Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

After 38 takes (OK, 7.  And most of those were trying to find a place without loud background noises), I finally got more or less through enough "Juba" to hopefully show whether or not I'm starting out with any bad habits.  I swear, some of the time I'm almost not this bad.  Honestly.

Seriously, though, there are days where I can't keep my fingers out from between the strings, and other days that it just plays itself.  I guess that's the nature of practice.  I've also been working on "Camptown Hornpipe", but that is not ready to show.

Don't pull any punches, I want to stamp anything wrong out now, before it gets rooted.

Thanks!

Tony

http://youtu.be/TSta7eM1Svk

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Anthony, you have a good clean start there!  It's just fine, honestly!

Wouldn't hurt to be a little more assertive on that fifth string, and on coming down on the notes in general.  I tend to think the right hand is way more important than the left.

You're doing GREAT in my opinion.    :)

Hey Anthony,

Good sense of time, good hand position. Good. Just hit the strings harder. I can't go around the house banging my banjo, so I stuff it - really stuff it - with a hand towel or shirt. That way I HAVE to strike it harder. Buddy Rich used to practice with his drumsticks on a pillow. Camptown Hornpipe or Cotton Pod Walkaround will make you see the light. Amen.

Dear Anthony,

Thank you for sharing. Nice job! It's great that you are reaching out for additional perspectives because you have done well at putting things together! A few seconds of play time is not enough to make a fully informed assessment, but for what it's worth, I don't see any bad habits forming. You just need to keep playing.

Building on what Strumelia and Terry said, now that you've got the right and left hand fundamentals, start bringing another element into the mix--phrasing. Strumelia and Terry talked about "coming down on the notes in general" and Terry suggested that you should "hit the strings harder." My thought--just listening to the few seconds you placed up there--is that you might also consider reflecting on phrase structure. My under grad music professor used the phrase "hierarchy of articulation" when helping me make some musical decisions in studying a Bach prelude. Basically, not all notes are created equal.

In a tune like "Juba," for example, I hear the main phrase structure taking place on the first string (the open string and the two notes in the second and third semitone position). The fifth string, to my ear, does not need to be the same volume as the rest of the notes, but is the backbeat sounding board to the larger musical phrase taking place on the first string--the fifth string adds interest to the larger phrase. I'd recommend turning the camera back on and recording yourself playing for 2-4 minutes to see what happens, regardless of the background noise and any other potential interruptions (that's what I do sometimes when I'm trying to analyze my own playing).

A great example of this process at work, that may be instructive for you (and others), is looking at a video of someone like Guy De Chalus who often posts videos of his own playing with tunes that he is learning. What I enjoy about Guy's videos, especially his early ones like Shortnin Bread, is that he places on display a very personal process where he is connects with the instrument, explores a tune, and does a fine job at communicating phrase structure, often with multiple variations.  

I hope this is helpful. Will you be attending the Antietam Early Banjo Gathering? 

Best regards,

Greg

Thank you, Strumelia!

Will do!  The part of my brain that runs the left hand is always fretting (no pun intended) about whether we just missed an off ramp, or something.  I'll work on that.

Thanks again,

Tony

Strumelia said:

Anthony, you have a good clean start there!  It's just fine, honestly!

Wouldn't hurt to be a little more assertive on that fifth string, and on coming down on the notes in general.  I tend to think the right hand is way more important than the left.

You're doing GREAT in my opinion.    :)

Hah!  A towel, that makes sense (I have been noticing socks and towels stuffed into banjos, now that you mention it).  I'll do it!

Thank you!

Tony

Bell Banjos said:

Hey Anthony,

Good sense of time, good hand position. Good. Just hit the strings harder. I can't go around the house banging my banjo, so I stuff it - really stuff it - with a hand towel or shirt. That way I HAVE to strike it harder. Buddy Rich used to practice with his drumsticks on a pillow. Camptown Hornpipe or Cotton Pod Walkaround will make you see the light. Amen.

Thank you, Greg!

This is good, as I am not familiar with a lot of the proper music terminology, that is to say, I hear what you're describing, but I never knew what it was called.  That will help!  I don't tend to watch the videos I do occasionally make (except to make sure it all went through OK), but I can see that doing so will be helpful, I'm already seeing what other people are calling out.  I will certainly check out the Guy De Chalus videos, too. 

