Learning to Play "A Footlight Favorite", Part 2. By Jody Stecher

Deciding how to play the intro and part 2 of Emile Grimshaw's banjo solo called A Footlight Favorite. Making choices about left and right hand fingering and ...

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Comment by Jody Stecher on August 18, 2020 at 20:07

And here it is by "popular request" (4 people asked me to continue and no one requested I cease and desist). Thanks for the encouraging words. 

Apologies for the very brief rant at the end about surviving Covid 19. No apologies for the obviously less-than-perfect playing. This is a video about the process of learning and about making ongoing decisions about what to play and how to play it. And also.... although I didn't say so in the video.... about circumventing muscle memory when the memory is not an advantageous way to play!

Comment by Pär Engstrand on August 19, 2020 at 9:15

Thanks alot, Jody!

Actually, if I'm picking on details, the second part is not written as you play it (at least not how it is written in the copy from the library on here). On my score the rhythm is written: dotted eight notes and sixteenth notes. If there are other scores out there with differently notated rhythm, that would be interesting to know. Pidoux doesn't play it, as you mention, but William Ball does (and manages a really groovy syncopated feel, that I like). My "problem" when playing it through, is that I end up playing that second part in a swing feel, as in tripplet feel. Consequently I then want to play the rest of the piece also in swing feel. Or it sounds really wierd shifting from straight and swing feel.

Mind you, I still have to get it up to tempo, so it might solve it self, somehow, when I do that.

Comment by Pär Engstrand on August 19, 2020 at 11:01

The thing with Ball's version; though, is that in the 2nd part the intended bass melody is somewhat lost. Seems he focuses more on the upper part.

Comment by Jody Stecher on August 19, 2020 at 13:00

You are right, Par, about how the rhythm is written in the second part. Bear in mind that when I titled these videos "Learning to play etc"  the learner is *me*. These are not instruction videos. I am in the process of learning how to play A Footlight Favo(u)rite. My sources are both ink and sound recordings and I am in the process of sorting it all out and deciding how I want to play it. I forgot to mention the dotted eighth notes and sixteenths. I wondered if the sixteenth note at the end of each arpeggiated chord is intended to be played as a "pickup" for the thumb melody note that follows but it sounds stilted and mechanical when I try it that way. So I'm still learning or "messing about" if you prefer.  :-)    I forgot to mention other things as well. For instance in the first measure of line 5 the last chord is written as C natural, f sharp (as per the key signature) and g sharp. The recordings, the musical context,  and the notation for the accompaniment (the Second Banjo part) make it clear that F natural is intended. This is meant to be a diminished chord, not a demolished chord. Another thing I forgot to mention is the fingering of that diminished chord and the C7 chord that precedes it. The score says to barre the first 2 strings with the 4th finger, the pinky.  I am using both 3rd and 4th finger, each on its own string.  The prescribed way causes stress to the back of my hand and I find no advantage in keeping my middle 2 fingers unoccupied so I use a painless alternative.

Comment by Trapdoor2 on August 19, 2020 at 16:10

Again, another excellent video...except for all the mumbling. Sometimes you almost sound like Popeye talking to himself. ;-)

Yes, that open D is there to give you time to reach back into the 1st position @ 104. I always default to an open string if I can during such movements. Yes, your banjo's D isn't the most musical note...but like you said, it will go by so fast, nobody will notice it.

I also agree that Pidoux was dragging his fingers in those arpeggiated spots. Being it is a ZB, I think that would make the sound smoother...as it does when you do it.

Deviations from the score are probably more common than not. "Individuality" is prime. I think that I, at least, often expect the score to be inviolate...but I have learned that we often have to let ourselves just make music rather than let the score enslave us. However, I do normally use the score as my "square one" and then apply my proclivities once I've played it like a meat robot. I do often change fingering as my Scruggs and Melodic training makes my fingers more comfortable in some positions (as yours are).

I've never broken a piece down like this, that is, in comparison to other recordings. I'm enjoying this discussion and your videos.

Comment by Jody Stecher on August 19, 2020 at 16:48

Thanks, Marc. I shall try to refrain from further mumbling.  Sometimes I *Feel* like Popeye talking to himself.

