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The Grey Eagle: A Tablature for Banjo arranged by David Cotton
Reprinted with permission from Fretwire, vol 5. No. 3 March 1981

This online issue contains the the total tab, though the printed version has only the tab for parts A and B - Parts C and D will be in the November issue.

David Cotton

The arrangement I’m presenting in this issue is by no means easy, and the possibilities which it affords for variations and improvisation are endless. My version of this fiddle classic is taken from the playing of Bob Black, Jack Hicks and Larry McNeely. The tune is is 4 parts, and Old-Time fiddlers are wont to start it at any point along the way, but I think this arrangement follows the most logical order.

You’ll need to capo up to the second fret and raise the 5th string to A, (alternatively, if you have a 5th string capo, raise it to the 7th fret.) Your tuning will then be EC#AEa. Fiddlers often use Grey Eagle as a contest piece, because it soars into the higher reaches of the fingerboard from the lower register and is impressive and technically demanding without any sacrifice musically. Each time you play the D at the 12th fret on the first string, really emphasise the note to contrast the sudden lift to the higher phrase with the lower phrases which precede them, and use your left-hand thumb to stop the 5th string where necessary. A colourful tune, this, and well worth time and practise Enjoy it! Part 2 will be in the January edition.

David Cotton, Altrincham, Cheshire. [ Write to David | Web Page ]

Easy Pickings! An Aid to Flatpicking Guitar. By Eric Kwiatkowsky

By Eric Kwiatkowski

This article is primarily aimed at the guitarist who finds playing flatpick style tunes more of a wrestling match than a pleasure, as I once did. If you possess nimble pick technique and have never found it to be a problem, this article is not for you - carry on as you are! However, if you have difficulties, I’d like to show you a method of pick playing which I’ve found very helpful - I’ll call it ‘economy picking’, as does Shaun Baxter, the Rock player whose article I first read on the subject. Thanks go to Shaun! Since then, I’ve come across use of the technique by some Jazz players also, but by a different name (glide strokes). Doubtless some Bluegrassers use a method akin to this as well, but I haven’t seen it in print - unless of course, you know otherwise... What follows is a summary of the method - I’ve tried it, and now use it extensively - it suits me much better than the orthodox ‘alternate picking’ method.

Firstly, in the examples in this article, “D” = a downstroke of the pick (i.e. towards the floor) and U = an upstroke (towards the ceiling). When you play more than one note on a string, nothing changes - play up and down strokes as usual - see example A, which is a quote from Arkansas Traveller. The big change in technique from the normal so-called ‘alternate picking’ occurs when you change from one string to the next. I’ve written out a scale of G major for you in examples B and C. Example B is the conventional alternate picking style, example C is the economy picking method. Play through both. Note that with the alternate picking style, you have to jump over the adjacent string at times - for example, in the first two notes of the scale. Here, you play the note G on fret 3, string 6. You then travel over string 5, and then pick string 5 with an upstroke. Now take a look at the economy picked method. Play the note G as before, but look out for what happens next - you don’t jump over the 5th string. Instead, you continue with the downstroke and pick string 5 with a downstroke. Notice that in this scale, all the string crossings ascending the scale use downstrokes, and that as you descend the scale from the 1st to the 6th string, all string crossings use upstrokes. This may feel very strange at first and the pick almost ‘runs away’ with you across the strings, but persist - I found the benefits in a very short time to be enormous, with a much more relaxed and easy technique as a result. You could also use this method where it feels ‘right’, mixing it with your other techniques - go by the feel of what suits you, and comes out sounding the best.

For the final example, I’ve written out my version of that run by Doc Watson - yes, it’s the end of Black Mountain Rag! I’ve written it out in the key of G. Notice that as well as the economy picking, a hammer- on (h) and pull-off (p) help to move the run forward smoothly - try your own modifications out - my version might not necessarily suit you. You’ll also see that I end the run on an upstroke prior to the final chord. This goes against conventional thinking somewhat - the upstroke is supposed to be weaker than the downstroke. In my case however, this is definitely not so and I doubt I’m alone in this respect. It’s also worth pointing out that I’ve found no problems in accenting whatever note I want to, despite the fact that traditionally the down strokes are the accented ones. So, if you’ve got difficulties, give this technique a try - it may suit you. It doesn’t solve all pick string-crossing problems, but it can help with a lot of them, particularly in the fiddle style area.

Eric Kwiatkowski, Nottingham

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26th Nov 1999