Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

I am just hoping for a little feedback on the best books to start with.  I know there are plenty of original copies available for free online, but some of the newly edited versions seem appealing since they are written with tablature.  

I have Tim Twiss's book coming to me next week sometime, but I am wondering if any of the others are worthwhile ordering as well..i.e. "Minstrel Banjo-Brigg's Banjo Instructor" by Weidlich or perhaps his other book "The Early Minstrel Banjo: Technique & Repertoire" ?

I appreciate the feedback.  

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You can't go wrong starting off with Briggs.

Yup. Minstrel Banjo-Brigg's Banjo Instructor  Learn Camptown Hornpipe, everything will come easier after that.

I tend to disagree.

The Briggs' Banjo Instructor is written assuming the natural keys of the banjo to be G and D.  While the actual pitch that is popular with the current early banjo hobby (my theory is because it does not sound like a "normal" banjo) coincides with Briggs', There is very little material written for the banjo in those keys (pitch).

The Converse "Green" is where it is at.  It has one reading in the natural keys of A and E. As the banjo is a transposing instrument, as long as the string intervals are the same, the pitch can be anything the player wants.

This opens up thousands of pieces of music written or published in the US prior to 1908.  The "Green" book also gives an intro to guitar style (though the right hand fingerings are a bit limiting).

If the goal is play by numbers, then none of this will matter (at this point, but soon it will).  Get Tim's book.  I've not had the chance to read through it, but I know Tim and he cares enough to only put out a top notch product.

Bob Flesher's books are OK too.

If I had it to do all over again, I would have never wasted time learning to play by numbers.  I would have gone straight to slogging through the scales in the Green book.  The fact is that there are really only three keys, and the relative minors, to learn in.  It is pretty easy stuff.

Reading the dots means not having to "tab" notation.  A step that means more playing.

Clarke Buehling put it best to me while I was still fresh.  He pointed out that If I had just spent half the time with scales and a few exercises than I did writing out numbers in place of notes,  I would have not needed the tab anyway.

I love the Green Book, also it has a little Exercise just prior to the tune that will help familiarize yourself with some of the twist and turns within the melody. 

I have Tim's book and have seen both George's and Bob's books and the are all good books.

The Briggs book is a good place to start of you already are familiar with tab as it is available in tab format from Rob MacKillop's website.  Rob is a great early banjo player (along with more other instruments that I can count) and has a great website with lots of interesting stuff.



Joel makes a very good point about learning to read notation. All of the other books are written in E/A notation. If you spend some time learning to read E/A notation it will open up all the other book without having to depend on tabs.

Both Converse Green or Yellow are both good places to start if you want to start learning notation.

The Briggs material is good, just written differently that the other stuff. Perhaps extract it from the tab and focus on the other staff reading as Joel suggested. My book covers that ( Briggs, Rice, and Converse ), but in tab. imho...the Rice is well worth the read...

Good to get the free Briggs from Rob. Just take all the fingerstyle rhetoric with a grain of salt...the numbers are still good.

I won't comment of the notation systems or readability of the tutors, but as far as the repertoire itself and arrangements, I really like the material in the Rice and the yellow & green Converse books.

Rick, as far as tab books-

I have the three of Weidlich's books of tab, and can recommend them all.  If you get only one of those, get the larger, "The Early Minstrel Banjo"...because it includes material from other tutors like Rice and Converse, not only just Briggs.   It's like 4 times as many pages as the other Weidlich books.  Tim's book is helpful too.  And do print out the Mackillop Briggs tabs from online as well. 

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