Paul Hawthorne's Web Site

Out of the Mould

On Friday, July 10, 2009, David Boots passed away from complications of Parkinson's disease. His older sister, Cindy, shared this anecdote:

"David learned how to play banjo while recuperating from a terrible accident where he was hit by a car and broke both his legs.  He had asked for either a BB gun or a banjo for Christmas.  Thank God they got him a banjo is all my sister and I could say later on!"

Lessons by David Boots.

I am very pleased and lucky to have David offer these mini lessons in playing the banjo. David has a great sense of harmony and a deep understanding of the banjo. The lessons are about playing beyond what is taught in the vast majority of lessons and in books and videos. They are about moving beyond playing someone else's tablature.

These mini lessons are designed cause you to listen, think and experiment, and not necessarily in that order. There are not arranged in any order of difficulty, you get them as they are, and you will get out of them what you put into them. This is not a step by step learning experience, it is much more like the real world where some lessons are challenging to assimilate and some are easier. In a way, these are about breaking out of the spoon fed, predictable results education idiom, and learning how to get the most out of what you encounter.

They are presented in MusEdit format, which requires either MusEdit or the MusEditViewer to access. Both of these PC programs are available as free downloads. You will need to download the files and open them in your computer for the MIDI to play.

Even though Paul removed tablature in general from this site, he left the tabs for these lessons in place. They will be kept here.

For those without MusEdit, I have created PDFs for viewing and MIDI files for listening.

David played with a very fine band in Northern California called HiJinks. Here are some examples of his fine banjo work in a very enjoyable swing/bluegrass band.

Many thanks to David Boots for allowing me to add these examples to Paul's site; their previous home on the Web, to which Paul had linked, is no longer maintained. A special thank you to Don Fisher, David's friend, for providing the music files.

All are in MP3 format. The commentary after each tune is from David.

  • How High the Moon (3:38, 5MB) - a fun song in G that we modeled a little bit after Les Paul's version on his LP "Multitracking."
  • Deep Purple (2:23, 3MB) - another great jazz standard sung here by Rick Dougherty. My break is one of my favorites though the beginning of it sounds like "What?!'s my break now?"
  • Autumn Leaves (3:38, 5MB) - Chip is right when he said we HiJinks-ify it. Great gypsy/swing fiddling by Tony Askins. Fun counterpoint for everyone toward the end.
  • Judith Anne (4:12, 6MB) - This is the only song I've ever written on the banjo (for a girlfriend long past) and I hope it appeals to the masses!

HiJinks (1987-89) was David Boots on banjo, Chip Dunbar (RIP) on mandolin, Tony Askins on fiddle, Sara Winge on guitar, Rick Dougherty on guitar, and Ted Dutcher on bass.

All songs except "Deep Purple" were taken from a 5/12/89 concert at the Luther Burbank Center for the Performing Arts in Santa Rosa, CA. "Deep Purple" was recorded 6/87 in Chip's living room with Rick Dougherty on guitar and vocals.

Here are three progressively more complex chord melody versions of White Christmas. Study the three of them and notice how the melody line is harmonized with increasingly complex chords. The main chords are names, it is up to you to work out what is going on in the passing chords. A solid understanding of chord construction will be very helpful. See below for a primer.

David called this "fancy-ing up a tune".

Here are three licks to examine and understand. A true chromatic lick with taste, a major/minor triplet lick and a chordal ending. The last two can be easily moved to another key.

Here is an example of making a generic lick more specific.

David calls this mining for minors. The first part can be found applied to the B part of Blackberry Blossom (PDF, MIDI). The second part is a short exploration of the I/IV/VI/V (no error here, BTW) chord progression.

The number system (without buying a book!)

We use the "formula" for creating a major scale, in this case, G. We use G as the root, THEN using whole-steps (two frets - ed.) (w) or half-steps (one fret -ed.) (h), we play wwhwwwh for a total of 8 notes (root and octave are the same note).

G(starting point) - A(w) - B(w) - C(h) - D(w) - E(w) - F#(w) - G(h).

The chords we typically hear when we're playing in the key of G are created from these 7 notes.

Major chord is constructed from the Root, 3rd, and 5th of a major scale.
Minor chord is constructed from the Root, flatted-3rd, and 5th of a major scale.

In a major chord, the distance between the root to the 3rd note are two whole-steps (4 frets), the distance between the 3rd to the 5th is one and one-half steps (3 frets).

In a minor chord, the distance between the root to the 3rd note is one and one-half steps (3 frets), the distance between the 3rd to the 5th is two whole-steps (4 frets).

If we start the notes in a G major scale at different points we get the following:

G  A  B  C  D  E  F# G
A  B  C  D  E  F# G  A
B  C  D  E  F# G  A  B
C  D  E  F# G  A  B  C
D  E  F# G  A  B  C  D
E  F# G  A  B  C  D  E
F# G  A  B  C  D  E  F#

If we take the 1st, 3rd, and 5th notes of each of these, we will be constructing chords (major, minor) that will sound good with the notes in a G major scale (since we constructed them from these very notes!).

Let's take the 1st, 3rd, and 5th notes of each of these, remembering:

G  B  D  = I chord
A  C  E  = II chord
B  D  F# = III chord
C  E  G  = IV chord
D  F# A  = V chord
E  G  B  = VI chord
F# A  C  = VII chord

The 1, 3, and 5 tell us whether the chord is major or minor, the 4 note adds a color to it. In other words, the D chord sounds good against the notes in a G scale but the D7 sounds better...fuller. However, as you know, the typical chords you hear are G, A-, B-, C, D7, E-.

G  B  D  = I chord   [G major]
A  C  E  = II chord  [A minor]
B  D  F# = III chord [B minor]
C  E  G  = IV chord  [C major]
D  F# A  = V chord   [D major]
E  G  B  = VI chord  [E minor]
F# A  C  = VII chord [F# minor b5]

Major 7th (maj7) and Dominant 7th (7) chords:

Let's add another note (the 7th) to the chords you constructed.

G  A  B  C  D  E  F# G
A  B  C  D  E  F# G  A
B  C  D  E  F# G  A  B
C  D  E  F# G  A  B  C
D  E  F# G  A  B  C  D
E  F# G  A  B  C  D  E
F# G  A  B  C  D  E  F#
G  B  D  F# = [Gmaj7]
A  C  E  G  = [A-7]
B  D  F# A  = [B-7]
C  E  G  B  = [Cmaj7]
D  F# A  C  = [D7]
E  G  B  D  = [E-7]
F# A  C  E  = [F#-7b5]

With the exception of D7 (the V7 chord), these "fuller sounds" are not played in most bluegrass tunes but are standard in jazz.

More to come. See also David's arrangements on the tablature page.


Some material ©2000-2006 by David Boots

Last Updated 15 Jul 2006 by PJH

Edited 11 Jul 2009 by WF