Monday, September 14, 2015

How to Use Enda Scahill's Banjo Tutor, Part 2

In my last column I got halfway through ESBT1 by pointing out the important bits and using videos to make the points emphasized in the book.  To recap, a) everything in this book, no matter how mundane appearing, is important, even the bits in the beginning; b) relaxation and alignment are crucial if you are to learn the rest of the method; c) Enda teaches an alternating method of picking for reels which can be changed as your skill increases, but is important because it lays a foundation for the rest of the techniques (including jigs) and if you don't learn and assimilate this method, you will lose a lot of the value of this system; d) we just started to look at trebles/triplets and how to use them.
I had an interesting dialogue on why there are so many tunes in this tutor.  Tunes are the stuff of ITM and they are the fun part, after all. But Enda does not just throw out tunes, every tune in the book is there to illustrate a concept or technique and he emphasizes the importance of practicing these tunes, listening to the CD track related to each technique or tune and then going back and practicing more.
A more advanced (before reading the tutors) student would do well to go over even the most basic parts of the book and CDs.  I've found that more advanced students have a better understanding of the basics and often profit more than beginners when this information is given because they are more aware of the lacunae in their technical skills and find little tweaks that help them become more efficient.  I know this is true for me and I find gems every time I read and/or listen to Enda.
When I left off last time we were looking at trebles and how to do and use them.  His initial introduction to trebles/triplets is sparse.  Basically he shows you how to do them and expects you to practice them with the help of the triplet track.  One of the problems with triplets is that they are perceived to be so crucial that many players try way too hard to do them and to make them fit in.  Again the trick goes back to the "relax and align" meme and, of course, practice.  Eventually they come but in the mean time it is important to listen to find where they should be used and when they could not be used.  Some of you will get triplets right away, and others (like me) will take a while.  The important thing is to not get ahead of yourself because a poorly played triplet sounds terrible and is very frustrating for the player.
Because triplets are treated just like other ornaments, you may find that you are stuck at this point in the tutor.  Don't be, one of his remarks is that you can use triplets as little or as often as you like.  At this point you probably don't want to use them that much - it is much more important to stick with the alternating picking style as you use the tunes he teaches.  The triplets will come eventually. 
Another trick is to play the tunes given slowly.  Note that the CD entry for each tune (in the beginning, at least) is played slowly.  I know that your session plays them about ten times faster, but you are not ready for that and ornaments and if you don't pay attention to the details now, you never will.  Enda uses Crowley's Reel as his anchor tune throughout the book and will go back to it when teaching each technique.  If you play this tune slowly at first you will get an idea about how and when to used triplets that will carry through to other tunes.
I know I spent some time on triplets, but there is a reason, actually more than one.  Triplets are the most often referred to right hand ornament and the one that everyone obsesses over when trying to learn these techniques.  Often they are the first one asked about and while pick direction is much more important, often the only one.  Eventually, they have to be mastered, but you don't have to do so unless you have the talent to get it right away.
My take:

And another take (note that I don't always use alternating picking, this is before I used Enda's book):

Here is Enda playing two tunes, the first a schottishe (note that there are few triplets here but great music) and the second is Colonel Fraser, one of the "great" tunes.  He uses triplets as a part of the tune such that you hardly notice them.

The next issue that Enda takes on is one that is peculiar to the tenor banjo (and other similar instruments), finding the high B note on the seventh fret of the E string.  This is one of the few times that Enda addresses left hand fingering schemes ( uses a cello/guitar/chromatic/four finger/finger-per-fret style, all names for the same thing) because this is the only note we have to play out of first position for most tunes. 
The first idea that he looks at is changing position to second position (second position means placing the hand up two frets so you can use the same fingering scheme but are closer to the seventh fret.)  Here is a video of Darren  Maloney playing "Roaring Barmaid."  He goes up to second position to play the high B note.

In this tune it makes sense to go to this position and play some of the other notes while there because they are very handy until you have to go back to first position.  The second half of tunes such as "Silver Spear" have the same solution to the problem.
There are other ways, of course.  Here is Barney McKenna sliding up to the high B in a series of tunes.  There appear to be some sync problems with this video, but you can see how he reaches the note.

Barney uses a three fingered/mandolin style in which his third finger is on the fifth fret.  In this style it is fairly easy to reach the seventh fret with the little finger and a lot of players do this.  The technique of sliding up to the B note is also handy for tunes that require a jump from the high F# note to the high B note (commonly seen in ITM) although it is more of a jump up and back than a slide.  It is essentially a move to second position without anchoring your first finger.  Enda gives a detailed analysis on how you play the high B note and a few tune examples that have to be played to be appreciated.  This skill is essential if you want to use the full range of the tenor banjo tuned GDAE.
We are still on the first book and there is more to report in the next blog entry.

MJ Keyes
14 September 2015

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