bluegrass background where there are chord charts and stuff, which meant they never needed to develop that talent. We tried that chord chart thing with our jam, but using Pegram's as our repertoire wasn't cutting it with me, there are way too many wonderful tunes out there that aren't in Pegram's Jam Book. And Pegram's stuff is also often in a key different than our regional druthers on the subject. We're also hampered by the fact that one of the other jams in the region plays many of the tunes we play but in a different key since the lead fiddler won't tune to AEAE, but only to GDGD. That makes it tough for some of the folks who don't intuit chord changes or transposing on the fly who come from that jam to ours.

Sometimes I can cue the guitars in on which guitarist to watch, simply by smiling at the guitarist who is getting it right. Repeatedly. Huge grin on my face beaming right at him or her. It's pretty easy for me to do, since I'm over the MOON when we have a good guitarist! That's when one of the (few) guitarists who consistently gets it right actually shows up.

We had a new guitarist show up on Tuesday night.  He gets it. All of it. Not only that, but he does it so well it was an all-encompassing joy to have him in my right ear all night. And that was even though he was half the time playing tunes he had never heard before. We also had another guitarist who gets it right MOST of the time, and lays back when he isn't "on" with the tune. So I had that over the MOON grin on my face all dang night swinging back and forth between two wonderful guitarists, one of my fave banjos in my left ear, one of our newer fiddlers who is coming along VERY nicely, and our dulcimer gal, who is managing to pick up our tunes. Wow, what a night!

The new guitar guy showed up last night at the Coffee Coop's jam outside Belvidere NJ. Last night he was in my left ear. HEAVEN.

I'm trying to figure out how I can enslave him . . .

13 comments on “The right backup . . .”

Humbled by this instrument Says:
Friday, July 16, 2010 @7:31:25 AM

So THAT'S what I've got wrong! I been using a left backup! Need to find me a right one.

bj Says:
Friday, July 16, 2010 @7:37:44 AM

Nope, wrong. Find an ambidextrous backup. One that works in either ear.

mudbug Says:
Friday, July 16, 2010 @12:26:59 PM

What about "Nashville number system" chord charts. You write IV, and in the key of G it signifies a C, in the key of D it's G. This way you can change keys on the spot.

bj Says:
Friday, July 16, 2010 @12:37:30 PM

That would be nice if someone would write them up. Only problem with that is we routinely introduce 5-7 new tunes every jam, and it's serendipity what's gonna come out since there are multiple people starting tunes. You wanna volunteer to create the nashville notation chord charts on the fly?

Just to put this in perspective for you-- all but the newest of the fiddlers have no trouble picking tunes up on the fly. The dulcimers and the mando can usually pick up tunes on the fly. The bass can pick up tunes on the fly. Even the BANJOS can pick up tunes on the fly . . . it's just those pesky guitars that seem to have a problem with this.

So though I can sympathize to some degree, I think this is an essential jam skill that they need to learn. Chord charts would not be teaching them how to pick stuff up by ear.

Besides, the times I did take the time to show them the chords before we played the tune, they promptly forgot 'em anyway.

bj Says:
Friday, July 16, 2010 @2:32:20 PM

Oh, just realized. The saddest thing is that now that they have a good guitarist to follow, the ones who haven't been able to suss tunes out on the fly will no longer need to do so, since they can now just follow the one who can.

Humbled by this instrument Says:
Friday, July 16, 2010 @5:32:22 PM

Hmmmmpf. Show me an ambidextrous backup and I'll show you a...a...oh forget about it!

harwilli55 Says:
Friday, July 16, 2010 @6:05:26 PM

The comment I heard from a fiddle player to a guitarist sitting in and playing in her left ear....was " You make me feel so comforted playing". He was right where she needed him to be so she could float effortlessly. Needless to say, I put my guitar away at that point and just listened.

There are times, when I can find that sweet spot, but they are rare for me and inconsistent. But I know'em when I feel'em, plus the as you put it, see "The Big Smile " on the face of the fiddler, or banjoist, or flautist, or whatever the lead instrument may be. For the guitarist, just seeing that their back-up is creating that good feeling in the other players, is the best gift. be as gifted as those I get to play with...that would be a wonderful thing indeed.

