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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I didn't know there would be a quiz!  Being musically challenged, I am going to guess it is because those are the keys represented in the early tutors.

It is an open question....and a mystery. Only Briggs and Winners 1864 call for G/D. All others clearly say E/A.

I love the bass, but that's a good point I do play most of e/a tunes in g/d

Re: bass.....doesn't it seem all relative? If you hear the E/A banjo without comparing it to G/D it seems really deep. I think the higher tuning allows for better intonation and response in a string. Actually makes things easier...maybe that is part of the relationship as to how pitch increased.

Maybe because more fiddlers can play in the keys of G and D than can play in the keys of A and... E ?   Aren't these things usually steered by practical factors when playing in groups or with more than one kind of instrument?  

Re: bass - I think my relationship with bass heavy g/d is due to my Bell Sweeney just being a bigger, nicer sounding banjo than any of my gourds which are all my e/a rigs but are generally smaller in sound. I just really feel the g/d bass in my belly with that banjo. I generally learn the tune on a gourd then once it's in the memory bank I play on the g/d banjo.

Strum - thank you for pointing that out, I will now be sure to not show up with a gourd when I meet up with fiddle guy haha

I think Strum's suggestion that it is the fiddler's fault is probably true.  Is it valid for the fiddle player to have that much influence?  I used to play with hammered dulcimer players and everything was in D and G and occasionally A.  It was frustrating because there are great tunes in F, Bb, etc, that we simply would not play.  I have spoken with some fiddlers who also have said, "Oh, I don't play in F or Bb BECAUSE it's too hard."  I think one could just as easily rephrase it and say, "Oh, BECAUSE I never play in F or Bb, it's too hard."  Nevertheless, it seems that the tunes in these tutorials DO more easily play in D and G, though I don't know how to analyze why that is.  Initially, I was drawn to minstrel banjo music because of the "low-down plunk", so I like it down there, though as Tim said, it might not be noticeably different unless you compared it on the spot.

I have found that to be true of my own recordings and also Paul Draper's when i listen to him

Al Smitley said:

I think Strum's suggestion that it is the fiddler's fault is probably true.  Is it valid for the fiddle player to have that much influence?  I used to play with hammered dulcimer players and everything was in D and G and occasionally A.  It was frustrating because there are great tunes in F, Bb, etc, that we simply would not play.  I have spoken with some fiddlers who also have said, "Oh, I don't play in F or Bb BECAUSE it's too hard."  I think one could just as easily rephrase it and say, "Oh, BECAUSE I never play in F or Bb, it's too hard."  Nevertheless, it seems that the tunes in these tutorials DO more easily play in D and G, though I don't know how to analyze why that is.  Initially, I was drawn to minstrel banjo music because of the "low-down plunk", so I like it down there, though as Tim said, it might not be noticeably different unless you compared it on the spot.

Maybe I should also ask if voice ranges have anything to do with it.   My voice has such limited range that when I did the presentation at Antietam last year, debated about having two banjos (G/D and A/E) but ended up tuning down two frets to F and C and using one banjo.

Al, I think voice range definitely has something to do with it. I also think that G and D fit most folk instruments better, not just hammered dulcimer, but concertinas, tin whistles, and other instruments are much more common dealing with D/G. That is why Elaine and I chose those keys for our book, you can get the greatest number of people playing along in those keys. Almost everybody is happy in those keys, with the exception of brass players, who like flats better than sharps.

I wonder why historically, E/A stuck? 

John, I don't know if you looked through "Topical Music of Antebellum America" but I did the same thing there.

Most of the instrumental pieces, I left in the original key but those melodies that were designated as those to be used for singing verses, I picked out keys that seemed to work easiest with G/D minstrel banjo.

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