Polishing TURDS - Tunes Under Really Detailed Scrutiny
- For all levels
Have you ever listened to one of your musical heroes; someone that you consider to be a master, and had the feeling that what they are doing is at such a different level than what you are doing that it’s almost not the same thing? To give some modern clawhammer banjo examples, maybe you listen to someone like Adam Hurt play "John Riley the Sheppard", Bruce Molskey play "Rover Riley Rove"...or Allison DeGroot play just about anything. Then, you listen to yourself rattle through Julia Ann Johnson for the thousandth time and the chasm between the two things seems insurmountable.
To be sure, some of what you’re hearing is that each of those players l mention above are unique artistic spirits who put their soul into the music they play. The end result of this is that each one has an honest, personal style that will instantly make anything they play sound special.
But on a more practical level, I’d argue that there is another thing they have in common. That is, they have all taken the time, care, and most importantly, paid enough attention to detail in order to take some amount of their music to what I'd call the “masterpiece” level. I know all three of those musicians well enough to know that they would probably blush to hear that word used to describe their music. After all, the word masterpiece has some baggage associated with it. To most people, I think it has connotations of something being “the best” or “perfect”. Without getting into dictionary definitions or etymology, I would argue that a more useful (and less subjective) way of thinking about it is “your best”, “my best”, or “their best”. In that sense, a masterpiece is attainable to all of us.
One of the common themes of all the workshops in this series has been to encourage you to stop learning more tunes and raise the quality of the ones you already play. This workshop looks at the process and benefits of taking that one step further.
It’s a bit of a chicken and egg scenario, but in my experience, people who perform/record music (publicly) tend to be more motivated to refine their music to this masterpiece level. I'm definitely not saying they are better, I just think that the built-in accountability of having things to prepare for is a powerful motivator. In this workshop, you will be challenged to approach at least one tune/song in the manner that a professional who is preparing for a performance or a recording might. We will take a look at some of the elements of that process – details that we might consider, approaches we might take, practice strategies we might use – to get our piece to the masterpiece level ( i.e. “our very best”).
Although contentious when applied to economics, I believe the saying “A high tide floats all boats” is very applicable to music. Simply put, I think the process and experience of taking one tune to your masterpiece level has the potential to raise the quality of everything you play.
Here’s how this workshop will roll out.
Pre-Workshop – A couple of weeks before the workshop, I’ll send you some tunes to listen to. We won’t be learning these tunes (no tab), but we will try to dissect what is making the arrangements and performances so good.
Sunday, January 8 (Live Workshop)
I will give a live workshop on this topic. This will take place on Zoom. It will be approximately 90 minutes long. See below for some specifics of what I will be covering.
January 9 – Feb 18 (Practice and Incubation!)
You will be challenged to start work on one or two tunes (of your choice) as if you were preparing for a recording or recital. I will be doing this right along with you. For anyone interested, there will be a private Facebook group where we can keep in touch and share our progress and experience, pose questions, and generally come together as a community. All this is optional but encouraged.
February 19 (Follow-Up)
There will be a follow-up gathering where those who wish can share their experience – this might mean performing the tune that you worked on, or you could talk about what you learned from the process...or you can just watch and listen. This is entirely up to you.
My hope is that adding a little bit of potential accountability might help motivate us to keep on track with the project.
Some of the things I will cover...
Arranging – even a solo banjo piece can have a plot or a story arch – a beginning, middle, and end. We’ll look at things to consider if you want to make this happen.
The Devil is in the Details - We'll look at how detail-oriented you might need or want to be. The details are all-important, but making them work for you and not against you is key.
Playing to Your Strengths and Ability –It’s the old “how to be a great photographer? – don’t show anyone your bad pictures” thing. It sounds simple as falling off a log, but knowing and recognizing the boundaries of your own limitations, and then playing/arranging to them, might be the most critical piece of the puzzle when it comes to creating your masterpiece.
Dissecting Masterpieces – We’ll take a look at the tunes I’ve sent you, dissect them a little bit, and see if we can’t figure out some of the things that are making them so special.
Practice Strategies – Some thoughts on how you might structure your practice for this challenge.
Getting Inside Your Tune – Your tune has to be alive inside you. It has to be a melody, not a bunch of numbers on a page, or a memorization exercise. We’ll look at some ways to foster this mindset.
Note Quality – Tone, Touch, Technique, and Timing - Paying attention to them, and improving them.
Problem Solving – This goes hand in hand with playing to your strengths and ability. It’s about knowing when you hit a brick wall and having a process and strategy to get around it.
You do not have to take this workshop live. Although it's more fun to do so, the workshop (and the follow-up) will be recorded and available for you to watch at any time.