Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

I've been watching several tutorials about Clawhammer since Mark Weems mentioned this. One thing is the concept of "down". Down in the right hand motion can be directed straight toward the head of the instrument. it can also be interpreted as aiming toward the floor. How do you all interpret this?

Another difference is watching the brush of clawhammer where the first finger and the thumb make contact with the string in a slight delay, whereas Stroke style has the finger and thumb making contact with the string at exactly the same time. 

Views: 1360

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

My take on the 'oblique' strike muffling adjacent strings thing:

In down picking styles (both claw and stroke) when making notes on the 3 'inside' strings, our nail (or pick or back of finger) comes down on the noting string like a little shoemakers hammer (that's where the name claw/hammer came in)- it's not coming down to strike the string and then just sitting there muffling other strings.  The struck string snaps off the end of the nail or pick quickly and our hand comes right back up off the string, so there's no time for it to muffle adjacent strings even if it touch touch them for a fraction of a second.  If noting the first string, we then have the luxury of snapping all the way down (DOWN) off the string when noted, to the skinhead, where we can acheive a nice little bit of percussive effect if we like.  When making a 'strike', it's a lot like a military 'surgical strike'- you go in straight down if on the middle strings, if your angle of attack is too slanted you have to deal more with the adjacent strings getting into the picture.

All this said, many oldtime claw players love to use the 'muffling adjacent string' effect to purposely get the 'cluck' or 'chuck,chuck' sound...which is acheived through playing around with striking the note more obliquely and allowing the nail to mess up the feng shui of the adjacent string in a way that produces a clucky sound.  Newbie claw players endlessly talk about how to get the elusive 'holy grail' cluck...and once they get it, they often overdue it to the point of sounding really annoying.   Meanwhile, I imagine stroke players would perhaps consider the cluck to be just an example of sloppy playing.  lolol...   ;D

Perhaps it will help to define "oblique". Oblique means "neither parallel nor at right angles."

I would interpret Converse thus:

1. Try to strike the strings perpendicular to the head. (This is about movement. If you were to paint a small dot on the top of your fingernail and then track the movement of that dot, it would ideally travel a line perpendicular to the surface of the head, strike the string and continue past along that perpendicular line. Again, these are idealized instructions)

2. If you get too far off of perpendicular ("very oblique"), you can develop problems. (most students I've had have initial difficulties playing a single note on any interior string. Their movements are too broadly parallel to the head and they strike thru one string and hit another one unintentionally)

This is all about creating a set of rough parameters, much like the piano example of sitting up straight, keeping your elbows in and allowing your hands to move at the wrist, etc. A good teacher will make you exaggerate these parameters until you 'get' them...after that, you may start tweaking what actually works for you.

Brian, you've hit on one of the crucial problems that happens with folk instruments, "self taught". There is no 'school' of banjo playing, no formality, no boundaries.

I hate "the cluck", more because I cannot do it intentionally than anything else. Sometimes I find myself clucking like a demented hen and two minutes later, I can't get even a little cluck to pop out. Frustrating.

LOL, I wonder how Converse would have notated it?
 
Strumelia said:

All this said, many oldtime claw players love to use the 'muffling adjacent string' effect to purposely get the 'cluck' or 'chuck,chuck' sound...which is acheived through playing around with striking the note more obliquely and allowing the nail to mess up the feng shui of the adjacent string in a way that produces a clucky sound.  Newbie claw players endlessly talk about how to get the elusive 'holy grail' cluck...and once they get it, they often overdue it to the point of sounding really annoying.   Meanwhile, I imagine stroke players would perhaps consider the cluck to be just an example of sloppy playing.  lolol...   ;D

If you get too far off of perpendicular ("very oblique"), you can develop problems. (most students I've had have initial difficulties playing a single note on any interior string. Their movements are too broadly parallel to the head and they strike thru one string and hit another one unintentionally)

Most new players tend to try to make notes by 'strumming' across the string rather than by striking, snapping, or hammering down on that string.  It's then like trying to ice skate over the snow when you'd be better off snowshoeing.

Yes, but since this is going off thread, I'll respond to you personally.

Timothy Twiss said:

Mark, can you explain further your thoughts on why you think there is an association with Briggs, Rice and Converse etc and very early banjo playing?

Mark Weems said:

You are absolutely right about that Tim. My only problem is with assuming that banjo in the 1820's sounded exactly like Briggs, or Rice, or Converse etc., when we all know that this whole thing starts as an African-American instrument, used for playing their music, and ends up in Middle Class parlors playing European classical music. To me, the Tutors represent the middle part of that journey. I think the language of "Minstrel Banjo" for the tutor era is fine.

Timothy Twiss said:

Well, there is something to it...this particular style. 600 written songs and a consistent message in pedagogy over time means something. It was real and did exist to somebody in that form

Perhaps we need to reinvent the language....and some can be 19th Century Tutor Practitioners. 

