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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Forgive my ignorance, but a fiddle is not limited by the open string ( acting as a root or a 5th and thus restricting the natural key ). Fiddle music seems to be written in all sorts of keys. Why is that a big deal?  

Al Smitley said:

I would be afraid to attempt to tune up a whole step for my sake and the violin's.  Besides that re-tuning a fiddle is a supreme pain!   ....one reason I've never been interested in optional tuning methods.

I never said it was, Joel. Why twist my words?

Joel Hooks said:

 Mark, I did not know that the five string banjo in the form we know of today was common in the 1700.

Certainly a fiddle is chromatic.  The phrasing (fingering or whatever you would call it) for playing in 'D' is completely different if you play it instead, in 'E'.   Technically, the banjo is chromatic, as well.  All the notes are there regardless of how you tune it.   Even if you changed the open 5th string, how well can you play Brigg's Reel in 'A' if the banjo is tune it to 'G'?  Why would it be any different?

We should do an open study on some of the tunes in Ryan's for this discussion

You know...this is not dissimilar to a horn player.....who has a horn in Bb and Eb. They cover a different range...but the fingering is the same.

Requires different music...different horn...but not a different understanding of the instrument

I thought you did.  My knowledge is very limited on pre-minstrelsy banjo prototypes.  When I read your post that banjos had been played since the early 1700s I got the impression that it was the five string banjo that was the subject of this discussion on pitch.

On the subject of pitch, Converse and his generation was still making this stuff up as they went along-- and all of them claimed to want to learn to play it after seeing a professional.  Also a common theme was them claiming to make a banjo from a flour sieve and pine neck because the banjos in stores were no good (Bouchers?-- Don't know but how many brands were available in the late 1840s-early 50s?).

BTW, one of my favorite photos is the one of Eph Horn and Dan Bryant sitting with banjos in their laps. Eph was the one that Briggs asked to get his banjo for him on his death bed described in the Briggs book.

I love that line..."It's no use Eph. Hang it up. I can't hit it no more".

Yes, Ryan has fiddle tunes in A, Bb, C, D, Eb, F, G, and probably a few in E.

I suppose that could be an argument for the flexibility of the violin though it can also be an argument the other way.   Why do you suppose those particular tunes are placed in those keys?  It's because those particular tunes work best in those keys and not so well in other keys.   Wes, help me!


for me Ryan's is significantly post period. I don't dispute that banjos after the Civil War were primarily A/E.  It is before the war that I am more interested.

BTW...the banjo can play a hellova lot of keys. If you have not worked your way through the Green Book, observe the treatment of each key as he moves through the book. Very Interesting.

Oh...well, the main point of the discussion was the movement upward from 1860 and beyond. Briggs embodies a thimble full of the written material we draw upon.
John Masciale said:


for me Ryan's is significantly post period. I don't dispute that banjos after the Civil War were primarily A/E.  It is before the war that I am more interested.

There is another tutor not seen often...Christy's ( not the Ethiopian Glee Book ). It is similar to Rice...and of the same time ( pre 1860 ) and is also all in E/A. Perhaps Briggs is the odd ball??

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