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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John Cohen said:   It would not be possible to play such difficult music on one of the older fretless tubs from the 1860s and earlier. 

That's quite a statement, there.

Strumelia, those large old minstrel banjos originally had very high action due to the lack of any neck angle and the need to clear the rim and tension hoop.  The modern repros people play today have much lower action.  Even with low action, they do not intonate that well and they do not have a very large range.  Check out some of the fretless banjos from the 1890s for comparison.  These later fretless banjos are comparable to the fretted banjos of that period.

Case in point. Why would there be repertoire and music and books published if there were no instruments to play them on? The 1860's must have some secrets we have not revealed yet....or even sooner??

Tim, the difficult music I'm referring to is the classic banjo repertoire from the 1880s and later, not the guitar style pieces from the 1860s.  Try playing Freckles or Ragtime Episode on an 1840s-1860s tub.  Even if you designed one that had the proper range of notes, it still wouldn't be very doable the way the original banjos from that period are set up.

Do you include the Converse Analytical?

But I would add...the stuff from the 1868 and many of the ones from the 1860 are no cakewalk.

I include the more advanced guitar style pieces in the Analytical, yes.  By 1886 the banjo (fretted and fretless) had evolved far beyond the early tubs.  Keep in mind that the Analytical was criticized for being too difficult when it came out, so Converse released a collection of easier music a few years later.

Possible....but not practical.  The question is....discerning that hazy line where it is no longer....practical.

I'd argue that the differences in banjo construction between the 1860s and 1880s do not make for a hazy line.  By the 1880s what we would consider modern banjos were in use.  Even the big time minstrels by the 1870s were using fretless banjos that were finer instruments than the earlier tubs (there is plenty of photographic evidence of this).  I would argue that it is not possible to play much of the classic banjo repertoire on the early tubs because, like I said, the tubs do not have a large enough range of notes.  You'd be lucky to make it up to the 12th, 13th, or 14th "fret" on one of the original tubs without the strings fretting out on the tension hoop, and that's way down the fingerboard on those banjos.  They just didn't have the range compared to later fretless and fretted banjos.

Tim Twiss said:

Possible....but not practical.  The question is....discerning that hazy line where it is no longer....practical.

I still don't see where the Classic Banjo repertoire comes into play. We have been discussing EARLY roots of classic banjo...the first examples of fingerstyle, extended range, complex chords, and rapidly ascending  and descending lines along with with more complex dance forms.

I was under the impression that we had changed gears and WERE talking about the classic banjo repertoire at this point, especially after you mentioned the Analytical.  I think we are in agreement about the early guitar style roots of classic banjo.  

The Analytical covers it ALL....as well as it ever has been. The banjo style section is crazy good. Then...there are the "misc' pieces. It is the grand retrospect.

BUT...the original discussion was.....to get some enjoyment out of playing a few of the simpler guitar style pieces and to not be afraid of trying it.

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