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 thereallyniceman on August 19, 2020 at 18:40

I really love this idea Jody. I can see the mental turmoil that you go through working out where and how to play the notes. There are so many ways possible but finding the way that flows, sounds and feels right can take an age. I remember we worked through Ragtime Oriole together several years ago... and we still never agreed on everything!.. or even most things :-)     

This is what it is all about.  Letting people see different ways is great. When I was being taught by Chris Sands he did just this and showed me various ways to play a tune, but usually the bottom line was alternating fingers and beat notes with thumb or second finger where possible.

I have not played the banjo for several months but you have inspired me to drag out the Weaver and have a go at Footlight... then we can argue all over again ;-)

Keep them coming please.

Comment by Pär Engstrand on August 19, 2020 at 19:14

"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."

Yes, but not a semitone higher. Except for organs and highland bag pipes. Around 1915 the difference of pitch wouldn't be that big. According to wikipedia:

"British attempts at standardisation in the 19th century gave rise to the old philharmonic pitch standard of about A = 452 Hz (different sources quote slightly different values), replaced in 1896 by the considerably "deflated" new philharmonic pitch at A = 439 Hz.[...]

In England the term low pitch was used from 1896 onward to refer to the new Philharmonic Society tuning standard of A = 439 Hz at 68 °F, while "high pitch" was used for the older tuning of A = 452.4 Hz at 60 °F. Although the larger London orchestras were quick to conform to the new, low pitch, provincial orchestras continued using the high pitch until at least the 1920s, and most brass bands were still using the high pitch in the mid-1960s.[13][14] Highland pipe bands continue to use an even sharper tuning, around A = 470–480 Hz, over a semitone higher than A440.[15] As a result, bagpipes are often perceived as playing in B despite being notated in A (as if they were transposing instruments in D-flat), and are often tuned to match B brass instruments when the two are required to play together."

In older wooden transvers flutes (say from around 1850 to beginning 1900) it is very common that they are tuned low, A=435 hz. I have never come across an old flute being tuned high. But I'm no expert on the subject.

But then again. The piano might just have been tuned high. Which reminds me of a funny story. I know of a guy (well, actually, my best friend new him. I never met the guy) who some 30 years ago wanted to learn how to play the trombone. He did so, by himself, using his piano in the basement to learn the notes. It wasn't until he wanted to play with other people that he realized that his piano was tuned about a semiton to high... Is supposed to be a true story.

Comment by Jody Stecher on August 19, 2020 at 19:30

Thanks, Ian.  I was thinking for the next video series I would present similar ideas but for a Banjo Solo that I know well. Perhaps I could be more coherent about something I can actually play. But the next video will be about part 3 of A Footlight Favourite. 

What I recall about our friendly disagreements about how to play The Ragtime Oriole was that each of us preferred to use left hand formations with which we comfortable. This often did not coincide. If I remember right ( no guarantee of that!) you wanted to use, whenever possible,  the chord formations outlined by Grimshaw even if this meant more movement up and down the neck (sitar style!) than what I thought necessary. Whereas I was looking for ways to get from note to note and phrase to phrase whilst staying in a grid of just a few frets.  Does that accord with how you remember it?

To be clear, I've gone through no mental turmoil about playing A Footlight Favorite. Examining the choices has been pleasurable. My wife likes crossword puzzles and logic problems. I like solving banjo problems. Another banjo playing project that has been ongoing for 20 years or so is finding ways to create credible banjo solos from certain fiddle tunes that are considered to be banjo-unfriendly.  Sometimes the solution is to use a different tuning, even sometimes creating a new tuning. Sometimes I've created new techniques.  Sometimes I have combined old techniques that are considered to be mutually exclusive.  (Somehow in the world of American old-time music there is the idea that clawhammer technique for instance cannot be combined with 2 or 3 finger up-picking. I find this illogical.  To me a technique is a tool that the player uses. The player should not be used by the tool.)

Comment by Jody Stecher on August 19, 2020 at 19:37

Another recollection of the differences in how we each wanted to play Ragtime Oriole was that in descending phrases you preferred to pluck many notes on the first string whereas I wanted to cross strings more often. As Marc pointed out, I have been influenced by what is called "melodic" banjo technique and this influences my choices.  And as I have pointed out on this forum, some years ago, this was also often the approach taken by Joe Morley. I have certainly been influenced by the fingering indications in his published music.

Comment by Trapdoor2 on August 19, 2020 at 22:14

"I was thinking for the next video series I would present similar ideas but for a Banjo Solo that I know well. Perhaps I could be more coherent about something I can actually play."

Ah, but your incoherency is the root of all your charm! ;-)

There are scads of teachers out there who show us what they can do and how they do it. This is much more getting into the "how I approach" a tune, not "here's how I do it". It allows us to see the quandaries, the testing, the failures that go into the process. For those of us who have been doing it for years, it is like a pat on the back from a friend who's been there. It is confirmation of he struggle...and a breath of fresh air. 

Comment by Pär Engstrand on August 19, 2020 at 22:36

Hear, hear!

I totally agree on what Marc wrote. Apart from the charm and, for lack of a better word, sincerity, it also, at least for me, makes the listener be a part of the progress. The viewer have to make up their own mind. Find their own ways. Which is a very good way of teaching. My first double bass professor at the in Gothenburg, Sweden, told me that his role was to teach me to teach myself. I find that a very good approach. Your videos have that quality, I find.

Comment by Jody Stecher on August 20, 2020 at 0:31

Thanks Marc and Par. I have sometimes told my students that my goal is to get them in a position where they can fire me. Context makes it clear I mean what your double bass professor meant.

About my choice of Banjo Solo for some future video:  I think I can get the same effect (what you are liking about my videos) showing the choices I still have to make playing a piece of music I learned some years ago. All that means is that I know the melody by heart. I already know the melody of A Footlight Favorite by heart. What I have not yet internalized is the various arrangements (print, Pidoux, Spaulding) that are having a yet-to-be-determined influence on how I might play the piece. So the difference may not be so big. I don't have set arrangements. Most or maybe all my music is a work in progress. Polish and cleanliness are sacrificed to some extent but in its place is the spark of spontaneity.  

If I do decide to do a video of that sort it does not mean I won't continue making videos of me learning as well.

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