I agree that open strings are a welcome bridge to get from one position to the next. I keep reminding all my students about this "trick".  But in this case the note that follows D is an open B string. Accessing that requires no change of hand position  and the note that follows the B is Bb on the third fret of string 3. The index has been on fret 5 and now it needs to move down only 2 frets. ( I wouldn't use the 2nd or 3rd finger for Bb on fret 3 in this case where the next note is two frets higher and *must* be played with the index to complete the C7 chord).  To get to Bb on string 3 from E on string 2 does require plucking a different string but it's not a big move. None of which means that open D might not be a better choice, especially on a banjo whose first string does not go anngggnnhh. Hmmm, the strings on this Windsor Grand Solo model banjo are many years old. I never noticed this problem before. Perhaps a change of strings will fix the problem, 

Comment by Pär Engstrand on August 19, 2020 at 17:15

Well, actually, I only commented on that rhythm in the second part because I find it pretty uncomfortable to play myself and was hoping there would be another score :-) I do tend to try to play according to the composers wishes, as far as it makes sence for me. Probably has to do with my classical training. Or I think that there is a reason the composer wanted it that way. I'm not always sure it's the right thing to do. I am sure it's not the right thing to always do, though :-) I mean, if I would compose music, I would want people to deviate from what was written, just to get to hear their personality. So why shouldn't I...? Well, that is a topic for another discussion.

After playing the piece almost the whole day, on both zither and regular banjo, I'm leaning towards playing the 2nd part straight, rhythmically. For me, it gives the piece a better flow. At least for now. I also omit the note to be played with the thumb on every 2nd and 4th beat. For me that brings out the melodic line in the bass better. But that might be because of my lack of technique.

Oh yes. That chord in the 2nd part had me confused as well. But as you write, an f natural is really the only thing that makes sence.

Regarding the open D string. It was very good you pointed that out. I prefer to play the piece on a zither and the open D really sticks out if I'm not carefull. I'm seeing that D note as the end of a phrase, so I make a slight decrescendo in the bar before and play the D very softly, like how I often end a cadence (or how I want to, I might say...). The note D is a very logical note to play after an A chord (in this case being the dominant, or the V, to D) so I think the listener would probably almost "hear" it even if I wouldn't play it at all.

I also find this really interesting. Thank you for doing this, Jody. It would be really helpfull to do this all the time. So, who's up after Jody? And which piece? :-)

Comment by Pär Engstrand on August 19, 2020 at 17:23

Oh, and a question about the wax rolls. The Pidoux version is almost half a tone higher than the written key. Is it common that the wax rolls would play at a higher speed (I know absolutely nothing about historic recording equipment)? I don't have a way of checking how many bpm difference a half tone would make. Anyone knows?

I have a hard time believeing that the piano would have been tuned that high. Although I could be wrong.

Comment by Jody Stecher on August 19, 2020 at 18:18

I understand about the composer's intentions but printed banjo scores don't always reflect what the composer intended. If the score we've all been looking at comes from BMG then Grimshaw is likely to have approved it or even submitted it.  In the case of Olly Oakley he played pieces that he composed differently each time he recorded them and that was sometimes many times and none of them were exactly like the score. Vess Ossman on record rarely played what we see on the page but we don't know if *he* saw that page, or another, or none. 

Yes the D is the end of the phrase, not a pickup. What I'm doing today is keeping the A chord pressed (except for the 1st string) as I play the open D.  I release the A  chord mili-seconds later. It turned out that the noisy D problem had two causes:  1) the overtones from 5 open strings tuned to a G chord made that open D string sound like it was part of G chord which is musically undesirable at that point in the tune and 2) the low D string was tuned a microtone low and its first overtone (upper partial)  was causing beats when I sounded the open 1st string and if that's not enough that wound 4th string is old and no longer true so it can't be tuned absolutely perfectly.

Comment by Jody Stecher on August 19, 2020 at 18:23

Cylinders and early discs sometimes required the playback equipment recommended by or manufactured and sold by the recording company or the playback speed did not correspond to the actual tuning at the recording session. AND in the earliest days of recording there was no universal agreement that A should be 440. There is once again no agreement but back then tuning forks were all over the place, both higher and lower than 440.  So when we hear a digital reproduction of an old recording we don't know what playback equipment was used to play the disc or cylinder.

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