Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

Just a question, how do I play with a fiddler that is tuned to A when in minstrel tuning?  Do you just tune to what Phil rice recommends? (E)  Thanks for any help.

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I also have dot postition markers so moving the bridge could pose a problem.

I'm not sure what you are asking.  You mean when a fiddler plays a tune in 'A', what do you do?

I guess you have three choices. (1) Chord along, (2) have two banjos, or (3) get the fiddler to transpose.

Of the three, the latter seems most practical......and that's coming from someone who is now playing fiddle more than banjo.

Thanks for the response Al.  I would love it if my little fiddler could transpose, she's only 8.  I guess I should learn to transpose!  

Another banjo would be nice but, not really practical at the moment.

I have seen some fiddlers tune down their instrument, that may be possible.................?

I guess some would depend on the repertoire.  If you're playing the standard minstrel stuff, and in Brigg's tuning as I think most on this site do, then there's not much to worry about.  Yes, it works best for a fiddler to play "President Garfield's Hornpipe" in Bb rather than transpose to some other key but then not many minstrel banjo players will be playing that genre.  In my limited experience, most music you will play with a minstrel banjo player will be of the banjoists choice, more so than the fiddler's.

Maybe I should restate what I said as I don't want to offend banjoists.  While it is the case that most of what I have played on fiddle since dusting it off a year or two ago has been to fit with the minstrel banjo, I enjoy it.  Years ago, when I played with hammered dulcimer players, I felt some frustration in that a lot of good tunes were never played because they were in keys other than 'D', 'G', and to a less extent, 'A'.  It's not as though I no longer like the 'F', 'Bb', 'C', etc, etc, tunes.  I just find that the genre of early banjo tunes/songs open up a new adventure for me.

If you're playing in an ensemble, you can afford the time, inclination, and extra instruments to find remedies to work things out if another key was needed.  I would say, however, that if you had planned to come to Antietam, expect to play in 'D' and 'G' for most of the weekend......and I don't think you'll become bored!

I'm not quite sure what you mean by a fiddler tuned in A, If it's AEAE tuning the same tune  can be played in GDGD. In GDAE tuning, there are a lot of standards that are easily shifted between  G, D and A without a lot of effort.

Canaan, dot markers are particularly helpful to those who are used to playing fretted banjos, but at least from my own experience i can say that one can get used to ignoring them while moving the bridge up and down a bit as desired.  Try to practice looking away from the fingerboard more often as you play, and fret markers will no longer be something you depend on- you will look beyond them and not notice them after a while.  Some folks practice occasionally in the pitch dark to get away from having their eyes glued to the fretboard.  I tried it once at a nighttime campsite, and it's way harder than I thought!


Canaan Myskowski said:

I also have dot postition markers so moving the bridge could pose a problem.

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