Friday, May 21, 2021

5 String Banjo Instruction [1967] - Earl Scruggs


5 String Banjo Instruction Album [1967] - Earl Scruggs

Dave Hum's Sound Is In His Hands, Not The Banjo!

One of my favorite people and musicians in the humble loving man, Dave Hum. Dave uses his 1992 ESS Gibson in nearly all of his YouTube videos, but as you will see in this awesome song, “The Arkansas Traveller (3),” he is using his ODE banjo. Dave's beautiful sound comes from using proper picking TECHNIQUE, not from using any particular banjo brand.

If there ever was a mountain man, it was our banjo buddy Dave Hum. I love the guy, and if you've ever heard him perform on the banjo, then you love him too! I marvel as I watch his hundreds of YouTube videos, seeing how curious people passing by admire the man's musical skills dearly. That is the incredible power of music friends. Music is a language that transcends all barriers, languages, cultures and ethnicities. The courageous shepherd boy David, with his stringed harp on which he was skillful, soothed the evil spirit which came upon King Saul to afflict him. David's inspiring music helped to calm the storm.

I have always marveled how ten different musicians can sit down behind a pedal steel guitar, and yet none of them will sound exactly the same. And in the case of pedal steel guitar, the differences can be drastic. The sound is in THE MAN, or THE WOMAN (there are some great female steel pickers in Europe). The sound is in your hands dear banjo enthusiast, and not as much in your banjo. Albeit, the brand of banjo you use, and whether it's set up properly, can make all the difference in the world. So please don't think I'm diminishing the quality of purchasing and maintaining a nice professional level banjo. It's definitely worth the money and you should save up an buy a used Gibson (they don't make new ones any more), Huber or Stelling! Those would be my top 3 choices to buy a banjo.

In 2009, I gladly paid $3,000 for my (black Formica, single neck, S-10, 4 x 5, Rittenberry) pedal steel guitar. The “S” stands for a singe neck. The “10” in S-10 refers to the instrument's 10 strings. My pedal steel guitar came with 4 pedals and 5 knee levers. I have never counted all the parts on a pedal steel guitar, but I'm going to guess there's probably about 300 parts total. The complicated changer mechanism, where all the magic takes place, must contain a couple hundreds parts by itself (e.g., return springs, hex nuts, pull-rods, adjustment screws, half-stops, rods and clips. And yet, a banjo, having just a small fraction of the parts needed to assemble one in comparison to a pedal steel guitar, costs about the same. In fact, a high end banjo will cost you TWICE more the prove as a steel guitar!

Lloyd Green (born 1937) once said that there are about 50 different things that go into guitar TONE. I fully agree with him. Lloyd better than anyone would know about tone, since he is famously known as “Mr. Nashville.” What a beautiful title! What a splendid honor! Chances are very good that if you've heard some older country music from the 1970's and 1980's on the radio lately, it was Lloyd playing on steel guitar. Lloyd plays on all the Johnny Paycheck's records. Lloyd played on all of Don William's recordings. 

So Lloyd knows good tone, and his is always unmatchable. I don't know about you guys and gals, but my Recording King (Elite-85 with a hard rock maple neck, made in China) banjo doesn't stay in turn very well. That 4th D string loves to wander. And since I put the pricey original "Keith D Tuners" on pegs 2 and 3 (so I could play "My Grandfather's Clock" like this), it's even more of a nightmare trying to keep the thing in tune. I love how John Kuhn outdid himself on that song. GREAT JOB! He plays very tastefully. 

One of the things that draws so many fans (including myself) to Dave Hums banjo artistry, is that he doesn't just limit himself to traditional Bluegrass style and licks, he gets much more creative. The idea behind making music on ANY instrument is to hopefully connect with the audience. Jerry Byrd (1920-2005), in his timeless autobiography called: "On The Wings Of Music," says in the book that when he performs on stage, he only looks for one person sitting on the front row, and he plays the entire concert for that one person, Jerry does this to make it personal, because music is personal. Jerry says he's making love to the person with the music! I have also heard Lloyd Green says that he does the same thing, “making love” to his musical instrument. A musician may perform the most exceptional he has ever played his instrument, but it will not move the audience if the tone is lacking. Good tone is an art!

