Cascade: Transcriptions for 5-String Banjo

Unless banjo pickers frequent  the most advanced musical circles in Nashville, they are unlikely to walk into their local bluegrass jam and find someone calling out a tune from Wes Corbett’s recently released Cascade album. 

So why the need for a book notating—in painstaking detail—each of that record’s ten ambitious tracks? Corbett, a current member of the Sam Bush band and former banjo instructor at Berklee College of Music, supplies the answer in his introduction: “It is my hope that the time you spend with this book inspires you to create new music of your own …” In other words, he and his collaborators are just as interested in suggesting new ways to approach the instrument as they are in having banjo players play Wes Corbett compositions exactly like Wes Corbett.

The book offers explanations of many special techniques like the “bounce roll”—which Corbett uses on several tracks on the album—and unusual (at least for bluegrass) harmonies such as suspended chords and mediant substitutions. The editors also recommend ways pickers can incorporate these ideas into their own playing: Try, for example, replacing every major or minor chord in a standard tune with a sus2 voicing.

The transcriptions of individual tunes are also all prefaced with extensive notes calling attention to unusual musical ideas and techniques. Intermediate and advanced players who feel stuck in a rut will find plenty of new fields to plow here.

For the publication of his book and help with the transcriptions, Corbett turned to Round Window Press. This new publishing arm of the Round Window Institute—which puts on an annual banjo summit and mandolin workshop—promises to a release a steady stream of detailed banjo transcriptions. Next on the list is tablature for Bela Fleck’s My Bluegrass Heart. Banjo pickers have something to look forward to.

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