Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

For those of you at various stages of pursuing Minstrel Banjo, I am curious to ask what type of things are most useful to you in learning? TAB, notation, TAB with fingerings, videos, slow demonstative videos, audio recordings, slow audio recordings....perhaps a treatment like Converse provides in "Without A Master"??

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For me, notation has become more important than tab, although my first encounter with minstrel music was with Joe Weidlich's books and Bob Flesher's - all tab. However, it soon became clear that an element of personal preference had crept into the fingering choices when compared to the original notation. So now I only look at the original notation. It might be harder to do so initially, but with a little effort it becomes fairly easy.

Slowed-down videos of the basic stuff is always useful for beginners. Your video of Briggs' 'movements' was good, and could maybe have been slower, with the camera aimed more at the plucking hand. I know that that kind of video helps beginners enormously.

From my experience, these days people prefer videos over audio files, but both are helpful.
It would be interesting for you to deconstruct a piece, as Converse does - every movement described in text, with video and or audio. That would be a lot of work on your behalf, Tim, but I'm sure it would be appreciated. Generally, I don't think we do enough for beginners to this tyle.
I have been playing for about seven months now and I have been learning mostly from Bob Flesher's two books. I am very comfortable with tab. I have used your "Early Banjo Rosetta Stone" to successfully convert some standard notation into tab for songs I have wanted to learn not in Flesher's books. But I definitely have to hear a tune to be able to play it. Fast or slow doesn't matter too much (although I prefer a little slow to very fast) and neither does video vs. just audio, although I must admit that I love having the audio recordings to download, because listening to songs I am trying to learn on my mp3 player helps reinforce the tunes in my brain. The videos have helped a little with figuring out fingerings for songs that I don't have tab for, but I mostly play away from a computer.
Would a progressive repertoire from easy to difficult be of use? I know the Flesher is not really set up that way. There is so much easy repertoire from the Winner's Books that should be included. There is nothing that says one can't skip around, but perhaps a logical progression would make advancement smoother.
I agree about the fingerings with TAB.

I am also mostly a TAB reader, and can actually read it at speed. Once or twice through a song and I can typically play it by site.

I still work on notation. Flash cards (banjo specific that I have made), and scales/exercises.

Brian, the thing that helped me the most is learning rhythm and note duration. Once you learn how to use that, music that has not been played, or heard for over a century comes alive, you don't need to hear it first. Now that is something special.
I think a progressive repertoire is useful. I have both of Bob Flesher's books. I find the tabs in his supposedly beginner book, Learning Minstrel Banjo, way more difficult than the tabs in his more advanced book, The Minstrel Banjo Stroke Style. The latter book is arranged from easy to more difficult, and includes a CD with all of the tunes. My personal repertoire is almost entirely from the first third of that latter book--Do Mr. Booker Do, Circus Jig, Gal with the Blue Dress On, Get Up in the Morning, Jim Along Josie, Cotton Pod Walkaround. Flesher describes these early tunes as "more clawhammer like" (or something like that) and I agree that that is what makes them easier to learn. Basic stroke style tunes were the easiest for me and now that I am getting the hang of things I am picking things up much more quickly. But having that CD with versions that exactly match the tab has been a big help for me. I look forward to moving beyond that crutch, although I am glad that I am picking things up somewhat by ear, because in addition to learning old tunes that haven't been heard in over a century, I also want to be able to learn things that have been recorded but never written down.

My next big hurdle is triplets, which Flesher just throws in there but doesn't really explain. I understand the concept, but can't quite make them sound right.

--Brian
How useful are the right hand fingerings to you, and do you find yourself using them exactly, or as needed? Also, do you just play tunes, or are exercises of any benefit?

Brian Welch said:
I think a progressive repertoire is useful. I have both of Bob Flesher's books. I find the tabs in his supposedly beginner book, Learning Minstrel Banjo, way more difficult than the tabs in his more advanced book, The Minstrel Banjo Stroke Style. The latter book is arranged from easy to more difficult, and includes a CD with all of the tunes. My personal repertoire is almost entirely from the first third of that latter book--Do Mr. Booker Do, Circus Jig, Gal with the Blue Dress On, Get Up in the Morning, Jim Along Josie, Cotton Pod Walkaround. Flesher describes these early tunes as "more clawhammer like" (or something like that) and I agree that that is what makes them easier to learn. Basic stroke style tunes were the easiest for me and now that I am getting the hang of things I am picking things up much more quickly. But having that CD with versions that exactly match the tab has been a big help for me. I look forward to moving beyond that crutch, although I am glad that I am picking things up somewhat by ear, because in addition to learning old tunes that haven't been heard in over a century, I also want to be able to learn things that have been recorded but never written down.

