Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

It is done and ready. Although this document is embedded in the drive, I wanted to share it all with you first.

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About This Work

Early Banjo Complete is the result of many years of immersion in the study of the written record of banjo music. While the instrument was certainly played and widely accepted before this time, there was no formal notation to capture the essence of a performance. Although often criticized for documentation of an aural tradition, notation does indeed provide valuable insight into what existed in another time and place. It is not my purpose to defend nor condemn written notation, but rather to render a faithful performance of “what is”.

The story begins in 1855 with the posthumous publication of the Briggs’ Banjo Instructor. The actual authorship is thought to be either a young Frank Converse or James Buckley, as both musicians had the skills to accurately transcribe a musical performance. The continuity between their subsequent publications along with the painstaking detail of every nuance gives credence to the theory that indeed this music is a representation of what the banjo sounded like at that time.

My goal was to create faithful musical renditions of the written work and to reproduce it on an instrument that is representative of the banjo at that time. I strove to perform it in such a way that it may become a baseline for interpretation by not interjecting excessive creative renderings, i.e. adding percussion or other instruments, and refraining from improvised interpretation.

I included every major work of the period from 1855 until 1872.  

  • Briggs’ Banjo Instructor of 1855 published by Oliver Ditson & Co.
  • Phil Rice’s Method For The Banjo 1858 - Oliver Ditson & Co.
  • Buckley’s New Banjo Book of 1860 – Firth, Pond, & Co.
  • Winner’s New Primer For The Banjo 1864 – William A. Pond & Co.
  • Frank B. Converse’s New and Complete Method For The Banjo With Or Without A Master 1865 – S.T. Gordon ( The “Green Book” )
  • Frank B. Converse’s Banjo Without A Master 1865 – Dick and Fitzgerald ( The “Yellow Book” )
  • Buckley’s Banjo Guide 1868 – Oliver Ditson & Co.
  • The Banjo, and How to Play it 1872 – Dick and Fitzgerald

In addition, I utilized the Banjo Style section from Frank B. Converse’s Analytical Banjo Method 1887 published by S.T. Gordon & Son. Although it was published much later than the others, I consider it one of the most important. Banjo music had evolved into a more refined Guitar Style of play by this time, and a great portion of the Analytical covers that by staying in the fold of what was happening at the time. The attention he gave to the Banjo section of the book is noteworthy and of particular interest to me. Converse defined, but did not change the earliest techniques found in these books some 25 plus years ago. The pieces are highly edited and fingered, but the result is a style true to the sound of the “old days”. It is a scholar putting definition to an idiom of music. The “Strikes and Movements” of the Rice and Briggs’ have become “Combinations” with a way to fit this technique into nearly every piece. It looks complicated, but is actually logical and easy. It provides a cohesive way to view “Stroke Style” banjo playing. The addition of defining the “Hammer Stroke” is a bonus. I am certain it was used instinctively in earlier times, as its description and inclusion into the notation is invaluable to those peeping in from another century. For further clarification, I included only the section from the Banjo Style because the Guitar Style pieces have clearly become a separate entity.

            The development of two distinct styles of play was a slow drift and nearly indiscernible in its evolution. It is a matter of great debate as to how and when the styles existed. In addition, it is widely accepted that the Stroke Style of play was adapted from observation of African American musicians and their technique. Briggs clearly described and notated this. Soon after, with the publication of the 1860 Buckley Book, we see the Guitar Style of play actually mentioned, and many of the pieces clearly are appropriate, given the extended use of vertical harmony and extension of the repertoire into European song forms. In 1865, Frank Converse devoted an entire section of his book to the technique and repertoire of the Guitar Style of play.

            In this time of innovation and exploration, the instruments themselves as well as the music were undergoing radical transformation. We cannot say for certain when this or that started or ended. Rather, we must view the entire body of work and draw our own conclusions. I find the “Hybrid” style most useful, in which both the Guitar and Stroke Style techniques can be applied. Having played the hundreds of songs in these tutors, I find there are many instances where either technique applies. By 1872 in the Converse book The Banjo and How to Play it, the future of the banjo in Guitar Style is well established.

            It is my personal opinion that Frank Converse gives us the Alpha and Omega view of this chapter in banjo history in his Analytical Banjo Method. He is unique in his longevity, talent, and scholarly publications. From a study of his work, and the inclusion of the body of material in between, I hope that these recordings provide the hobbyist and professional a common core from which to depart and creatively interpret this old and precious slice of American music.

           

Respectfully,

Timothy Twiss / June 2015

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Thanks Tim!  

It was totally not obvious to me, and I thought it might not be obvious to some other new folk either, so just trying to be helpful.  :)  Could be I'm just particularly dense.

Tim Twiss said:

My thumb drive contains all the music played as mp3 files ( 496 of them ) as well as the original Tutors in PDF.
 

Thanks Lisa. Did you mean that from reading that document or the general conversation on he site that it was not obvious? Just curious.

You mean 'this' conversation?

The topic as I introduced it on this site.

Hmm...  ok let's try this-

1) It was not obvious to me in this document as pasted above.

2) I also recall being confused about it originally when you posted about it on this site-  but if you point me with a link to that location where you 'introduced it on this site'...then I can tell you whether that was where i was originally confused.

