Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Fast backup in slow songs

I’ve been listening to a lot of metal lately and noticed that a song will start out with slow backup (sometimes just chords) and then some sort of fancy drum thing happens, and all of a sudden the band is playing really fast but the singer is still singing at around the same tempo. I know this is something I’ve heard in bluegrass too, but I can’t think of any specific examples, and I’m afraid to post the metal video because of copyright and whatnot.

I’m really just wondering if there’s a name for the backup tempo changing while the melody doesn’t. I don’t know if there are already videos on the site that explain that because I’m not sure of the terminology. Also how does it work? Do you just play a one-measure backup pattern but twice or three times within one measure?

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I know very little about about music theory, but I do know that a measure in 4/4 time will have 4 quarter notes in it and sound a bit slow.
When it is still 4/4 time, but there are 8 eighths notes in it, it has more notes & might sound faster, but it really isn’t., there’s just more notes. The tempo has not changed.
1-2-3-4 vs 1&-2&-3&-4&…

Here’s an example…the classic “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zepplin. Everybody knows it starts slow then the tempo really picks up & kicks butt, right? Maybe not…
“Stairway To Heaven by Led Zeppelin is in the key of A Minor. It should be played at a tempo of 63 BPM. This track was released in 1972.”

63 BPM!?! I’m a bluegrass banjo player. Excuse me while I take a nap, feed the dog and kiss my wife. I see I’ll have plenty of time.!

EDIT: Or maybe you are hearing syncopation: “in music, the displacement of regular accents associated with given metrical patterns, resulting in a disruption of the listener’s expectations and the arousal of a desire for the reestablishment of metric normality; hence the characteristic “forward drive” of highly syncopated music.”

Yeah, I can’t define it either, but I know what it is when I hear it!

Welcome to the forum @cynicazmo!

What you are hearing is probably not an actual increase in tempo at all, but rather an emphasis on the drive behind the band. I know nothing about metal music, but in a bluegrass setting, you’ll often hear an emphasized downbeat when a different section of the song begins— I.e. a verse, chorus, or solo. If you listen to guys like Terry Baucom (A.K.A. The Duke of Drive), you can hear examples of this. Check out this lesson on banjo drive, using Fireball Mail as an example:

Check out when the first banjo break starts in this video; is this similar to what you are thinking of?

I think it’s kind of a mix of the led zeppelin thing and the banjo player from Kentucky Thunder. Stairway to Heaven does what I’m talking about where it seems to go faster (but apparently doesn’t). In the Kentucky Thunder video, the banjo player is playing about a million notes and Skaggs is chopping chords, but it’s the same somehow. So that would probably be what @BanJoe was talking about with playing eighths instead of quarters. If that’s the case, could you take a basic alternating thumb roll (usually 8th notes) and play it twice in the span of a measure to make them 16th notes or would the pattern have to change?

And the drive lesson was interesting too. He actually mentions the illusion of tempo change in the video, but then he talks about reinforcing the melody to create a different type of drive. So it seems like “drive” can apply to several ideas.

Thanks for the help by the way. I’ve been learning the banjo for about 10 years now and don’t know any other banjo players, so it’s good to have this feedback.


Technically, yes. If you played half the notes at that blazing tempo with RSKT, it would fit fine, but would sound sort of out of place— the idea behind playing all those notes in rapid succession is to drive the band forward. For the record, some count BPM differently— For instance, I think most Nashville bluegrass musicians would probably call "200 BPM” 100 BPM— depending on whether you count every beat as a half note, quarter note, eighth note, etc. So some would say Skaggs is chopping eighth notes; some would say quarter notes.

Well thanks for really confusing me! I just figured BPM was a standard.
I mean if 4/4 time means 4 quarter notes per measure and each measure has four beats.
So were is tempo determined? The original, 1949 version of “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” By Flatt & Scruggs takes 2:40 to play. If it takes me 9:22 to play it, is it still the same song?
I see some say it should be played at 120 BPM and others say 130 BPM.
Is BPM only useful when you are giving CPR and humming “Staying Alive” by the BeeGees?

( CHICAGO — The familiar tune of the Bee Gees song “Stayin’ Alive” has been used for medical training for quite a few years now: It has the right beat — not to mention, the perfect title — for providing CPR’s chest compressions at the right pace to revive a patient.

The 1977 hit song has a rhythm of 103 beats per minute (bpm), which is close to the recommended rate of at least 100 chest compressions per 60 seconds that should be delivered during CPR. Plus, the song is well known enough to be useful in teaching the general public to effectively perform the lifesaving maneuver.

In fact, the American Heart Association (AHA) officially recommends that if you see someone collapse, you should "call 9-1-1 and push hard and fast in the center of the chest to the beat of the classic disco song “Stayin’ Alive.” The AHA has gone as far as depicting the act in an educational music video


@BanJoe If you set a metronome to about 200 or so BPM, one could play to that beat either something similar in tempo to a standard “Boil Them Cabbage Down,” or something more like this:

Both a metronome set to 100 BPM and one set to 200 BPM would fit perfectly to that tempo. (Actually, you could set one to 25,600 BPM and it would still technically fit— you just wouldn’t be able to tell!)


I was doing some looking around and found something I can understand.
By convention, different genres of songs have different BPM ranges.
A love ballad might clock in at 60-100 BPM’s, but a march would have a range of 100 to 160. (purely for example & not at all musically correct.)
Get outside the range and you are playing a different genre.
So “Foggy Mountain breakdown” at 70 BPM is no longer a bluegrass song, but a love song!
Your video clip reminded me of Chuck Berry’s “Rock 'n Roll Music.”
“I have no kick against modern jazz
Unless they try to play it too darn fast
And change the beauty of the melody
Until they sound just like a symphony” :grin:

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I’ve been doing a little bit of experimenting with this by playing backup to the Wreck of the Old 97 guitar lesson (because then I wouldn’t be trying to hear my banjo over another banjo). I started with quarter note pinches, then moved onto an 8th note alternating thumb roll. Sure enough the 8th notes sounded faster (or at least busier). Then I tried 16th notes and it was a disaster. I can’t play 16th notes at that speed for that long with any consistency, so it was hard to tell if it was a bad idea or just bad execution.

But then I tried an 8th note forward roll, and found that it sounded faster (or again, at least busier) than the alternating thumb, which I thought was interesting since I kept the forward roll to the same 3 notes over an over again, no variation. I had seen a lot of banjo players talk about how the forward roll naturally syncopates melody notes, but I didn’t know if it would be noticeable when you weren’t playing a melody. So it looks like there might be a number of factors in play here, including what all the other instruments are doing. For example, the forward roll sounded better when the guitar solo was playing pulloffs and hammer-ons and whatever other fancy things guitars do, and the alternating thumb sounded better when the guitar was playing the basic melody. So it’s looking more and more like the answer to my question is…more questions :upside_down_face:

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