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Breaking down Django's picking technique from his 1939 J'attendrai Swing video

paul.provostypaul.provosty New Orleans, LANew Altamira M01
in Gypsy Picking Posts: 16
I've seen a couple of videos on YouTube explaining the so-called "gypsy" picking system. Starting every new string on a downstroke, DUD patterns, the arched right hand position. But I haven't seen a video of someone breaking down Django's infamous video (the only real video we have of him with sync'd audio) of him playing J'attendrai Swing in 1939 with his band.

After watching it multiple times I have noticed that even Django breaks these so-called "rules."

I want to see if anyone was interested in me doing a comprehensive breakdown of his picking technique from that footage.
A part of me thinks it could clear up a lot of things and help us all understand his approach from a "right hand" perspective :)

I think it could be a cool challenge, and maybe help add to the pool of what we can all learn from his technical genius!

What do y'all think?
pickitjohnaltonNoneWim Glenn


  • dennisdennis Montreal, QuebecModerator
    Posts: 2,127
    I did this a long time ago, i wrote down every pick stroke he used , i have it somewhere on some hard drive.

    Django doesn't break any "gypsy picking" rules because i dont think there are any rules.

    I know that Michael coined the term and established the "rules". Actually , the book Gypsy Picking is based on Michael's study of a few Dutch Gypsies from when he stayed with them. It's obviously a good book and the information is accurate regarding the stuff he studied, and from the looks of it, it's helped a lot of people around the world, so that's obviously a good thing.

    But this technique has been in existence for centuries, it's even used in Asia (look up videos of Okinawan musicians playing the sanshin)

    There were treatises written about the technique in the 18th centuries. I wrote a lot about this previously on djangobooks and also on some articles on my personal website, so i'm not gonna repeat much.

    The fact is, that this technique is about sound moreso than it is about rules, therefore, everyone will have a different approach to it... Whether bireli, stochelo, angelo or django.... The first 3 with whom i've spent a lot of time together.. Up close and personal. They each have their own variation of "Gypsy Picking" that may deviate from what is Michael's book.

    Then again, Michael's book is very short. You also have to put it in context: it was written in a time when there's no such information available for this style of music whether on video or books (i had seen them all). Michael was really the first to talk about the specifics of the technique (again based on his short term research with Dutch Gypsies).

    There's a lot of information that has been discovered since then, of course, but nonetheless, Michael set the wheels in motion.
  • I enjoy your videos, Paul and it is always good to hear another perspective.
  • BonesBones Moderator
    Posts: 3,094
    Yeah that would be pretty cool. Always wanted to do that myself but too many projects, too little time
  • Jeff MooreJeff Moore Minneapolis✭✭✭✭ Lebreton 2
    edited April 2016 Posts: 476
    If you look at 1:26 of this vid of Django's and Stephane's opening of J'attendrai you'll see what has to be gypsy finger picking if only for a moment. It's the ring finger of the right hand. The movement of the hand just doesn't make any sense otherwise. The ring finger half dissappears into the palm.

    "We need a radical redistribution of wealth and power" MLK
  • Not sure if a video breaking down his solo exists. However, there is a transcription available for when he's sitting on the couch playing J'attendrai before the whole band performance happens. You can find this text in "Unaccompanied Django" by Michael Horowitz, which is highly beneficial for any student of GJ looking to build their technique and solo gypsy playing. Definitely recommended!

    Good luck! Would love to see a video of this as well.

  • Posts: 3,253
    IMO about the only rule is that your sound or tone has to have a lot of attack in single notes.
    How you come up with it is up to you.
    Starting a new string with a downstroke is simply an easy way to introduce a this attack.
    To me it's simple how Django developed this sound, he played acoustically and unamplified for a good chunk of his life. He had to be heard.

    Michael's book isn't so much about rules as is about the system. And to establish a system and make is relatively approachable and repeatable you have to have some things set. I guess you can call it rules but that's not the end in itself, it's the system. I didn't read it but from all accounts it's a good way to develop a solid base.

    Yeah there are a lot of myths in this genre, the way to hold a pick, where to place your picking hand in relation to bridge/soundhole, picking technique itself, correct/incorrect way to play pompe...

