Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Backsteps and Rests - great sound, difficult play

After learning Shady Grove you would have thought I would now be OK with these nonuniform pauses in bluegrass songs.
See my discussion about that song here…

Man was I wrong. My buddy (banjo player) decided I should learn ‘Clinch Mountain Backstep’. I love the sound of the song, with its bluesy slack style, so I thought it would be a great one to learn a break for. Only to find it, too, decides to throw all music logic to the side and embrace odd counts like Shady Grove. Though I didn’t realize this until I second guessed myself, my metronome, and my buddy.

The problem was that my buddy didn’t tell me there was an extra beat! I trusted him and plowed ahead, pounding my head trying to make it work with even beats. Every time I tried to play the song with him I would stumble on the 9 count part, obviously. I would ask him, “are you messing up your tempo at that end part or doing something weird?” He would always say “No”. So I would just fake it through until I hear the ‘1’ again. And last night I finally got fed up and did a little research on the song and found out about the ‘backstep’ part.

Even now, knowing it adds an extra beat, it is difficult to make it work. My mind has been so programmed to play and construct songs with even beat versus, choruses, and bridges, it makes it very difficult to add these extra beats. My mind knows what to do, but the internal cruise control will not let me get back on that ‘1’ without a split second brain spazz out.

I am sure I will eventually get it down. It will just take a good amount of practice until that melody gets stuck in my brain. For all you experts out there, please make sure to let your pupils know about these weird parts in bluegrass. Otherwise they will drive them mad and make them second guess their rhythm!

Clinch Mountain Backstep

Part A:
8 - 8
8 - 8
Part B:
8 - 9
8 - 9

Some of the older bluegrass /folk songs actually will have a notation to break time. the people who learned these songs did so with out the benefit of music lessons so they did break time. I most of the time go with the flow when playing with others because many people break time including yours truly . The people listening with out a back ground in music would not be able to tell when they broke time unless it was so bad, if you know what I mean.