Level of difficulty...tunes you work on but never seem to 'finish'?

After Rob posted his version of "Pink Lemonade", along with his comment regarding it being an "easy" piece, I got to thinking about level of difficulty and how long some tunes seem to take to learn.

For example, I have been working on Olly Oakley's "Dashwood Quickstep" for a full year now...and although I can play all the parts "at speed" (no, not as fast as his recording...which is amazing, but I feel really faster than it ought to be played), I have yet to be able to play thru w/o stumbling (often quite badly). God forbid I should try to record it, I doubt I could get thru the A part. Ok, I'll try to put down some portion of it this weekend...please be kind though.

Yet, I believe this tune would be considered "moderate" (between 'easy' and 'difficult'). By this standard, I doubt I will live long enough to attempt something like "Zarana". And there's the rub...I have played thru "Zarana" and the techniques required do not seem all that daunting. The daunting part is getting it all together at one sitting and doing it properly.

I guess sometimes it is the mere 'tunefulness' of the piece that makes it come easily. Stuff like "A Banjo Oddity" just sort of played well from the first reading, same with "Banjoland", though I've forgotten most of it now...

So, by what measure do you claim you've "learnt" any particular tune? When is a tune "finished"? Never?


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I am sitting here, banjo on knee, in a black cloud with a depressed look on my face

. I have a copy of Pandemonium Rag, which I think came from Marc and have spent weeks working on it. I guess another couple of years and I will be somewhere near getting a tune out of it! What I find frustrating is that fingering is marked with the specific instruction that it MUST be adhered to...but I don't think it is correct in either which finger of the right or the left hand to use!!

Anyone else worked through this piece with success?

A finished tune? .PAAHHHH
I have tried to record myself playing "The Smiler" many different times...never to my satisfaction. Also, "Smokey Mokes," and several tunes from the Converse Analytical. Bottom line, I believe is, Classic-style banjo is HARD. It may not be as constantly rapid-fire as Bluegrass or clawhammer style, but it has a chordal and rhythmic complexity that takes a lot of practice to master.

But, as the old saying goes, a bird in the hand is worth an ounce of prevention, so let's have another drink and get back to practicing.
Well said Carl, pass me a beer.

I have come up with a clever idea though. I am going to grow a couple of extra fingers on my left hand. That should do it.

ps. Yep, Smiler Rag is a struggle too, and Maple Leaf Rag and ........
i think " pink lemonade " is an easy piece & " zarana " a hard one ; yes .
never finished : it ' s sure because you can play it better or differently or understand something new in the feeling of the tune you didn 't discovered before etc ; so you can record it on a video and record a better one on of these days .; it s simple .
It is a music hard to play and all we know are the vituosos like joe Morley , van Eps , etc
What can we think about all these old black n white pictures showing 20 banjo players ? did they play all like virtuosos ?; I am not really sure about that . Do you they could play " the smiler " , for instance all together without rythm problems ?
not sure .for me , i play Cb ,first for my pleasure ; i like the bj and i try to follow my heroes ( Pb ; i have many heroes .. )
Pandemonium, Ian? Are you that desperate for punishment? ;-) That is one tough bit of banjo music!!

I did indeed post that one to the Classic Banjo group over on Yahoo Groups. I would love to have that one 'under my belt' and be able to trot it out, "oh, that old thing? Sure, I'll give it a go..." but I think it shall be some time before I attempt it.

I had thoughts of attempting "Shovelfish Rag" for a while also...but I decided that both were well over my head for the moment.
I "learned" Van Eps' "The Oriole" (ragtime oriole) about 4 years ago and since then have lost it. I guess the key of A flat was a bit disorienting at that stage. I might get back to it though. But I sent the Van Eps' recording to Bob Black, the brilliant bluegrass player in Iowa, and because the actual pitch of the recording is G natural he assumed Van Eps was playing it there. Bob learned the whole thing in a few hours and on top of that he tuned his bass string down to B to catch the lowest note of the piece which would have been C in the key of A flat. He did this by ear and the tunefulness carried him through.

Yes, Banjoland plays easy enough but the Second Banjo part can be a bear! Fun though. I found it hard because I wasn't used to jumping horizontally on the bass string in those patterns.

So I guess it's the player's past experience and degree of familiarity with certain fingerings and/or with certain melodic shapes and harmonic tendencies that determines what comes easy and not. But one way to break through unfamiliar musical is to take a step back and notice the underlying structure.

Ralph Stanley says his banjo picking is so simple no one else can do it. Creole fiddler Canray Fontenot told me that his timing on "Les Barress De La Prison" or "Bonsoir Moreau" was so natural to him that he never considered it difficult but that any number of fiddlers had told him they had given up in despair trying to replicate his idea of what a waltz is. I found I could "crack the code" when I realized Canray had subdivided each beat into 2, so he was really playing in 6/4 and dividing the phrasing into 2 and 4 (which adds up to 6). This apparently Off Topic ramble is to say that another factor in getting hard music to be easier is somehow putting oneself in the composer or arranger's shoes. Or in their socks anyway.
Well put, Jody. I find the more I study this stuff, the more complex and wonderful (and forbidding) it becomes. I often shudder at some of my early transcription mistakes (and I really ought to go back and correct them). Still, some of this stuff is really enigmatic...esp. fingering. When I create TAB from an original (which is how I learn stuff), I try very hard to get the fingering from the document "as notated". If there is no fingering, I'm left to my own devices, of course. However, there is usually at least one measure in every piece that leaves me scratching my head. Each publisher had their own standards...some seem to change willy-nilly.

The great thing about the Grimshaw stuff is that it is almost always thoughtfully fingered and well marked.

Banjoland's 2nd is a bear? Hmmmm...maybe that's why Bill didn't want to do a duet! I had the 1st well in hand back then... ;-)
Let me tell you a story about Bill Evans as he's unlikely to brag about this himself. He got introduced to Banjoland when Tony Trischka asked him to record the tune with him. Bill was to play the second part. As usual he was very busy so he didn't get a chance to play through the tune before flying from the west to east coast to do the recording session. On the plane he read through the Second part and imagined how he'd do each measure and then imagined himself doing that. He got off the plane went to the studio and recorded it perfectly.

Yes, some published fingerings are unlikely or awkward, and in some cases physically impossible. SS Stewart ranted long and hard about that.
Having seen Mr. Evans in action once or twice, I can well imagine him doing just that. Great player and a nice guy. I cannot imagine having that level of musical expertise...

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