Saturday, January 25, 2014

What Could Be and Why

I know this is a beginners blog, but I thought I'd show you what could happen if you work and plan your music well and continue to perfect your basics.  One of the things about learning any skill is that as long as you have goals and plan your tutelage you should be able to achieve what you want.  In the beginning basic skills are very important because they are the start of any skill and they remain the bedrock upon which you build all other skills.  That's why it is so important to learn to play slowly with good tone at first and why such things as triplets are not as important until you have the tone down pat.
As you progress you will find that these basics support you when you try new things and that by using the basics as your guide, you can find new and interesting techniques to play.  The idea is that after a while you will automatically use those things that appeal to you musically and you will develop a style.
Gerry O'Connor has a style that everyone recognizes.  He recently told me that he "only had one trick"  (he was teaching how to play triplets) and that was the basis of his whole style.   I was lucky enough to talk with Buddy Wachter, considered the greatest jazz tenor banjo player, recently and he pointed out that good musicians are able to take their style and produce music while not letting the techniques get in the way.  By that he meant that playing a bunch of technical skills did not make music but that a musician had to transcend technique and produce a communication to the listener.
Part of that communication is good tone and imagination.   While Irish music is mostly dance music that is fairly well established as far as the tunes go, a close look at the best players or attending a new session will show you that there is a lot of leeway and interpretation in the music in spite of what you might hear. This is the true essence of a style, to play music with what you have.
This interpretation can take the form of tempo, alternate tonal changes, rhythmic influences or technique.  The basic tune is the same or close, but the music predominates.
This is what you can look forward to when you play and even in the basic learner mode good tone and rhythm stands out making the music more interesting. 
Here is a video of Gerry playing two tunes, Niahm's Capers and The Moving Cloud.  This is for performance and to show off his virtuosity so you probably won't see this at a session.

What I want to show is the various techniques built up over the years from basic technique that a master of the banjo can use to bring out a tune.   Here Gerry uses not only the triplet he is famous for (and equally infamous) but he also uses Duo Technique, Tony Rice cross picking,  alternate notes, playing up the neck and changes in rhythm.  In addition he drives the music the whole time making you want to dance to it.
Throughout the video he sticks with his basic technique including hand position, pick hold, his four finger left hand technique and good tone.  Everything you see him doing is predicated on good basic technique, everything he is doing is based on what he learned early on and because his basic technique is so good, he was able to progress to a master level. 
So the lesson learned here is that the basics count, a lot, and without them you will never be this good.

Mike Keyes

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