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Thread: Cross picking by way of Bach

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    Default Cross picking by way of Bach

    I read the Tristan Scroggins interview and his discussion of banjo-style cross picking. I remember a couple years ago at a bluegrass camp workshop I played the opening arpeggios of Bach G Prelude on my mandocello. The guy running the workshop said "That's cross picking!" Hadn't thought of it that way, but... yeah, I guess.
    I am adding more and more of that to my bluegrass playing, but I think of it differently. For one thing, I did a lot of finger style folk guitar, with all the up and down alternating arpeggios, and my wife plays banjo, so I had the "sound concept." But more recently I wondered if the atypical style in BG struck people because (here goes grounds for argument, I'm ready) BG playing seems to center around the tune, the chords, and some scale runs in the key. When I look at my orchestral and classical music, of course there are melodic lines and chord patterns, but especially when sight-reading, I see this note going to that note and on to the next note, any way I can get there, on any string. I don't necessarily think of chords and scales, although of course melodic lines are an essential part. Maybe because I play mandocello I get parts that are more linear and support the melodic lines in the upper voices.
    My point is, jumping up and down across strings with whatever rhythms the composer demands led me to "cross picking." .... or did it?
    Curious of others had similar insights, or disagree and want to offer alternative thoughts?

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    Default Re: Cross picking by way of Bach

    I come from a similar background of playing bluegrass banjo a hundred years ago, (actually 30 years), as well as playing finger style guitar for rest of the time. However now, after dropping guitar and banjo in favor of violin almost 30 years ago and picking up mandolin just 10 years ago, I see music in a linear way fairly often. Meaning that when I read music, I first look at producing the notes in an efficient manner. Only later, like you, do I notice that the string changes resulted in 'cross picking'. Or that the chord change was in a particular place.

    In my humble opinion, most folk musicians rely on patterns rather than actually studying the music. It's a short cut, in a way. Nowadays I find myself straddling two worlds of folk music and classical music. And I think it is quite interesting that Bach has become the darling of the Bluegrass world. It is another shortcut to represent all of classical music in one stroke!

    And I'm the 'expert' critic ha, ha. There are a number of insights for approaching classical music as a folk musician, seeing patterns for example, really do help in understanding larger musical concepts.
    Decipit exemplar vitiis imitabile

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    Default Re: Cross picking by way of Bach

    "I read the Tristan Scroggins interview and his discussion of banjo-style cross picking. I remember a couple years ago at a bluegrass camp workshop I played the opening arpeggios of Bach G Prelude on my mandocello. The guy running the workshop said "That's cross picking!" Hadn't thought of it that way, but... yeah, I guess."

    Not really. Assuming the term is being used accurately, "cross-picking" in BG was invented more or less simultaneously by Jesse McReynolds and George Shuffler. The intent is to imitate a banjo roll. In the case of McReynolds, the basic gesture is DUU-DUU-DU, where D = downstroke and U = upstroke. In the case of Shuffler, it is DDU-DDU-DDU, etc. with the occasional D or U interspersed as needed for the melody. Generally (my understanding, I don't play BG, although I have no difficulty playing McReynolds or Shuffler patterns) the two forms are not played simultaneously by BG players. In McReynolds, there is a natural syncopation that is a by-product of the right hand pattern plus the use of the downstroke on the "and" of beat #2. The well-known Andy Statman book is the standard source on McReynolds, but is out of print and expensive if you do find a copy. The Shuffler pattern is very old, essentially the same as patterns in 18th century (baroque) mandolin. Jordan Ramsey, in Colorado, is one of the leading modern BG masters of cross-picking.

    One often finds mandolinists referring to "cross-picking" in a casual sense whenever the player crosses the strings with the pick, as one would necessarily do if playing the Prelude to the first cello suite. It would be more accurate to call this "cross-string picking' if one wishes to attach a name. As such, it is basic, and very old technique for plectrum instruments.
    Robert A. Margo

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    Default Re: Cross picking by way of Bach

    I saw a cross-picking related thread under Theory, technique, Tips & Tricks, about "defining" the term. If you are interested in some very well informed and well-known thinkers on this topic, you should go there and see what brought me to the following conclusion.

