Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

A study in the first banjo book, "The Complete Preceptor for the Banjo" by Gumbo Chaff. 1. O! Susanna 2.Way Down South 3.Uncle Gabriel

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Comment by Paul Draper on February 3, 2014 at 10:17am
Is it strange that a bare bones version on O Susanna, for example, be played in that position? I could understand it if it were part of an arrangement.
Comment by Wes Merchant on February 3, 2014 at 12:07pm

I kind of thought maybe it was written in the wrong octave, maybe intentionally  kind of like guitar music. I looked it over the day and it looks like the range would work in the 1st position

Comment by Tim Twiss on February 3, 2014 at 12:13pm

No..I am going to play it all as written.

Comment by Mark Weems on February 4, 2014 at 1:44am

It would not be strange if, the banjo is indeed registering itself for the first time in this book, that it would do so in a melodic fashion. Also important to keep in mind the prevalence of the four string banjo even up to the time of this book, (see Hans Nathan) which has now been dated to 1848. (There is only one note in one song in the whole book which requires the use of the fourth or bass string) Without that bass string and its notes, one is often forced up into that higher octave to play a full melody. In other words - four string players would have been totally comfortable up in those positions. Also, why does one have to start in what we call first position today? Briggs does, but that book doesn't come out till 7 years later when the switch to the five string has become complete, making play down there more melodically reasonable.  It strikes me as a matter of perspective. Piano players for instance, don't start learning to play at the lowest octaves of the instrument - they start at middle C and work out in both directions.

Comment by Rob Morrison on February 4, 2014 at 3:32pm

Mark--  Are there any other stringed instruments that don't basically play out of first position?  I can't think of any offhand.  This absence of first position with open strings would seem extremely odd, especially for what is basically a folk instrument.

Comment by Wes Merchant on February 4, 2014 at 5:10pm

Just for comparison's sake have a look at this from Howe's Ethiopian Flute instructor.

Comment by Wes Merchant on February 4, 2014 at 5:11pm

And this from the Violin Instructor

Comment by Paul Draper on February 4, 2014 at 5:52pm

Hmmm... One size fits all...

Comment by Mark Weems on February 4, 2014 at 6:51pm

 Rob- I often find first position desirable when possible. But sometimes on a four string it isn't possible.

Comment by Rob Morrison on February 4, 2014 at 11:10pm

I've seen Joe Ayers play the four string out of higher positions, but I still find it difficult to believe that early banjo players and gourd banjo players were playing out of any but first position or open tunings.  Not that you can't play in higher positions, but I am dubious whether the early players did.


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