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Early Banjo: New Adventures

Just so you don't think I've gone down the rabbit hole chasing old-time fiddle, I've been devising ways to keep myself playing the banjo. It's true that the fiddle has taken up most of my music playing time so far this year, but I'm going to try something new — or rather old — to broaden my banjo horizons.

While old-time string band music remains my passion, I've always been drawn to the low-tuned minstrel style of the 19th century. I can hear its influence on old-time musicians such as Dan Gellert.

The early stroke-style of banjo during this period is said to be the precursor to the clawhammer style that I play. It only seems natural for me to take another step backward in time to explore this technique and see if I can add some tricks to my banjo bag.

Tim Twiss, the preeminent master and proponent of stroke-style banjo, recently published a book on the subject, appropriately titled, "Early Banjo."

The book is aimed at beginners and presents instruction from 19th century banjo tutors (e.g. "Brigg's Banjo Instructor"), synthesized from the originally published notation into an easy-to-read tablature format.

The book is spiral-bound and comes with a CD to hear how the tunes are meant to sound. "Early Banjo" is $12, plus shipping and handling, and is available through Twiss's website and on the Banjo Hangout classifieds section.

After digging into these tunes, I'll provide a thorough review and let you know how my journey into the mid-1800s went.


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I have now been playing banjo for eight years and fiddle for four years. My focus remains on the fiddle, as I try to learn general technique and tunes. Time spent playing banjo was mostly to keep up with a handful of tunes I like most.

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