Banjo Triplets

Banjo Triplets

Hi! You must be wondering why I called you here today…

I know there have been some threads on this topic and I have read them, but it’s been a while since a new one was posted so here I go with my plea for assistance (or just moral support)..

I’ve been playing the Tenor Banjo for about 3 1/2 years now and while I am seeing steady improvement overall, I’m still struggling with these blasted triplets that I love so much. I know that the triplet isn’t the be all end all of banjo playing, but I do so love the way they sound (as long as they aren’t over done).

It seems like I have "good triplet days" and "non-existant triplet days" and I can’t seem to figure out what causes either to happen.

I’ve tried slow drills as well as incorperating them into scales and increasing the speed slowly - same with tunes - but what seems to elude me is any degree of consistancy. I know my right hand can fire them off, the proper muscles seem to work, I’ve seen it happen! There just seems to be some disconnect
with my brain and making them happen when I want to…

So - again I appreciate any advice, tips, moral support, sympathy, or therapy that anyone can offer.

Thank you and good night!

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Re: Banjo Triplets

This may sound new age-ey but here goes. Since you know that you are physically capable of playing the triplets, we are not talking about a fundamental deficiency in ability. So I say it’s a mental thing. My advice would be: decide to stop caring too much playing triplets. Play them when you feel like it. Don’t feel like you have to play them. Remove expectations of yourself. At most, sort of casually monitor yourself over time for how often and effectively you play them, and maybe just nudge yourself in the direction of playing them more or less often as needed. Over time I think that triplets will become a natural and effortless part of your playing. Getting to this level is not something you can force. It will happen. Just enjoy the journey.

Re: Banjo Triplets

Crazy_fingerz,

You get the crystals and I will get the Yanni records out <G>

Actually, he is correct, the main reason for not getting a triplet to work (assuming you have good technique) is that the muscles not involved in making the triplet are moving due to anxiety. When this happens, your triplet action slows down because these muscles, which should be entirely relaxed, oppose the triplet action causing more anxiety and fewer triplets.

Triplets occur best when they are not anticitpated or planned, just happen as part of the tune. It has a lot to do with how you hear and interpret the tune. As soon as you think you ought to inject a triplet you freeze up just enough for it not to happen.

Part of this is technique, however. There are two main ways to make a triplet, the wrist triplet and what I call the "McTwist" which is a combination of a wrist action and finger action. If you go to my web site, there are plenty of links to articles on triplets. (I call them trebles to avoid confusing them with fiddle triplets.)

You have to practice your technique in the context of tunes, Mick Moloney says that if you slack off on the banjo, even for a day, your playing will suffer and I agree.

Work on tone and getting your favorite tunes up to speed. The triplets will probably end up taking care of themselves.

Mike Keyes
http://www.mikekeyes.com
http://www.banjosessions.com

Re: Banjo Triplets

Thanks Crazy - this is similar to what my band mates keep telling me (they are getting sick of my whining about not hitting "that triplet spot" every time)…. It’s good to hear this from a total stranger 🙂

Thanks again - it definately has been a journey so far!

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Re: Banjo Triplets

Thank you Mr. Keyes!
I’ll be heading out now to pick up some relaxation candles and incense! I wonder if there are any Banjo Yoga workshops near me!

Cheers!

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Re: Banjo Triplets

Oh - another thing I forgot to mention is that when I do have a mis-fire on a triplet, 99% of the time it seems like my pick gets caught (or stuck, or glued to the string) on the upstroke of the triplet. I’m wondering if that’s a mental thing as well or a technique thing - or a lovely combination of the two…

I’m reading the links you sent me Mr. Keyes. thanks again!

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Re: Banjo Triplets

Tell your band mates that if you keep hitting :the triplet spot" every time you would be boring and predictable. Listen to John Carty and hear how he varies each time he plays through the tune. He never plays it the same way twice and neither should you. Triplets are not part of the tune (unless they re written triplets, an entirely different thing) and should be used to make the tune more accesible. Too many triplets spoils the tune while no triplets will not.

Think about that.

Mike Keyes
http://www.mikekeyes.com

Re: Banjo Triplets

Mr. Keyes,
Sorry to ramble on - I think i mis-spoke myself about my band mates - what I meant was that I was the one who kept whining…LOL they keep telling me not to worry about it - I love em like family.

Again thanks for the advise, ever plan to come to the Seattle area for a workshop?

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Re: Banjo Triplets

Hey TBanjo,

Never underestimate the power of a missed triplet! I miss a fair amount of the ones I attempt, but it always ends up with a nice, syncopated rhythm that sounds as great as a triplet. 😉

For myself, the key is in thinking of the triplet as one motion, not three. It’s just like picking another note, but it is a different motion. MIne is a little combination of twisting the wrist and tightening it slightly. It is still relaxed, but it’s a different motion than a regular note. But the key thing is that it is a single "gesture" - both mentally and physically. That keeps it from messing up the hand rhythm, and allows you to place it wherever you want.

Pete

Re: Banjo Triplets

i appreciate this thread as i’m in the same position myself, have been playing the same lenght of time also. like tbanjo somedays they work, some they don’t, i always blamed it on how i held the plectrum and am constantly changing my grip in search of the perfect one. i also find trebles easier to do when started with an up stroke. when playing the mandolin or octave , they’re not a problem.

