Skip to main content

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.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Highwoods Documentary Not a Lost Cause After All

So, once upon a time, I tried to drum up support for a crowdfunded documentary project about the Highwoods Stringband. I donated money to help out, and more than a year later I provided an update on the slow progress. Last I heard, there was some old footage of the Highwoods they were trying to acquire. It's been three and a half years now that I first heard about the project, and I still haven't received my DVD.

I figured that's the risk you take with these crowdfunded, Kickstarter-type projects. I had all but given up the documentary as a lost cause. Until today. If I managed to convince any of you to help fund the project, I felt it my duty to pass along this update directly from Highwoods mainstay Walt Koken.
"After several delays and setbacks, we, the members of the Highwoods Stringband and Mudthumper Music have procured the vintage footage and photos in cooperation with the original producers and put them into the hands of another videographer, Larry Edelman, in …

Postcards: Vinyl Hunting Tour

Tuesday was a perfect day for a short driving tour to scour record stores for some vinyl. At my third stop, The Vinyl Groove in Bedford, Ohio, I came upon these two albums. The top one is Ed Haley, "Parkersburg Landing" (Rounder 1010), a selection of home recordings made in 1946 and released in 1976. The other is "Galax Va. Old Fiddlers' Convention" (Folkways FA 2435), released in 1964. Together they set me back $11 plus tax. It was a good day.

Master and Apprentice: Banjo Builder Workshop in Historic Peninsula, Ohio

The 191-year-old Peninsula, Ohio, provided the backdrop to a parade of pedestrians making their way from station to station across the bucolic village for Music on the Porches on Saturday.

Inside the close confines of Bronson Church, founded in 1835, a master and apprentice presented a free workshop on the art of instrument building. That master being the renowned banjo builder and artist Doug Unger and his former apprentice Mark Ward.

Unger and Ward began the workshop by playing several old-time tunes, discussing their work and the music, and taking questions from the audience. Unger then invited the spectators to step up to the front to see the instruments.