Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

I've been watching several tutorials about Clawhammer since Mark Weems mentioned this. One thing is the concept of "down". Down in the right hand motion can be directed straight toward the head of the instrument. it can also be interpreted as aiming toward the floor. How do you all interpret this?

Another difference is watching the brush of clawhammer where the first finger and the thumb make contact with the string in a slight delay, whereas Stroke style has the finger and thumb making contact with the string at exactly the same time. 

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YES..that was it.

This popped up on Facebook this evening  thought it might be interesting to post here. the playing starte at about 3:30


Here is a great example of how banjo playing changes over time-

Watch in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FeP1EEUQw_Y

At 12:00 minutes into the vid, Pete Seeger introduces an elderly Roscoe Holcomb, who performs "Little Birdie"..after an old mountain ballad..in his unique "Little Birdie" tuning which gives it an edgy haunting quality, paired with his razor sharp 'old regular baptist' singing.  You can see Pete Seeger looking at Roscoe, and at his two hands and just being amazed and bewildered...clearly he looks blown away by this dude.  Then when Roscoe finishes at around 15:00minutes, Pete is jumping all over Roscoe's banjo, strumming it to figure out the tuning..."Well I'll be danged!" he says...lol.  Roscoe just keeps casually chewing his gum.  Priceless!

Now cut over to this video... now Pete Seeger has learned Little Birdie, presumably from Roscoe.  Pete's Little Birdie  -but the whole tone and feeling has changed...what the hell happened?  He has added all kinds of fancy impressive ornamental runs up and down the long neck and lots of cheery big bravado brushes. He sings it sweetly and wistfully, then gives it a goofy finish and everyone's laughing at the end of this lively cute birdy song.  Well people wanted fun songs back then on tv- not a bunch of dissonant spooky monotonous stuff that doesn't even change chords or resolve.  LOL  This is a great little peek into how music changes over time and over generations.

Here is another fascinating look at Roscoe's playing:

on this vid: https://youtu.be/FeP1EEUQw_Y   at about 21:00minutes,  see how he changes tuning from Little Birdie to "Grey Mule/Wild Hog".  It then also shows closeups of his hands and his playing style.  Only a thumbpick, the other fingers are down picking with nails only.  He uses his thumb a LOT on all strings.  This is not bluegrass uppicking rolls at all...it's a regional old timer down picking style.  Pete comments on Roscoe then 'changing the tunings' on the guitar...like that was an odd thing to do.   ;)   P.S. that guitar balanced on top of that high bureau makes me real nervous...  =8-*

Absolutely spot on. Everyone who choses to play a tune changes it. Every time it is played, it evolves. This is particularly true of tunes which have no written or 'fixed' version...but even with a written version, it is always altered in some way: rhythmically, melodically, etc.

This kind of stuff is how I see the Early Banjo rep.  I can well imagine that the tunes which supposedly have strong ties to a pre-existing "tradition" (like the various "Juba" tunes) were 'filtered' thru the transcriber's ears and then thru a pen that had to make it fit a fixed western notational style. We'll never really know what they actually heard.

This is also true for how OT evolved...and is still evolving. In 50 or 70 or 100 yrs, will people be watching your Youtube videos and trying to figure out whether you were using a specific and 'unique to you' technique?

I'm glad Rainbow Quest can be accessed from YouTube.  I bought several DVD editions for the library prior to retiring.  I had some interest in banjo (via Dillards on Andy Griffith) but in the winter of my senior year of high school (1968-69), I discovered reruns of Rainbow Quest on PBS.  It was the highlight of my week!

Made me realize I wasn't interested in bluegrass but folk music!  I do recall, however, that I couldn't get the hang of frailing or basic strum from Pete's book but on one particular episode of Rainbow Quest, he took a moment to show how to do it and it took hold.

Concerning Lisa's comment on variations, here is "The Coo Coo" played by three different North Carolinians .

Dink Roberts: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6d5W_nc__xg

John Snipes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xXjEX76hrW0

Clarence Ashley:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VwlOO8RG-og

This thread has gone in the direction of the evolution of technique and style. May I draw it back in for a moment to focus, much as the Kobb research, to look at specifically what WAS there for us to draw upon and see some starting point for Stroke? Look at ( as she did ) the instruments available, the music played, and the prescribed technique for execution.

Now of course, at the point the tutors came out, it still represents a snapshot on a timeline. A book in 1855 does NOT represent the Alpha of banjo playing, but it is still a good point of reference.

I refer to 3 specific places where the Stroke technique is described. If you have not gone in and really read these, it is WELL worth the time to see what you extract from it.

BRIGGS - Page 8 "Manner of Playing" and then play the Movements on page 10

RICE - Page 9 and then 13-14. Then play Juba

CONVERSE ABM - Page 12 "Right Hand  Banjo Style" and then play the Combinations on page 55.

The words are sparse, but it is very exact. I think most people gloss over this and just try to play the tunes.

Once again, I am not trying to impose any restrictions nor dogma upon enjoyment of playing the instrument. The banjo is of course meant to be picked up and played in ANY way that serves the music and personal style. This introspection is just to enrich the understanding of the beginning as best we can.

However, please continue with the way this is going. I for one am learning a lot and am getting exposed to things I have not seen before....thank you.

Perhaps you could post pdfs (or links) of each section? I have no access to my copy of Rice from here at work (well, they think I'm working).

Might be best to start a new thread with that as the focus...otherwise this might get to muddled.

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