Banjofy That Melody – The Robots By Kraftwerk

As a musician, it’s sometimes hard to combine your ambitions and the demands of the work. This could be a topic of it’s own, but for now, let me just say that the better I can align these two, the happier I am. And right now I am.

This week I was asked to do a banjo clinic for this Kontula Electronic Music festival. I was given carte blanche, but I was requested, if possible, to also do something by Kraftwerk, the electronic music pioneer from Germany. I’m a sucker for silly ideas so of course I went for it. I chose everybody’s favourite tune, The Robots.

I was planning to focus on the melodic style for the time being, but because the melody is so sparse I decided that a roll-based (Scruggs-style might be a stretch in this context? 🙂 ) approach would work better. The basic idea is very simple. You just figure out the melody notes (the first 4 bars in the example) and fill the rest with chord tones, rolls or hot licks of your choice. The easy road would be to stick with the mere melody notes, but the sound of the banjo that I want to hear, doesn’t just come from the actual sound (timbre) but the choice of notes and rhythms as well. Banjo often operates in the 16th notes so I wrote out all the 16th note rests so you can see more easily how many notes you can cram between the melody notes. Although we banjo players often instinctively take the more-is-more slope, it’s definitely okay to play longer notes or even rests. Often times they are just the thing to give the song that nice bouncy rhythmic feel. My version consists mostly of forward rolls as they just came naturally. Backward rolls, forward-backward rolls, square rolls or some others could also work well (I’ll be going through the rolls in more detail later, but for now you can easily find information about these from almost any banjo book for beginners or, of course, the all-knowing internet) and I probably would have tried to incorporate them more as well given more time. Even though knowing the rolls can help a whole lot, you shouldn’t worry too much about using specific rolls. Just try to fill the gaps with any notes and listen! If it sounds good it is good. The melody is the most important part and most people won’t even notice the difference in the fillers. Depending on the situation you might want to accent the melody notes (I’m gonna go through accents in more detail later, too) to some degree. In the example the melody notes come from the synth as well so the need to accent them isn’t as great. In a solo performance I might dig in a little deeper for them to create the impression of separate layers of melody and accompaniment.

Anyway, here’s the clip and TAB. Hope you enjoy them and please send feedback! 🙂 Unfortunately, I only had time to do this short clip. For the full version with more robotic stuff you’ll have to come to Kontula tomorrow!


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