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I think in fairness to banjo players, the triplet or treble as it is known in my neck of the woods, being the main way of ornamentating, comes with an added burden. That is- if it goes wrong, if you drop/miss it, it is noticeable. Now it might not be noticed on the far side of the world as you imagine it is when it happens, but it is still noticeable nevertheless and if you drop a few in a tune, it starts to sound like a mess.Other instruments tend not to punish you as severely- a less than neatly executed roll is just that and you just keep playing, the bow just keeps flowing over the string and only someone with a educated ear will hear it.The flow of the tune is not interrupted. Also, when a triplet/treble is dropped or missed, there is a recovery act involved. You might find yourself on the "wrong"plec(especially in jigs if you are using DUDDUD) and sometimes in an effort to right the mistake, one tends to rush things because it can feel as you have to "catch up" and so there is nothing more difficult for a banjo player than dropping trebles and trying to keep time.
All this can add up to an anxiety inducing frame of mind after you have learnt what it is like to be playing a tune well and then experience this gawd awful sound as you mess up. You can then either back off from trying them or work on the mental aspect because as has been said there is nothing technically difficult about executing them, hence Gerry O’Connor’s words to the effect " there is always more time than you think to put a treble in". I heard a well known banjo player on listening to a young lad playing a very difficult tune and playing trebles with ease comment "Isn’t youth great- if that was me now I’d be thinking ahead and knowing that a treble was coming up, might either fluff it or chicken out and omit it" The thinking was that as we get older and know what "failure" is we lose some of our "ignorance is bliss" and the challenge is to overcome that.
Another challenge is digital recording. Musicians can now drop in bits into tunes after the recording and I can say quite definitely that some of the recordings you hear of banjo players have been "touched up" and when you hear them in real life- yes they are still good but they drop or mess up triplets as good as the rest. I was at a festival two years ago and heard a well respected banjo player play solo. There was no comparison between their recordings and their playing. It wasn’t that the person played badly but they were dropping trebles left right and centre.
All this and more leads banjo players to thinking that "others" can do these triplets easily, never messing up, get it right every time and this in turn leads to looking and searching for different and any techniques to master the art and it can become the whole focus of your being!!!
Maybe the art has been mastered and part of the deal in playing a banjo is accepting that dropped or messed up triplets/trebles are part of life as a banjo player? I have seen and heard many a discussion about how to treble better- heavier plecs, lighter plecs, heavier strings, lighter strings or even maybe as the man says "it’s all in the way you hold your mouth". And in truth, keeping it simple is the way to go.
And whilst I respect everyones’s right to doing it the way that’s right for them which may or may not include twisting the plec or whatever, the bottom line is that unless your plec hand approaches the strings from directly side on, you will naturally have an engle across the strings and that is suffice for most. Stephen Madden, one of the best banjo players I ever heard and at eighteen has been for some years an absolute master at trebling, plays as near to directly across the string with the result that his trebles are very crisp. Also of interest is that a lot of the great players, when you get them away from workshops, you will hear them tell of their own struggles and how they did what was right for them. For example John Carty is naturally left handed but plays right handed and the way he holds his thumb on the plec could be considered unnatural whilst on the other hand, Mick Maloney now suffers from RSI issues. Kieran Hanrahan would be a particularly good exponent of playing jigs in the DUDUDU style and it can be a mistake to try and imitate where he puts his trebles in because they are not as easily done in the places he does them unless you play jigs in that system.
And so it is for this reason that a lot of the top players try to de-mystify it. A treble/triplet is just what it is and when you start to do all sorts of tricks, it gets complicated. The wisest words I heard one top banjo player say was " everyone drops them, everybody messes them up, the recovery is the trick "

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Isn’t it hard to remain calm with that twangy thing sitting in your lap making a racket? If calmness is the key to triplets, I am surprised any banjo players can spit them out, it has always struck me as the least calm instrument around!!!!
😉

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One little thought, which may or may not be helpful: When you play a triplet, you effectively break out of the regular DUDU (for reels) or DUD DUD (for jigs) pattern and play two successive downstrokes - only with an upstroke squeezed in between. So, it could be useful to practise playing two successive downstrokes where you would normally play a down-up pair. Naturally, in order to play two downstrokes, the pick has to move upwards in between, whether or not it hits the string. If you concentrate on playing these two downstrokes cleanly and in time, then the upstroke in the middle should take care of itself - and should you miss the string on the upstroke, the result is a slight ‘skip’ in the rhythm, which could in itself be quite an effective stylistic quirk.

Like anything, practise it slowly and let it sink into your ‘muscle memory’ before trying it at full speed.

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Spoon - thanks! Excellent mental advice I think! I’m going to give it a try!

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T-banj et al

I find I have good triplet day’s and bad ones as well.

I also have day’s when my rolls are crisp and my rhythm is spot on with my whistle.

And some day’s my low D whistle plays easily and other day’s I can seem to find the bottom hole.

And some day’s my bodhran groove is getting me props all around and other day’s I put it down so as not to make an arse out of myself.

Of course there are day’s when I can hit a bank shot on the pool table and day’s when my driver rocks the house too, and day’s when my dart game is sweet.

I alway’s play better in the morning. Alway’s.

Maybe after 5,000 or 7,000 hours of practice I wont be so inconsistant.

Till then I suppose that’s just way it goes.

I will add that mi keys has some good advice about pick angle that helped me alot to get better with trips. I got a .46 guage dunlop pick from Sean McElwain of Teada (the band stayed at my house once). I was using a heavier guage. My trips are pretty solid now. A lighter pick forced me to relax. My arm doesn’t hurt any more either.

Chep P

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TBanjo - I’m glad that made sense. I’d be interested to know if it helps - I’ve never tried it on anyone before.

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I’m a little surprised at the profusion of thin picks in this topic. What drove me to thicker picks (I use 1.00 mm on whatever instrument) was that I could get a stronger, fatter tone with less wasted movement. By wasted movement, I mean that a thin pick hits the string and bends before it releases the string, making the hand travel a little farther to complete the attack.

Maybe if I played more banjo (I rarely do), I’d understand it better, but is this not a problem for any of you guys?