Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

I guess the title of the post pretty much says it all.  When and where is the first (known) appearance of the term "stroke style"?

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I don't recall seeing it in any of the old 19th Century banjo books. The term does appear in Stewart's Journal of 1886.

http://www.thejoelhooks.com/Site/Instruction_&_Music_Collection...

He goes further to call the banjo a "stroke" or "thimble" banjo. Perhaps this word is an innovation of Stewart. I'll wait to see if somebody comes up with a different, or earlier reference.

Perhaps Stroke Style is not the best description to encompass early banjo playing, as not all players use a thimble...nor is it essential to the style.

So, this is a popular word with less than traceable origins. Can somebody come and say "Stewart invented this" or whatever? There surely has to be a root to it.

All of the words used to describe our style have always seemed inappropriate to me. It's not only "Stroke Style" that is problematic. "Minstrel" style doesn't really work either as the style was used well before the advent of the Minstrel stage. The banjo books use the term "Banjo Style" which is appropriate, but now rendered meaningless by all subsequent styles.  And "Classic Banjo Style" could be used but has, of course, already been misappropriated. "Sweeney Style" might be an option, much as we say Scruggs Style, or Keith Style not because they invented it, but because they popularized it. It's all a big mess but it does need to be addressed. Terminology is extremely important in helping to define a field of study. Look at the mess caused by the term "Old Time Music" - it's almost totally meaningless. I told a college kid that I played old time music once and he said "cool! is that like the Beatles, man!"!!!  

Actually all the "19th century tutors" call it that... Stroke is the act of striking. While one is playing, they are striking.  When talking about playing, they were stroking.  It all be de same.

A quick glance through my collection finds the first actual use (at least AFAIK with my fast look) of "Stroke Playing" and "Stroke Style" comes from Geo. Dobson 1877 (two different books).  For those who are not nerds like me, George taught Swaim Stewart how to play. George learned stroke playing from Horace Weston (who would always strike the strings with a thimble).  Stewart was close with Horace Weston who commissioned one of Stewart's early banjos around 1877-8.  Weston played with the Buckleys... See where I'm going with this?

"Banjo Style" seems to be a Converse thing, with exception everyone else was OK with striking the banjo, or "playing with a thimble." According to Converse all "old time" banjo players played with a thimble, with few exceptions (read your Banjo Reminiscences).

As to Stroke style, it absolutely is the best way to describe this method.  One strikes the strings with the first finger and pulls with the thumb.

Tim Twiss said:

I don't recall seeing it in any of the old 19th Century banjo books. The term does appear in Stewart's Journal of 1886.

http://www.thejoelhooks.com/Site/Instruction_&_Music_Collection...

He goes further to call the banjo a "stroke" or "thimble" banjo. Perhaps this word is an innovation of Stewart. I'll wait to see if somebody comes up with a different, or earlier reference.

Perhaps Stroke Style is not the best description to encompass early banjo playing, as not all players use a thimble...nor is it essential to the style.

Oh yea, there it is...plain as day in the Dobson 1877 "The manner of playing stroke or banjo style". pg 12. (with the back of the nail of the fore-finger)


(Thimble thimble...whose got the thimble? )


Anybody else actually call it Stroke Style before this...? Not just the implication of "striking" strings, but as an actual label. 

Yes, implications aside, "Banjo Style" is the classic form of playing the banjo and term used in the earliest books. A "strike" is not a style, it refers to a physical touch applied to the instrument. To call this strike style would be the equivalent of calling bluegrass style "Up-picking Style" or 60's folk style as "Strum Style"

Joel Hooks said:

Actually all the "19th century tutors" call it that... Stroke is the act of striking. While one is playing, they are striking.  When talking about playing, they were stroking.  It all be de same.

A quick glance through my collection finds the first actual use (at least AFAIK with my fast look) of "Stroke Playing" and "Stroke Style" comes from Geo. Dobson 1877 (two different books).  For those who are not nerds like me, George taught Swaim Stewart how to play. George learned stroke playing from Horace Weston (who would always strike the strings with a thimble).  Stewart was close with Horace Weston who commissioned one of Stewart's early banjos around 1877-8.  Weston played with the Buckleys... See where I'm going with this?

"Banjo Style" seems to be a Converse thing, with exception everyone else was OK with striking the banjo, or "playing with a thimble." According to Converse all "old time" banjo players played with a thimble, with few exceptions (read your Banjo Reminiscences).

As to Stroke style, it absolutely is the best way to describe this method.  One strikes the strings with the first finger and pulls with the thumb.

Tim Twiss said:

I don't recall seeing it in any of the old 19th Century banjo books. The term does appear in Stewart's Journal of 1886.

http://www.thejoelhooks.com/Site/Instruction_&_Music_Collection...

He goes further to call the banjo a "stroke" or "thimble" banjo. Perhaps this word is an innovation of Stewart. I'll wait to see if somebody comes up with a different, or earlier reference.

Perhaps Stroke Style is not the best description to encompass early banjo playing, as not all players use a thimble...nor is it essential to the style.

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