Bluegrass & Progressive Banjo
SHORT BIO: Ben Krakauer is a banjo player and composer rooted in bluegrass, jazz, and new acoustic music. He has toured with David Grisman and the Bee Eaters and was a founding member of Old School Freight Train. He has won awards at the Merlefest, Rockygrass, and Telluride banjo and band competitions, and appears on recordings for Acoustic Disc, CMH Records, and the Fiddle Masters series. He has taught banjo at the Shasta Music Summit, the Banjo Summit, the University of Virginia, and Tufts University, and has given banjo residencies at Berklee College of Music. He teaches fingerstyle repertoire for bluegrass, old-time, and new acoustic music, as well as techniques of improvisation, composition, accompaniment, arranging, and jazz harmony.
LONGER BIO: I am a scholar, educator, and musician specializing in South Asian music, bluegrass, and popular music. I hold a Ph.D. in ethnomusicology from the University of Texas at Austin and an M.A. from Tufts University and play five-string banjo with roots in bluegrass, old-time, new acoustic, and jazz. I was a founding member of the bluegrass/jazz/Latin/pop string band Old School Freight Train. In 2005-2006, I toured and performed with mandolinist and Dawg music founder David Grisman. Since 2006, I have performed in various small group configurations with Tashina Clarridge, Tristan Clarridge, Simon Chrisman, Grant Gordy, and others. I have recorded banjo on productions by Acoustic Disc, CMH Records, and the Fiddle Masters Series.
I have won awards at the Merlefest, Rockygrass, and Telluride banjo and band competitions, and appears on recordings for Acoustic Disc, CMH Records, and the Fiddle Masters series. I have taught banjo at the Shasta Music Summit, the Banjo Summit, the University of Virginia, and Tufts University, and has given banjo residencies at Berklee College of Music. I teach fingerstyle repertoire for bluegrass, old-time, and new acoustic music, as well as techniques of improvisation, composition, accompaniment, arranging, and jazz harmony.
I have conducted ethnographic research in West Bengal, India and Bangladesh since 2010, and have studied and performed Bāul-Fakir music with Basudeb Baul, Amirul Fakir, Mansur Fakir, and others. Previously, I was a member of Javanese Gamelan and West African drumming ensembles at the University of Texas at Austin and Tufts University, and studied jazz performance at the University of Virginia with trumpeter John D’earth.
“Ben Krakauer is one of my favorite banjo players and favorite human beings. His banjo playing is incredibly swinging, grooving, and wildly inventive, but always grounded in the best of tradition. He’s got a fertile brain and I love talking to him about all things musical. Check him out right now!” - Matt Glaser, jazz violinist & Artistic Director of the American Roots Music Program at Berklee College of Music.
Ben's Workshop Descriptions
Review of the bluegrass basics (adv. beg/intermediate): We’ll go over basic rolls patterns, chords positions, left hand ornaments, and a song or two.
Building a bluegrass repertoire (adv. beg/intermediate): Expand your bluegrass repertoire with this class, which will focus on fun and driving arrangements.
Backup on the banjo (all levels): Find ways to accompany other instrumentalists and singers. We’ll get creative with finding many different ways of backing up the same thing, often by incorporating interesting rhythms with simple techniques.
Playing chord progressions without shifting positions (intermediate/advanced): One way to get more comfortable with complicated chord progressions is by practicing within a single position. This helps with both playing chords and with soloing over changes. We'll also focus on using just three strings at a time, which can help navigating difficult progressions.
Playing melodies on a single string within a roll pattern (intermediate/advanced): Isolating melodies on a single string, within a roll, is one of the easiest ways to improvise while keeping the open, ringing banjo sound. We'll explore how to isolate the melody within each picking finger. We'll also explore how to apply different rhythms to rolling patterns, and how to create variations on these rhythms/rolls. This approach lets us adapt rhythms from any kind of music for rolling banjo.
Jazz Harmony (intermediate/advanced): We'll branch out from three-note chords to explore other types of harmony, including jazz chords with upper extensions, as well as other chords that include close interval clusters. This will introduce many voicings and concepts that can be applied in bluegrass, new acoustic, jazz and other contexts.