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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That said, in stroke style there is the vigorous 'upward' brush we all use frequently, as in the B part of Briggs' Corn Shucking Jig.  The thumb is the major or leading sound maker during that upward moving brush - and in this case by 'upward' i mean in a strumming sense (not a knocking sense*): the hand moving up towards the ceiling as opposed to moving down towards the floor.

I don't see that up-brush used in clawhammer.  But I have a feeling it is/was used in 'folk banjo' a la Pete Seeger.  Uncle Dave Macon used lots of vigorous broad brushes, in either direction, right- anyone?  If he did upbrushes, I bet he used his thumb for that along with any other fingers- he went all out!

*though we could all use a little sense knocked into us on occasion...  ;)

I always thought that was an incomplete sentence..."slide to"

Anyway, supplement that with Rice and Converse. I think his descriptions of "Combinations" is a good summary of what Rice and Briggs spoke of. 

"Brushing" seems to be an important motion in Clawhammer, right?  This adds rhythm in a different way. The early books never mention brushing to approach notes....other an indicated with the wiggly line like "Corn Shucking Jig". The notes are simply and precisely hit as a a series of Strikes ( Rice ). 

When I was taking lessons from Dan Gellert, he stressed coming down through the intended string with the index or middle finger (somewhat toward the head), and simultaneously landing on the fifth string like loading a spring. Then on the way back up from the fifth string, either sound it or not. He sent me a detailed video of this that would be great to post, but it wasn't intended for public distribution.  This is obviously different than Trapdoor's style, but it seems to me to agree with Tim's understanding of stroke style in terms of meeting both the melody string and the fifth string at exactly the same time.  It's a little harder to think of this with brushes. 

TiM, in stroke style, the Strike, and the combination, is: hit down with the index (towards the head) for strike "note"...and add a thumb pluck immediately after it for the 'combination', right?  The thumb note is plucked while raising the hand back up after the strike down note.

It's the EXACT SAME in claw:  hit down (towards the head) with index or middle for the "note", and then add or don't add a thumb pluck immediately after it.  If adding the thumb note, it's plucked while raising the hand back up after the 'strike' down note....same as stroke style.

The brush is a different thing from the basic hit down note and optional thumb pluck.

"to" in this sense is an adverb. Think of it as "a stopping point", we say: "Pull the door to." to indicate the door should be closed. In the Briggs sense, he is directing us to sound the string and continue the motion to the next natural place of rest or stopping point (the next string or the head, depending on which string you just hit).

The thumb brush (up) is a 'lost' movement in Clawhammer. It was there as a feature of entertainment more than one of musicality (my opinion, of course). True entertainers like Uncle Dave and Grandpa Jones used it to great effect. In the 'guitar style' world of the 1890's, this upward brush was called a "thumb rake" (still is by Bluegrass folks) and is/was fairly common in the repertoire. 

Here's an example of the excellent clawhammer banjoist Hunter Robertson. watch closely as his thumb comes down to rest on the string it is about to play, at the same time his finger hits and sounds its string. Also he tends to use the "hammer" strike. http://youtu.be/nyl4sQvtU7I

No...they land on their targets Simultaneously. That is the whole idea of the movement. Contact is the same..but finger sounds on the way down....thumb on the way up. 

Strumelia said:

TiM, in stroke style, the Strike, and the combination, is: hit down with the index (towards the head) for strike "note"...and add a thumb pluck immediately after it for the 'combination', right?  The thumb note is plucked while raising the hand back up after the strike down note.

It's the EXACT SAME in claw:  hit down (towards the head) with index or middle for the "note", and then add or don't add a thumb pluck immediately after it.  If adding the thumb note, it's plucked while raising the hand back up after the 'strike' down note....same as stroke style.

The brush is a different thing from the basic hit down note and optional thumb pluck.

Tim it's the terminology that overlaps and is confusing.

