Skip to main content

Leftwich Lessons: Rocky Road to 3Q

Today marks nine months of working with Brad Leftwich's two-disc Homespun DVD series Learn to Play Old-Time Fiddle. At last report, I had switched over to Lesson 2, which where the "down-bow" style gets much more complex.

Leftwich teaches a series of patterns named after the greats he learned from, such as "Tommy's Lick," named after Tommy Jarrell, and "Melvin's Lick." named after Melvin Wine, and others. These short patterns have some variations and can be slotted into various tunes to help drive the rhythm by keeping the beginning of phrases as a powerful downward bow stroke.

This past weekend, I started working on "Rocky Road to Dublin," from West Virginia fiddler Burl Hammons. So far, it's been very rocky road indeed.



This is the second tune that Leftwich teaches using "Melvin's Lick," which is basically a shuffle and a pulsed up-bow. As the lessons have gone on, I've had a harder time picking up the tune from the video alone. I've resorted to using the notation provided in the booklet, which is frustrating.

One of my goals was to develop better skills at picking up tunes on the fly, but that has proven much more difficult as the tunes become more complex. Perhaps I'm relying too much on my eyes instead of my ears, as I'm trying to watch the video for where Leftwich's fingers fall, rather than listening to what the notes are.

The other problem with this is that I don't actually read standard notation, though I can figure it out. The time it takes me to write my own notes about what the notation says is time that would be better spent working with the bow.

At any rate, I still rate these DVDs highly. The tunes have all been fun. Some are fairly common, while others are a bit more obscure. It's a good mix. The teaching style is pretty straightforward. However, I find it difficult to play along with the video. I wish there were audio files of the tunes to supplement the DVDs.

There are still five more tunes to learn. I better pick up the pace if I'm going to get through these lessons by the end of the year.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Getting Blitzed with Tom Collins

A little more than a year ago, Salem, Massachusetts-based banjo player and teacher Tom Collins embarked on a yearlong project he called Banjo Blitz. The weekly YouTube series provided short banjo lessons on technique. Each video is about five minutes long, give or take, and presents a short pattern — or “ostinato” — designed to teach and improve a specific aspect of banjo playing.

The mission was to get the audience “to practice clawhammer in discrete chunks every day without the burden of trying to memorize tunes,” Collins says. He wanted to build skills rather than repertoire.

“Let’s take the tune off the table,” says Collins, who has been teaching banjo for 11 years. “Let’s focus on a simple, mantra-like ostinato that can train your body how to execute a technique properly, while training your ears how to hear it properly. Let’s also make it so that you can do this every day without it sucking every spare minute from your life. The big dirty secret about learning how to play an ins…

Clawhammer Picks and You: A Review

Clawhammer picks are a useful tool for increasing volume or to overcome fingernail challenges, such as broken, too short or weak nails. There are all sorts of commercial and homemade solutions available for banjo players, but it can be difficult to decide which options to choose. Thankfully, I've already done some of the work for you.
Just to be clear, I prefer my natural fingernail for frailing. However, there was a time when I experimented with regularly using a pick, and there are instances now where I find that a pick is necessary. Today, I'll take you through the five options I've tried. These are all available online at prices ranging from about $1 to $13.

Reversed/Reshaped Dunlop Pick ($0.75)
This was the most common suggestion before other companies started addressing the gap in the clawhammer pick market. Take a bluegrass pick, flatten it out and wear it backwards. The problem is that it's hard to get the fit right. While Dunlop picks are cheap and readily avai…

The Ongoing Search for Ohio's Old-Time Fiddle Repertoire

Since the beginning of my journey into old-time music, I have sought to find a connection to my home state. After studying the recorded repertoire of a dozen old-time fiddlers who spent a majority of their lives in Ohio, I have compiled a master list of more than 300 tunes. By cross-referencing this list, there were 12 tunes that I identified as “common,” based on their appearance in the repertoire of at least three fiddlers. The results of my findings follow.

This is far from a scientific method or academic study. I do not claim to be a musicologist or folklore scholar. I welcome any feedback.

Common Tunes:
Arkansas Traveler BirdieCumberland GapDurang’s HornpipeForked DeerGrey EagleJune AppleLeather BritchesMississippi SawyerRaggedy AnnTurkey in the StrawWild Horse At some point I would like to put together a list of tunes that are unique to Ohio or have a particular connection to an Ohio locale, such as Lonnie Seymour’s “Chillicothe Two-Step” or Arnold Sharp’s “Anna Hayes.” However,…