Bill shows you his melodic-style versions of “Arkansas Traveler” and “Red Haired Boy” in this video.
Bill takes you through the two bluegrass banjo techniques that were added to Scruggs-style to create exciting bluegrass music from the 1950s to the present day. In melodic-style, you’ll explore the technique, theory, and repertoire (first developed by Bill Keith and others in the early 1960s) that allows you to play consecutive scale notes on different strings. In addition to the basics of the technique, Bill explores different keys and advanced melodic positions that players like Noam Pikelny, Tony Trischka, Béla Fleck, and most contemporary bluegrass banjo players use. In single-string, you’ll learn to play the banjo as if you were playing with a flatpick, using an alternation of thumb and index finger to play melodic lines. Bill starts with basic exercises and then explores scale positions based on chord positions in closed and open positions, in different keys, and up and down the neck.
The course consists of an introductory lesson covering both styles, three lessons on melodic style, three lessons on single-string, starting, in each case, at the very beginning, and a final lesson covering both styles. In addition to learning repertoire and a variety of licks, you’ll come away from this course with a deeper understanding of melodic and single-string banjo that will undoubtedly add a whole new dimension to your playing.
Bill talks about what he’s going to cover in Melodic and Single-String Banjo
In Session 1, Bill starts with a bit of music theory, discussing how major scales are constructed out of sequences of half-step (one fret) and whole-step (two fret) intervals. From there, he compares melodic and single-string technique, exploring how the G major scale is played in first position (down the neck) using each approach. He puts this knowledge to use by teaching both melodic and single-string versions of “The Girl I Left Behind Me” and ends Session 1 by showing you a simple melodic version of “Cripple Creek” and taking a look at melodic innovator Bill Keith’s classic version of “Devil’s Dream,” as he recorded it with Bill Monroe in 1963.
In Session 2, you’ll venture up the neck to explore commonly used left-hand melodic scale positions from the fifth to twelfth frets, covering the first five notes of the second-octave G major scale. Bill shows you how to use some of these positions to play a straightforward arrangement of the melodic banjo standard “Blackberry Blossom.” Then he compares the G, C, and D scales in melodic style and shows you the G major pentatonic scale, which he uses as the foundation of an arrangement of the jam favorite “The Eighth of January.” For more experienced players, Bill shows you several different up-the-neck closed melodic positions, where all strings are fretted, which allow you to play scale segments using a single left-hand position in different keys. You’ll apply all of this knowledge to an intermediate/advanced arrangement of “Monroe’s Hornpipe.”
In this session, Bill shows you how to use melodic style to play fiddle tunes in the keys of C, D, and A, covering basic and more complex versions of “The Girl I Left Behind Me” (key of C), “Arkansas Traveler” (key of D) and “Red Haired Boy” (key of A). He reviews the differences between the scales used for these tunes and the more familiar G major scale and explores how to use similar positions for each key, adjusting just one note to accommodate each new key.
Bill concludes the melodic style section of Melodic and Single-String Banjo by looking at two important banjo solos: “New Camptown Races” (1964) from Bill Keith, recorded with Red Allen and Frank Wakefield, and “Huckleberry Hornpipe” (1973), from Alan Munde, recorded by Country Gazette. You’ll also learn Ben Eldridge’s solo on the Seldom Scene recording of “Panhandle Country.” Bill also explores ascending and descending licks over two octaves. and finishes with a discussion of four- and five-note movable positions.
Session 5 is the first of four workshops on single-string technique. Bill starts with the basics, discussing right-hand positions and working on getting a great tone using single-string technique. You’ll work on right-hand single-string picking patterns using an alternation of the thumb and index fingers across the strings and then adding the middle finger to the right-hand picking mix. He also gives you right-hand exercises featuring crossovers, where the index finger moves to pick a lower string. Then he applies what you’ve learned to basic and more elaborate down-the-neck versions of ‘Old Joe Clark,’ using the G Mixolydian scale, and ‘Whiskey Before Breakfast’ in the key of D.”
In the second of four sessions on single-string technique, you’ll venture up the neck to find single-string scale positions and licks based around the three major chord shapes: barre, F-shape and D-shape. Bill also introduces you to the playing of Don Reno, one of the first banjo players to explore single-string playing beginning in the 1950’s. Don created an entire vocabulary of chord-based single-string licks, and Bill looks at three examples of his approach, exploring positions and licks used in three classic tunes: “Dixie Breakdown,” “Follow the Leader,” and “Arkansas Traveler.”
In the third of four sessions on single-string technique, you’ll expand your understanding of the fingerboard by exploring the scales and fingering positions found at each step of the major scale. Sometimes referred to as the “diatonic” scale (from the Greek, literally meaning “progressing through tones”), you’ll discover how the fingering you’ve been working on in previous sessions for major keys can also be used to play minor scales and modes. You’ll also learn single-string versions of “Blackberry Blossom,” “Lonesome Fiddle Blues,” and “Winston’s Jig,” one of Bill’s own tunes in 6/8 time.
In the final session of Melodic and Single-String Banjo, you’ll look at a variety of things using both styles. Bill begins by showing you a series of box exercises in four-, five-, and, seven-note groups that will get you moving up and down the banjo neck quickly using single-string techniques. He also shows you his single-string, G minor tune “Scotland Yard,” a melodic version of the old-time fiddle tune “Garfield’s Blackberry Blossom,” and some “chromatic” banjo licks.