Running With Wöyh!

Wöyh! is a Finnish group known for their absurd progressive rock who just released their 3rd album titled KRTKRTK. When I was asked to play on this album, I didn’t know what to expect except exciting experience (what a beautiful language) and a challenge that would stretch the boundaries of my banjo technique. The song was recorded in May in Hollola at Petrax studio. It's an old farm house turned into a top-notch recording studio, which you can see on this video. I think you can hear the laid-back atmosphere on the recording, too. So here it is. Hope you like it!

I talked about the bliss of getting to challenge yourself in weird real life situations in one of my earlier posts about the Kraftwerk - gig and this definitely goes to the same category! The arrangement turned out to utilise all the three basic flavours of banjo technique (Scruggs style, single string and melodic style). So, it’s sweet like a trio ice cream (but which flavour goes with each style?). 

I’m not going to go through every little detail, but you can find the music for the whole song at the end of this post. Here are some thoughts on my favourite parts of the song.

Melodic Licks

The tune starts in G major (definitely vanilla) and even though the melody is not your everyday bluegrass I got the A-part under my fingers surprisingly fast. Even the arpeggios outside G major are working out for the melodic style. Just one open string is often enough for the position shift so crucial for moving around the neck and maintaining the legato sound of the melodic style. Here for example you can find the open g- and d-strings used throughout Gmaj7-, Cmaj7-, Bbmaj7- and Abmaj7-arpeggios. Don’t you just love it when the arrangements fall in their place like that?

The A-part is featuring some cool Maj7 arpeggios

Another cool melodic style passage giving me great satisfaction is this whole tone scale passage before the second A-part. It took me a while to figure this one out. But while doing this I got so excited about the sound that I started playing old bluegrass tunes with whole tone scale. (I should make another post about those as they turned out pretty cool). 

 

A lick based on the whole tone scale
Scruggs Style

When I started learning this I had a demo with some midi instrument playing the melody pretty much the way it is here. I liked the fact that the composition was taking me away from the traditional stuff. On the other hand I still wanted to give it just a little banjo flavour with a couple of Scruggsy licks. The first one was very basic forward roll played as fast as possible in the context. 

 

When aiming for the speed, forward roll is your most loyal friend.

The second Scruggsy lick I threw in the middle of this part with sporty double stop pinches. I really like how it’s giving momentum towards the repetition.

 

Second Scruggsy lick leading to the low D
Single String Style

The third flavour, single string style, is the one that I only use when nothing else is working. Single string style has a sound that’s more even, kinda like a flatpicked guitar, hence not having as much of an exotic appeal for a musician with a background in guitar music. Nevertheless, it does have it’s moments. A good example is this chromatic ear bender part which I started with melodic style but had to soon switch to single string style. Chromatic stuff is possible with melodic style when playing higher when you get you use your thumb on the 5th string. I actually worked this part out octave higher like that, but that part never got used because the lower sound was preferred.

 

Chromatic passages can be challenging with the melodic style so sometimes you have to compromise

And here’s the sheet music:

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!