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The Grey Eagle:
A Tablature for Banjo arranged by David
The arrangement Im 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.
Youll 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.
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, Id like to show you a method of pick playing which Ive found very helpful - Ill 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, Ive 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 havent seen it in print - unless of course, you know otherwise... What follows is a summary of the method - Ive 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. Ive 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 dont 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, Ive written out my version of that run by Doc Watson - yes, its the end of Black Mountain Rag! Ive 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. Youll 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 Im alone in this respect. Its also worth pointing out that Ive found no problems in accenting whatever note I want to, despite the fact that traditionally the down strokes are the accented ones. So, if youve got difficulties, give this technique a try - it may suit you. It doesnt solve all pick string-crossing problems, but it can help with a lot of them, particularly in the fiddle style area.
Eric Kwiatkowski, Nottingham