Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

One of our members has asked how do I go about creating a period banjo part for a tune. This is a great question, and I don't have a pat answer.

First, I think spending a lot of time in the banjo instructors is essential. This gives you insight into the period style of playing. Be sure to search all of the instructors for some of the songs you are intersted in. One of the most useful indexes for this is in The Early Minstrel Banjo book by Weidlich. Also look in some of the books on the banjo clubhouse.

Next, go to the sheet music sites, and see if you can download the published piano score. This can give you a sense of the feel of the piece.

You can always ask the opinion of people here on this site about specific songs. It might be fun to take a few songs and see how different people would handle them. Any suggestions out there?

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All excellent suggestions.

I would add this:

When looking at the period instructors, pay close attention to the tunes that exist in 2 or more of the tutors. This will give you a sense of the different approaches that may be taken to a tune. It is also a great resource for ideas about improvisation.

Some examples that leap to mind are:

Boatman's Dance
Todder Side of Jordan
Hard times
Rattlesnake Jig

How about "The Raging Canal"
Great suggestion on Raging Canal. I've picked up on it and am playing it, but I was curious what you were doing with it.
Are we creating a vocal song with accompaniment, or a solo arrangement? It might even be fun to "Tutorize" it according to Rice, Buckley, or Briggs, as they had distinctly different approaches.
Just to be clear -- When I mentioned the tunes:
Boatman's Dance
Todder Side of Jordan
Hard times
Rattlesnake Jig

I was offering them as examples of tunes that appeared in several tutors and would therefore be useful to analyze as arrangements.

I think the Raging Canal would make a great project.

Does anyone know what the earliest published version is?

Earliest version of Raging Canal that I saw was 1844. Anybody seen anything earlier?

That's early enough for me -- certainly "period".

Could you post the tune please?
Attached are basic chords, melody and lyrics. You can find a copy of this at


If the link does not work, go to the levy sheetmusic collection, and search for raging canal
Use the Levy version. We should all start from the same key, and figure out the harmonies as needed. Let's pick a date to post them, and see what we get. Perhaps the end of December, and give others a chance to jump in. A bonus would be including an audio file of what we did.
I think this tune is good, because it was in the early playbills, so we know it was done, but it is totally quirky and will present a creative and interpretive challenge, won't it?
That link did not work, but it is the first one that pops up when you go there and search.
Key of F (concert pitch)? I've been playing in G, but I'm up for the challenge, especially by end of December.
I don't think that the key matters as much because of the suggestion in Briggs and others that one would simply tune to a higher or lower pitch if needed.

The tuning in Chaff's Preceptor would work fine for F...

In other words--John --if you are fingering it in G (I assume Briggs' tuning), you would just tune down a step to be in F.
Ah, I see we have another "blind" arrangement experiment going, like we did with the Bell Jig. Great idea. Congenitally lazy persons like myself need a little push now and then to get them to do some extra work.

I assume this tune is about the Erie Canal? It's kind of an odd one. I'm not sure I would use it in my regular repertiore. But if that's what everyone wants, let's do it.

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