Welcome to Musix Newsletter #17 • Fall 2011
We’ve got several pieces of music, TAB, and MP3s for you to download and learn. First we want to bring you up-to-date with the latest and the greatest, all the news that fits!
Parking Lot Picker’s Songbook, Bass Edition
My newest publication is the Parking Lot Picker’s Songbook, Bass Edition. It’s the sixth book/audio set in the Parking Lot Picker’s series. Each edition is customized especially for one of the instruments in the classic bluegrass ensemble. Now every member of the band, banjo, mandolin, guitar, fiddle, dobro, and bass, can have their very own copy of the book, with the same songs, in the same key, and follow along for a jam session.
The 312-page book/downloadable audio set contains over 215 great Bluegrass, Old Time, Country, and Gospel standards. The downloadable audio include recordings of every song and every bass part. Melodies and bass lines are presented in standard notation along with lyrics and chords. We’ve posted some sample pages along with audio clips from the CDs so you can check out how the project is structured. Here’s the link to the PLP Bass web page.
You’ll learn to play songs written and recorded by the giants of traditional American music: Bill Monroe, The Stanley Brothers, Flatt & Scruggs, Ralph Stanley, The Osborne Brothers, Jimmy Martin, Doc Watson, and many more. Also included: step-by-step instruction on how to compose and play bass lines and how to transpose any song to any key!
The instruction will be helpful to bass players or aspiring bass players interested in bluegrass, old time, and gospel music. The bass parts are recorded on the accompanying audio along with guitar, mandolin, and vocals. What are you waiting for? Let’s make some music right now! The links below will take you to each of the different PLP editions.
The Parking Lot Picker’s Songbook Bass Edition
The Parking Lot Picker’s Songbook Guitar Edition
The Parking Lot Picker’s Songbook Mandolin Edition
The Parking Lot Picker’s Songbook Banjo Edition
The Parking Lot Picker’s Songbook Dobro Edition
The Parking Lot Picker’s Songbook Fiddle Edition
Christmas Crosspicking Solos for Guitar book/audio set
I just read though the first proof copy of my soon-to-be published Christmas Crosspicking Solos for Guitar book/CD set. It has 31 crosspicking arrangements of traditional holiday songs, every one a favorite.
As you may know, I’m a sucker for Christmas music. I love arranging it, playing it, singing it, and hearing it. Two years ago Mel Bay published my Christmas Favorites for Solo Guitar, a collection of flatpick-style solos. The new one picks up where that one left off and offers beautiful crosspicking guitar solos. If all goes well, Christmas Crosspicking Solos for Guitar should be available in plenty of time for you to learn a fist full of great guitar solos for the holiday season. I have posted one of the solos, the queen of all traditional Christmas songs, “Silent Night,” in the Musix Newsletter section below. As soon as the book/CD set is available, I plan to post a video of one of the solos on YouTube.
Mandolin and Guitar Workshops @ Gryphon, Palo Alto
If you live in the greater San Francisco Bay Area I’ll be teaching two workshops, one mandolin and guitar, on Saturday, November 12, 2011, at Gryphon Stringed Instruments, Palo Alto, CA. The first is A Bit Beyond Bluegrass: Swing/Jazz Chords, Comping, and Repertoire for Mandolin, the second is Swing/Jazz Chords, Comping, and Repertoire for Guitar.
Musix Newsletter #17
Now, let’s get to the meat of Musix Newsletter #17: the music!
Little Willie guitar backup
Through my work on the Parking Lot Picker’s Songbook series, I keep re-discovering great songs that I love. One that I’ve recently been working on is “Little Willie.” I’ve been performing it in a duo with mandolinist and singer Julie Cline. I composed a backup guitar part that’s a little more active than a typical bluegrass backup. I think of it as a modern old-time approach and it comes out of a desire for a guitar part that’s a little fuller and more active for the duo context. The recording features Julie singing and we performed it significantly slower than we’d usually do in concert.
