Old time traditional banjo has become increasingly popular in the last two decades. Modern players like Clifton Hicks, Adam Hurt, Abigail Washburn, Rhiannon Giddens, Richie Stearns, Cathy Fink, David Eugene Edwards, Gillian Welch and Bob Carlin are all firmly rooted in the old time tradition. Each of them bringing their character to modern country and folk music.
Matt Brandt’s Modern Mountain Banjo Vol. 1: Clawhammer & Up-Picking celebrates old-time banjo and explores the traditional and modern techniques fused by today’s modern artists.
”The focus of this course is learning how to combine two of the most powerful right-hand techniques that modern banjo players use. We’ll examine clawhammer, up-picking, index lead, thumb lead, and many of the other hybrid styles. We’ll work on combining Pete Seeger-style up-picking with Bum-Ditty clawhammer to play melodies that are out of reach using either of these techniques separately, and we’ll do so without losing the groove.
We'll also dig into other techniques like syncopation, strumming inspired by Walt Koken, right-hand triplets, left-hand triplets, playing blues with old-time techniques, open string pull-offs, and alternate string pull-offs, using double thumbing in higher tempos, and playing double-stops and chord melodies.”
Matt demonstrates all of these key concepts and techniques in the first section of the course. With these techniques at your disposal, you’ll be able to play traditional old-time repertoire and become a solid rhythmic player. You can also use these techniques to create banjo arrangements of modern pop, country, folk and or blues songs. But don’t stop there — compose your original material as well!
In the second section, Matt will guide you through 8 performance studies, which apply all of the key concepts and techniques, in a musical context. Matt will first perform the study and then break it down measure-by-measure, emphasizing the underlying techniques and harmonic concepts.
Think Bass - ”One very basic approach to arranging a banjo part for a tune is to think like a bass player. In many setting chopping, full chords on a banjo in clawhammer style or Pete Seeger Up-picking just doesn't work. If there is a guitar player, a dobro or a mandolin player, then that will be their job. But since you can't play the melody or solo throughout the song, you need a different tool. Playing bass lines, adding additional chord tones and the occasional fill is the way to go. In this song, I'll show you this approach in two choruses of a Bluegrass type groove.”
Sequential Rain - ”This song will show you the power and versatility of combining regular Clawhammer technique with Pete Seeger style melodic up-picking. With this combination, you can play melodies that can't be played using just one of these techniques without dropping the groove. An additional freebee you get when you put these two together is that you can move the palm of your right hand closer to the skin. Which makes for all kinds of nice extra percussive sounds.”
Tag Line Blues - ”This song is a 24-bar non-modal blues in the key of C. We're playing all these lines clawhammer style, with drop thumbing and some effects like slides, hammer-ons, and pull-offs. There is no up-picking in this tune, but I am using some open string pull-offs. The approach I took is something a bass-player or backup guitar player would play in a blues setting, combined with some fills higher up the neck.”
Buckdancer's Choice - ”Buckdancer's choice is a mixture of a simple major melody with basic chords. It has an old-timey feel with kind of a happy sounding foot-tapping groove; so it's good to dance to. I've inserted some bluesy twists in the form of dominant seventh chords and a Mixolydian melody, just too keep it fresh to the ear. You can use these bluesy tricks in your arrangements of standard old-time songs if you like. Another thing we're doing is stressing the harmony, by playing the roots of the chords whenever we can. This gives a tune a nice chunky feel, even if you are playing it by yourself.”
Walt's Cooking Chords - ”This is a typical melodic clawhammer song in open G. In the first part, the harmony is implied by playing melodies that target specific chord tones. In the second part, we're adding melodies up the neck, again around chord tones. And the third part uses melodies within full chord shapes, adding or removing fingers to keep the harmony going, while you're playing the melody. As a bonus, I'm throwing in quarter triplets to create some rhythmic tension, and I'm using a technique I picked up from Walt Koken. He'll use kind of a sloppy right hand together with double-stops on top of a pedal bass note. Check it out!”
Double Stop Junction - ”As the name implies, this song is full of double stops and triple stops. But it's the main feature is the intense use of double thumbing. When you play this technique up-tempo, you can get a full sound and some great syncopated rhythms, that you will not get out of simple bum ditty or Pete Seeger up-picking. Your options to play syncopated rhythmic patterns will increase, but drop thumbing at higher tempos is, of course, a bit more challenging. Most of the time the pedal string will be muffled by keeping your right hand close to the skin and strings. And sometimes you'll have to break up your right-hand double thumbing motion, especially if you want to use the pedal string melodically.”
Mountain Stroll - ”Mountain Stroll is a kind of down-home groove in the Pete Seeger up picking style. It has four parts and is played in a modal tuning that resembles Sawmill. It's DGAD with pedal g and a capo on the 2nd fret. It's an odd tuning because the key we're playing in is E., But the pedal string is tuned to a, which is the 4th of the key. This note is not stable; it creates tension. In old-time music we use a lot of different tunings, each with their atmosphere. Whether you're writing a song or arranging it, try these tunings out and see what you can come up with.”
Groovy Blue Sea - ”In this 24 bar blues groove in the key of D, we're targeting the chords in the background with typical blues bass riffs and fills. This one features the use of left-hand triplets and some trickery like open string pull-offs to make cliche blues licks possible. We're also using a lot of drop thumbing to create syncopated bass lines, which will move the song forward and introduce some unexpected attention grabbers. We're using run-of-the-mill clawhammer, except for in the intro, which uses a triplet feel with up-picking.”
All of the key examples and performance studies are tabbed and notated for your practice, reference and study purposes. You’ll also get Guitar Pro files so that you can play, loop and slow down the tab and notation as you work through the lessons. Matt includes all of the backing tracks to work with on your own. Props to Marcello Briganti on bass and Jack Starkey, Matt's audio engineer!
Grab your banjo and let’s head to the mountains with Matt Brandt!