Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

I just did a version of "Arkansas Traveller" from the Green Converse. It has a subtle change of dotted notes and straight 16ths. I find that at too quick a tempo, the differences become not as obvious. Perhaps this is a "built in governer" to remind us of the tempos? In the Converse Analytical, he has one line of the Combination Exercises in which of the 4 measures presented, he goes from straight, to dots, and then straight again. It is so easy to have them all sound the same, if not being aware of it. Our straight rhythms seem to have a natural lazy swing to them, and pehaps the dotted rhythms are not as accurate as they could be. This has a subtle effect on the tunes. (actually, more than subtle). It encourages me to go back and take another look at some songs. Perhaps a greater insight into interpreting this 150 year old material?? It seems that sometimes our dots are not as long as they should be, and our shorter notes are not quite so short.

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This is one of the things I like about using MIDI, it eliminates playing error (it does not, however, eliminate writing/printing or "Marc induced" errors). I tend to use it to get the feel for the tune...and to decide whether to play it "straight" or "swing" or "whatever". I especially rely on it for dotted tunes and funky rhythms. Generally, once I've gotten past the mechanics of learning a tune, I let the tune dictate the feel...and it sometimes changes over time.

When I started out, I took a lot of pride in playing the tunes "right outta da book". Nowadays, I'm less OCD and more about simply enjoying myself. I still start a new tune "as written" but they quickly move into "as Marc plays it".

Then...I also enjoy revisiting tunes. Somebody here will post a video or MP3 and I'll go back to revisit the version I play (if I play it) and see if I can glean more info from it. I have indeed found sections where I ought to have been playing "dotted" but had straightened it out at some point. All fun!
Ahh Tim, it seems as if you are burgeoning the "slow" movement for early banjo players. And true, I am coming around to it, especially for practicing, but I am finding some songs speak through the banjo better at slower speeds. Our banjos' more organic strings and sonorous head allow sustained melodies to blend into their own harmonies while overtones blanket an entire piece. Some songs will make my ring my banjo so deep, my shoes rumble from its vibration. Anyway, I feel not only slowing a tune down will increase your rhythmic grasp of it, but sometimes I feel it simply sounds better. And dare I offer the opinion that why we (certainly myself included) like to play these songs fast is because they are easier that way, especially in tunes requiring glides.

Now about these dots...

Being a jazz drummer at heart, I am particularly interested in the rhythms (aka. long/short) we ascribe to the tutors. While it is truly amazing and fortunate that we can learn tunes written over 150 years ago through an agreed upon system of musical notation, a few subtleties are lost in translation from sound to system.

And mainly, being a drummer, I am harping about the shuffle feel or "swinging it." Many of us do it naturally; some must try. Nevertheless, sometimes when straight sixteenths are written, the original players might have been swinging those sixteenths. I find "Brigg's Corn Shuckin' Jig" provides an excellent of this, especially in song context--also, keep in mind there is no wrong way to play it; it's music.

The song begins with quarter notes, then essentially divides those quarters note into a triplet feel (the dotted eight note is usually played within this triplet feel, although one could be fastidious and play it "straight"). After that section, a line of sixteenth notes beings the next phrase. Here, coming out of the already established triplet feel section, it is most natural to me to "swing" these sixteenth notes to create a shuffle feel. However, to those who enjoy syncopation, playing these sixteenth notes straight creates a delightful contrast of rhythm. But my point being, I bet most of us swing those notes, without realizing it, and without the little dots beside the notes because it is more natural to us and to the tune.

I think they used to make these banjos out of Schrodinger's cat hide... the strings too.

And Marc, while I have used MIDIs to get rhythms for tunes and feel they are really really cool and VERY helpful, MIDIs do not understand the implied feel of swing very well. If you put straight rhythms in, you get straight rhythms out, regardless of tune continuity.

My final word: even when dots arent there, sometimes, they are implied.

Not sure if it works the other way though.

-rant done
I just recorded from the Green Converse 1865 "Hard Times" and "Philadelphia Jig". Philadelphia is played as expected, with that dotted eighth/sixteenth feel in between the triplets. I started to play Hard Times, and did the same thing. Then I realized how I had changed the straight eighths into that timing, when it was not written that way at all. I know we say we can "play them how we feel them", but we must also assume that the person writing them down had some idea what they were doing. I think we can, at least, with Converse, as he is always very specific. Included are the first parts to each tune. Notice the difference. Anybody else get fooled and swing "Hard Times"? Both are great beginner tunes, by the way.
Attachments:
Hi Tim, this beginner says thank you for posting the tunes. I will let you know how I get on.

Tim Twiss said:
I just recorded from the Green Converse 1865 "Hard Times" and "Philadelphia Jig". Philadelphia is played as expected, with that dotted eighth/sixteenth feel in between the triplets. I started to play Hard Times, and did the same thing. Then I realized how I had changed the straight eighths into that timing, when it was not written that way at all. I know we say we can "play them how we feel them", but we must also assume that the person writing them down had some idea what they were doing. I think we can, at least, with Converse, as he is always very specific. Included are the first parts to each tune. Notice the difference. Anybody else get fooled and swing "Hard Times"? Both are great beginner tunes, by the way.
Do you need the other page(s)?
Yes please, I was following the music with the video and thought it was just me missing something.

Tim Twiss said:
Do you need the other page(s)?
Okay...here they are.
Attachments:
Thanks Tim, I will get to work on them now.

Tim Twiss said:
Okay...here they are.
Okay. If you need anything, let me know. Good tunes.

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