The only challenging bit might be what I played behind the Bb chord. Bluegrass and old time guitarists tend to shy away from Bb — both the key and the chord — but I think offers a very nice and different timbre.
By the way, most all of the MP3 recordings I post in the Musix Newsletters are presented at only one speed. We do that to save space on our ever expanding website’s server. However, just about every book/audio set that I’ve ever produced includes at least two recordings of every piece of music: one at a slow speed and one at regular performance speed.
Frogs for Snakes mandolin blues
I’ve heard blues played on the mandolin forever and have always liked it. Of course the big daddy of the mandolin, Bill Monroe, played a lot of blue notes and made them an integral part of the sound of bluegrass. Here I’m talking about a more down-home blues style, like some of the old-time string bands in the 1920s played. A modern practitioner of such styles can be found in Rich DelGrosso, whom I’ve known since our days working together on Mandolin World News in the early 1980s.
The song presented here is called “Frogs for Snakes” and I wrote it a few years back for a book I published entitled Backup Tracks: Basic Blues for Guitar. You can see a video of me playing “Frogs for Snakes” on guitar on YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HYXZcvuatV4. As I was playing the song a few months back I decided it might sound nice on the mandolin. So here’s a version of “Frogs for Snakes” arranged for the mandolin with lots of bluesy double stops.
The song starts out in measure one with a slide into some some cool double stop triplets that are very typical in this older style of the blues. In the next measure we go into a vamp that’s typical of a guitar vamp in the style. The next two measures, three and four, are pretty much a repeat of the first two measures. The classic blues form has a fairly repetitive structure, and that’s a good thing. In measure five we head over to the four chord, in this case an A7, for a totally different lick. In measures seven and eight we’ll basically play the same thing we played in measures one, two, three, and four. In measure nine we arrive at the five chord. Here again will do that basic and typical guitar-style vamp but over a B7 chord.
Following that, the progression goes to a sharp five chord, a C7, for half a measure, then back to the regular five or B7 chord. The last two measures are a typical blues or jazz turnaround where the progression goes from the one (E) to the one seven (E7), then to the four (A) and four minor (Am) before going back to the one chord. On the last two beats of measure 12 you’ll play a B7 chord. In the key of E the B7 is the five or dominant chord and it leads us either back to the top of the form to play another solo or to the last measure, measure 13, and the end of the song. You’ll have a lot of fun with “Frogs for Snakes” on the mandolin and I can almost guarantee that audiences will love the unusual sound and feel of it on instrument they might not expect to hear playing blues.
Oh, I just remembered: I may have had another inspiration for including “Frogs for Snakes” in this Musix Newsletter. About a week ago my wife Kathi decided to take our dog Molly out for a walk. It was about 10 o’clock in the evening and quite dark outside. I was doing some computer work in my office at the back of the house. After just a few minutes, Kathi and Molly burst back in the door and Kathi said, “There’s a big snake on the front lawn. Come and see it! Hurry!” So I grabbed a flashlight and Kathy and Molly led me to the edge of the lawn and the snake. Now, remember, it was pretty dark out, and I didn’t particularly want to trod on no snake, so I was stepping slow, at least until I could see the varmint. Directly, there, in the middle of a patch of lawn we share with our neighbor, was a big old California king snake. I don’t know if you have ever seen a California king snake but they are beautiful and have narrow yellow and wide black stripes that go around the body. They look like they might be something more sinister and dangerous than they in fact are.
Neither Kathi nor I are particularly phobic about snakes. We respect them and are fascinated by them. We’ve walked by rattlesnakes more than once and Kathi barely bats an eye. My kind of girl! I’m not sure about Molly. She’d probably love to engage with just about any kind of snake judging from her interest in squirrels, gophers, skunks, bugs of all kinds, etc. but I digress. Let’s get back to the snake.
