Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

I thought it might be fun to do a little introduction to Guitar Style of play. Even though Stroke is the most discussed version of play here, both styles were common and we might want to look at it. Does anyone use this....and do you integrate it into your playing?

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z5nyGeUPOUg

It is entirely possible to achieve a desirable result on a fretless instrument... just ask anybody who plays a violin-family instrument or, in the case of the above video, Guthrie Govan.  It just takes a lot of practice and often a great deal of skill.

I do not have an 1860s or 1870s style fretless banjo to experiment with (I use two original 1850s "tubs" when playing stroke tunes), and I'm afraid I'm not a good enough player to do those experiments anyway.  I do not have the time to put into practice that a professional banjoist in the 1860s had... In the end, an instrument is only as good as the musician playing it, and the banjoists of the 1860s and 1870s were hotshots on fretless instruments compared to us modern hobbyists.  Like I wrote before, even in the 1890s there was still a debate raging about fretted vs fretless banjos with some holdout virtuoso banjoists defending the fretless instruments (one argument was that the violin, the "king" of all instruments, was fretless and therefore the banjo should be as well.  Not a well thought out argument given that the banjo is plucked and the violin is bowed, but they made the argument just the same. 

I agree with you that it is certainly easier and more practical to play some of this music on a fretted instrument, but it is speculation that people were routinely playing fretted banjos in the 1860s or even the 1870s.  As you said, "everyone was reaching for the best thing", and at that time the best thing were the improved, evolved fretless banjos being produced.  To suggest otherwise is to ignore an abundance of photographic and physical evidence indicating that fretless banjos (and later flush-fret banjos) were the norm until the 1880s.

I never recalled anyone saying "that people were routinely playing fretted banjos in the 1860's and 1870's"

On the other hand...I do stand by "speculation" that repertoire and instruments were evolving side by side. We may not have the evidence of banjos...but we do have printed music.

To quote you in your previous post:

"The result is still better on a fretted.  Certainly everyone was reaching for the best thing... better gear, better music."

Even the top players of the 1860s and 1870s- the players that could afford top of the line custom instruments- were playing fretless instruments.  Regardless of whether we as modern day proponents of this music think that fretted instruments are more practical, it just wasn't what was being used that early on and it apparently didn't hinder people's playing looking at the music they were publishing and performing.

So, to the original question, yes I play guitar style (or "classic") a great deal of the time.  Certain pieces call for stroke style and others call for finger style.  I think it is up to the interpreter to decide.

I also "anchor" my little finger.

I also agree that Briggs' was intended to be stroke and works the best that way.

Guitar style is my default for sight reading a piece the first time through.  I started with stroke but guitar style just seems natural.

"Tub" in reference to banjos was in print as early as 1881 so… not quite the turn.


Dan'l wrote...

Dan'l, you might be the first person to ever refer to minstrelsy as "high artistry".  Last time I checked, minstrelsy was a response to the high artistry enjoyed by the upper classes.

I agree with you on this, D'anl.



Dan'l said:

Perspective:  The best of Minstrel stroke style can't be done on a fretted late century banjo.  Not to misrepresent history, it was as much a move from one popular style to another, with high artistry at both ends.  Same for banjo construction. There were early banjos made with equal care and quality to the later banjos. 

      "Tubs" was a derogatory term first used at the turn of the century, I feel it inappropriate and unfortunate that it was picked up for modern discussion.

Hi Dan'l,  Who is "Van Ossman?"

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