Well, this has been invigorating and thought provoking. Maybe we know less than when we started?? Anyway, it makes me appreciate the music in the tutors. I feel better about playing that music...especially if there is a disclaimer that it is not trying to prove nor relate to anything. It just simply IS good music, and thank God for the guys that thought of it and wrote it down. It is beautiful, rhythmic, unique, melodic, and has a balance in it's structure much like Bach. Maybe it is related to later music...with its DNA stretching into Classic Banjo, Bluegrass, and Clawhammer/Old Time. It obviously morphed into fingerstyle and Classic. And its relationship to earlier music??? Ha..well, that remains a mystery and fun research. Maybe the oldest music was crappy anyway. The Zeitgeist of the day gave birth to this uniquely American form of expression. I mean, in one breath, we associate "Old Dan Tucker" and "Japanese Grand March". How all over the map is that?? I'll be proud to play this stuff, but perhaps I'll lay off the conjecture and lecture while playing. It not only is a great body of material....hundreds and hundreds....but it serves as a model for modern extraction. We can see source material and figure out what an appropriate arrangement might be by studying this stuff. It is some sort of a snapshot in time. Perhaps it was Frank Converse and his need to keep up with his brother and not dissapoint his folks that caused him to pioneer this artful approach to a folk idiom. At any rate....it fortunately makes sense. There is some prescribed way to play this that works well. The techniques are universally useful, but not necessary. They are the best way to execute the more complex pieces, but of course that is not everyone's cup of tea. And the earliest banjo stuff ever....maybe we will never really know. But, we CAN know this music...whatever you want to call it. Perhaps the world was done a disservice in naming that early Rounder Record "Minstrel Banjo"??.

So, I'm glad we all carry on and try to bring to life good music. Like that Apollo 13 video...we can only make something out of what we have.     

I'm working my way through transcribing all of Knauff's Virginia Reels (1839). There is a distinctly different feel to the music in them and what we tend to play on banjo.  Some of them translate pretty well, some do not, primarily because the piano bass line adds some complexity we don't have on playing the tunes on banjo alone.  The music in the tutors is generally more syncopated.  Translating many of these to banjo requires some significant transposing and shifting of the melody lines.  It is an interesting project.

And, FBC put the finest exclamation point on technique, locked away in the ABM. Look through the dots

and lines and slurs....and enjoy a fine ballet on the fretless neck. 

Timothy Twiss said:

Well, this has been invigorating and thought provoking. Maybe we know less than when we started?? Anyway, it makes me appreciate the music in the tutors. I feel better about playing that music...especially if there is a disclaimer that it is not trying to prove nor relate to anything. It just simply IS good music, and thank God for the guys that thought of it and wrote it down. It is beautiful, rhythmic, unique, melodic, and has a balance in it's structure much like Bach. Maybe it is related to later music...with its DNA stretching into Classic Banjo, Bluegrass, and Clawhammer/Old Time. It obviously morphed into fingerstyle and Classic. And its relationship to earlier music??? Ha..well, that remains a mystery and fun research. Maybe the oldest music was crappy anyway. The Zeitgeist of the day gave birth to this uniquely American form of expression. I mean, in one breath, we associate "Old Dan Tucker" and "Japanese Grand March". How all over the map is that?? I'll be proud to play this stuff, but perhaps I'll lay off the conjecture and lecture while playing. It not only is a great body of material....hundreds and hundreds....but it serves as a model for modern extraction. We can see source material and figure out what an appropriate arrangement might be by studying this stuff. It is some sort of a snapshot in time. Perhaps it was Frank Converse and his need to keep up with his brother and not dissapoint his folks that caused him to pioneer this artful approach to a folk idiom. At any rate....it fortunately makes sense. There is some prescribed way to play this that works well. The techniques are universally useful, but not necessary. They are the best way to execute the more complex pieces, but of course that is not everyone's cup of tea. And the earliest banjo stuff ever....maybe we will never really know. But, we CAN know this music...whatever you want to call it. Perhaps the world was done a disservice in naming that early Rounder Record "Minstrel Banjo"??.

So, I'm glad we all carry on and try to bring to life good music. Like that Apollo 13 video...we can only make something out of what we have.     

John, I've been working on the same thing for about 3 years. The complexities of putting a transcribed for piano fiddle tune into period banjo caused me to do the Sweeny material first since I discovered that his Whar Did You Cum From? is the same tune as Knauff's, and I thought his sheet music could offer some clues. We should compare frustrated notes!
 

John Masciale said:

I'm working my way through transcribing all of Knauff's Virginia Reels (1839). There is a distinctly different feel to the music in them and what we tend to play on banjo.  Some of them translate pretty well, some do not, primarily because the piano bass line adds some complexity we don't have on playing the tunes on banjo alone.  The music in the tutors is generally more syncopated.  Translating many of these to banjo requires some significant transposing and shifting of the melody lines.  It is an interesting project.

I'd like to do that Mark!  Right now I'm simply transcribing all of the music into Finale so that I can really examine it. I'm on book 3.  I should be done in about a week.  Retranscribing the music allows me to really take it apart and see how it is constructed.  Looking at the bass line this is definitely dance music.  I would say that the bass line is very reminiscent of playing keyboards in contemporary music, particularly in a band. There's lots of intricate right hand and overly simple left hand work.  His chordal arranging is not very complex either in comparison with the hymnals and vocal music of the day.  Much closer to Stephen Foster in architecture than Dan Emmett.
 
Mark Weems said:

John, I've been working on the same thing for about 3 years. The complexities of putting a transcribed for piano fiddle tune into period banjo caused me to do the Sweeny material first since I discovered that his Whar Did You Cum From? is the same tune as Knauff's, and I thought his sheet music could offer some clues. We should compare frustrated notes!
 

John Masciale said:

I'm working my way through transcribing all of Knauff's Virginia Reels (1839). There is a distinctly different feel to the music in them and what we tend to play on banjo.  Some of them translate pretty well, some do not, primarily because the piano bass line adds some complexity we don't have on playing the tunes on banjo alone.  The music in the tutors is generally more syncopated.  Translating many of these to banjo requires some significant transposing and shifting of the melody lines.  It is an interesting project.

 This discussion of thimble playing here is interesting, particulaly the suggestion of using the side of the thimble nearer the thumb.  Tim?

Thanks Wes.....seems to comply with an "oblique" strike.

Reply to Discussion

RSS

About

John Masciale created this Ning Network.

© 2021   Created by John Masciale.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service