No. 1 Stepdance, Scan Tester English tune 1886-1972

  1. Jess L.
    Jess L.
    (I figured maybe this tune should have its own thread here, as a continuation from where the tune was mentioned in an earlier thread)

    My interpretation of one of the Scan Tester English concertina tunes, "No. 1 Stepdance", played on old-time banjo and mandolin. My version is not exactly a traditional English arrangement like one would expect, but it's mellow and fun to play. The anti-banjo contingent needn't worry - this banjo is quite subdued and non-threatening.

    (or direct link)

    I'm still learning this tune, so there are plenty of flubs. Also the mandolin was tuning-challenged - the 2nd fret on the G string refused to sound right despite considerable knob-twiddling and strobotuning. So I just tried to remember to play that particular note softer so it wouldn't stand out as much (with debatable success).

    As to the general sound/vibe, it is the type of style/sound my dad and I used to play when I was a kid, sitting around the dining table (where we could play tunes for our own amusement at whatever relaxed slow speed we wanted without having to appease dancers), although we didn't know this particular tune (nor any bonafide English dance tunes unless they'd been repurposed as American tunes somewhere along the way). I think he would have liked it though.

    Misc notes:
    (a) The thumping sound is me stomping my foot while playing mandolin. I like foot stomping.
    (b) However, the scritchy/tapping sound I could do without - it's the result of my condenser mic grossly over-exaggerating unwanted higher frequencies produced when my hand contacts the banjo head. Yeah I know, excuses excuses... I should stop complaining and modify my playing style... too set in my ways, not gonna change it now... sigh.
    (c) There are likely other background noises from other things going on the house.
    (d) And no, that's not supposed to be a green-screen - it wouldn't work for that anyway as it's too bumpy and not illuminated evenly.

    Ok so enough about me.

    About the tune itself, re-posted from the earlier thread so as to keep everything together:

    1. The video that Simon posted earlier:

    (or direct link)

    2. My preliminary try at transcribing that group's playing of this tune into mandolin tab and standard notation. Note that they play it in the key of C so that's what the notation and tab is (for the moment anyway), although on my own video I'm playing it in the key of D and on the lower strings of the mandolin because (a) I prefer the key of D, and (b) I like the mellow sound there.

    3. Info about Lewis "Scan" Tester:
    (a) Wikipedia article.
    (b) Amazon mp3 page of Scan Tester playing No. 1 Stepdance.
    (c) Amazon album of lots of other tunes played by Scan Tester.

    4. Martin also posted abc for a separate Scan Tester tune, also in the earlier thread, but I don't know the protocol for posting abc and I don't want to screw it up, so best refer to that thread for that.

    Did anyone else think the name "Scan Tester" sounds like a name for some modern techno band or something? Tech as in scanning systems for malware, or testing for IT security vulnerabilities etc, those were the first things that came to mind when I saw the name. Maybe I'm just a nerd. I was surprised to find it was an actual person's name, even though the "Scan" part was a nickname.

    Anyway... looking forward to hearing other versions, and/or other Scan Tester tunes.
  2. Simon DS
    Simon DS
    Beautiful! Well done Jess.

    It’s what I think of as an English hornpipe, but probably Scottish too, because it’s like a reel but with a very slight amount of swing. Callum played a tune a while ago with that (concertina sounding) rhythm.
    Yours played straight with the five string banjo rhythm and mandolin sounds great, I really like the gentle relaxed feel you’ve given it.
  3. Jess L.
    Jess L.
    Thanks Simon!
  4. Christian DP
    Christian DP
    Sounds great Jess, you even play clawhammer banjo with the drop thumb technique, something I never managed.
    It could be a little louder in the mix
  5. Jess L.
    Jess L.
    Thanks Christian!

