Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

Anyone want to read through the Gumbo Chaff with me? It would be so awesome. Go straight  through it. Mark....do I hear a nibble of interest? We can do "as is" versions, then interpretations.

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Then...carry on.

Ok, so it's not very impressive, but I did manage to play one real simple tune from the Gumbo Preceptor so far.  I picked an easy tune that I had never seen or heard before, so I would have no preconceptions on how to play it.  I didn't pay much attention to it being written in any particular key, aside from initially just being aware of where sharps were until I could hear the melody in my head.  By default I tried a Briggs tuning (in this case for the key of A because my gourd banjo sounds best when the 5th and middle strings are tuned somewhere around E)... and it all worked out just fine and the fingerings seemed to fall naturally.  A 'good lay', as Tim might say...lol!  =8-*   If the fingering had been real awkward I would have tried a different tuning maybe.

Two handy little things I keep in mind when locating a tune on my banjo are that the tonic note of a tune when in Briggs tuning is usually the first finger second string note, and that most common folk tunes end on that tonic note as well. Those are helpful landmarks for me when moving a tune to a different key or fretboard location.

This process sounds more complicated than it actually is in practice.  I first read (or listen to) the basic melody line to get the tune clear in my head, then I locate the tune to the tonic note on my banjo and begin to play with a banjoistic mindset, letting 'banjo-y things' happen as long as the melody still rings clear.

Not played very well, sorry- I'm no virtuoso and i would need to practice it more to get it sounding crisp, but you get the idea.  The A part reminds me a bit of the A part of Jim Along Josie. I played it AABB though it seems to indicate ending on the A.  I think it would be very pretty in a duet or a group with some bones or tambo added.  Also seems a natural for lyrics, but i couldn't find any...anyone know of some for this little ditty?  

Old Joe Goldin, from the Gumbo Chaff 1851 page 15:

http://youtu.be/hoUv3rBSb3Y

Good playing, but this helps illustrate the shortcomings. Hear all those thumb string notes you put in that are not on the page? YOU have a banjo arrangement. This calls for a higher arrangement...up to 8th position.  

ANY music can be banjo music. A banjo arrangement, however, gives you the courtesy of,and saves you the time by placing it in a good spot with modifications that compliment the instrument.


Tim Twiss said:

Good playing, but this helps illustrate the shortcomings. Hear all those thumb string notes you put in that are not on the page? YOU have a banjo arrangement. This calls for a higher arrangement...up to 8th position.  

Tim- I at first read "Hear all those dumb string notes you put in that are not on the page?"...Duude!  lolol!!   =8-o

Could be true though!.. depending on who you ask!  ;D

I actually think it helps illustrate both the shortcomings and the advantages of such an approach.  I think much of this is relative to individual taste.  You hear it and feel it calls out for an added up-the-neck high part. Me, I just don't feel that same call- I find most high neck stuff above the 7th fret to be less personally pleasing.  I hear it and feel it calls out for ensemble playing, some lyrics, or just a touch of percussion.  Again, just our own musical preferences at work.  :)

ANY music can be banjo music. A banjo arrangement, however, gives you the courtesy of,and saves you the time by placing it in a good spot with modifications that compliment the instrument.

Yes you are right about that.  Arrangements are certainly convenient, and they can prompt a player to try new things.  I guess I'm just saying that there's also a lot of good to be found in not playing from someone else's 'arrangement' that has already been laid out for us note by note.  I find some enjoyment in the creative challenge I'm forced into when working simply from a heard melody or a sheet music plain (unarranged) melody.  It definitely builds my skills, and it feels rewarding when it turns out well.   :)

Oh, but think of the joy you get from "Briggs Corn Shucking Jig". What would you change there?

So many classic arrangements that have been endeared to those that have actually played them.

 There are some that are good...MANY actually. Otherwise, just get fiddle books and sheet music. That is fine too.

btw notice how many tunes in that book are up in that position.

