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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: 3 questions about plectrum banjos


Please note this is an archived topic, so it is locked and unable to be replied to. You may, however, start a new topic and refer to this topic with a link: http://www.banjohangout.org/archive/145758

KI4PRK - Posted - 04/17/2009:  19:03:53


1: Is it ok to do single note solos on the plectrum banjo? I come from bluegrass (& OT) banjo, and any way the plectrum banjo is tuned (standard, open G, or chicago) is close enough to the 5 string so that I can do some good single string solos. I'm wondering if it's common.

2: Does anybody know any Western Swing bands that used plectrum banjo? I saw a picture of Bill Boyds Cowboy Ramblers standing with a plectrum picker, but I've never heard a plectrum on their recordings (at least I don't think I have). I really like western swing, but I'd rather learn plectrum banjo than go the whole hog and get a CGDA tenor.

3: Looking for some good solos (chord or single note) for the plectrum; I don't need music, just wondering what to start on. The only songs I know are "Crafton Blues", "Slow and Easy", and "Washington & Lee Swing" in C, F, and Bb respectively.

Thanks!

73, Brennen

Bill Rogers - Posted - 04/17/2009:  19:29:18


Check YouTube for Cynthia Sayer ... I think Buddy Wachter also has some plectrum solos posted.

Bill

billmill22 - Posted - 04/17/2009:  19:39:17


Sure, it's good to do single string runs on a plectrum banjo. I have a few free plectrum solos here; http://www.banjoseen.us/Plectrumsolos/Solos.html while you're there look around at the other stuff I have for/about plectrum banjos.
Songs you can buy; http://www.plectrumbanjolessons.com/
http://banjodon.com/?mpf=frame&
Bill

http://www.banjoseen.us / http:www.banjoseen.com
"Where there is a Tub-A-Phone banjo,
there you will find Musical Happiness"

NYCJazz - Posted - 04/17/2009:  20:12:30


I don't know of any plectrum players in Western Swing, but Smokey Montgomery of the Light Crust Doughboys played tenor.






Improvisation is the ability to talk to oneself.
~ Cecil Taylor

JohnTheWhite - Posted - 04/17/2009:  20:49:30


I think it's a good idea to try western swing songs plectrum style. I used to try to play the guitar parts, and there were an immense number of chords - just the thing. Even if it didn't sound that great it would be really good for your technique. I don't think traditional western swing players thought much of banjo players; and what they did think wasn't good. But that's a long time ago. Today you can try anything. I used this Mel Bay book, and I really recommend it. It has a lot of background and history. http://www.buy.com/prod/western-swi...6850730.html

===
This is bluegrass type advice; you can do what you want to with it.
The advice is, "Don''t let your deal go down."

neplusultra - Posted - 04/17/2009:  21:49:29


Ok, I'll take your questions in order -

1. Absolutely...I notice from your profile that you are a Django fan...his stuff makes for great plectrum solos. I just recorded his Swing 42 on my new CD and am currently working on arrangements of Django's Tiger and Douce Ambiance. Years ago I transcribe a boat load of Les Paul solos and still knock people's socks off when I cut loose on Avalon or Limehouse Blues. You may want to venture away from the 5-string type solos and look more toward guitarist or even jazz clarinetists.

2. I don't...I sat in with one years ago and had some fun, but we never recorded anything. And I think the band figured I was just someone else to have to cut the check with that they didn't really need.

3. Well...there is no limit to the possible solos. But, if you're starting out, you can't go wrong with The World is Waiting for the Sunrise, Bye Bye Blues, Avalon, Bill Bailey, Sweet Georgia Brown etc. (yep, they get a bit overused, but will teach you fundamentals that you can then transfer to other songs) Then you can easily branch out to other genres...for county swing tunes I often play things like Are You from Dixie, Sioux City Sue or anything by Willie Nelson.

Good luck and keep us posted on your progress.

NYCJazz - Posted - 04/18/2009:  04:12:01


I'd suggest getting Harlem Banjo by Elmer Snowden. Classic single string jazz.