I think we often use terminolgy here that beginners dont understand yet.  Such as when we casually mention 'the tutors'...i recall not having a clue as to what the hell that was...a book?  a philosophy or theory? live teachers? a band? a royal English family?  lol.  This doesn't matter so much if we are just reading and slowly learning stuff here, but if one is selling something then beginners need it spelled out- am I buying a music/audio collection of recordings?  a tab or method book?  a collection of scanned antique books?  So...for example in the above document you never actually specify 'what' one is actually buying. 
Perhaps if you start by saying something like "Early Banjo Complete" is a flash drive that contains 350 MP3 recordings of myself playing pieces from the early.... and includes PDF scans of the actual early banjo tutor method books themselves and...   and then go on to describe how you came about putting this collection together...etc.

I know this confused me a bit when you first posted here about your thumb drive for sale...I wasn't actually sure whehter it was music clips, or tabs, or what.  Hope this helps.

At the point one is reading this, they have already purchased it. It is a document on the drive. They know what they bought. I just wanted to explain my concept and purpose in doing the work.

I haven't bought it yet, and others who read or come new to the site as newbies may not have bought it yet either, yet be reading this.  But that's cool,  I certainly hear what you are saying-  please feel free to delete my posts on this as they probably only distract from this thread.  I'll butt out now!   :)

The trouble with this site is the linear nature of a discussion. Coming in  midway IS confusing. Constantly restating the obvious is obnoxious. Not sure what to do. 

I agree that the linear format is difficult. How about re-designing the site? Take a look at http://forums.chiffandfipple.com/viewforum.php?f=6. It is extremely well layed out and easy to navigate. Just a suggestion.

Dear Tim,

Thank you!!! Like Barbara, I'm a newcomer to minstrel banjo.  I'm also a newcomer to music and the banjo. I bought "Early Banjo Complete."  I also bought your "Early Banjo Booklet and CD," another fantastic resource.  

You've done a huge amount of work for the rest of trying to learn Stroke Style.  Without your efforts, I would be at a loss as to how to get started--I don't know of any experts where I live from whom I could take lessons.  I guess there's always the internet, but internet resources are scattered and piecemeal at best, not comprehensive and complete like your primers/tutors.  Not only are your teaching materials making it possible for me to learn Banjo Style, but they are also teaching me history; "Early Banjo Complete" is also ethnomusicology!  It is extremely helpful to have the audio aids, i.e. your demonstrations of technique and the songs. The audio helps me get the proper rhythm and timing of the early banjo licks/techniques and the songs, which for a newcomer to music hugely augments instruction from  sight reading and written instructions.  I bet Converse would have loved to leave for posterity audio aids for learning this music--if only he could have! You have taken his legacy and complemented it significantly.  

In Mountain and Clawhammer Banjo and Old Time Music, for instance, there are lots of manuals and CDs that augment aural and visual/sight-reading instruction traditions.  In addition, there are lots of teachers, jamming opportunities, festivals, and banjo camps, here in North Carolina--and across the nation--to learn these styles of music.  There is no equivalent apparatus for learning Antebellum banjo.  "Early Banjo Complete" seems like the most comprehensive attempt for the beginner and intermediate banjoist to learn early playing styles and music of the banjo. 

Sincerely,

Mike Ananian

Such kind words. I am grateful Mike. I appreciate feedback to know that my efforts in sharing this special genre is on or off the mark.  
 
Michael Ananian said:

Dear Tim,

Thank you!!! Like Barbara, I'm a newcomer to minstrel banjo.  I'm also a newcomer to music and the banjo. I bought "Early Banjo Complete."  I also bought your "Early Banjo Booklet and CD," another fantastic resource.  

You've done a huge amount of work for the rest of trying to learn Stroke Style.  Without your efforts, I would be at a loss as to how to get started--I don't know of any experts where I live from whom I could take lessons.  I guess there's always the internet, but internet resources are scattered and piecemeal at best, not comprehensive and complete like your primers/tutors.  Not only are your teaching materials making it possible for me to learn Banjo Style, but they are also teaching me history; "Early Banjo Complete" is also ethnomusicology!  It is extremely helpful to have the audio aids, i.e. your demonstrations of technique and the songs. The audio helps me get the proper rhythm and timing of the early banjo licks/techniques and the songs, which for a newcomer to music hugely augments instruction from  sight reading and written instructions.  I bet Converse would have loved to leave for posterity audio aids for learning this music--if only he could have! You have taken his legacy and complemented it significantly.  

In Mountain and Clawhammer Banjo and Old Time Music, for instance, there are lots of manuals and CDs that augment aural and visual/sight-reading instruction traditions.  In addition, there are lots of teachers, jamming opportunities, festivals, and banjo camps, here in North Carolina--and across the nation--to learn these styles of music.  There is no equivalent apparatus for learning Antebellum banjo.  "Early Banjo Complete" seems like the most comprehensive attempt for the beginner and intermediate banjoist to learn early playing styles and music of the banjo. 

Sincerely,

Mike Ananian

Tim, if I were to characterize your efforts, the best description I have is herculean! to be willing to share your knowledge is a wonderful thing, but you go beyond the extra mile, maybe an extra Marathon!

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