Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

How did we all end up playing in G/D and why do we do it????

Is this a "pot roast"??

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We tend to think of it as "banjo, fiddle" or "banjo, tin whistle'. I suspect it grew quite diverse.......

Since it was my thread to begin with, I thought I would wrap it up by saying "thanks" for a discussion that many participated in and nobody got too mad or anything. I hope we have more of these.

So when/where's the pot roast?

The pot roast will be served at the Gee Dee cafe sometime in the near future.  Tickets available

  • Some of it has to do with reading, staff notation, and key signatures.  A lot of musicians are most comfortable with the key of C Major simply because it has no sharps and no flats.  G has one sharp . . . D has two sharps . . . A has three . . . E has four . . . B has five.  So, a lot of musicians are not as comfortable with the keys of E and B.
  • Some of it simply has to do with what is comfortable.  On stringed instruments beginners love open strings right?  They like to stay in first position because it feels easier.  Fiddlers like the keys of G, D, and A Major because they can (1) stay in first position and (2) they have more open strings.  It depends on the tuning right?  Brass horn players love the flat keys for the same reasons.  But for stringed instruments Bb, Eb, and Ab are not so popular.
  • Pot Roast???
  • I agree.....but it was interesting to move to a more complex written key. One and Twos sharps as opposed to three and four sharps. This suggests the migration had more to do with getting the instrument to a higher pitch due to the functionality of the instrument rather than the ease of reading.
  • Specifically for the banjo, these read the same. We place the arrangement to have the 5th string be the most advantageous. Thus, fiddle tunes in F are better arranged in E, just 1/2 step lower taking advantage of the root/fifth harmonic quality of the open 5th string. Of course we can read in concert pitch, but F gives no banjoist advantage.
  • The "pot roast". This is an analogy that has has to do with tradition carried on with no real knowledge of the origin. One time at Sunday dinner, a lady was preparing dinner and cut the end of the roast off. Her daughter who was helping her asked why she did that, and the mother claimed that is the way it was done. her mother always did that, and the roast was always perfect. It must have to do with the heat penetrating the ends or something. Anyway, she thought a lot about it, and decided to call her mother to find out the secret. Her aging mother replied "Oh, I used cut off the ends because our oven would not fit the entire roast as it was." 
  • Sometimes, that is how I see our tradition of tuning to D/G. We just keep doing it.

Banjos are almost like tin whistles.....you need several for different keys, so you can maintain the same fingering.

The G, D and A on fiddle can all be played open in Bb.

My own personal opinion is that much of this has evolved based on what's practical when playing with groups or with other kinds of instruments or singers...for fun or for dances, parties, etc.  As I've said before, I myself think that a large number (if not most) non-professional musicians were not reading music formally anyway (much like today) and that tutor instructional books were not actually driving that train...but look I am not trying to pull up that old debate again!  =8-o  ...I know we all feel differently about that issue.

I'm just mentioning that I feel these key changes followed along practical playing reasons rather than due to instruction book notation writing reasons.

Tim I didn't know the pot roast story...love it.  ;D

Wes, what tuning are you specifically talking about- can you name the strings please?

Wes Merchant said:

The G, D and A on fiddle can all be played open in Bb.

Wes means that the G, D, and A strings can be played as open strings when playing in 'Bb'.

All strings can be played open in 'F'.

Thanks Al that's it exactly. It's helpful for fiddlers to realize this if they wish to explore those regions.



Al Smitley said:

Wes means that the G, D, and A strings can be played as open strings when playing in 'Bb'.

All strings can be played open in 'F'.

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