Improvisation is the ability to talk to oneself.
~ Cecil Taylor

KI4PRK - Posted - 04/18/2009:  08:33:12


Thanks for all the replies! Although I feel slightly disappointed that the old Western Swing bands omitted the plectrum, I'm gonna play that music anyway ;). All the bands I know had tenor banjo in them, which I will probably learn eventually. Bill Miller, those solos look really neat, I'm giving them a try.

Eventually I will get myself a real plectrum banjo (I'm using a fiver for now). My problem is that I have 1 banjo, but I play too many styles; I'll eventually need an openback fretted, fretless, plectrum, and a better bluegrass banjo. What I get next will depend on my musical mood when I have the cash to get a new banjo.

Thanks again - I'm going upstairs to practice now ;)

73, Brennen

scotty22 - Posted - 04/18/2009:  14:23:36


quote:
Originally posted by KI4PRK My problem is that I have 1 banjo, but I play too many styles...need an openback fretted, fretless, plectrum, and a better bluegrass banjo.



Welcome to "hell"(); in addition to both 4- and 5-string banjos (and the myriad tunings for "old-time"), my challenge is also half-a-dozen or more styles of guitar, fiddle and mandolin family--mandola, octave, cittern and bouzoukis (at least those are tuned mostly the same!), assorted button accordians and concertinas (anglo AND english), ukes, basses, hammered dulcimer, and drums! I play all of these in different bands. Except for my "hobby" playing of sax and flute.

The best idea, as you say, is to go upstairs and prcatice..

______________________________
"...fat-arsed, beer-gutted, grey-beared, balding Morris dancers with the little bent pipes clamped in their teeth and scraggly ponytails ... (and the men, too.)"


Edited by - scotty22 on 04/18/2009 14:27:11

JohnTheWhite - Posted - 04/18/2009:  19:14:06


They Western Swing Bands may have "omitted the plectrum", but I think they really hated the 5-string. It might have had something to do with the relation of Western Swing to Bluegrass; a real tempest in a teapot from long ago. Listen to the "Old and in the Way" album, "Midnight Moonlight" and "the Hobo Song". What is conceivably inappropriate about the banjo for Western Swing music?

I am going to say something I will probably regret, but I feel the development of the plectrum banjo was a dumbing down of the 5-string in the parlor music era to make the instrument more accessible to people who basically wanted to strum. You can play your 5-string with a flat pick, and if you become adept at all at bluegrass guitar flat picking techniques and the hybrid picking variant called "chicken pickin'", the drone isn't a problem; it's an advantage. In my opinion the 5-string banjo is one of the most complex, satisfying, and absorbing artifacts ever conceived by humans, and at the pinnacle of its development are the Mastertone style bluegrass banjos being built today.

quote:
Originally posted by KI4PRK

Thanks for all the replies! Although I feel slightly disappointed that the old Western Swing bands omitted the plectrum, I'm gonna play that music anyway ;). All the bands I know had tenor banjo in them, which I will probably learn eventually. Bill Miller, those solos look really neat, I'm giving them a try.

Eventually I will get myself a real plectrum banjo (I'm using a fiver for now). My problem is that I have 1 banjo, but I play too many styles; I'll eventually need an openback fretted, fretless, plectrum, and a better bluegrass banjo. What I get next will depend on my musical mood when I have the cash to get a new banjo.

Thanks again - I'm going upstairs to practice now ;)

73, Brennen



===
This is bluegrass type advice; you can do what you want to with it.
The advice is, "Don''t let your deal go down."

NYCJazz - Posted - 04/19/2009:  07:00:58


quote:
Originally posted by JohnTheWhite



I am going to say something I will probably regret, but I feel the development of the plectrum banjo was a dumbing down of the 5-string in the parlor music era to make the instrument more accessible to people who basically wanted to strum. You can play your 5-string with a flat pick, and if you become adept at all at bluegrass guitar flat picking techniques and the hybrid picking variant called "chicken pickin'", the drone isn't a problem; it's an advantage. In my opinion the 5-string banjo is one of the most complex, satisfying, and absorbing artifacts ever conceived by humans, and at the pinnacle of its development are the Mastertone style bluegrass banjos being built today.




