Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

I recall when I first started (which was not all that long ago) some of the weird things about Minstrel banjo. I say some of these just to put some perspective on it for newbies. Sometimes when we have been playing for a while, we forget the simple things that blew our minds.

1.I could not feel the downstroke of the first finger....totally foreign. Felt like it would NEVER be a strong stroke. It was just weird.

2.I did not know what Bob Flesher meant by all the names he used..."Buckley's version....Rice's version...etc"

3.I finally bought notation books....like the Buckley 1860 and thought WTF? Looks too hard.

4.I had a hard time making the connection between the simplistic vocal roots of the tunes, and the seemingly complicated banjo solos ala Briggs etc.

5.A goal of knowing 15 tunes was huge. To memorize these things that have so much sameness.




There's more.....I'll add on.

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Spot on, Tim.  And might I add that after carefully watching your first couple of videos for beginners, and printing out the first 15 pages of Rice, and playing along with your most excellently slow and clear videos aimed at beginners...i was actually able to play 'Juba' in minstrel style on my gourd within an hour!  I could hardly believe it.

Thank you for all the great help you aim at beginners.

Thanks for the feedback. I put a lot of thought into those. I think if you have have something to lay down the fundamentals, you can cruise on your own after that. I missed several important things when I started, and had to go back and fix them....it was extra work.

Thanks for doing this, Tim! 


I think I'm about a third of the way to 15 songs that I can play fairly confidently haha! 


A side-thought, but in the same vein:  I wonder if maybe someday (IE when I can call myself a more seasoned player!) we can all disect one of the manuals, like Briggs, listing songs from "easiest" to "hardest" for beginners to learn.  Sure, this can be relative to the player; the videos on this site being the perfect evidence as to what many feel are tunes that are "easy" to begin with.   


I paged through the tabbed-out Briggs, by Rob MacKillop and found the ones without or with the least amount of things like triplets, more complicated 16th note phrases, but looking for tunes in 4/4 or 2/4 time, things like that.  I've been practicing tripletes patterns on their own and from songs just to get the feel in my hands. 


Anyhow, my two cents as a newbie! :)  Without out guys like you, Tim, and this site, I'd be lost or at least have a higher potential of getting frustrated and/or heading down the path to incorrect technique.  Thanks again and I look forward to more!  -Matt


That is a good thought about graduated pieces. All the books just sort of glob them together....no order of difficulty. Greg and I took one stab at it, with our Harpers Ferry book. I thought the tunes were varied from the different tutors and had a similar skill level. That gives the player about 10 songs, plus an appendix with another 10 or so.



The Bob Flesher book& CD "The Minstrel Banjo Stroke Style" with 60 Tunes is not a beginners book.  He does have another book available on his website for beginners "Learning Minstrel Banjo".  Listening to Bob play is inspiring as he is a true master.  The Stroke Style CD also includes a number of Bob's variations which can give you ideas for your own.  Check out his other CDs and the amazing DVD Video with a live performance


Bob recently moved to Florida.

Keep up the great work Tim and Greg.  All is greatly appreciated.

My request, (which I posted on your youtube video last week) is much along the same lines as Matthew's.

Now that I have clumsily struggled my way through 'Juba', I look through many videos here and the other tunes seem much more complex than Juba.  I'm sure there must be a handful other appropriately simple 'beginner tunes' that are comparable to Juba's simplicity, but it's hard for me to locate them.  So many songs and tunes, books, tunings, and players...!  A beginner back in the 1800's didn't have so much material to sift through, and they likely also had a live teacher to walk them through their first tunes in a logical manner.

My wish list would be 3 to 5 more tunes of 'beginner level' (if there is such a thing), with maybe two of them being in the same tuning as Juba.  If there was a small cluster of beginner tunes to work my way through slowly, then I'd more likely have the skill to tackle other tunes on my own.  Right now I'm stuck in Juba Land.  A fun place to be, but...

I'll say that my clawhammer skills helped me immensely to begin to play Juba in minstrel style, and my feeble standard notation reading ability helped too.  But gosh those old banjo teachers and their 'book larnin'!-it's so hard to 'translate' the written sheet music with its tiny fuzzy code marks I can barely make out, even after reading the text carefully.  Without your instructional video for Juba, Tim, I would have been lost at sea without a live teacher.

I thinking we don't necessarily need to have all the tunes in the books listed in order of complexity.  Just a handful of beginner tunes and instruction to expand upon 'Juba' and help true beginners fledge from the Juba nest.   Maybe even make up or adapt a few tunes for learning purposes if no other suitable ones can be found!  (is that heresy?)

All that said, I'll mention that I've had a blog for the past 3 1/2 years focused on helping absolute beginners learn to play the Appalachian dulcimer in the traditional noter/drone manner- a playing style which sadly has been almost completely abandoned by modern chord-style dulcimer players.  I find interesting parallels in the abandonment and subsequent revival of both minstrel banjo and traditional dulcimer styles.  My blog also incorporates 15 beginner-focused videos to illustrate basic techniques step by step, in much the same way that Tim has kindly created for us in minstrel banjo world.  I so much appreciate the time and effort and good will Tim has dedicated in creating such clear and well thought out instruction aids.

I just re-featured an old post. After Juba, here are tabs, notation, and videos of what Greg and i tought were the next succession of tunes to try...avaoiding songs of "sameness". 

8 tunes, and an appendix of more


OoooH!    I can't wait to go exploring there, just what I needed, a pointer-  THANKS Tim and Greg !!!    =8-D

Yes, I recall us putting much thought into those choices. I still feel they are good.

If you can play those...go to the appendix.

if you can play those...you are on your own.

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