Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo


One of my hobbies...passions...( okay, obsessions ) is finding new banjo material. I try to do it from the perspective of the original Early banjo players, using sources available to them and integrating it according to the examples left behind in the tutors.

I have a fresh source and I would like to share how i seek out material and then arrange it.

I am using Kerr's Merry melodies for the the violin. It is well known that much of the original Minstrel banjo is rooted in European folk music. Fiddle and fife melodies are a great source of songs that became either direct lifts of the music, or twisted into specific arrangements for the banjo. It did not take long long for me to open up book one, and find a "candidate".

I feel fortunate that I can read music, as i can go through these and play them, making my own choices for what i like, and what is not a good "fit" for the banjo. I also totally utilize reading "Briggs" and Rice" styles according to the key signatures. Generally music with one or two sharps will lay well with the Briggs ( using the D string as the thumb string ) and likewise the music with 3 and 4 sharps ( using the E string as the thumb string ). Even then, some music has a flat...or two. What then? I can try it both ways....

I stopped on the third tune, called "John McAlpine". It is a short one line tune ( A /B ). It is also a Strathspey.

This is uncommon, but not unheard of in the Early banjo repertoire. It has a slower, more stately pulse, and that "scotch snap' of a rhythm. This one "lays" well on the banjo. I'll add my fingerings so you can see my conception. I have not recorded it yet, but this is where i am with it right now....just a "find". Seems like something you could very well see in a Buckley book.



Views: 40

Comment by Tim Twiss on March 30, 2013 at 6:45am

I think having just looked at "Spanish Dance" in Buckely's drew my attention towrds this....maybe throwing the chords in there once in a while.

Comment by Tim Twiss on March 30, 2013 at 8:01am

So, up go a couple of recordings. I did a little research to check the tempo of a Strathspey. Between listening and reading, I decided. I tried 2 things....I played it "as is" with the dotted rhythms. Then, I straightened rhem out. This was sort of an improvisational take, and the result was a slightly more "banjo" type feel. Notice shades of "Pompey Ran Away", which although has African American claims to it's form, non the less has the European melody.

Comment by Tim Twiss on March 30, 2013 at 8:26am

Okay...tab arrangement done. Use the open 5th when possibel, put in pulled notes where practical, brush the chords...and it is an arrangement. If I lived back then, i would keep the straight rhythms, give it a plantation name of some sort that relates it to black culture, and call it a day.

Comment by Al Smitley on March 30, 2013 at 8:39am

I like the dotted rhythms, but then I used to play quite a few Strathspeys and thus my ears are accustomed to them.

Comment by Tim Twiss on March 30, 2013 at 10:59am

BTW...want to become a better reader? Open these books up and just go.



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