    Here are three quotes out of this discussion (T, T, T, & T) that pretty much sum up my doctoral dissertation; I guess it was a couple hundred pages too long. Thanks, people!

    9poundShellhammer:
    Music is art, and nothing is black or white. It's hard to classify exactly what a genre or style is. Sure, you know bluegrass when you see it, and you know rock when you see it, but often there are grey areas in which classification becomes more opaque. Hence the multitude of people claiming, "That ain't bluegrass.", or "Yeah, any modern country pop song with a banjo is bluegrass right?"

    Jesserules:
    Definitions are useful tools, but if misapplied they become useless.

    Mandoisland:
    Crosspicking is not just a right hand technique, it's a combination of right hand picking pattern with a special way to play the notes.

    Think of all these as contributing to the meaning of crosspicking (rather than any one definition).
    The fact is, philosophers, linguistics experts, and cognitive scientists have studied this “categories” thing. The philosophers rarely agree on anything, but they offer some interesting ways to look at life. Plato argued there was an ideal quality such as “cat-ness;” Aristotle said no, there are only “cats.” The linguistics people found patterns in the words people use to categorize things and discovered that rigid, feature-based definitions might be the way we think we think. In fact categories overlap and have central or prototypical examples, but also fringe cases that almost seem to be “not.” Is a robin a bird? Yes. Is an emu a bird? Uh… yes. (response times are a factor). Cog sci people studied how information coming in—musical or verbal—is interfered with by information already stored. This results in the “That’s not bluegrass!” response: “It doesn’t fit MY definition.” It is also why somebody who doesn’t have much experience will say "Yeah, any modern country pop song with a banjo is bluegrass right?"
    I can play Bach, Mozart, and Prokofiev and some people will say “All that classical stuff sounds the same.”

    What strikes me as funny is why some people must insist on a rigid category, sharply defined by a list of specific features. If it doesn’t have this, this, and THIS, it’s not bluegrass… or classical... or jazz. It’s like they think Palestrina sat down and said “I’m going to write some Renaissance polyphony today.” And Mozart said “I think I’ll write a in a classical sonata-allegro form.” They didn’t—they experimented with and adapted existing musical styles of the time and innovated from that. In 1610 Monteverdi wrote pieces in stylo antico and stylo moderno (I don’t think I need to translate) that sounded very different from one another. So what do we call his music? Late Renaissance? Early baroque?
    All these mandolin players tried slightly different approaches and got slightly different effects. There are distinctions: just going across strings is not cross-picking, there is a syncopated rhythmic element to it; that’s why the Bach prelude is not really cross-picking. And the D and U patterns seem to be important, whether packed into one measure or extended over two.
    My advice, along with American Pragmatist Philosopher William James, is to think of meaning rather than definition. And all these posts in Mandolin Café contribute to that meaning without locking down a rigid definition.
    That’s why I love the Mandolin Café!

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    Default Re: Cross picking by way of Bach

    "I saw a cross-picking related thread under Theory, technique, Tips & Tricks, about "defining" the term. If you are interested in some very well informed and well-known thinkers on this topic, you should go there and see what brought me to the following conclusion."

    ??? My understanding of cross-picking is the same as the "very well-informed" thinkers you are referring to. I gave a workshop two years ago at CMSA on right-hand "acrobatics" that included extensive discussion of cross-picking. Before giving the presentation I sought and incorporated comments from Jordan Ramsey. I know what I am talking about.
    Robert A. Margo

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    Default Re: Cross picking by way of Bach

    I'm sure you do, but I don't understand your comment. My point is it is an interesting and informative discussion for anyone interested to check on. Not directed at anyone in particular, and certainly not at you. It just appeared at this point in the thread after I pasted it from the T T T & T thread.
    And the real substance of my post is not cross picking, but the topic of my dissertation: the way people form musical categories. I have published and delivered papers on that topic from Vienna to Columbia University, so we both know what we're talking about. The lively and collegial nature of the Cafe Forum is what I love, and I am continuing to learn from these discussions.

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