Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

First of all I want to thank Rob MacKillop for tabbing out the Briggs Instructor and making it available online. That along with Tim and Greg's post about "Getting Started" has been what has got me going with minstrel banjo playing.

However, while the Briggs instructor is written in the key of D just about everything past that is written in the (un)natural key of the banjo which is E (or A). So I have a choice, Either I can try and find tab for all the other stuff(not so easy sometimes) or I can try and learn to read music.

One of the things I noticed with Rice and the other tutors is that the bottom 3 lines of the staff correspond with the top three strings of the banjo and the fifth string is always flagged. Also the finger position numbers corresponded with the fret positions (for the most part).

So I found that in one sense I can treat it kind of like tabs by seeing that any note that falls on the staff lines correspond with the open string and using the numbers written above the note to figure out what fret position to use for notes between the lines.  It sounds kind of complicated but once you start to do it, it becomes pretty easy.

Here is an example of Where do you come from from Rice that I kind of re-did.

01-Where%20did%20you%20come%20from%20pdf.pdf

And here it is with lots of slight changes

01-Where%20did%20you%20come%20from%20jpg.jpg

I've taken these from the PDF files that are available online and kind of redone them to be easier to work with and get them all on one page.  If anyone is interested I've done some others and can post them in PDF format.  It is nice to print them out so you can write them and not have to worry about writing in your book if you have one.

I've started a blog post on my page that has this also if anyone wants to find the files also.

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Tom, I'm sorry, but even after I carefully read your description over and over and I understand each step, I then get lost at your conclusion when you say:

So the drone is always the High Bass note for any tuning and key.

I don't get what you mean by 'drone' or what that sentence is supposed to mean.  You seem to be saying that the 5th string 'drone' is always the same as the bass string note in High Bass minstrel tuning ?  I don't think my brain is following the same path as yours somehow... sorry!

oops,  that's what happens when you let your fingers do the walking (old telephone book joke)  My bad..

If High Bass has the 5th string at G or D or E the tune is in the Key of G or D or E.  The last note in the score should indicate this.

Further

If Low Bass has the 5th String at G or D or E the tune is in the key of the 4th string - Key of C or G or A.   The last note in the score should also indicate this

I seem to be out of touch with everyone else's thinking.



Strumelia said:

Tom, I'm sorry, but even after I carefully read your description over and over and I understand each step, I then get lost at your conclusion when you say:

So the drone is always the High Bass note for any tuning and key.

I don't get what you mean by 'drone' or what that sentence is supposed to mean.  You seem to be saying that the 5th string 'drone' is always the same as the bass string note in High Bass minstrel tuning ?  I don't think my brain is following the same path as yours somehow... sorry!

Ok Tom I'm going to check this out later today when I have a chance- am in the middle of work now.  I think I can now 'get' your description.

Just call us a bunch o' LUNKHEADS !   lol

So with this logic:

"If Low Bass has the 5th String at G or D or E the tune is in the key of the 4th string - Key of C or G or A.   The last note in the score should also indicate this".

dADF#A - key of A ?

dGDF#A - key of G ?

dAEGB - key of A ?

JonS

Sorry to jump in...it just seems like something simple is getting complicated. There are easier ways to figure out what key you are in.

Yes Tim, I think you are right. Everyone is getting caught up on a tangent.

Lets take a look a things here:

Modern Clawhammer high bass (Standard G tuning)is key of G -> g D G B D, low bass key of C (Standard Minstrel/Classic tuning)- g C G B D & in both cases the 5th string [drone] is G

Yes this is true, and analogous to D/E and E/A tunings also

The key signature tells you what key you are in.  

Yes, this is true but there is more going on here than meets the eye. (more on this later)

So the drone[ 5th string ] is always the High Bass note for any tuning and key.

Not sure what you mean here. The 5th string and the 3rd string are tuned to the same note (an octave apart) whether the bass string is high or low.

If High Bass has the 5th string at G or D or E the tune is in the Key of G or D or E.  The last note in the score should indicate this.

Further

If Low Bass has the 5th String at G or D or E the tune is in the key of the 4th string - Key of C or G or A.   The last note in the score should also indicate this

Basically I think what you are saying is that the last note of a song ends on the root note of what key you are in( Key of G will end on the note G, Same for keys of C,D, or E) . and there is a relationship between the 5th string or the bass string. This may be true, but in a practical sense it doesn't really tell you anything. Plus, the last note of a song may also end on a 3rd of 5th so not all songs end on the root note. So while the relationship between keys, the 5th string and bass strings may be interesting, in a practical sense it is not much use.

