29 June 2020

Pat Kelleher reviews Ken Perlman's latest book

THANKS to Pat Kelleher for this review of Ken Perlman's latest publication, mentioned on the BIB earlier this month:

Appalachian fiddle tunes for clawhammer banjo is a newly released 156-page clawhammer banjo instruction book by Ken Perlman, renowned pioneer of the melodic clawhammer playing style. It comes in both paper and digital formats as well as 124 online-accessible audio tracks. Ken is well known for collecting and adapting note-for-note arrangements of authentic fiddle tunes for this banjo style.

It becomes immediately evident that there were hundreds of hours dedicated to the production of this publication on the Mel Bay label. The introduction chapter and concise description of the playing techniques are very well explained along with clearly laid out tablature.

For such an advanced virtuosic player as Ken, it is consoling that he recognises the need to include tunes to suit basic to advanced levels of player skills. Most tunes contain 'tech tips' and 'syncopation guides' to help the player. Tunings are explained in detail and accompanying guitar chords are suggested. The tunes are organised by the key that they are played in, except for 'Try these tunes first' in Chapter 5. Some of the advanced techniques will certainly take a lot of dedication and practice to master.

About half of the tunes are learned from his virtuoso fiddle-playing musical partner Alan Jabbour, to whom the book is dedicated, Alan also being a collector of tunes, while the remaining tunes were collected from other old-time fiddlers both past and present through either direct contact or from recordings - including contemporary players like Brad Leftwich and Bobby Taylor.

This book of 100 Appalachian fiddle tunes for clawhammer banjo is certainly an excellently put-together publication that will stand the test of time, and the virtuosity of this master player will be preserved and respected for generations to come.

Ken has toured in Ireland a few times in the past to great acclaim, including a performance at the first Johnny Keenan Banjo Festival in Longford in 2002 and a nationwide tour in 2013.

The book is available from Mel Bay, Amazon, and many more sources, including directly from Ken Perlman’s own website. At just under $25 (USD) for the paperback edition and a few dollars less for digital, this is excellent value for such a highly acclaimed player disclosing his techniques for our playing betterment. He has many more publications to his credit as well as CDs and digital format audio music. Congratulations on yet another job well done.
Pat Kelleher

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