Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

hello,
im a clawhammer player from middle tennessee and really love the sound of minstrel banjo. i would like to learn some of the tunings, are they simiar to my clawhammer tunings in pattern just lower? any help is aprecciated.
thanks

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Hi Richard,

I usually tune to play in D/G or E/A, which is lower than a modern banjo tuning.

The D/G tuning is usually a low G for the bass string, then D, F#, and A going up the scale. The thumb string is tuned to a d.

The E/A tuning is a step up from here.
Hi Richard,

The main tunings used are essentially either "Drop C" (gCGBD) or "open G" (gDGBD) but lowered by anywhere from three to five steps. That is, "Briggs" tuning is dGDF#A and "Converse" is eAEG#B. Both are equivalent to "Drop C" and the raised bass versions (dADF#A and eBEG#B) are equivalent to "open G".

If you're going to "Uncle Dave Macon Days" in Murfreesboro this year, look me up! I'll be back in the trees behind the main stage. We can pick a few tunes in the old stroke style...

===Marc
Huntsville, AL
thanks this should be useful for sure, and ill definitely be at uncle dave macon days, i live about ten minutes away from there.
richard

Richard, do you play the "morceaux #2" that Frank Converse wrote out in the second installment of his Banjo Reminiscences series?  He claimed to remember it from a black player's street performance.  It makes a great clawhammer tune. And it uses the funky "double-C" tuning that the clawhammer dudes so esteem.  There must be tab versions floating around the 'net somewhere, assuming you don't use notation.  Anyway, if you don't already play it, you should add it to your repertoire.

 

Cheers,

 

Carl 

 
   No, but i did look it up and found it on youtube, a very nice piece. I dont really use double c alot, if i play in c it is a classical c or a standard c, i dont really play the mount airy style or round peak style either, but more of a two finger mixed with an upstroke, and i use nylaguts on a modern openback. Im not really one to learn by notation or tab either but im more so an "emulator" that relys on my ear. I learn alot from your videos and appreciate them very much.

Rich


Carl Anderton said:

Richard, do you play the "morceaux #2" that Frank Converse wrote out in the second installment of his Banjo Reminiscences series?  He claimed to remember it from a black player's street performance.  It makes a great clawhammer tune. And it uses the funky "double-C" tuning that the clawhammer dudes so esteem.  There must be tab versions floating around the 'net somewhere, assuming you don't use notation.  Anyway, if you don't already play it, you should add it to your repertoire.

 

Cheers,

 

Carl 

I'm a little late on this discussion. I have a Deering "The Crow", I am currently waiting for a Minstrel style from Eric Prust. I have two books so far; "The Early Minstrel Banjo, Technique and Repertoire  by Joe Weildlich.  I also have MINSTREL  BANJO  Briggs Banjo Instructor; Performance notes and Transcriptions by Joseph Weidlich.  I do know how to read notation, but I'm glad there is Banjo tablature at this moment. My question to anyone who may know, what tuning can I go with that will be as close to how the tunes should sound considering my current set up. My strings are regular banjo strings from the factory.  

 

Thanks!

 

Nicholas

 

Trapdoor I have a question regarding the "equavalent" tuning to open G (DADF#A)

When I tune to that tuning what Key am I in?? I should know this but I dont...sorry !

Ron H

It depends on the tune of course, but most of your playing in this tuning will be in the key of D major.  If you play your fifth and third strings, those notes should sound like "home."  Playing in the key of A major, or B or E "dorian" (that is, B minor with A naturals, E minor with D naturals--like most "minor key" fiddle tunes) is also pretty easy in this tuning.  Paul

Ron said:

Trapdoor I have a question regarding the "equavalent" tuning to open G (DADF#A)

When I tune to that tuning what Key am I in?? I should know this but I dont...sorry !

Ron H

Nicholas A Bechtel said:

I'm a little late on this discussion. I have a Deering "The Crow", I am currently waiting for a Minstrel style from Eric Prust. I have two books so far; "The Early Minstrel Banjo, Technique and Repertoire  by Joe Weildlich.  I also have MINSTREL  BANJO  Briggs Banjo Instructor; Performance notes and Transcriptions by Joseph Weidlich.  I do know how to read notation, but I'm glad there is Banjo tablature at this moment. My question to anyone who may know, what tuning can I go with that will be as close to how the tunes should sound considering my current set up. My strings are regular banjo strings from the factory. 

Nicholas, if you want to get as much of the minstrel sound as possible, then you should put on some Nylgut strings (Classical, not minstrel set for this instance).  I am doing the same as you, I'm waiting for my 'real' minstrel banjo being made by Terry Bell right now, but meanwhile I have regular openback fretless that I've put Nylgut strings on- I practice with that banjo, you can see it in my video HERE

In that video, I'm tuned in "low bass" of eAEG#B, which puts me in the key of A.  With the Nylgut Classical set and a banjo with a 25-26" scale, that tuning has a nice feel too it.  If it feels just too floppy bring it up a half step more to A# with the tuning: fA#FAC.  We are only doing this temporarily because of our substitute clawhammer banjos til we get our minstrel banjos.

The "high bass" equivalent you could try would be eBEG#B  which is the key of E- a bit higher than the actual low key of D indicated in the books, but will be more workable on your non-minstrel banjo for the time being. If that's still too floppy you could try up a half step to fCFAC (key of F).

For this temporary setup, I don't recommend the Nygut 'Minstrel' set, but rather the lighter 'Classical' Nylgut set, because they will fit better in your bridge/nut slots without having to enlarge them.  You'll have either real gut or Nylgut 'Minstre' set on your Prust minstrel banjo.

I hope someone will correct any glaring mistakes I may have inadvertently written.

On my minstrel banjo with nylgut strings, I use d A D F# A and play a melodic two finger style which sounds good and uses string relationships the same as the open G tuning used for bluegrass, but lowered to the key of open D which works well with fiddlers. You can play clawhammer style, but I think the independent noting sounds more historically appropriate even though it's not a true minstrel tuning. I use it because I am familiar with the bluegrass and double C tunings and care to not clog my mind with more tunings; it's overloaded already.

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