Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

One thing we really do not know about playing this old music....is where does the beat lay? Was there a greater emphasis on the downbeat, or the backbeat? It works either way. Some performers use one...some the other. I don't know that there are any historical indicators. Any opinions?

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Rubber Overcoat has a decidedly funky and quirky rhythm- as specifically written in the notation.  When compared with the more typical tutor tune.  It naturally lends itself to being played with the emphasis on the downbeat (1&3).  But one 'could' emphasize the 2 & 4 backbeat notes instead...it'd sound kinda weird though, since the 4th beat of each measure is often a rest.  Maybe one could sort of lean forward, in an animated way, at those times.  Any takers?   lol

This thread is slowly straying.

I do not want to get too bogged down on whether Injun Rubber Overcoat is funky or not. We should start another one about interpretations. There just is nothing inherently "funky" about the rhythm...no syncopation or beat displacement. Re write that rhythm with a different melody...no tritone or blues notes. It has a different character. Many things add to the "funk" of a song. This is one, that we as a group...have adopted in this way. I do not know that we could play it any other way now.

It started mostly as an inquiry about rhythmic interpretation in general...a strong down beat, or the appearance of back beat. What was period practice. we all know what WE do.

Most of the minstrel tunes I've tried have a way about them that makes it easier to play a strong downbeat and the other notes just kind of pour out. I've tried tunes different ways but very quickly they get all goofed up. I mean, I pretend I'm a minstrel onstage dancing about, and with everything going on - how else could they do it? I imagine that these performances had the feel of a marching band. Like I said, I imagined it. Circus Jig, Brigg's Jig, Old Joe. Old Joe is a tricky one. The second part rolls along nicely but if you let that second finger come down like some of us old clawhammer players do, BAM, you've got a strong backbeat. That's not how I play it. I don't want the bluegrass off-beat. In my practice, I've learned to control that extra finger. It doesn't belong in stroke style. The whole 'smokey, dusty, barn smell' of what I interpret as early banjo dissappears when traces of off beats come in. I'm talking about the whole tune having the back beat feeling throughout. I don't know about historical indicators, but I would say use the thumb and index finger only, read the notes and see what rings true.

 I hear what you are saying Tim. 

If Rubber Coat's rhythm is not 'inherently funky' exactly as notated, I humbly submit I have no clue what funky is.  I'm dropping it.

I'm not too sure what the original question is, or just how we can know precisely how the music's rhythm, beat emphasis, and accompaniments were played/interpreted in the mid 1800s without looking at surviving evolved American music genres for clues.  I'm in over my head and I hope some good facts are found on the subject! 

Dog paddling back to shore now...   :)

The original question was about finding historical indicators for interpreting rhythm in old minstrel type songs.

We can all just say "we don't know" and call it a day, but I am curious enough to see how current interpretations came into being. I do think "Injun Rubber" is a good example. In our circle, it has come to be played in a certain funky way...with push beats and all. Much of the "funk" comes from the melodic line...the tritone being so strong and the b7.What we find in our interpretation is  our current culture acting upon an old model. I was hoping for some factual indicators....such as the written accompaniments I mentioned. We cannot erase our memory...from what we know. We can never have 19th century ears...no matter what you say.

I understand, Tim, that you are not asking what we do but what they did in the 19th C. 

In the absence of recordings, do you think there is any validity to thinking that what feels "natural" to us might have felt "natural" to them.... or do you think that we have been influenced by musical/rhythmic genres that have evolved since then and thus we might now interpret and play it differently?

"Funky", my dear Strumelia, seems to be whatever Tim defines it as.  I'm off to play some banjo.

Yes..thank you Al for that summary. It is a fascinating and speculative venture. I do think we can do a better job of investigation other than our own empirical experience. There has to be something out there. This is one of  the intangible links to period music. 

Sigh....I quit

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