If you’re interested in improving your clawhammer banjo playing or learning some old-time 2 or 3-finger picking with online lessons, get in touch. You’ll need a webcam, decent internet connection and Skype (which is free). To find out more about the lessons, scheduling and price, send me an email.
UNFORTUNATE PUPPY AND OTHER FINE TUNES: LESSONS IN INTERMEDIATE & ADVANCED CLAWHAMMER BANJO
Mel Bay 22208DVD.
On this well-done instructional video, Hunter Robertson lays out the groundwork for learning old-time banjo—not just clawhammer style, but also two- and three-finger styles. The main thrust of this DVD is to present right- and left-hand techniques, tunings grounded in the fundamentals that build an informed style.
Robertson gives a brief description of each tune, then plays the tune. Next, he breaks the tune down with a verbal description of what he is doing. Then the tune is played slowed so that you can easily follow the right- and left-hand finger positions. Finally, it’s played at a medium tempo for you to practice along. Split-screens showing the two hands are used throughout. There are visual guides to help you keep on track. He teaches ten tunes played in the clawhammer-style in this fashion.
There is a wonderful section on right-hand techniques where Robertson takes a good amount of time to explain the techniques and demonstrate them, following the same procedure he uses for the ten clawhammer tunes. The tunes are credited to his source and he attempts to catch the essence of that performance. He does not lavishly copy the source, but he does successfully present a rendition that is honest and accurate. The complexity of the tunes will take an intermediate to advanced ability to pull off. If you have mastered the right-hand techniques addressed in that section, it will make it much easier to tackle the tunes.
There is an in-depth section that covers several factors for mastering these styles. Robertson discusses thumb lead versus index lead in the two-finger style and does a nice job of demonstrating the old time three-finger approach. He demonstrates the piece “in the style” of a source and not necessarily a note-for-note representation of anyone’s style. The split screen reveals how both hands interact. He also slows these pieces down, as well. He does a nice job of breaking down Dock Boggs’ “Danville Girl” and “Sugar Baby” to demonstrate the essence of Dock’s style. The other extra is a performance of “Raleigh & Spencer” that can also be viewed on YouTube. Robertson’s guttural vocals and forceful banjo playing make for an impressive performance.
Robertson uses black-coated strings on his banjo so the viewer has no problem seeing which strings he is hitting. The accompanying .PDF provides a good deal of information on these tunes. There is a list of a lot of resources that can currently be found on the Internet. This DVD stands among the best out there for learning more about the old-time banjo styles. RCB (Mel Bay Publications, Inc., #4 Industrial Dr., Pacific, MO 63069, www.melbay.com.)
Been a while a-comin’, but we’ve finally got 3 tabs ready to go (Tony Spadaro, aka Oldwoodchuckb, has been giving me a hand): for Boatin’ Up Sandy, Cripple Creek and Lonesome John. I’ll put more up as we finish them.
As these are only available to people who’ve bought the DVD, there’s a user name and password involved. As I don’t have everyone who’s bought the DVD on my mailing list to send them the information, the user name and password are both simply the 3rd word on the very first page of the PDF notes that came on the DVD.
We knew that Hunter Robertson was an excellent banjo player, his last CD If You Want to Go to Sleep, Go to Bed (Trad Mag n° 129) proved it to us, if needed. Now, with this DVD, we also know that he’s an excellent teacher.
This new DVD isn’t a beginner’s clawhammer banjo method but is more dedicated to those who already have a good grounding in the style. The idea behind these lessons is excellent, that is, learning to play well known (at least to aficionados) versions of fiddle tunes on the banjo, such as “Cripple Creek”, “Bonaparte’s Retreat”, “Ducks on the Millpond”… ten fiddle tunes in all.
The first chapter is a review of all the clawhammer banjo player’s “tools” such as hammer-ons, pull-offs, alternate string pull-offs, slides and other techniques used in the style. For each piece, Hunter plays a version at normal speed, then he explains the difficulties of the piece and then plays it again at a slower pace so that you can train by playing it along with him.
As a bonus, Hunter gives a quick look at two and three-finger picking styles.
This is an excellent DVD and should immensely please those who are interested in the style, who’ll find not only beautiful versions of fiddle tunes but also ideas for arranging pieces of their own choice.
– Claude Vue
On savait Hunter Robertson excellent banjoïste, son dernier CD « If you want to go to sleep, go to bed » (Trad Mag n° 129) nous l’avait prouvé si besoin était. Maintenant, avec ce DVD, on sait aussi que c’est un excellent pédagogue.
Ce nouveau DVD n’est pas une méthode de banjo clawhammer mais est plutôt réservé à ceux qui ont déjà une bonne expérience du genre. L’idée de ces leçons est excellente, à savoir apprendre au banjo des versions de fiddle tunes connus, tout du moins par les afficionados tel que Cripple Creek, Bonaparte’s retreat, Ducks on the millpond…..en tout dix fiddle tunes.
Le premier chapitre est une revue de tous les « outils » du banjoïste en style clawhammer à savoir les hammers, pull offs, alternate string pull offs, slides et autres techniques particulières au style.
Pour chaque morceau, Hunter donne une version à vitesse normale, il explique ensuite les difficultés du morceau puis le rejoue à vitesse plus lente pour que vous puissiez vous entrainer avec lui.
En bonus, Hunter donne un bref aperçu des styles « two fingers » et « three fingers » picking.
