Monday, December 6, 2010

John Hartford's recipe

I've been thinking of this 'recipe' often lately, but usually can't remember all the 'ingredients'. So, I'm going to copy from the liner notes of Hartford's 'The Speed of the Old Longbow. A Tribute to the Fiddle Music of Ed Haley'.

From the notes...

" It's loosely based on a big band device of changing the texture every eight bars.

For lack of a better name, we call this a 'window' rhythm section. We've tried to find a better name but this one won't go away. I really don't like it cause it sounds too much like computers.

Everybody has a bunch of things they can do on their instruments - you can 1) play rhythm on the down beat, 2) play rhythm on the off beat, 3) play a figure, like boogie woogie, 4) play a figure, like high or low bass runs, 5) play unison lead, 6) play harmony, 7) deaden your strings and play rhythm things, 8) play 4/4 chromatic runs, 9) play straight open chord rhythm, 10) play closed chords, 11) always play just one note like the tonic or 12) you can just lay out.

So every eight bars (a window) you change what you're doing or lay out (less is more). You might have five or six instruments and never more than three playing at the same time. The first window might be just the mandolin, the second wind, just the banjo, the third, the mandolin doing something different and also adding the guitar.

The next window might be everyone and then for contrast, just the fiddle. If it's a tune you haven't heard before you might want to listen for a window or two before you dive in. Or you can play something with anything the first time you hear it - even if it's one note or just something chromatic. An entrance or exit should sound on purpose and not fading in or out and we are trying to make each window real different form the one before.

You can also lay out two windows (16 bars) if you need to, to change instruments or leave the stage for some reason like adjust the PA system, sell a t-shirt or kick somebody's posterior.

The figure or lick does not have to be the same through the whole window as long as it works consistently as a window.

It's probably a good idea to lay out every third window anyway to keep it from getting too busy.

Generally, try and build with one, then two, then three instruments and then maybe, all of them and then lay out for pacing.

The groove is all important and should never be lost."

And, then for some extra flavor, the notes go on...

"Also, we have followed the old time fiddle band device of letting the 'off' chords - seven flat chords and minors - happen only in the melody lines, not in the rhythm section."

Here's my favorite part >>>

"We also decided in recording that carefully worked out beginnings and endings hindered the energy."

I agree. I agree.

And, doesn't this sort of structure give us ideas about how to vary the tune a bit and make it more interesting? Uh-huh!

My thanks to Rounder Records for the generous chunk of quoting that I used from the liner notes. Go buy some tunes, now, eh?

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