    I would have a lot of fun watching someone break down that classic video though!!
    Every note wants to go somewhere-Kurt Rosenwinkel
  • Wim GlennWim Glenn oƃɐɔᴉɥƆModerator 503
    Posts: 1,193
    Go for it Paul. I'm sure several people have studied it before, but as far as I know nobody has put it in the right place yet - i.e. on youtube, and/or soundslice.
  • paul.provostypaul.provosty New Orleans, LANew Altamira M01
    edited April 2016 Posts: 16
    Exactly, I totally agree with what every one is saying! There are no real "rules" per-se, and it seems like the modern day "rules," that everyone assumes they must adhere to, stem back to people being taught POST-Django. Mainly in the gypsy camps (I hate putting it that way lol) where this tradition has been passed down from one player to the next over many many generations.

    My main goal is to showcase the uniqueness and idiosyncratic rhythmic elements that he used to create his phrases. Sometimes, he'll almost "wind up" before playing a run. For example, starting on an upbeat with an upstroke for a 2-note-per-string phrase, but, then ending that phrase with two downstrokes on a higher string, for articulation purposes.

    I can tell by his playing he was trying to emulate the sounds of horn players from that era. And as we all know, Louis Armstrong was a very big influence for him, and basically created THE turning point in his life to start making this great music. Which, thankfully, made him SO famous that we ended up with this awesome piece of footage! And, as a side note, I also think Louis influenced his vibrato as well haha. BUT, in the effort of trying to emulate that horn-like sound, he ended up devising this revolutionary picking system. So revolutionary, that all of these players, who have idolized him, have spent thousands of hours trying to figure out what the hell he was doing!

    But, besides that, the video will be a comprehensive break down of each phrase, how its EXACTLY picked, and my thoughts on why he does such things. My commentary will be similar to Troy Grady's commentary on his videos on "Cracking The Code," his youtube series on picking (check it out wink wink). But, I will definitely be focusing on the picking mechanics and the reasoning behind why his runs work so efficiently on the guitar :)

    In my honest opinion, Django intuitively "cracked the code" on his own...unintentionally! Only with the intention of creating great music. Which is just an amazing feat within itself! I don't believe there was this whole "left brain" analytical thought process for him, he just played what felt comfortable and he just did what wanted to...achieve that horn like sound! And damn, did he do a great job at it haha!

    I'm kind of excited about this one! I think it'll turn out great, and HOPEFULLY it'll clear a couple things up for people trying to learn this style of playing :)
  • paul.provostypaul.provosty New Orleans, LANew Altamira M01
    edited April 2016 Posts: 16
  • paul.provostypaul.provosty New Orleans, LANew Altamira M01
    edited April 2016 Posts: 16
    stuart wrote: »
    There's only about 5-6 minutes of film of Django playing and in those six minutes he breaks just about every rule there is. My own feeling is that Django was solely focused on the best way to get the music in his head played on the guitar and he would be completely mystified by the current pedagogy around gypsy jazz, almost like asking for directions to the train station and being told 'right, first you lift your right leg up, stretch out at your knee and make sure your heel touches the ground first ...'

    Not that there is anything wrong with Gypsy Jazz teaching - I find the work done to conceptualise things like the rest stroke really valuable in reconstructing my own playing to fit the genre. But there's a danger in lessons turning into rules and I am sure a video like this will do something to dispel some of those myths.

    The first thing I noticed when watching the slowed down version on the trailer is how delicate Django's picking is.

    Yeah! The last thing I want to do is start some standardized new "rule" system for gypsy picking :) The main goal is to kind of show how loose and free Django's picking is. And that his sound can be achieved in many different ways. When I watch other players on youtube try and transcribe and play his solos, a lot of times they seem stiff, as if they must adhere to the so-called "rules" I want to help free people from that and show how you can play Django lines in a more relaxed fashion that will feel comfortable for the right hand. Because good rhythm and articulation are the most important things while playing! That's what helps you be more expressive with your own playing.

    Once you get the left brain stuff out of the way...picking mechanics and analysis. You can allow the right brain, creativity and expression, to be free to improvise and create things on the fly!

    And yes, his picking is very delicate. It looks relaxed and natural. I think thats the goal here :)

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