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Thread: Banjo backup for Devil's Dream?

  1. #1

    Banjo backup for Devil's Dream?

    I play banjo with a friend who is learning mandolin. We have a pretty limited repertoire, mostly fiddle tunes. I am trying to work up a banjo backup for Devil's Dream that is not just vamping, but I have not really found a combination of chords and rolls that quite works with the melody. Does anyone have a nice backup part for this tune?

  2. #2

    Re: Banjo backup for Devil's Dream?


    For basic rolling backup behind a fast fiddle tune, I have found it most effective to play mostly simple forward rolls and avoid playing the 3rd scale-tone of whatever chord is being played. Try to just play the 1st and 5th scale-tones (informally called the “1” and the “5”). The reason is that the “1” and the “5” scale-tones are the least intrusive to what the fiddle is playing.

    For example, “Devil’s Dream” consists of these chords: A, Bm, and a quick E. With a capo on the second fret, your banjo is tuned to an A chord: aEAC#E.
    - The “1” of the A scale is A, and the “5” of the A scale is E. So under the A chord, I’d mainly play A and E notes, and avoid the C# (“3”) on the second string. (To add some musical movement, it’s fairly common to play some slides up to the “1" on the 4th string under the A chord.)
    - The “1” of the B minor scale is B, and the “5” of the Bm scale is F#. So under the Bm chord, I’d mainly play B and F# notes, and avoid the D (“3”) on the second string.
    - In other words, for “Devil’s Dream”, avoid playing the 2nd string, and you’ll be fine.
    - The E chord is so quick, it is almost a “passing chord”, and I find myself naturally hitting the “3” of E (G#) on the 4th string to lead back to the A chord—because it sounds good.
    - Good bluegrass banjo backup also means keeping the "drive" going--and if you're not sure how to acheive "drive", I'll explain this most important concept.

    Listen to the solid, driving backup that Bill Keith played behind Kenny Baker’s fiddle solo on “Devil’s Dream”, and I believe that what I have described above is pretty much what Keith played as backup.

    Devil's Dream (Instrumental) · Bill Monroe & The Bluegrass Boys

    I do not hear any “3” scale-tones in Keith’s banjo backup on "Devil's Dream". Try playing along with the recording, and deliberately play the “3” scale-tones during the A and Bm parts—they sound jarring (at least they do to me).

    As I have said on another thread, good bluegrass banjo backup is much simpler than a lot of people make it out to be.

    I hope this helps.


  3. #3

    Re: Banjo backup for Devil's Dream?

    Thanks Dave, this is really helpful. I have been trying different inversions and rolls, and while I had realized that a simple roll was going to work best, the chords would often sound almost sound like a harmony part. Thanks for giving me the logic of the chord forms. I should have thought more about it, because your 1/5 explanation makes perfect sense.


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