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Lucky you (saved by mechanical failure)

I had every intention tonight of recording more banjo practice on video. Specifically I wanted to record myself playing a tune called Bonaparte’s March on clawhammer banjo. I’ve learned that recording myself is a great learning tool. It encourages me to listen carefully to how I actually played the tune rather than how I imagined I played it. I can see what I need to do to improve. If I managed a half-way listenable recording I planned to post it here on 27th Street.

I know, because I look at my stats from time to time, that is a dumb thing to do (it seems everytime I post banjo practice, visits tail right off…haha) but I was going to do it anyway. So I set up a tri-pod and attached my trusty low-end point and shoot digital camera, set it to record, and sat down to play. I no sooner started into the tune when the camera gave me a tadringggg kind of happy sound that meant whatever I was trying to do I wasn’t doing anymore. I got up to look at the camera. It was now set up to shoot panoramic stills. I reset and started again. Tadringggg. Tadringgg. Tadringgg. Tadringgg. No matter what I tried, tadringgg. I shut it off and turned it on. I fiddled with the settings. My camera refused to record more than 3 seconds of video. Was my playing that bad that even my camera refused to listen?

It seems more likely that this camera has had the biscuit. I can’t really complain though. We bought it for around $100 and it has reliably taken hundreds and hundreds of quality stills and videos. Maybe it will continue to take stills for a while. Who knows. I do know it won’t take any more video. I like shooting video, so at some point I’m going to have to do something about this, but it can wait for a while until I figure out the best solution. Does it make sense to simply splurge and buy a better quality compact point and shoot camera, or maybe I should get something specifically for video.

The tune I was going to record is one I learned at the Midwest Banjo Camp, taught by Cathy Barton Para. It is one of the tunes that Garry Harrison and the Indian Creek Delta Boys learned from Harvey “Pappy” Taylor in Southern Illinois. Although you are spared having to listen to me play the tune, I would like to share the some version of the tune with you none-the-less. Here are Nathan McAlister and Sours playing Bonaparte’s March. No banjo on this one, but it does have a concertina – nice touch.

Bonaparte’s March is one of the tunes banjo players refer to as “modal”. We play it in a special tuning called sawmill or mountain modal tuning. It’s a hypnotic and repetitive tune. It’s got an A part and a B part but both parts resolve the same way. This tune is usually played in A-modal. For me that means I tune to sawmill tuning and capo up to the second fret. My banjos have “railroad spikes” and I used one of those to tune the fifth (drone) string up from G to A as well.

There is another video performance of Bonaparte’s March from way back in 1984, featuring the Indian Creek Delta Boys. What a great historical record!

This version is close to the way I learned the tune at banjo camp, as I have no trouble playing along with this video.


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