The snake didn’t seem to be moving and I was beginning to think that it was dead. Still, I was cautious. I couldn’t see the head and in California you always try to find the head since that’s the body part that you most have to be concerned with. Eventually I located the snake’s head — or rather, where it ought to have been — and saw that it was deceased. It always makes me sad to see something like that but in this case it must’ve been a natural part of the way things go. It was an amazing thing to see in my lawn so I ran back into the house and got my camera. Here’s the photo.
The question remains however, how the heck did it get there? I’ve never seen a king snake in this suburban setting. Once in a while we see garter snakes and such and, as I mentioned, we see rattlesnakes occasionally on trails in the hills. But never a big and beautiful snake like a California king snake. In fact, I’ve only seen one other king snake in my life, and that was just for a split second as it crossed the edge of the trail we were hiking on.
The only explanation I can come up with is that the snake was dropped by a hawk or an owl. Owls are a pretty rare sight but we do get a glimpse of them every so often at night. Hawks, on the other hand, are constantly in the sky. These hawks and owls can be heard and seen hunting on the Lime Ridge hills behind our house. My theory is that one of these birds may have been a bit clumsy. Perhaps it was flying over the house with a snake in its beak and for some reason dropped it. I wonder why it didn’t swoop down and pick the thing up again as this was a pretty serious meal for any size raptor. It may have been spooked by all the humans, houses, cars, streets, sidewalks, etc. Or maybe it was tussling with another raptor.
I find that I can’t quite get the scenario of a hawk or an owl dropping a snake on our lawn out of my mind. It’s a bit unsettling. As I mentioned, I like snakes, and they don’t scare me. On the other hand the thought of one getting dropped on my shoulder in the dark of night makes me shudder! It would scare the tar out of me. I suppose in light of this incident I should change the name of the song from “Frogs for Snakes” to “Snakes for Birds.” They’re all reptiles. Even the birds around here look pretty reptillian. Naaah! “Snakes for Birds” doesn’t really roll off the tongue like “Frogs for Snakes.” We’ll just keep the title as is.
Silent Night cross picking guitar solo
“Silent Night” is one of the thirty-one arrangements in my Christmas Crosspicking Solos for Guitar book/CD set mentioned above. It is the quintessential Christmas song. This arrangement is fairly easy to play and sounds pretty. There are just a few slightly challenging passages. You’ll use your fourth finger on the D, C, and D7 chords in measures 6, 10, and 14. You’ll also slide into a closed position G chord (shown below) in measure 16. Watch the various hammers in measures 2, 4, and 9.
I use an alternating “down-up-down” crosspicking pattern on strings 3-2-1, 4-3-2, etc. You can just as easily use a “down-down-up” pattern. In addition to this arrangement of “Silent Night” with the crosspicking pattern placed on strings 3-2-1 I also included an additional version in the book. The second arrangement of “Silent Night” uses a “down-up-up” pattern placed on strings 3-1-2, or strings 4–2–3. The second pattern is probably closer to the cross picking patterns used by guitarists who come out of the Stanley Brothers tradition.
As I mentioned above, Christmas Crosspicking Solos for Guitar is due to be in print by late October 2011. I’ll send out an announcement when it’s available. Have fun and Merry Christmas!
Down in the Willow Garden mandolin single & double stop solos
My book/audio set Getting into Bluegrass Mandolin has sections on a bunch of things I think a mandolinist needs to know to get started playing bluegrass mandolin. We cover everything from holding the pick and playing simple chords, to “the great big bad bluegrass chop chord,” tremolo, double stops, and a bunch of great songs that bluegrass players play all over the world. As I have worked through Getting into Bluegrass Mandolin with students over the past few years I find that most everyone is fascinated/mystified with/by playing double stops on the mandolin. If you haven’t played double stops much the technique can seem impossible and difficult to get rolling. So, I’ve taken to adding double stops to a lot of the songs in the book as we work through them. For example, as soon as a student can play the tremolo version of “Down in the Willow Garden” we start working on a double stop tremolo version of the song. I thought you might enjoy working with it too.