I've said all that to emphasize that Dave Hum's exceptional banjo tone comes mostly from his hands. He does play through an $1,100 amplifier made in Europe. But all the state of the art equipment doesn't make someone sound professional, unless you've got the years of experience to go with it. Many young people today are looking for a gimmick, a shortcut, but there are no shortcuts to hard work and practicing. The way you get great at playing the banjo is to miss a lot of TV and video Seriously, we all have 20 hours in a day. Wise people spend their time learning a hobby, cooking recipes, making things, studying and doing something constructive. Playing the banjo is a very wise and commendable ontaking in my humble opinion as a Christian, which will bring a lifetime of rewarding fulfillment (both to the enthusiast and to those around you). Music makes the world a better place!

Banjo MIDI Songs By Dave Hum

The following MIDI song files are invaluable! You cannot play a song until you first get the melody into your brain. It is possible, playing chords, to jump into any song and play along, and it will sound good. However, for someone who is familiar with the song, they will quickly realize that you don't know the song melodies unless you play them. Hence, it is important, I think, if you want to become proficient on the banjo, to learn the individual melodies of the songs you want to play.

Acorn Hill
Behind The Haystacks
Big Scotia
Bill Cheatham
Boys Of Bluehill
Cherish The Ladies
Cherokee Shuffle
Chicken Chaser
Chicken Reel
Cold Frosty Morning
Cripple Creek
Drowsy Maggie
Eight More Miles To Louisville
Farewell To Erin
Glasgow Reel
Gravel Walks
Green Gates
Harvest Home
Humpty's Jig
In The Summertime
Kerry Slide
Lost At Sea
Mason's Apron
Mississippi Sawyer
Monaghan's Jig
My Grandfather's Clock
Off She Goes
Old Ned
Saint Anne's Reel
Setting Sun
Shaun The Sheep
Shaving A Dead Man
Silver Spear
Smoke Behind The Clouds
Southern Flavour
Sportsman's Hornpipe
The Traveller
Third Man Theme
Timour The Tartar
Waiting For The Federals
Whiskey Before Breakfast
Whisnant's Rag

Also, one of my favorite programs is called MixCraft (I use MixCraft 8 Pro Studio), which allows you to edit songs. It is a recording studio as well. I mainly use MixCraft to change the pitch and tempo of songs. You can input these MIDI songs and slow them down with MixCraft, to play along. For example: I just slowed down Dave's MIDI song for Mississippi Sawyer. This allows me to hear the note in my own SLOW time. I'm getting old
at age 52!

Also, YouTube allows users (under “settings” at the right corner of each video) to change the video speed. I've been slowing Dave's songs down to half and quarter speed, to learn the parts, and then play at three-quarter speed until I feel comfortable, and then go at it full speed. This is a very helpful tool to learn to play the banjo. Each and every one of Dave Hum's YouTube videos is an instruction course, if you do what I just said.

Dave Hum used an elaborate program called “Reason.” You can actually download a full working copy of the software for 30 days, which is a great opportunity to see if it works for you. I did try it for free for a couple weeks, but it was way over my head to be honest. I am curious how Dave was able to use Reason to make his tracks, since I couldn't find even one YouTube user who had made Bluegrass or Country tracks with it.

Dave Hum is amazing! Anyway, I simply bought a multi-track Zoom R-8 recording studio to lay down my bass tracks, like Dave does. If you listen to his rhythm tracks, they are extremely simple, usually just using a bass and perhaps some slight percussion, like a tambourine. Here is an example of one of Dave's tracks I tried to emulate. The song is called, Merrily Kiss The Quaker's Wife (fast tempo). Here's the song at medium tempo.

