By Clarence L. Partee.

Additional chapter to "Practical Hints on Modern Banjo Playing."

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One of the important accomplishments a performer should master is the art of accompaniment playing.  This branch of the student's musical education is often neglected entirely by both teacher and pupil, being apparently considered unnecessary or superfluous.  Again, it seems when amateur orchestras or clubs are organized each and every member wants to play the leading part.  This is not only impossible but absurd.  There can be but one leader, and someone must play "second" banjo--why not you?  Do not imagine your ability is superior to the requirements of the part.  Indeed, if you prove equal to the task you may congratulate yourself, for among the best soloists to be found anywhere, regardless of the instrument on which they perform, scarcely one in five would be capable of playing offhand, a respectable accompaniment to an ordinary song as it should be done.

The reason of this is apparent:  Accompaniment playing is an art of itself, and must be thoroughly studied and practiced before proficiency can be attained; thus, very few soloists are good accompanists, because their entire time and attention is usually given to their solo work to the exclusion of everything else.

It will be possible to give only a few general hints on the subject herein, because a knowledge of Harmony would be necessary before the student could understand the system of writing and arranging accompaniments, were I to attempt to explain it.  How to play an accompaniment properly, is the important point the pupil should consider.

The requirements vary according to the circumstances under which the performance is given, the character of the song to which the accompaniment is written, and the number and variety of instruments (if any) on which other parts are played at the same time.

First it should be remembered that accompaniment playing consists of something more than "thumping" the chords indiscriminately in an effort to "drown out" all the other parts.  Again, if the performer is adapting or arranging his own accompaniments, he should make an effort to introduce a little variety in the character and style, as well as the harmony, and not write all his accompaniments simply in an endless succession of "straight"chords, with never a change or rest to break the monotony.  There are so many styles of accompaniments that no further effort will be made to explain how they should be written.  A study of good composition will enable the student to form a general idea of the correct method,and will enable us to devote more space to hints on how they should be executed, which is more important.

1st.  Do not try to play louder than the solo banjo or other instruments.

2nd.Do not "twang" the strings when playing chords, as it spoils the effect.  Many amateur banjo players have a habit of lifting the strings bodily upwards when they pick a chord, allowing the strings to strike against the frets as they fall back into place, making a most irritating and disagreeable sound, that is positively nerve shattering.  This fault is generally mere force of habit, and should be corrected as soon as possible.

3rd.  Don't start slowly and then play faster and faster, unless the music requires it.  If you do you will probably finish the piece several bars ahead of your most enthusiastic competitor in the race.

4th.  Do not play softly at all times,neither loudly throughout,unless especially indicated on the music.  The same may be said is regard to playing slow or fast. These things should be indicated on the music; If they are not the leaders judgement must be relied on as to when to play slow, fast, soft or loud, etc.

5th  Don't play the chords like a machine or with a monotonous, everlasting "plunk, plunk."  Put a little spirit, life, animation,or sentiment into your playing, according to the character of the music; In a word, play accompaniments, as everywhere else, with expression.

6th.  The entire art of accompaniment playing may be summed up briefly as follows:  It consists of the ability to read and understand the accompaniment perfectly, and to execute same as may be required, while listening to and being conscious of the progress of the melody, so as to follow every change of tempo, degree of power, and light and shade of expression given the melody by the soloist, blending perfectly with the leading part in such a manner as to make both seem as practically one.  This is the ideal to be sought after, and it leaves little or nothing to be said on the subject, except that while this chapter was written for banjoists, every word of it applies forcibly to accompaniments to be played upon the guitar as if it were written with that instrument in mind.  Thus we attempt to enlighten amateur guitarists who may be numbered among our subscribers as well as banjoists. 

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Subscription to The 'Jo is 61 cents for 6 numbers or $1.22 for a year, (12 numbers).  American subscribers may remit The Cadenza office, and we will have The 'Jo forwarded to them promptly.

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published in The Cadenza, Nov-Dec 1895.



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Aye. Amen.

I noticed immediately (at AEBG III) that playing accompaniment is a lot tougher than it looks...and tougher than it is during home practice. I was struggling to simply get thru the tunes, even the basic stuff I thought I knew. I really enjoyed it...but imagine if I actually knew what I was doing! ;-)

I would love to be able to create a chord chart for this stuff. A fully written-out 2nd is great but it ends up being simply another entire piece I must memorize (or at least be able to read at speed). In my OT/BG world, I often work from chord charts to play three-finger backup. Yes, these are almost always very easy maj/min/7th chords...

I guess (as I have said before) I need some harmony training...

Hi Marc, don't know if this will help re- accompaniment playing, but I find a metronome helpful in practice I do play with others two to three times a week ( not banjo ) and playing accompaniment, I don't think, is as easy as playing the tune. Other things to help practice are , playing along with the Tab edit tunes, playing along with You Tube tunes,or if you do have a keyboard that will record and play back the tune so that you can play along with that. I have tried all of the things mentioned and all work , although I usually come back to the Metronome. Hope I havn't spoken out of line.
Trapdoor2 said:
Aye. Amen.