Remember , whether you raise or lower the 5th string is a matter if convenience or custom. In clawhammer, standard G tuning(high bass) is the norm and most songs (whether played in G or C ) are played out of this tuning. Dropping the bass string is the exception. In Minstrel or Classic banjo it is the opposite. The low bass tuning is the norm and raising the bass string is the exception.

Whether all this high bass, low bass stuff is either interesting or confusing, it really has no practical value.



If you read and play minstrel using standard notation for D and G[Briggs] for E and A[Rice/Converse] just go up a single note in the score.

More tedious would to re score and lower each note by one to the more familiar keys

Yes.

This has more to do with what some of the discussion has been about. The problems with going between the Briggs book and the other books.

This is what needs to be remembered : “that any given note on the paper will correspond to a specific position on the fretboard of the banjo. “

For example, in Rice, Converse and others in E/A, middle C as it appears in the score will always be fingered as 1st string 2nd fret, and all the other notes are in relationship to that.

In Briggs, middle C as it appears in the score will always be fingered as 1st string 3rd fret, and all the other notes are in relationship to that. That is the problem, you have to be able to make the adjustment in your fingering to be able to read both. Some people are able to do that, others find it hard to do.

If you read and play minstrel using standard notation for E and A[Rice/Converse], for D and G[Briggs] just go up a single note in the score.

True but you had the underlined portion backwards. I fixed it. Look at the Banjo Rosetta Stone. 1st string 2nd fret in Rice/Converse (E/A) is written as middle C, But 1st string 2nd fret in Briggs is written as D (one note above middle C). As I said before, if you are going to learn to read both you have to make that adjustment.

     Yes I realize there are sharps in there, but this is for illustration purposes :)

Learning to read notation in E/A is nice because there is so much written in it, from Rice beginning in 1858 all the way up to many of the books written up to the turn of the century. Having to try to tab all that stuff is in my opinion is more trouble than it is worth. It is actually easier to learn to read the notation.

On the other hand, learning to read in D/G for just one book is not worth the effort. Especially since there is so much tab available for the Briggs book.

I'll tackle the key signature thing later if anyone is interested. We'll see if I've cleared anything up or just muddied the waters more.

"High bass" is almost inconsequential. Of the many tunes I play, I actually tune up on only a couple.  

 

I think I almost went blind the other day trying to learn "Green Corn" from a printout I made from the Rice tutor that has been so kindly made available on the internet. It was one of those prints where the lines of the staff have all but disappeared and I needed my reading glasses to get started. But like others have been saying there are few notes in these melodies and once you get to recognizing the pattern of notes it flows out without too much trouble.

Tim, I understand what you mean about not needing to tune up the base but the way I play I have a hard time when I'm playing out the key of E and that bass string is tuned to A instead of B. Having to fret the low string, and the way it tends to sound in discord when I'm really digging in bothers me a bit. I've been working on some of those medleys from the Rounder recording that go from key of A to E or E to A. And I prefer the medleys with the final tune in A. So I'm one that does tune that string up and down a bit, at least at home when I'm playing on just one banjo all the time. 

All these approaches are wonderful to read, because they are making lightbulbs ficker on in my head like crazy. ;)

Thank you everyone for taking the trouble to explain your approaches!

Scott, I love your post, thank you so much, it helped me....but I would beg to differ on one very minor point:

Remember , whether you raise or lower the 5th string is a matter if convenience or custom. In clawhammer, standard G tuning(high bass) is the norm and most songs (whether played in G or C ) are played out of this tuning. Dropping the bass string is the exception. In Minstrel or Classic banjo it is the opposite. The low bass tuning is the norm and raising the bass string is the exception.

-It's more in bluegrass banjo that most songs are played out of standard G tuning.  In old-time/clawhammer, the current norm for playing in C or D is to go to double D or double C tuning.  And in going from G to C, or going from A to D, one would definitely drop the bass string.  I raise and drop the bass string all the time in clawhammer, and so does everyone else I know.  Possibly you play clawhammer in a different manner.