Both tracks are in the key of A, which Dave recorded the song in. Dave loves to play in the key of A, for obvious reasons. You effectively now have a zero-fret feel with the capo. The frets are also slightly closer together. These two advantages right off the bat make playing easier and more comfortable. I love playing in the key of A! I made this backing track using an inexpensive 4-string Squire Jazz bass I ordered from for around $200. I encourage other banjo players to get a bass and make your own backing tracks too (and please freely share as I am)!

Listen to Dave Hum's music on YouTube and you'll discover that his driving backing tracks are as much a part of his cheerful and inspiring music as is his magnificent banjo artistry! I have tried to obtain Dave Hum's tracks, but to no avail, likely because they are gone with the man himself. Hey, we can make our own tracks. God willing this will be an ongoing project for me, and I'll try to make a bunch more banjo tracks in the Dave Hum style for others to freely use and share! I think it is a great way to honor Dave, by keeping his music and style of playing alive!!! And as always, I NEVER take a penny, and never will, this is about the love of music! Thank you for reading this. God bless!

Banjo Artist Extraordinaire Dave Hum

What a cool guy! I have made it a goal to study and learn as much from Dave Hum's style of music as I can. From the moment I heard him play Ballad of Jed Clampett on the banjo, my heart was knit to Dave's. He plays exactly how I feel in my heart, and the way I want to play.

There's really no mystery surrounding Dave Hum's playing style, he simply follows the chord patterns. Dave first learns the particular song, as it is tabbed or played; and then he adds his own stuff to it, which you can also easily do if you simply learn the scale progressions. I am going to share some of them below, so you can learn how to use them!

I have started transposing all of my banjo songs from G to the key of A, using a wonderful program called MixCraft (I use the Pro version). Dave uses the key of A extensively. The reason why is obvious, because the frets are slightly closer together in A, which makes playing a bit easier. The key of A is a comfortable key to play in. I love it! Plus it gives the same effect as having a Zero Guide Nut (lowering the strings, which makes it easier to play).

Something Really Cool - Using Only MIDI To Make Backing Tracks

I had no idea that I could use my MixCraft program to piece together backing tracks using MIDI bass and drums. It is so awesome! Here's how to do it...
  1. Right mouse click on any audio track and choose “Insert Track,” and then select “Virtual Instrument Track.”
  2. Double left mouse click anywhere on the new track (in the white area). This will create an Instrument Track to edit.
  3. Click on the picture of the piano keys under the name of the track. Here you can select the MIDI instrument you want. I se bass (electric) and “Percussion - Drum Kits” and choose “Drum Machine Kit 1.” There's a nice kick drum in there that sounds like the one Dave Hum uses. This is how Dave Hum made his drum lines, but he used Reason instead of MixCraft. Reason, to me, is MUCH more complicated! I made this backing track for My Grandfather's Clock in the Key of G, Dave Hum style, but it is not done yet. I am still learning how to get the timing right. The process is simple, and does not even require using a bass guitar at all! The track you just heard is strict MIDI instruments from my computer's sound card, that I made into an MP3 to share.
There are two things to remember that I have learned:
  1. Make your drum track first and then use that as a guide to lay down your bass beats (synced with).
  2. You can get a human feel to your backing track by adjusting the duration of certain bass beats, to give it rhythm and a bounce feel at times. In other words, I tried to make my bass beats sound like Dave Hum's playing. Dave is actually playing a bass I believe, but he is definitely using a MIDI tambourine and kick drum (his two favorite percussion instruments).
Also, in the lower portion of your MixCraft screen, in the MIDI editing area, I set mine to “Snap 1/16.” This allows you to set your beats at 1/16 beats. If you want even more precision, choose “Snap 1/32” or even “1/64.” If you get good at your timing, you can create backing tracks that sound VERY realistic. It took my a few hours to make my track, but it was my first one, so I think it came out really good. Cool huh?

