Starting Off With Some Melodic Style

So here we go. This is the first post of my new blog. It’ll start as a kind of a mix between personal practise journal and educational site. You can read about the initial idea in more detail from the Letter To Mick. So this is the starting point but I’m going to be open to let it evolve as it may.

For a while, I’ve been frustrated and disappointed at myself for letting all that valuable time to leak to office work, procrastinating and such. Even though I’ve been lucky enough to earn my living doing what I love, even many of the musical projects I‘ve done have been stressful because I’ve felt that I couldn’t give my best due to lack of time or energy or focus. So I did the logical thing, took a break from the teaching work and moved abroad to have minimum distractions. Now I had time. The easiest and most sustainable way to transform some of this time to energy is physical exercise, so I made sure I got plenty. To get better focus I’ve done meditation and occasional yoga. Even with no excuses left, I’ve felt inner resistance and it still feels like a huge leap to open the practise process and present this incomplete side to the public. (That is actually illusion in two ways, as the incompleteness is present in everything manmade anyway. And also the potential public exposure of this marginal subject might not be that huge. But illusion or not, that’s the inner feeling I’ve been struggling with.)

I’ve actually been so excited about finally getting this site going, that I had a hard time choosing my first topic. After a couple of weeks of procrastinating on bebop banjo, I finally decided to start with the melodic style. I've been fascinated by this technique for a while and I've noticed that often when picking up either a guitar or banjo without a thought, melodic style exploration has begun spontaneously so it seemed like a natural place to start.

If you’re a banjo player or otherwise know what melodic style is about, feel free to jump to the video/tabs. The basic principle in melodic style is to play melody so that you pick consecutive notes on different strings as much as possible. This will create a cascading sound that might remind you of the sound of a harp, kantele or kora. The term melodic style comes from the world of the banjo and is most strongly associated with a great picker called Bill Keith and is sometimes referred to as Keith style. With this technique he was able to play fast fiddle tunes note-to-note which wasn’t possible with the prevailing Scruggs style (I’ll explore this in the future, too). Same kind of approach exists in the guitar world as well and is called campanella. Thinking “melodic” might be tricky at first, but after the initial shock (which should be over within 2-10 years 😀 ), many of the fingerings feel more natural to play with fingerstyle and it might even be easier to achieve a beautiful legato sound this way. Melodic style is something that might give you a terrible headache in the beginning, but the more you do it, the better it feels and having put that time and effort in really gives you a different kind of appreciation towards your creations. In that sense you could think of it as a kind of reverse alcohol.

Later on I’ll get into more technical details, but to get in the mood I arranged a fiddle tune called Gold Rush for melodic style banjo and guitar. Hope you enjoy it! The tabs might be slightly different as I wrote them as standalone etudes while the video is a duet. All feedback is appreciated as my goal is to (in case you didn’t guess it yet) to advance my fingerstyle playing.

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