Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

I noticed that tone is severely effected by the way that the striking finger is angled when hitting the string. For me when hitting in dead on with the fingernail being perpendicular to the strings, the tone sounds dead and pinched off. Its almost like the banjo is trying to speak with its nose plugged. When I strike it like I normally do with the fingernail at almost a forty five degree angle towards the second bracket, the tone is fuller and more alive. Does anyone have a technique for getting there preferred sound and tone? If so post 'em up! A lot of beginners I think are discouraged by the tone they get when they first start and if the problem is never fixed it will become natural and pretty much set in stone. So all of your tips and secrets would be a great help.

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The angle of attack, the section of the strings, and which finger you use all will effect your tone.  Some of the tutors prescribe exactly how to do it.  Having said all that, banjo style playing is a lot like golf.  If you think about what you're doing too much you'll drive yourself nuts.  Two things occur as you develop your chops.  It takes less and less muscular tension to produce a good tone and your hand becomes much more relaxed.  Just like there are all kinds of great golfers with unorthodox swings, there are all kinds of geat banjo players with their own idiosyncratic techniques.  Experiment and do what feels comfortable for you.  If you suddenly start having problems, actively concentrate on relaxing the muscles in your hand.  Once you begin to play without really thinking about what your right hand is up to, you can focus on others things such as purposely varying your tone by striking the srtings in a different place or making a "chucking" sound by striking a string with your middle finger and deadening the sound with your index finger on the follow through.--Good luck, Rob Morrison

Cool topic Ryan!  As a new player, I'm anxiously waiting for all the input to flow in.  In the vein of varying tone and what-have-you when playing, I'm curious about following through to strike the head with your finger?  To add a percussive flare.  I'm supposing it's one ofhtose things that a player just did if they felt inclined to but was never written into a tune.  Similar to "Injun Rubber Overcoat"'s "head slaps" during the rests, which I think are nifty and add something to it!

Good advice from Rob. Beginning players often obsess cruelly over such things. Comfort is the key...and you'll just have to experiment to find "that sound" you want.

Striking the head: I have found over the years that teaching students to follow-thru by whacking the head with the top of their fingernail (when playing the 1st string) is a great technique. Like you said, it is a technique to keep in your pocket (eventually). It can add or detract from your performance, depending.

My fingernails are cut back to the quick. I use one of Joel Hooks' thimbles to play. However, my "angle of attack" is not 90deg (I've never measured it) but closer to it than 45deg. Raising the neck of the banjo to the 2 o'clock position helps a lot with attack and with LH play to boot.

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