As for those other guitarists who are following along, why BJ, mayhaps, they will "get it" eventually because they get to experience it. There is much to be said for having a " role model" to help see possibilities we might not have found through our own background/experience. It isn't about what we play today, but what we will play tommorow.


ChickenMan Says:
Sunday, July 18, 2010 @7:13:23 PM

Most rock guitar players I know learned by ear. The ones who use charts are posers :-)
I find the inadequate back up skills a problem at my one opportunity to play with and for my fiddling peers - fiddle club.
We meet once a month, and there are always AT LEAST 3 guitar players, but only one is intuitive enough to play whatever
tune she hears and not get out of time or place, and she knows when NOT to play if she can't figure it out. Nothing wrong
with solo fiddle - some of us prefer to hear it that way.

janepaints Says:
Tuesday, July 20, 2010 @7:39:51 PM

i offer this advice to plenty geetar players--especially concerning OT-style guitaring--but most a them do NOT wanna hear it: Ear Training, which is best gotten, IMO by playing or studying jazz and/or classical--or at least lending such forms more than a casual listen. Second bit of advice often gets the same response, tho i'd offer it to ALL musicians: learn at least the fundamentals of keyboard, even if using a cheesy $59 casio from a dept. store. The basic elements of western music are all right there at yer fingertips...and ears. It soaks in and gets 'second nature' after harmonic terms--i.e. chordal savvy--the guitar is actually a poor instrument. Largest chord you can make is only 6 notes, many inversions are (needlessly) difficult, problematic or downright goofy. Lookit all the finger contortions jazz guitarists go through--yet the same chords on the keyboard are very easy, physically-mechanically, to play. Also, IMO easier to 'get'--to conceptualize, internalize and thus become 'second nature.'

I have problems finding 'back-up' players for a lotta stuff i play. I recently made a vid of myself playing solo electric guitar, then thought "wow it would be fun to do stuff like that with a riddum section." I make recordings of such stuff and play all parts--guitar, bass, drums and keyboard. But I realized there's one local p;layer who could do the bass (or keys) and almost nobody who could get the drums or keyboard parts quickly and intuitively--could 'hear them.' Mostly because they're lacking in ear training, even if good players in rock or blues or bg etc. Also because they learn a lot of stuff by rote, by 'perfecting' a song and playing it exactly the same way every time. My training in jazz gave me the opposite leaning. Endless invention and variation--but also always knowing where the 'one' is, both harmonically and riddum-wise. It aint rocket science. There are only 12 notes and ONE beat--the human heartbeat. All other beats are just iddle-bitty bits and pieces of it. Don't be scaredy-kats--jump off those tightropes, safety net or not, and fly some.

bj Says:
Wednesday, July 21, 2010 @6:03:36 AM

Yes, most of the guitarists do learn by rote. Even worse, one of the guys made the comment that Oldtime was really really hard to play since there were no WORDS to cue him when the chord changes were coming. My jaw dropped open when he said that. Geez, even SONGS have instrumentals!

janepaints Says:
Wednesday, July 21, 2010 @9:01:33 AM

Yet another example of why I take issue with the bit in the bible that says "in the beginning was the word". In the beginning was the SONG, dummy--the sound, the big OM, the universal waveform. That bit was obviously written by a WRITER who was all jealous because he didn't have the common sense or gumption to git hisself a fiddle, banjo or geetar and join all creation in making that joyous noise unto Big Ma's ears.

ChickenMan Says:
Thursday, July 22, 2010 @3:10:11 PM

The bass player in the BG band I play with has to see the guitar player's hands or he is lost. Makes me shake my head. If I could find some OT musicians to make a string band, I'd do it in a heartbeat...
Ear training IS where it's at. Sho-nuff.

bj Says:
Thursday, July 22, 2010 @6:13:30 PM

Yes, it is.

I've been trying to figure out why it is that so many guitarists don't get it . . . and I just can't.

You must sign into your myHangout account before you can post comments.

More posts from bj

Newest Posts

Click for Details 'Nursing home' 10 hrs

Click for Details 'How to start?' 17 hrs

More >  

Hangout Network Help

View All Topics  |  View Categories