I noticed immediately (at AEBG III) that playing accompaniment is a lot tougher than it looks...and tougher than it is during home practice. I was struggling to simply get thru the tunes, even the basic stuff I thought I knew. I really enjoyed it...but imagine if I actually knew what I was doing! ;-)

I would love to be able to create a chord chart for this stuff. A fully written-out 2nd is great but it ends up being simply another entire piece I must memorize (or at least be able to read at speed). In my OT/BG world, I often work from chord charts to play three-finger backup. Yes, these are almost always very easy maj/min/7th chords...

I guess (as I have said before) I need some harmony training...
I use a Metronome when practising, but unfortunately I think that mine must be faulty as it slows down at the easy bits and speeds up at the tricky sections.

:-)

Sylvia said:

Hi Marc, don't know if this will help re- accompaniment playing, but I find a metronome helpful in practice I do play with others two to three times a week ( not banjo ) and playing accompaniment, I don't think, is as easy as playing the tune. Other things to help practice are , playing along with the Tab edit tunes, playing along with You Tube tunes,or if you do have a keyboard that will record and play back the tune so that you can play along with that. I have tried all of the things mentioned and all work , although I usually come back to the Metronome. Hope I havn't spoken out of line.
Hi Sylvia,

Yes, it does help to play with a 'nome. I do indeed also play along with TablEdit, which I prefer over the 'nome.

My problem is that I so rarely get to play this music in ensemble (twice now?) that I cannot keep myself from listening to the other players. When one needs 110% of their brain to simply play the tune, having a bit scamper away to listen is not a good thing. Half of me wants to play along and the other half wants to sit in the middle, grin stupidly and tap my foot.

I do suffer from the wandering metrognome problem, Ian. I have never found one that is self-compensating!
Hi Marc and Ian I know just what you both mean. Pity technology ( how the heck do spell it ) couldn't link you all up on a regular basis so that you could all play together ! Or maybe it can ? You could first listen to the piece of music and get the foot tapping out of the way : ) , then get down to the joining in and playing together. Sorted ! : )
That was a really good article Carl. Thank you.
As someone who has spent a good deal (half?) of his professional life as an accompanist and another portion as a soloist being accompanied I can say with confidence that *NOT* listening to the other players is where all the trouble starts. Keep listening, Marc, and pay no attention to technical matters and your hands will take care of themselves. The trick is to structure the listening mentally so that you are listening to *us* rather than yourself versus them. It's the sound of the players together that is the reliable guide.


Trapdoor2 said:
I cannot keep myself from listening to the other players. When one needs 110% of their brain to simply play the tune, having a bit scamper away to listen is not a good thing. Half of me wants to play along and the other half wants to sit in the middle, grin stupidly and tap my foot.

I do suffer from the wandering metrognome problem, Ian. I have never found one that is self-compensating!
Of course, you're absolutely right. I do listen when playing less technical backup...like BG or OT stuff...and I guess I am listening at some level (rhythm, etc.) when playing in ensemble. This classic stuff is so structured that I'm just not "there" yet. Heck, I have trouble with dynamics just messing around with this stuff at home. In ensemble, it all goes out the window!

I do find that when playing with other "live" players, I "play thru" mistakes much easier. At home, playing along with the computer (or whatever), I tend to stop and restart if the mistake is a big one. With live playing, I guess I am more cognizant of the need to keep the music going.

So glad to have these opportunities to play as a group. I wish I could do it on a weekly basis. Maybe I should move to Tex-Ar-Kansas...
If you look at most classic banjo pieces from a chordal/harmonic point of view there are few technical challenges presented in a second banjo part , as plain ol' oompah will usually suffice. In the case of pre-composed second parts there are certainly some technical challenges. There's a second part to A Ragtime Episode that has some passages I find more challenging than the first part and of course Cammeyer's seconds demand a lot of focus and finesse. But as for making it up as you go along, classic banjo second parts are a lot easier than meeting the demands on a banjoist in a bluegrass context where what is being accompanied is ever changing since there other soloists each with a different style and dynamics and with a singer whose words have to accompanied in an appropriate way. Playing good old time banjo accompaniment is harder yet especially when accompanying a fiddler since each fiddler has a different style and pacing and since many of them will make melodic variations with each repetition of the tune. By contrast, the typical classic player will stick to the written score about 99% so the accompanist pretty much knows what is coming,


Trapdoor2 said:
Of course, you're absolutely right. I do listen when playing less technical backup...like BG or OT stuff...and I guess I am listening at some level (rhythm, etc.) when playing in ensemble. This classic stuff is so structured that I'm just not "there" yet. Heck, I have trouble with dynamics just messing around with this stuff at home. In ensemble, it all goes out the window!

I do find that when playing with other "live" players, I "play thru" mistakes much easier. At home, playing along with the computer (or whatever), I tend to stop and restart if the mistake is a big one. With live playing, I guess I am more cognizant of the need to keep the music going.

So glad to have these opportunities to play as a group. I wish I could do it on a weekly basis. Maybe I should move to Tex-Ar-Kansas...
  Is there any sort of chord chart for Briggs tuning?  With the lowered 4 string,{I mean diff. than open G tuning} Im totally  lost  if I get past the first 3 strings ,,

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