Brushing in CH (clawhammer) is not such a precise thing.  It's pretty open and can be done with any fingers and across two to 5 strings.  There is a brushlike move in CH that's called a "roll"- (NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH THE BLUEGRASS THING CALLED A "ROLL")... In CH a "roll" is a brush but going precisely and distinctly over each string- like a very measured and controlled brush. You can hear it at the beginning of the famous Clarence Ashley's version of The Coo Coo...so pretty! That clawhammer 'roll' is much more similar to the glide over adjacent strings in stroke...where each string sounds distinctly in succession.  

A CH "brush" is way more casual and open to personal variation and preference.  It's seldom part of the formal melody and can be done at your own discretion.

Timothy Twiss said:

"Brushing" seems to be an important motion in Clawhammer, right?  This adds rhythm in a different way. The early books never mention brushing to approach notes....other an indicated with the wiggly line like "Corn Shucking Jig". The notes are simply and precisely hit as a a series of Strikes ( Rice ). 

Well, there's lots of brushing in Clawhammer....and seldom called for brushes in Stroke. You see Converse at a lot in the ABM....he notated what may have been implicit in earlier works...but it is still reserved for special effect.

Strumelia said:

TiM, in stroke style, the Strike, and the combination, is: hit down with the index (towards the head) for strike "note"...and add a thumb pluck immediately after it for the 'combination', right?  The thumb note is plucked while raising the hand back up after the strike down note.

It's the EXACT SAME in claw:  hit down (towards the head) with index or middle for the "note", and then add or don't add a thumb pluck immediately after it.  If adding the thumb note, it's plucked while raising the hand back up after the 'strike' down note....same as stroke style.

The brush is a different thing from the basic hit down note and optional thumb pluck.

To me, they're same/same. Many CH teachers want you to hit your target string(s) simultaneously, it is that the first finger (or middle) does not dwell, it passes the string to sound it while the thumb is resting prior to "pull" the 5th (or not). This type of instruction asks the student to form fixed claw form in the RH and then only vary the distance between thumb and finger to change strings, etc.

I think the exact timing of getting to the strings is irrelevant (to the style, obviously timing is crucial to the music), it is the kinetics and the action/reaction movements that create either a smooth flow or a choppy one.

In the piano example, she was able to discover Hummel's hand/arm positions worked well for her...but as in all things human, what works for her may not work for the next person.

In reviewing Rice's statement: "In making a strike, the first finger and thumb should come down at the same time on the first and thumb string; sound the note on the first string by letting the finger nail slide off, then sound the thumb string immediately after with the thumb."

I'm reading this as exactly the same as what both you and Strumelia are saying. This is both Stroke and CH, same-same-same.
 
Timothy Twiss said:

No...they land on their targets Simultaneously. That is the whole idea of the movement. Contact is the same..but finger sounds on the way down....thumb on the way up. pluck.

So yeah- the strike and Combo in stroke style is the same as the basic Note and Note/thumb in clawhammer.   Clawhammer uses more constant thumb notes as drone, also more open strings used as drones, and it uses frequent brushes as part of the rhythm fill.  It also uses more drop thumbs as a rhythmic element.  All this rhythm emphasis may reflect the frequent use of banjo in accompanying fiddle tunes.   Stroke style in my mind seems to emphasize the melody a little more, brings the thumb into play more often for main melody notes, uses more triplets (an Irish injection?) and overall seems more precise. The tutors seem to favor performing 'instrumentals', though this is likely because of their very nature as 'written instructional methods'.

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Uncle Dave Macon is a fascinating 'missing link' between minstrel show/vaudeville and modern Grand Ol Opry 'oldtimey' frailing.  We should all give his music a listen for clues as to some aspects of the journey from stroke to clawhammer.

Dave Macon -Carve dat Possum:  https://youtu.be/kaZbiofZce0

Macon swinging his banjer around like we minstrels try to do too, his son on guitar - a real vaudeville showman (though he's pretty old here, imagine him in his youth): https://youtu.be/-OZg1dTJin0

Jordan Am a Hard Road...:  https://youtu.be/5BfC0xwP21o

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