Ah, Antietam!  The more I see, the more I think there's nothing I'd rather do more, it sounds like a great event!  Alas, I think I've discovered it too late for this year.  Next year, though?

Tony



Greg Adams said:

Dear Anthony,

Thank you for sharing. Nice job! It's great that you are reaching out for additional perspectives because you have done well at putting things together! A few seconds of play time is not enough to make a fully informed assessment, but for what it's worth, I don't see any bad habits forming. You just need to keep playing.

Building on what Strumelia and Terry said, now that you've got the right and left hand fundamentals, start bringing another element into the mix--phrasing. Strumelia and Terry talked about "coming down on the notes in general" and Terry suggested that you should "hit the strings harder." My thought--just listening to the few seconds you placed up there--is that you might also consider reflecting on phrase structure. My under grad music professor used the phrase "hierarchy of articulation" when helping me make some musical decisions in studying a Bach prelude. Basically, not all notes are created equal.

In a tune like "Juba," for example, I hear the main phrase structure taking place on the first string (the open string and the two notes in the second and third semitone position). The fifth string, to my ear, does not need to be the same volume as the rest of the notes, but is the backbeat sounding board to the larger musical phrase taking place on the first string--the fifth string adds interest to the larger phrase. I'd recommend turning the camera back on and recording yourself playing for 2-4 minutes to see what happens, regardless of the background noise and any other potential interruptions (that's what I do sometimes when I'm trying to analyze my own playing).

A great example of this process at work, that may be instructive for you (and others), is looking at a video of someone like Guy De Chalus who often posts videos of his own playing with tunes that he is learning. What I enjoy about Guy's videos, especially his early ones like Shortnin Bread, is that he places on display a very personal process where he is connects with the instrument, explores a tune, and does a fine job at communicating phrase structure, often with multiple variations.  

I hope this is helpful. Will you be attending the Antietam Early Banjo Gathering? 

Best regards,

Greg

Tony--My own experience has been that you practice for a long time with no results and suddenly make a big leap.  It's called consolidation.  Also, just like bad hair days, there are bad finger days.  Just keep on truckin'.  That's the secret.--Rob

Rob,

Consolidation.  I like that!  Will do!

Thank you!

Tony

I'll add to what Rob says-

Sometimes I play for a long time one day and am 'all thumbs'- just cant' seem to play what i'm struggling with.  Then I wake up after a night's sleep and the next day i pick up my banjo and wow!- suddenly I can do something I just couldn't do the day before!  I truly think the brain and the fingers make connections while we sleep, and I love that I can feel like I'm improving while I snooze...   lol!

NICE work! Tony....  I agree with Terry,  

You have to beat them Goat skins into shape...... only way to make them mind..... LOL! 

Terry told me this when I visited the factory...You can't hurt the banjo at all... They are tough...

From one Beginner to another..... Over all nice solid start...  Slow is fast when you play... I find myself having to slow myself down all the time...   

Hah!  I've had that happen a couple of times so far, too!

Strumelia said:

I'll add to what Rob says-

Sometimes I play for a long time one day and am 'all thumbs'- just cant' seem to play what i'm struggling with.  Then I wake up after a night's sleep and the next day i pick up my banjo and wow!- suddenly I can do something I just couldn't do the day before!  I truly think the brain and the fingers make connections while we sleep, and I love that I can feel like I'm improving while I snooze...   lol!

Jeff,

Good advice!  I do get a bit impatient sometimes, and want to see just how fast I can go.  Which, of course, at this point is Not Too.  I'm glad they're tough, I always cringe when I tap the peg head on mine against a chair or wall, it rings like a bell!

Thanks,

Tony

Jeff said:

NICE work! Tony....  I agree with Terry,  

You have to beat them Goat skins into shape...... only way to make them mind..... LOL! 

Terry told me this when I visited the factory...You can't hurt the banjo at all... They are tough...

From one Beginner to another..... Over all nice solid start...  Slow is fast when you play... I find myself having to slow myself down all the time...   

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