My next big hurdle is triplets, which Flesher just throws in there but doesn't really explain. I understand the concept, but can't quite make them sound right.

--Brian
Re: slow audio....is anybody using "The Amazing Slow Downer"? It's great. You can adjust the speed of an audio file (even a CD) to anything. The nice part is the gradual speed up you can do until you have it going full tilt boogie.
I don't have the Amazing Slow Downer, but I have used Windows Media Player to do a similar thing. Most people are unaware that it can change the speed of recordings. Click on the little arrow below Now Playing, then Enhancements, then Play Speed Settings. It doesn't always work brilliantly, but it is free...I imagine the Amazing Slow Downer is much better.
Tim Twiss said:
How useful are the right hand fingerings to you, and do you find yourself using them exactly, or as needed? Also, do you just play tunes, or are exercises of any benefit

I like the right hand fingerings, but I find them less and less necessary the more I know what I am doing and I end up doing what is comfortable to me. But for a banjo beginner, they are a big help. I don't like exercises--I like to play tunes.

Here's a tab I created for myself for Dance Boatman Dance from Briggs. I don't know if it is perfectly correct, but when I play it, it sounds right to me!
Attachments:
I don't like exercises--I like to play tunes

I couldn't agree more. I feel as though I conflict with my own opinion on this, as I teach music all day long, and scales and exercises are part of it. However, I found that as I learned how to play Minstrel Banjo, I was a typical student....just like the kids I teach. You want to get to the tunes. That is why I think a graduated repertoire would be valuable. Simple tunes are the exercises. It's a little of this, and a little of that from all the tutors. There is continuity in much of the material. However, at some point, a solid foundation of technique in the right hand is beneficial. Minstrel Banjo becomes like golf...you don't have to be good at it to enjoy it, but playing well is way more fun than playing crappy. And much like a golf stroke, the banjo technique is an elusive devil to conquer....so simple in its foundation, yet tricky to really relax with and execute well. When I first tried it, striking down was the wierdest thing. Now it seems like the most natural thing. I think you have to go through a period of forced practice with this motion to really believe in it.
It is a conundrum. You want to make music immediately and yet it takes practice to get there. NOBODY wants to play scales or exercises or rolls first, they want to play a tune...NOW.

So, I'm an advocate of "tune first, exercise later". I've seen books laid out in that manner: learn the tune then learn some small exercises based on this tune...then move on to tune #2, etc.

The problem is, not everyone learns in the same way. I have never been able to start at page 1 and go in a linear fashion, I'm strongly driven by what I hear and like. Even from the very beginning, I started with whatever suited my ear and worked willy-nilly thru the book (name a banjo book, I've been thru 'em all at some point). I have books I bought 30 yrs ago that I still reference and sometimes still pick up things I missed.

I'm only a sometimes teacher, usually Bluegrass. I would go crazy if I had to teach full time, so you have my sympathies! ;-)

Converse's textual treatment would be my least favorite. As you know, I prefer TAB...and if I had my "druthers" it would include a facimile of the original notation (I have no use for someone's 'corrected', 're-set' or 'cleaned up' notation. Errors creep in...I should know! Errors in the original should be discussed though) and a CD/mp3 of the tune played at a moderate speed and then at whatever is considered standard tempo...no additional instruments please, they're a distraction. RH fingerings are a must, esp. for beginners but also for us 'not so beginners' as we often make less-than-optimum choices. ;-)
That was a great reply Marc.
I'm almost thinking web-based material....sort of "ala carte" might be a good way. It gives you the whole picture, but the ability to pick and choose what you need. All the resources under one roof. I think any work will always be one in progress. There are continuous edits and improvements to be made.
I think the breakdown of the music biz from standardized album and CD format distribution into the ability to download individual tracks has been something that was slow to be embraced, but is a good thing. Much to learn from that. Why not do the same with instructional material? However, I'm not sure how one can be compensated for his work. People seem to expect everything on the internet to be free nowdays.

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