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Posts Tagged ‘bill monroe’

This is such a beautiful tune! Bill Monroe tune is it? I’m not sure, but I have a great version off a four-disc compilation of his stuff that I’m combining with this fiddler’s take.  What a pretty, yearning melody.

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A Bill Monroe tune. Watch this video from Aly Bain’s TV series Down Home, where it’s played by Kenny Baker and Monroe himself. He goes on to tell Bain (who is a Scottish player) about the connections between bluegrass and Scottish folk music. The A part is reminiscent of the sound of the pipes.

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Big Mon, like Jerusalem Ridge (Tune 1…seems like so long ago), wasn’t completely new to me when I picked it as tune of the day. But it needed some careful study,  and so tune 20 it is. A.D. was a big help for this one, recording a tutorial for me, playing it slow and then a second time through at a medium pace.

Now that I’ve hit the twenty tune mark, they’re all jostling around in my head and melding one into the other. Especially the A tunes. Twice, while practicing, I went into Big Mon instead of going for a second cycle of Gold Rush and Sally Ann. Admittedly, that has a lot to do with my less than focused practice in the last few days. So tonight I buckled down, declining partying and mayhem for a night of responsible fiddling. If there is such a thing…doubtful.

Fiddlers reading this, you know what happened…after an hour or two of metronomes, scales, practicing each tune…Bach came back. There is no escaping! No matter how many Minor Swings or  Sally Goodins or Benton’s Dreams I ingest, those sonatas and partitas keep hijacking my late nights. I took  Chogyam Trungpa’s life advice and surrendered. I even took the mute off my fiddle.  But then, like many late night practice-meditation-trip-salsas, I sat down to account for day 20 of this here experiment, and it all came together with a listening session: Oliver Schroer. If you’ve yet to discover this incredible musician, tarry not!

Today also provided a joyful event in that I remembered a great music book: “All Star Bluegrass Jam Along”. Check it out, it’s sheet music prepared by Darol Anger, with 20 bluegrass standards and solos to go with each, all with a cd which includes both the fiddle and the backing tracks. It’s great to practice improvisation with. I used it for Soldier’s Joy, looking to keep a nice consistent bow and play within the chord structure.

Darol Anger breaks!

Back to Oliver Schroer.

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Gold Rush is an awesome tune. Watch Bill Monroe and Byron Berline (both of whom wrote it) play it with Mark O’Connor.

Perhaps it was starting on Sally Ann that helped (through some strange tune sisterhood magic?), but Sally Gooding is coming along way better than it ever has. In fact, it’s all coming along.

This is the eighteenth day in a row that I have learned a tune and practiced up to nine other new ones. I couldn’t say how my sound has changed, but I do notice a difference. It certainly feels a whole lot better.  My fingers feel more comfortable traveling along the neck, and my bow has become slightly more controlled even as it’s movement seems more fluid. But if just feels a whole lot better. It seems, too, that my mind slows down…what seemed fast some days ago now seems relatively slower, in the very experience of time itself. Kind of like when you see something fall in the periphery of your vision and your experience of time in that moment slows so that you can turn and catch what is falling (yourself, as it sometimes happen. Especially if your Feela flipping over your handlebars).

As it turns out, bluegrass tunes in A are great for working your fourth finger, especially Sally Goodin, because you drone through them a lot (Uncle Pen, another Monroe tune, has that advantage, too). Your fourth finger is always reaching up on the D string and getting stronger, more precise.  And so, in combination with Minor Swing, my flimsy pinky is participating more and more, and staying a little closer to the neck when it’s not in action (instead of swinging wildly out, as it is wont to do).  Double stops just happen. B major is fun. The bow…well, that’s still the most challenging part of the whole instrument. But over all, it’s amazing what you can do when you get out of your own way.

Despite what seems like momentous progress to me, it would probably not be that noticeable to someone who could compare between January 11th and today. But that’s kind of the exciting part…there’s just so much more to work on. The difference is that it becomes funner and funner to work at something.

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Well, this is tune number one.  Good ol’ JR.

I must admit it’s not a completely new tune for me, but it definitely needed some careful study. I guess my criteria for this ‘Tune a day’ experiment is that the tune is considered eligible if I don’t feel comfortable enough playing it with others and keeping up. In the case of Jerusalem Ridge, this involves making sure I pay attention to repeating parts (gah! embarrassing face plant a few weeks ago) and figuring out what happens in section C, which I guess is the third unless you count the bridge, in which case it’s section D and the fourth.

About Jerusalem Ridge:  A classic Bill Monroe instrumental in A minor pentatonic.  Of note, it’s crooked, which means in this case that there is an extra beat at the end of the bridge. A tune that is crooked just means it has an irregular number of beats.   And of course, this is a good time to brush up on what a pentatonic scale is, because it’s the basis for improvisation in blues and bluegrass (just add ‘blues notes’ to either the major or relative minor pentatonic and voilà [there are many different types of pentatonic scales, ie. any five note scale within one octave, but here we are dealing with blues scale]).

I am lucky to have a recording from my sometimes teacher A.D.,  slow and  medium paced and another recording once through of the guitar accompaniment which, in addition to practicing the straight tune, is great for experimenting with improvisation.  So I started by practicing my C major pentatonic scale and its relative A minor pentatonic, the key in which Jerusalem Ridge is played (whatever banjo players may otherwise say).  Then I listened to a bunch of different versions (see below) and finally played along with my teacher thanks to mp3s and then I played along with the guitar comp.  Lather, rinse and repeat tomorrow.

Some recordings of Jerusalem Ridge:

  • Tony Rice, ‘Bluegrass Guitar Collection‘: I can’t find who plays fiddle on this (Sam Bush?) but it is a classic.
  • Mark O’Connor, ‘Heroes‘:  In combo with all time great Kenny Baker, the fiddler to last longest alongside Bill Monroe, who wrote the tune in question. Some nice high and lonesome twin fiddle.
  • Darol Anger and Mike Marshall, ‘At Home and on the Range‘:  Meditative and jazzy newgrass take on this classic. Great for stretching out improvisational bottleneck!

A great resource is the Fiddle Hangout website, where you can search for members’ uploads of themselves playing tunes. They have a couple versions of Jerusalem Ridge.

So that was tune number 1. Now that I’ve written all this out, back to practicing (and stretching!) but I leave you with the incontournable Kenny Baker and Bill Monroe , playing Jerusalem Ridge for Aly Bain (awesome Scottish fiddler) on his 1985 TV series, Down Homehttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpzoLAwZ-gs

PS: Big up to Meaghan for being the inspiration for this first tune!

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