Dave Hum On How He Makes His Own Backing Tracks

In his own words, here's how Dave makes his own backing tracks...
The album “TRAVELLING LIGHT” is a culmination of 15 years passing. When I have had spare time between teaching, learning, busking and making videos of 5 string banjo tunes , I have recorded original compositions which have more of a unique contemporary approach.

I arrange and play all the instruments and program the beats myself - The software i use is Reason for the midi samples such as basslines, loops and effects - which lets me export as WAV files into a program called Sonar for the audio recordings - i then combine the results in Sonar - to record the actual instruments i use a Zoom H2 straight into my laptop which makes the whole process easy as it has it's own soundcard which Sonar recognises.

I enjoy many styles of music and feel that the banjo is capable of being more than a bluegrass, Celtic, ragtime or classic style instrument. Essentially, a lot of the techniques used in the Travelling Light album on the banjo are the same as the aforementioned but by giving the banjo, and mandolin for that matter, more of a contemporary rhythm and backing so to speak i think they can be used to play most styles of music if sympathetic to the emotion of the tune. —Dave Hum (from his website)
Here's the newer Zoom H2 model. There are also more advanced models of the Zoom unit, reasonably priced, that have guitar inputs. It appears that Dave recorded his musical instruments live, and not directly into the recorder. A lot of people are fascinated with Dave Hum and his banjo music, myself included. I had read in the Banjo Hangout Online (BHO) forum that Dave made his backing tracks using Reason software, so in my ignorance I went and tried it for free for 30 days at their website. 

It turns out that Dave only used Reason for his MIDI portion of his recordings, and nothing else! So the BHO gives INACCURATE advice to people! In fact, Dave recorded his instruments with a Zoom H2 personal recorder into his laptop, using Sonar software! I'm sure a lot of people have been frustrated trying to figure out how to use Reason to make Dave Hum's style of backing tracks. Now you know the whole story!

By the way, the word “travelling” is not spelled wrong by Dave, in England they spell certain words different than in the United States. For example: “Arkansas Traveller”. I am very thankful to Dave and his family for sharing this information with others. I pray for Dave's family often, as I know that is what he would want, and am glad that God made Dave Hum!

Dave Hum's Banjos

Dave Hum's main banjo is a Gibson ESS (Earl Scruggs's Standard) banjo, a reissue of the original Gibson classic.

Gibson ESS (Earl Scruggs Standard) 1992

Head - Remo
Tailpiece - Fults 1934
Tuners - Keith D (strings 2 and 3) and Scruggs
Strings - D'Addario
Gauges - 12,12,16,24,12
Bridge - Snuffy Smith 5/8
All other parts standard Gibson.

Baldwin Ode Model D '70's

Head - Renaissance
Tailpiece - Fults 1934
Tuners - Keith D/Scruggs
Strings - D'Addario
Gauges - 10,12,16,24,10
Bridge - Moon Lightweight 1/2
All other parts standard.

Epiphone MB250 '90's

Head - Five Star
Tailpiece - Fults 1934
Tuners - Keith D
Strings - D'Addario
Gauges - 10,12,16,24,10
Bridge - Snuffy Smith 5/8
All other parts standard Ode.

Dave uses a Compact 60 AER rechargeable acoustic amplifier, which runs roughly $1,000. The amp plugs into the wall to recharge (no replaceable battery). I just run my MP3 player through my JBL Xtreme speaker using Bluetooth, and don't mic the banjo. There's really no right or wrong equipment set up, whatever is available and works is fine with me.

Dave mics his banjo using a Shure Beta 98D mic with A98D bracket clamp. What NOT to buy...

NOTE: I bought a “Feather” Goose pickup for $199 and hate it. It whines continually from feedback, and has wires all over, ripping off when I forget they're attached by clip to my waist. The item comes with umpteen parts that you have to assemble, and it is not easy. Please don't waste your money on it! Amazon sells some inexpensive Piezo pickups for $10.

Music truly does make the world a better place.

5 String Banjo Instruction [1967] - Earl Scruggs

  5 String Banjo Instruction Album [1967] - Earl Scruggs