In bluegrass banjo the norm is to stay in standard G tuning and play in closed chord positions up the neck when changing keys. That enables them to play all those confounded bluegrass songs that keep changing key mid-stream, without skipping a beat. Dang!  lol

Clawhammer players tend to re-tune (or use capos and retune the 5th) to change keys. Plus most of us use or at least experiment with other tunings as well (Dead Man's tuning, Sandy River Belle tuning, Reuben's Train tuning, Cumberland Gap tuning, Little Birdie tuning, etc).  All strings get variously raised and lowered unless one has not yet progressed from 'Cripple Creek Land'.

The first note of the first measure is most often the 1st or 3rd or 5th note of the scale which is the major chord.  Rarely in my experience is the final note of the tune anything but the 1st note I.e the note of the key

As far as reading music I learned at 8 years of age the E is one note higher on the scale than D so I don't,t see a problem reading music - you just need to know where to find the notes.

I seem to be out of touch with everyone else but music scores are simpler than tab because you don't need to worry about half steps and full steps



Scott Johnson said:

Yes Tim, I think you are right. Everyone is getting caught up on a tangent.

Lets take a look a things here:

Modern Clawhammer high bass (Standard G tuning)is key of G -> g D G B D, low bass key of C (Standard Minstrel/Classic tuning)- g C G B D & in both cases the 5th string [drone] is G

Yes this is true, and analogous to D/E and E/A tunings also

The key signature tells you what key you are in.  

Yes, this is true but there is more going on here than meets the eye. (more on this later)

So the drone[ 5th string ] is always the High Bass note for any tuning and key.

Not sure what you mean here. The 5th string and the 3rd string are tuned to the same note (an octave apart) whether the bass string is high or low.

If High Bass has the 5th string at G or D or E the tune is in the Key of G or D or E.  The last note in the score should indicate this.

Further

If Low Bass has the 5th String at G or D or E the tune is in the key of the 4th string - Key of C or G or A.   The last note in the score should also indicate this

Basically I think what you are saying is that the last note of a song ends on the root note of what key you are in( Key of G will end on the note G, Same for keys of C,D, or E) . and there is a relationship between the 5th string or the bass string. This may be true, but in a practical sense it doesn't really tell you anything. Plus, the last note of a song may also end on a 3rd of 5th so not all songs end on the root note. So while the relationship between keys, the 5th string and bass strings may be interesting, in a practical sense it is not much use.

Remember , whether you raise or lower the 5th string is a matter if convenience or custom. In clawhammer, standard G tuning(high bass) is the norm and most songs (whether played in G or C ) are played out of this tuning. Dropping the bass string is the exception. In Minstrel or Classic banjo it is the opposite. The low bass tuning is the norm and raising the bass string is the exception.

Whether all this high bass, low bass stuff is either interesting or confusing, it really has no practical value.



If you read and play minstrel using standard notation for D and G[Briggs] for E and A[Rice/Converse] just go up a single note in the score.

More tedious would to re score and lower each note by one to the more familiar keys

Yes.

This has more to do with what some of the discussion has been about. The problems with going between the Briggs book and the other books.

This is what needs to be remembered : “that any given note on the paper will correspond to a specific position on the fretboard of the banjo. “

For example, in Rice, Converse and others in E/A, middle C as it appears in the score will always be fingered as 1st string 2nd fret, and all the other notes are in relationship to that.

In Briggs, middle C as it appears in the score will always be fingered as 1st string 3rd fret, and all the other notes are in relationship to that. That is the problem, you have to be able to make the adjustment in your fingering to be able to read both. Some people are able to do that, others find it hard to do.

If you read and play minstrel using standard notation for E and A[Rice/Converse], for D and G[Briggs] just go up a single note in the score.

True but you had the underlined portion backwards. I fixed it. Look at the Banjo Rosetta Stone. 1st string 2nd fret in Rice/Converse (E/A) is written as middle C, But 1st string 2nd fret in Briggs is written as D (one note above middle C). As I said before, if you are going to learn to read both you have to make that adjustment.

     Yes I realize there are sharps in there, but this is for illustration purposes :)

Learning to read notation in E/A is nice because there is so much written in it, from Rice beginning in 1858 all the way up to many of the books written up to the turn of the century. Having to try to tab all that stuff is in my opinion is more trouble than it is worth. It is actually easier to learn to read the notation.

On the other hand, learning to read in D/G for just one book is not worth the effort. Especially since there is so much tab available for the Briggs book.

I'll tackle the key signature thing later if anyone is interested. We'll see if I've cleared anything up or just muddied the waters more.

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