Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

I've just been re-reading Briggs' Banjo Instructor, in particular his comment that

''The performer, in playing the accompaniments of the Songs, can use either the banjo fingering, or map (?) the first, second and third strings with the first, second and third fingers of the right hand, as in playing the Guitar''

[aside: the word 'map' might be wrong - my copy is hard to read at this point]

Well, that seems fairly clear - when playing song accompaniments, you have option of using right-hand guitar technique. A few questions arise:

1. Why? The accompaniment parts could pretty much be played in regular stroke style.

2. Did died-in-the-wool stroke players really learn a new technique for song accompaniment?

3. Was there a bunch of guys playing minstrel solo repertoire in guitar style? Maybe their repertoire was mainly songs, but kept their technique for solos?

4. I can't quote chapter and verse, but I believe there was a style of up-picking used by African slaves. Maybe some of this technique survived in ‘guitar’ style?

5. When Converse writes music for guitar style, he includes some pieces which seem ideal stroke pieces – Gumbo Reel comes to mind – so is he saying it is OK to play banjo repertoire in guitar style?

There is quite a difference in sound and articulation between the two techniques, but there seems to have been some tolerance of overlapping, despite these differences. On a personal note, I’ve not spent much time with stroke style, and actually find things like fast triplets hard to do (they are!) but are easy in guitar style – so I could be accused of just searching for an excuse to play the stroke repertoire in guitar style. I’m probably guilty of that, but I’m also enjoying exploring stroke style and like its unique qualities. I’ve noticed Tim Twiss mixing the two quite deftly, and no-one has suggested banning him from this site (can’t imagine the place without his magnificent contributions!).

No final question, just an invitation for comments on the general question of stroke repertoire with guitar technique…


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Rob, thanks for the validation on that. I also very much enjoyed the videos and the commentary in the link you provided. I've subscribed to your You Tube page...thanks for posting some excellent music! 

Cheers, Vince.

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