The Old Spinning Wheel | Analysis

I decided to do this because of a thread on the Banjohangout

A poster asked, does banjo playing revolve around licks? Chords?My answer was that it was a balancing act of licks, simple themes and variations through chords, playing things based off your fingerboard knowledge, playing things you heard in your head, and sometimes getting lucky and creating something spontaneously….just like any form of music that involves improvising.Please understand that I am not saying LICKS are what one should rely on to play music. However, they CAN be used to make meaningful musical statements and learning licks/vocabulary is a valid form of practice.
Music is like a language. Some words don’t go together, they don’t form a sentence and noone can discern what you are trying to say if used incorrectly.
This is why I recommend transcribing so much; it allows one to get their vocabulary together and trains the ear at the same time. It also allows one to learn the stylistic elements of the genre one wants to perform in, what is appropriate for it.

I must add that because one is playing a “lick” it doesn’t mean that they don’t hear it in there head. There are LEVELS of licks.
1)Licks that you know will fit a certain chord,
2)Licks that you play when you can’t think of anything better
3)Licks that follow the melody of the song logically
4)Licks that you play by accident,
5)Licks you are humming in your head as you play, etc.
6)Licks that are part of the tradition of the music that nearly everyone plays

A LOT of great players love to say they never play licks. I’m not sure why they try to pretend they don’t. All one has to do is transcribe any great players music and one will find out different. Even Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Earl Scruggs, Django Reinhardt, etc used licks, and these guys were geniuses. Music is not Magic, however to those that haven’t spent the time studying it, it can often seem like magic.

Old Spinning Wheel

So here is an HONEST analysis of what I played on the Video.

1) .11 This “single-string” idea is a melody build off of a C major scale. I don’t recall using it very much in the past. More of a CONCEPT and less of a lick. Here I’m not thinking about CHORDS, I’m thinking KEY. I must say I’m more of a CHORD player than a KEY player. Going back and forth between a CHORD and KEY thought process is a great way to break up your solos.

2) .20-.23 I believe this is an Allen Shelton LICK, I first heard Barry Palmer from GA do it on a tape I bought once….please notice it is used again at .40 to .43
VOILA, we have a lick

3) 0.25 to 0.30 we have the melody

4) 0.33 An Earl Scruggs modified “tag” LICK. Happens again at 1:12

5) 0.45 The melody an octave higher with thirds. Once again, more of a CONCEPT
6) 0.47 A variation on the melody that I came up with
7) 0.48 to 0.53 A CONCEPT I learned from Don Reno (See “Banjo Signal”)
8) 0.59 to 1.00 Same Don Reno Concept but double-timing it and phrasing different
9) 1.05 An Fminor used after a Fmajor that is going to a C (common iv minor sub)
10) 1.06 to 1.08 I played Eminor to Dminor to C major (iii = Imajor, playing down chords diatonically)
11) 1:19 Allen Shelton inside roll LICK on a G7, This is used at 1:40 and 1:59 as well; notice that the outro part of the LICK is different each time
12) 1:21 COMMON transition LICK from G to C
13) 1:25-1:26 Original Variation on the melody
14) 1:27-1:28-part of it is a CLICHE bebop run
15) 1:29-1:31 High G7 to G13, original but based right off the chords
16) 1:34-1:35 Slide into Eminor chord (Once again thinking iiimin =Imajor)
17) 1:45-1.47 I heard this chord in my head AS I WAS PLAYING, never played it before. Got lucky
18) 1:52 A “lick” that is based off of Floyd Cramer; however rhythm is much different than original. A example of a “lick” I heard in my head as I was playing. Sort of a Call and Response answer to what was played seconds before.
19)Ending using a Variety of Diatonic chords.

The rest of the video is just slight variations on the melody.

I will say that when I made this video I CONSCIOUSLY decided to play more traditional than I might otherwise. It was important to me to quote Allen Shelton, Reno, etc, yet have myself come through as well. If I was to record it again, many parts would be different, but there are parts that would be the same as well.

As I write this blog, I recall the time I transcribed a Charlie Parker solo and found out he played the same lick every time he got to an Aminor Chord on every single chorus. I thought the man was supposed to be a genius who always “improvised” and never repeated himself?? What happened ๐Ÿ˜› ๐Ÿ˜›
Nothing happened, he will always be a genius. Every great musician has their licks and repeated themselves from time to time.

So next time you can’t think of anything better to play and you play a “lick”; don’t worry about it so much, you are in good company.

Jody Written by:

Professional Musician of 27 years. I've played Banjo and Acoustic Guitar on the stages of Carnegie Hall, The Grand Ole Opry, and The Ryman Auditorium. I've also played in six different countries.

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