Ce DVD est excellent et devrait ravir les adeptes du genre qui vont y trouver outre de très belles versions de fiddle tunes mais aussi des idées pour arranger des morceaux de leur choix. – Claude Vue
The banjo player with the rough voice, who at this time is living in Geneva, submits an educational DVD which has been released by a leading US music publisher. Ten known old-time titles like “Cripple Creak” and “Bonaparte’s Retreat” he wants to teach us here, with the explicit purpose that we to not imitate everything slavishly, but develop our own ideas. With that, he plays a fretless banjo.
In contrast to the dialog based AcuTab DVDs, Robertson conducts frontal lessons. Basically, the screen is divided for the left and the right hand, in close-up. As an introduction, Roberson shows the various striking techniques, then the pieces are introduced in normal speed, then technical detail is explained, and finally the pieces are played again in half and medium speed. One should actually bring along some knowledge of the clawhammer style, the entrance level seems high.
The clawhammer style may seem clumsy and primitive, here it becomes clear how subtle and elaborate it can be and how every musician has his peculiarities. Except in “Raleigh & Spencer”, Robertson does not sing (he anyhow rather snarls), not even where there is a text. Finally, the demonstrates 2- and the 3-finger picking and plays “Raleigh & Spencer” again fully.
As an add-on, the DVD has a 26-page booklet in PDF format for printing, with all the needed explanations and advices. Working one’s way through these music lessons will cost some considerable effort, but in the end one surely will have learned something.
I’ve mentioned recently a DVD on clawhammer banjo I’ve been working on. Well, it’s ready to deliver! The DVD is called Unfortunate Puppy and Other Fine Tunes: Lessons in Intermediate & Advanced Clawhammer Banjo and is out with Mel Bay Publications (Mel Bay 22208DVD).
Unfortunate Puppy and Other Fine Tunes: Lessons in Intermediate & Advanced Clawhammer Banjo (133 minutes, over two hours of lessons) teaches ten classic fiddle tunes arranged for clawhammer banjo, as well as tools and techniques to help you create your own arrangements.
Hunter Robertson begins each tune with a brief introduction and then presents each one in four different stages to help you learn it easily. First, Hunter plays the tune at full speed. Next, he breaks it down, with verbal instruction. The tune is then slowed to half speed so that you can easily follow the right and left hand finger positions, which are shown with a split screen throughout. Finally, the tune is played at a medium tempo for you to practice along with.
The DVD also includes a video of Hunter demonstrating right and left hand techniques and a detailed 26 page PDF booklet with notes on the tunes, general technical information, and thoughts on learning, playing, and arranging for the banjo.
• Lonesome Johnfrom John Salyer
• Candy Girlfrom Uncle Bunt Stephens
• Boatin’ Up Sandyfrom Wilson Douglas
• Cripple Creekfrom Hobart Smith
• Unfortunate Puppyfrom Elmo Newcomer
• Ducks on the Millpondfrom Emmett Lundy
• Raleigh & Spencerfrom Tommy Jarrell
• Bonaparte’s Retreatfrom William Stepp
• Leather Britchesfrom John Salyer
• Ft. Smith Breakdownfrom Luke Highnight’s Ozark Strutters
• A brief look at 2 and 3-finger picking.
• A full-length performance video of the song “Raleigh & Spencer”.
THE DEAL is that for the next week, ending the night of Feb. 4th, we’ll be selling the DVD at 10% off and you’ll also get a free download of a music video, ”I Truly Understand”, which we recorded at the same time as the DVD.
Use the button below to order the DVD and pay through Paypal (orders handled by Open Lens Productions, the video’s producer):
$22.45 (now $24.95 that the deal is over) + Shipping and Handling.
A nice review of If You Want to Go to Sleep, Go to Bed in the last Old Time News, from FOAOTMAD:
By Ray Banks
This is a collection of fiddle-banjo duets with some singing from two musicians whose names are relatively new to me, but whom I’m looking forward to hearing more from at this year’s Sweet Sunny South festival in September, where they will perform along with the New Deal String Band.
The recordings, on John Herrman’s Yodel-Ay-Hee label, were made in the performers’ homes, and have a raw, unengineered sound of the kind we’re all used to in modern field recordings, with creaking chairs and floorboards. The instruments are played loudly and enthusiastically with a good swing, and at a pace I’ve come to expect from some of the younger American players. The title of the CD is a quote from the Round Peak pioneer Charlie Lowe of Mount Airy NC who apparently liked his music fast.
The tunes on the CD are largely the session standards most of us have come to know and love, played tightly with a lot of both technique and energy. They play a lovely driving “Last Chance” and I like the fact that they play Bill Stepp’s version of “Bonaparte’s Retreat” (“that’s the boney part”) and not the usual one with the terrible sand dance. Their “Sandy River Belle” is a very different tune to the one I know, while their “June Apple” is good and wild.
The balance, unusually, is slightly in the banjo player’s favour; this unfortunately makes the fiddling on some of the tunes, whilst very good, a little less prominent than usual. There’s some singing on a few of the tracks from Robertson whose voice has a gritty quality that reminds me of gospel singer Blind Willie Johnson. The sleeve notes, by Hunter Robertson, give all the tunings used on banjo and fiddle, with some source information for the selected tunes.
We filmed this video as one of several bonus features that will be included on my forthcoming clawhammer banjo instructional DVD. Jonathan VanBallenberghe from Open Lens Productions did the filming and editing. See www.hunterrobertson.com for more information about the DVD. The banjo’s tuned gCGCC (tuned down to B). Based on Tommy Jarrell’s recording with some additional lyrics.