The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #5953   Message #35394
Posted By: Les B
20-Aug-98 - 01:46 AM
Thread Name: Musicians Little Secrets
Subject: RE: Musicians Little Secrets
I enjoyed this thread so much I thought I'd throw it on top of the stack again. Here are a few observations I've made over the years.
GUITAR: Several players I know stick new flatpicks in between their molars and give them a powerful bite -- this puts some little dimples in the pick so it won't slip out of the fingers. I've also seen knife slits cut into picks for the same reason.
Years ago a girl showed me how to grab the two lowest strings (E & A), gently twist one over the other and hold them down on the fret board with the left hand -- when strummed with fingers, or pick, they give a muffled snare drum sound - she used it to good effect on a civil war tune. Another guy used to turn his pick so the long thin edge touched the strings, sort of like a fiddle bow, and do a strum which worked well as a muffled rhythmic gallop for "Ghost Riders in the Sky" and other western tunes.
HARMONICA: I see lots of mouth harp players wearing various belts and bandoliers of harps. A farmer I saw years ago, however, had the most unique idea. He took a gallon-sized, white plastic bleach bottle cut the big end out, and then, around the bottle's side, made oblong slits and inserted each harp he owned, about 6 or 8, evenly spaced around the whole bottle. He wrote each key on the white plastic adjacent to the harp. He held the bottle sort of like eating an ear of corn, turning it around for each new key. When he blew into the harp it was also amplified a bit because of the resonating cavity of the bottle -- that's also why he cut out the big end.
Speaking of bleach bottle plastic, I was told that a well-known mountain dulcimer player used to cut picks from bleach bottles and glue them to the ends of turkey or goose quills -- the traditional picks for dulcimer. Seeing her on stage, it looked like she was using the quill to strum, while actually it was plastic. I fully understand why. I tried a turkey feather once on a dulcimer and it totally shattered away in just one song!
BANJO: Although purists hate them, I've recently used a "stealth" electronic tuner (made for guitars) which mounts inside the banjo pot and the small LED read-out fits along the neck in the brackets. This is really great for when you capo up and the strings stretch slightly out of tune. You can tweak them back fairly quickly with this. It really pays to regularly clip the fingernail of the little finger on the right hand if you brace that finger on the banjo head for three-finger picking. I know several banjo players who have worn annoying little holes in their heads because of overgrown nails. (And all the music escapes !)
FIDDLE: Within the last month I saw a guy take a small pocket knife, open the main blade at about a 45-degree angle, and carefully hook it over the foot of the bridge on the low (G) string side. He played "Scotland the Brave," and this setup, plus the use of lots of double-stop fingering, gave a unique drone, somewhat like bagpipes. I've heard that a well-known country fiddler used to embed a razor blade just under the top plate of the fiddle at the waist, so that as he fiddled he could dip the bow down and cut the bow hair. As he fiddled through a tune it looked like he was so fast and furious he was dramatically breaking the hair. When the hair was nearly gone he would toss the bow over to an assistant and they would hand him a new bow. This is more lore than useful trick, but I've seen some fiddles with a rattlesnake tail rattle placed inside. This supposedly makes the music better. Some fiddlers claim it keeps the inside dry. I found that it's difficult to get more than a small rattle inside -- the F holes on a fiddle are narrower than you would think.
SET LISTS: After the age of 40, when the eyes start to go, it becomes more and more difficult to read a song/set list taped to the upper bout of your guitar, or back of your banjo. In working with small groups we've found it easier to print the set list on a computer at a good size, in bold, put it in a plastic sleeve and throw it on the floor at the base of the mic stands. Everyone in the group can read it and see what tunes are coming up.
MIC DIAGRAMS: If you're playing with a small group, as I've started to do recently, it really helps to work out how you're going to place yourselves, and make a simple drawing detailing vocal and instrumental mic needs. Handing a clearly drawn diagram to a soundman, especially in a festival setting, saves a lot of time and explanation, and generates much good will.
DYNAMICS: One thing I've begun to notice recently, since I work at a small arts theater, is how much more interesting it is when a group stands up to perform. We recently had essentially the same group of folk musicians play six months apart. The first time they stood. The second time they sat, because they were performing mostly Irish music. The difference in energy level was amazing. Under the hot stage lights they just seemed to wilt and become more lethargic in the sit down situation. I know Irish sessions are traditionally sit down, and I know a lot of guitar players who feel they pick better sitting down, but for dynamics, standing up is clearly more engaging to the audience. I've also looked at this in light of classical chamber quartets, and have come to realize that even though they traditionally sit down, if they're good, they really throw themselves into the performance, bobbing and weaving, bows flourishing, etc. And when you talk to them, the good ensembles are very aware of the theatricality of their performance.