First let’s look at the single string tremolo version of the song excerpted from Getting into Bluegrass Mandolin. I marked the notes that you should tremolo with a little slash (/) on the note stems. For the most part these are notes that are longer than quarter notes. Half notes or dotted half notes are denoted in the tablature with an oval on the TAB note head.
If you’re not used to playing through music with first and second endings you may get a little lost. Let me run through the “roadmap” of the song. Start at the beginning and play through measure eight. Measure numbers are shown, starting with the second staff, slightly above and to the left of the treble clef sign. Measures six, seven, and eight are enclosed in a little horizontal bracket with a “1.” This is the first ending.
On the right-hand side of measure eight you’ll see two little stacked dots known as a repeat sign. The repeat sign tells you to go back to the previous set of double dots, which you’ll find in the first full measure of the piece, after the pickup measure, just to the left of the first and second verse lyrics “in” and “there.” Play through measures one through five again, skip measures six, seven, and eight (the measures enclosed in the first ending) and proceed to the second ending, measures 9, 10, and 11. Like the first ending, measures 9, 10, and 11 are enclosed in a little horizontal bracket with a “2.” This is the second ending. After you play the second ending proceed to measure 12 in the third staff, and play through to the end of the piece. Easy, huh? Make sure you can play through this single string/tremolo version of the song before you tackle the double stop arrangement.
We won’t get into too much depth here about how to turn a single string melody into a double stop solo, but basically what I’m doing is adding a chord tone above each melody note. In some cases both of these notes might turn out to be on the same string and since we can’t play two different notes on the same string at the same time it’s necessary to move both notes up the fingerboard and play them on neighboring strings.
It can seem like a big jump to go from playing a single string melody to a double stop melody. The first one can be tough but after you learn just a few double stop melodies, you’ll start to understand how to harmonize single note passages as the patterns recur and become familiar to you. The second solo will be easier to compose than the first, the third will be much easier than the first or the second.
Take a look at the double stop version of “Down in the Willow Garden.” Suggested fretting finger numbers are shown below the standard music notation staff. The top number refers to the higher note of the double stop pair, the lower number refers to the lower note. Again, the ovals around some of the tablature numbers represent half or dotted half notes. I left off the tremolo slashes on the note stems. As you can hear on the MP3, I pretty much add tremolo to any note longer than a quarter. As always, listen to the recording, play the solo slowly, and give your brain and fingers a chance to get to know one another and the new techniques.
St. Anne’s Reel mandolin tune
I know I pledged in the last newsletter to keep the number of musical pieces in each newsletter down to a manageable amount so I can post more newsletters, but I can’t resist including one more: “St. Anne’s Reel.” I happened to play this recently with mandolinist Chris McLaughlin and remembered what a nice tune it is. This version is from my book/CD set Favorite Mandolin Picking Tunes. “St. Anne’s Reel” is one of over 30 eclectic tunes in the book from a wide variety of styles including bluegrass, Irish, jazz, standards, classics, classical, waltzes polkas, and ethnic music. I had a ton of fun putting the collection together and highlighting many of my favorite tunes without having to worry about teaching a specific technique or keeping the tunes within set stylistic parameters. The collection represents the types of tunes that I think every mandolin player should be able to play. They have all served me well for over 40 years.
“St. Anne’s Reel” is an Irish fiddle tune. I don’t know that it was originally played on the fiddle or something else like harp or bagpipes. I love the lilt of “St. Anne’s Reel” and it makes for a great traditional dance tune. Fiddle tunes (and classical violin music, for that matter) are a great source of material for the mandolin. Since the tuning of the mandolin and the violin are the same, much of the repertoire from one is easily converted to the other.
The music and tab for “St. Anne’s Reel” are pretty typical for fiddle tunes. The numbers between the standard music staff and the tablature staff and suggested fretting finger numbers. Take it slow and work your way up to speed. It’s a dance tune, a “reel,” so it doesn’t need to be played all that quickly.
Have a wonderful Fall and enjoy playing these tunes. We’ll see you next time with Musix Newsletter #18.
Dix Bruce, October 2011