It'd be interesting to see how an average banjo player like me would have wound up playing a straight (un-banjofied) melody version of Corn Shucking Jig- did one exist, or did Briggs write the melody originally as a banjo thing?

It'd be like how Brian had to figure out a 'fiddlish' way of playing it.  He basically found a tuning that worked first, and then played the straight melody and then added some fiddle doublestops and little fiddly turns in it, and varied the note/phrase lengths and emphasis.  Truthfully, I get as much joy from hearing Brian's fiddle part of Corn Shucking as I do from hearing Briggs' banjo-only version.  :)   I  would have taken the same straight melody and added some banjo-y moves, syncopated phrasing, and thumbstrings...and then end result might have had some similarities to the Briggs banjo arrangement, or it might have been quite different.  It's not that i would 'change' anything, it's more that everyone naturally puts stuff together slightly differently...and of course that's a wonderful thing!   :)

Did you ever see the study I did on "Ethiopian Cracovienne"? I found it to be most revealing. I took an original fiddle song, much like one you would find anywhere, called "Cracovienne Quickstep" and compared it to "Ethiopian Cracovienne". One can see the process of moving it to a reasonable position, and adding enough dactyl rhythms and clever moves to make it the nearly perfect tune it is. It is a fabulous arrangement. I presented it at AEBG several years ago. It is buried in the site somewhere here.

I think it is a one of a kind composition with no source, other than the original tune.
 
Strumelia said:

It'd be interesting to see how an average banjo player like me would have wound up playing a straight (un-banjofied) melody version of Corn Shucking Jig- did one exist, or did Briggs write the melody originally as a banjo thing?

It'd be like how Brian had to figure out a 'fiddlish' way of playing it.  He basically found a tuning that worked first, and then played the straight melody and then added some fiddle doublestops and little fiddly turns in it, and varied the note/phrase lengths and emphasis.  Truthfully, I get as much joy from hearing Brian's fiddle part of Corn Shucking as I do from hearing Briggs' banjo-only version.  :)   I  would have taken the same straight melody and added some banjo-y moves, syncopated phrasing, and thumbstrings...and then end result might have had some similarities to the Briggs banjo arrangement, or it might have been quite different.  It's not that i would 'change' anything, it's more that everyone naturally puts stuff together slightly differently...and of course that's a wonderful thing!   :)

So Strumelia, you did instinctively what a good arranger would have done...dropping it a 5th, adding thumb  string notes, and enhansing the rhythm. If you can up with a good arrangement, wouldn't you want to write it down to share. Of curse, you would not want it to be considered gospel, but good arrangements are worthy of their place in time and ink.

It's very nice Tim!   I like that banjo version very much.

Tim Twiss said:

Did you ever see the study I did on "Ethiopian Cracovienne"? I found it to be most revealing. I took an original fiddle song, much like one you would find anywhere, called "Cracovienne Quickstep" and compared it to "Ethiopian Cracovienne". One can see the process of moving it to a reasonable position, and adding enough dactyl rhythms and clever moves to make it the nearly perfect tune it is. It is a fabulous arrangement.

Well of course- I agree 100% !  But fun to do both-  play awesome banjo arrangements created by other talented folks, and also try to figure out your own ways to play melodies on a banjo: songs, fiddle or flute pieces etc, however simple one's 'arrangement' might be.  If one keeps trying, their skills get better and who knows, they may come up with a real winner one day.  "Even a blind hog finds an acorn now and then."   :)

Tim Twiss said:

If you can up with a good arrangement, wouldn't you want to write it down to share. Of curse, you would not want it to be considered gospel, but good arrangements are worthy of their place in time and ink.

I think creating your own really opens the world up to you....you can source many things and find music. On the other hand, arrangements sure come in handy...like at AEBG...we have a common language to some degree. Now, treat vocal tunes separate. These deal more with vertical harmony and someone singing them. Lots of ways to make stuff blend here. 

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