    Good to know there are other clawhammer banjo players here! I credit my very patient teacher for my drop-thumb (sample of his later banjo playing here although he himself didn't use drop-thumb in his own playing, and yeah that's me on the mandola), he kept nagging me for months to "try again" every time I'd given up on it, the drop-thumb technique is not intuitive at all when first starting out. Probably the most difficult musical thing I've ever learned, actually. It was very frustrating at first. It's the only way to get up to speed though, there just isn't time for a more normal plucking style like on other instruments. I guess it's just an efficiency-of-motion thing but I had a heck of a time getting my hand to cooperate for the first few months. But once the muscle-memory finally kicked in, then after that I didn't have to concentrate on each and every note like I had to do at first. I don't understand the common notion that banjo is easy to learn ("oh it's just a bum-ditty, you'll learn it in one minute"), because my experience was different.

    Anyway, as to volume in the mix, it depends on the tune. For this thread's tune, it seemed like the best role for the banjo (at least in my playing of it) is not so much as a lead instrument but rather just to make some sounds that go along ok with the mandolin. I've always liked when two different instruments (or vocals and instrument) sort of blend together to sound as one, it's an elusive thing that doesn't happen very often but I heard a bit of that in this recording so I didn't mess with adjusting the mix level on either of the instruments.

    My playing style is a bit different there too - not nearly as many melody notes compared to what I'd usually play for just a straight banjo tune.

    In contrast to that less-prominent-in-the-mix idea, there are other tunes where the banjo carries the entire tune and is basically the only required feature in the mix, such as my version of Blackeyed Susie below (in normal oldtime trance-mode long dance style with no 'breaks' or 'solos', hey it ain't bluegrass lol). My banjo playing here is intentionally a lot more assertive (for lack of a better word) and has a lot more melody notes. This version would probably also work as a duo with a fiddler. But my *mandolin* here isn't really adding anything useful to the overall sound, the mandolin is kinda just along for the ride:

    (or direct link)

    (posting this via phone, hope I got the links put in right)
  6. Simon DS
    Simon DS
  7. Jess L.
    Jess L.
    Thanks Simon, I'd forgotten that was there. Memory ain't what it used to be (my memory never was very good, actually). Also thank you for your nice comment on my YouTube page, I think it's finally showing up now (I approved it once, it showed up then disappeared, it came up the next day for approval again, I approved it again, it didn't show then but now it does... YouTube has some mysterious processes apparently).
  8. Ginny Aitchison
    Ginny Aitchison
    I left a comment too Jess but don't see it now. Will add it again.
  9. Simon DS
    Simon DS
    Yep there’s something amiss with YouTube and the Browsers.
    I had four ‘likes’ on my most recent vid, then just one then none and then two. It’s all over the place.

    -unless the variation is because you fellows are being indecisive.
  10. Jess L.
    Jess L.
    Ginny wrote: "I left a comment too Jess but don't see it now. Will add it again."

    Got it, thanks Ginny! Much appreciated. Seems to be showing, at the moment anyway.

    Simon wrote: "... something amiss with YouTube and the Browsers. ... -unless the variation is because you fellows are being indecisive."

    Or some sort of temporal anomaly in the space-time continuum. With all the stuff we've all seen in 2021 and 2020, not much of anything would surprise me anymore. Aliens landing? Meh. Asteroid destroying earth? Oh well, bound to happen sooner or later. (Yes I've watched too much Star Trek in years past.)
  11. Frankdolin
    Very nice Jess! NIce easy pace. This is a step even "I" could possibly, maybe, dance to!
  12. John Kelly
    John Kelly
    I really enjoyed that one, Jess. Nice combination of banjo and mandolin with a good balance between them. As Frank says, very danceable too.
  13. Jess L.
    Jess L.
    Thanks, Frank and John!

    I think I figured out a solution to the chord dilemma I'd posted about (and then deleted as it was no longer relevant) earlier today.
  14. Jairo Ramos Parra
    Jairo Ramos Parra
    Jess, I use riffstation (it's free now) to figure out the chords in an audio file. Obviously, I don't have the skills to do it by ear!

    I am in the group that loves the sound of the banjo, so I really enjoyed your interpretation ...
  15. Bertram Henze
    Bertram Henze
    Very good Jess, you're producing the feel.
    And don't you worry about brushing noises and other signals from the acoustic reality - this is folk music, grainy and gaslighted, nothing numeric.
  16. Jess L.
    Jess L.
    Jairo and Bertram, thank you!
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