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Barlow Knife

I think my ukulele group has almost got the hang of The Colosseum Hornpipe so I did some searching to identify another tune to add to the repertoire. I had a trusty repository of choices in the form of David Brody’s Mandolin Pickers Fakebook. This is an excellent compendium of folk tunes with the minor drawback that all the notation is in mandolin tablature. After some time following along on my mandolin, I identified Barlow Knife (also known as Cabin Creek and available on thesession.org) as a condender.

Last night I plugged the tune into Logic as a simple software instrument track. That let me check the results by ear, will provide a foundation if I decide to work up a recording and allowed me to export a MusicXML version. This morning, I imported the result into Frescobaldi (a graphical interface for Lilypond), which I used to work up a ukulele score for Barlow Knife.

There were two particular challenges to deal with. Firstly, I had to decide what key to use. Brody’s version was in G, which seemed open up some uke-friendly options but then I realised that parts of the tune dipped too low. The lowest feasible transposition was up a fourth to C major so I worked with that. The other choice — and one of the delights of standard ukulele tuning, making up for its limited range — was working out how to benefit from the re-entrant tuning. C major allowed me to make plenty of use of the open high G, making for simple fingering patterns and creating the ringing, bell-like tone that indicates a tune that fits the instrument naturally.

The key was also a good choice for the other feature that had caught my ear in Brody’s arrangement. In the B section, he makes use of a doubled E played at the seventh fret on the A string and with the open E string. I was able to get the same effect in the new key by playing the fifth fret of the E string and the open A string, creating a temporary thickening of the sound and, in the score, those odd looking double-headed notes. I did also consider decorating the score with more detail on the ornamentation but, apart from a few slurs suggesting sets of notes that could be played legato with hammer-ons and pull-offs, I decided to leave the rest for the player.

I’m pleased with the result and think I’ve managed to achieve a score that isn’t too daunting for a relative beginner but will give plenty of scope for more experienced players to decorate. If you try it, let me know how you get on.



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