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It’s never made much sense to me to think of banjo players, or musicians in general, as being “good” or “bad” (the absurdity of that notion usually cast in sharp relief if you’ve ever been tasked with the impossible job of picking a winner in banjo or fiddle contest).
Sure, there are some objective technical standards that are required to develop as a musician (even then, though, I think it’s more appropriate to think of people being at different points on the banjo learning timeline).
But once you have the technical fundamentals down, are able to play with solid rhythm and timing, and have developed your ear to the point where you can play the music that’s in your head, the rest is just a matter of aesthetic preference.
Or whether or not someone’s personal style moves you.
In every player’s performance there are countless decision that are made. What notes to leave in, what notes leave out, which ones to syncopate, what beats to emphasize, where to quiet, where to be loud, and so on, and so on.
The purpose of those decisions is to make the music in their head come out of their banjo, provided they have the skills required to to execute it. If your tastes happen to be similar to theirs, then you’ll probably like the music in their head, too (the players who enjoy the most popularity just happen to share their tastes with the greatest numbers – the pepperoni pizzas of the music world).
These players become our sources of inspiration. They are the ones who motivate us to keep working on our own skills in hopes of one day making music as moving as theirs.
One of my sources of inspiration was Donald Zepp, former owner of Zepp’s Country Music. Many of his fiddle tune renditions were canonical for me in my gestational period – I’d hear him play a tune and couldn’t imagine it being improved upon.
In other words, I liked the music in his head, and the decisions that mandated to bring it to life.
A highlight was his rendition of “Sara Armstrong’s Tune,” my original source for this week’s Tune of the Week. One of his signature moves is the use of the triplet, executed with the fretting hand either as a series of hammer ons and pull offs, and they pepper the B part liberally throughout.
My inability to replicate these maneuvers in my early playing days served as equal parts frustration and motivation.
And it was a milestone in my own journey when I finally could pull them off, particularly the final triplet flourish that punctuates the ending.
Sara Armstrong’s Tune
gCGCD tuning, Brainjo level 3
Notes on the Tab
Notes in parentheses are “skip” notes. To learn more about these, check out my video lesson on the subject.
For more on reading tabs in general, check out this complete guide to reading banjo tabs.
[RELATED: Level 2 arrangements and video demos for the Tune (and Song!) of the Week tunes are now available as part of the Breakthrough Banjo course. Learn more about it here.
Click here for a current list of all the clawhammer songs and tunes currently available inside of The Vault