Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

I've been messing with Guitar Style recently, as I wanted to get into classical banjo, but the three finger approach just never clicked for me. The four finger approach given to us by Frank Converse's tutors just work for me a lot better. I just am noticing I'm pretty limited in my score options- Except for anything by Converse, most classical banjo pieces were written for the three finger style. Anyone have more recommendations for stuff like Converse?
I am learning out of his 1886 Analytical, The 1865 Green Book, and Converse 1872. I just switch between the three, as most the songs are similar, but a few have different arrangements I prefer.

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Hi Ethan, I when you write "classical" do you mean what is now called "classic"?  "Classical Banjo" is classical music played using bluegrass "rolls" on steel wire with Hawaiian guitar picks. 

"Classic banjo" is a relatively modern term (post WW2 and closer to the 1970s) to differentiate the common and popular fingerstyle music played from about 1860s to 1930s (later in England) from the more modern "folk banjo" styles that became popular after WW2 with the folk music revival.

As far as fingers used-- I would recommend you focus now on learning "alternate fingering".  Alternate fingering is the key to playing smooth fingerstyle banjo-- without it you will sound choppy and not get any speed.  You will also find yourself stumbling over your fingers. While most alternate fingering playing only uses the thumb index and middle digits, chords are often played using the ring finger.

Since you are using Converse's books, you are reading in A notation.  You have a number of options in books that teach this in A starting in 1890 with "Farland's National School for the Banjo."

The game changer was George Gregory's work on Alternate Fingering.  This put in writing what pros had been doing for years, but not telling anyone about. 

A. J. Weidt's method in 4 volumes is easy to follow and understand. 

Fred Bacon's tutor was first published in A here... 

https://archive.org/details/NewAndRevisedMethodForTheBanjoFredBacon...

Sherwood's book teaches it... https://archive.org/details/SherwoodsImperialBanjoMethod/page/n21/m...

There are plenty more but that should get you started.

Do yourself a huge favor and learn this.  I ignored it for a long time and now kick myself for not doing it.  It is like flipping on the light switch when you get it down.  Things that used to be difficult become easy.  The notes flow smooth and even.  Triplets become rapid and precise. 

As far as guitar style books and music, with the volume that was published it is unlikely that you will be able to exhaust the supply in your lifetime.  I would recommend that after you become proficient in alternate fingering and fairly fast with sight-reading you learn to read in C notation.  Knowing both systems of notation comes in handy and increases the available material substantially. 

There is a good reason why alternate fingering was developed and stuck around.  Using your ring finger for chords or occasional planed notes is fine, but with a properly worked up solo in alternate fingering, playing becomes effortless. 

Jump over the the ning classic banjo site and we will help you out even more.

When I say classical I meant Classic the three finger approach you mention, not Classical, my bad.
I think I've found where I get confused- The difference between A and C notation. I don't feel comfortable tuning my banjo up to C, because I just have a hunch my banjos neck can't take it (the drum is original, but the neck looks to have been replaced with a homemade sometime in the last hundred odd years). 
Thank you for these resources though! All Classic style books I could find from light googling were written for C notation, so were a bit hard to get used to reading. I will try and keep this chatter to the Classic Ning too, just wasn't sure which site Converse's Guitar Style fit into.
Edit: And which book would you recommend to begin with?
Joel Hooks said:

Hi Ethan, I when you write "classical" do you mean what is now called "classic"?  "Classical Banjo" is classical music played using bluegrass "rolls" on steel wire with Hawaiian guitar picks. 

"Classic banjo" is a relatively modern term (post WW2 and closer to the 1970s) to differentiate the common and popular fingerstyle music played from about 1860s to 1930s (later in England) from the more modern "folk banjo" styles that became popular after WW2 with the folk music revival.

As far as fingers used-- I would recommend you focus now on learning "alternate fingering".  Alternate fingering is the key to playing smooth fingerstyle banjo-- without it you will sound choppy and not get any speed.  You will also find yourself stumbling over your fingers. While most alternate fingering playing only uses the thumb index and middle digits, chords are often played using the ring finger.

Since you are using Converse's books, you are reading in A notation.  You have a number of options in books that teach this in A starting in 1890 with "Farland's National School for the Banjo."

The game changer was George Gregory's work on Alternate Fingering.  This put in writing what pros had been doing for years, but not telling anyone about. 

A. J. Weidt's method in 4 volumes is easy to follow and understand. 

Fred Bacon's tutor was first published in A here... 

https://archive.org/details/NewAndRevisedMethodForTheBanjoFredBacon...

Sherwood's book teaches it... https://archive.org/details/SherwoodsImperialBanjoMethod/page/n21/m...

There are plenty more but that should get you started.

Do yourself a huge favor and learn this.  I ignored it for a long time and now kick myself for not doing it.  It is like flipping on the light switch when you get it down.  Things that used to be difficult become easy.  The notes flow smooth and even.  Triplets become rapid and precise. 

As far as guitar style books and music, with the volume that was published it is unlikely that you will be able to exhaust the supply in your lifetime.  I would recommend that after you become proficient in alternate fingering and fairly fast with sight-reading you learn to read in C notation.  Knowing both systems of notation comes in handy and increases the available material substantially. 

There is a good reason why alternate fingering was developed and stuck around.  Using your ring finger for chords or occasional planed notes is fine, but with a properly worked up solo in alternate fingering, playing becomes effortless. 

Jump over the the ning classic banjo site and we will help you out even more.

Okay, now I understand.  Pitch is a different subject. While pitch influenced they way banjo music was written, actual pitch was mostly ignored. I just pounded this subject to death with a fully cited article in the "5 Stringer" (the newsletter for the American Banjo Fraternity).

In the article I provide a timeline of pitch and when it changed.  Banjoists went to C in North America over two decades before C became the accepted standard for writing music.

Most American Civil War reenactors use the Briggs' G pitch while evidence shows they would most likely have been in A by the war.  They also tend to play music that was published in A notation while their banjos are pitched to G. 

The subject of pitch and the banjo is confusing and I feel was the nail in the coffin on the regular banjo's popularity after WW1.

Moral, ignore pitch.  Just because your banjo is in A does not mean you can't read in C.  Just play as if your banjo is pitched to C.  

There is nothing wrong with learning to read in A, so with that I would stay the course. In fact, "speaking" and reading in A notation will give you an advantage as a banjo historian that many other banjo historians do not have.

I don't have any opinion on what A notation book is the best, just pick one.  But I do recommend using them as a course of study.

The Weidt books do a good job teaching alternate fingering and the lessons are nicely graded.  I have scanned and posted all 5 volumes in A notation on the Internet Archive here.  That is as good as any to start with. 

https://archive.org/details/@joel_hooks

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