No need for regrets... Your opinions are valid.

The fifth string isn't a problem? Do you use a capo? I'll bet you do.

There were hundreds of professional plectrum banjoists doing solo acts back in the vaudeville era. Very few of them were recorded. I doubt anyone would look at the playing of someone like Eddie Peabody and call his playing "dumbed down".

I could make the point that playing 5-string from tabs, like the bulk of BG players do, is "dumbed down".

I would love to see someone do complex cross-picking on a 5-string, but I haven't so far. Something tells me they would be shunned by the mainstream banjo community.

Just remember that the Mastertone banjo was designed as a 4-string jazz instrument. "Prewar banjo" means "jazz banjo". Bluegrass is a postwar style, and most modern banjo makers are chasing after that jazz banjo sound of the 20's & 30's.






Improvisation is the ability to talk to oneself.
~ Cecil Taylor

rudykizuty - Posted - 04/19/2009:  07:11:37


quote:
Originally posted by JohnTheWhite

I am going to say something I will probably regret, but I feel the development of the plectrum banjo was a dumbing down of the 5-string in the parlor music era to make the instrument more accessible to people who basically wanted to strum.


An interesting take. Although I've always felt that the emergence of plectrum also had much to do with the jazz boom. It gave 5-stringers a means to easily transition into the new genre, in much the same way that tenor banjo provided the same opportunity for mandolin players.

Whether it be your cup of tea or not, as a working musician you sometimes have to go where the money is.

PS I agree with Nathan. NO regrets here. All opinions are welcome

Anthony Herner


Edited by - rudykizuty on 04/19/2009 07:14:20

jims38134 - Posted - 04/19/2009:  09:44:45


NYCJazz, ever listen to Bela Fleck?
Jim

JohnTheWhite - Posted - 04/19/2009:  10:41:52


I believe that the original banjos were 5 string. The design split into several variants, mandolin banjos, 6-string, etc., of which the 5-string, plectrum, and tenor survive today. It is interesting that the 5 string nearly became extinct in the late 1920's, early 1930's. The popularity of the plectrum and tenor for jazz and big band at that time eclipses the fact that the plectrum originated in the early 1900s, which is the heart of the parlor music era. The 1st Vega plectrums were steel string 5 string banjo scale instruments without the drone. The purpose was to be able to play with a flat pick instead of the fingers and I believe that was intended to make the instrument easier to play. The fact that the plectrum and its descendent, the tenor, became so popular in the late 1920's doesn't change it's origins. The tenor did not originate from the 5 string to attract mandolin players. They got the mandolin banjo, which is defunct. I think the tenor was a refinement of the plectrum to give more pleasing intervals when all four strings are played simultaneously.

I do regret that I was seeming to say that plectrum players like Eddie Peabody were not excellent musicians or were playing a dummed-down instrument. I am in agreement with NYCJazz that regardless of its origin, the plectrum and tenor are well worth pursuing and have a rich musical history. My bias for the 5 string is clearly evident, but clearly it can't do everything. I have attempted complex cross-picking and hybrid picking on the 5 string. I can play any roll or lick that I can play 3 finger style, although more slowly, and certainly everything I can play 2-finger style. The sound is very much more driving, and I believe it could have maybe been something had the plectrum had never existed. I agree there is probably no market for it now.

quote:
Originally posted by rudykizuty

quote:
Originally posted by JohnTheWhite

I am going to say something I will probably regret, but I feel the development of the plectrum banjo was a dumbing down of the 5-string in the parlor music era to make the instrument more accessible to people who basically wanted to strum.


An interesting take. Although I've always felt that the emergence of plectrum also had much to do with the jazz boom. It gave 5-stringers a means to easily transition into the new genre, in much the same way that tenor banjo provided the same opportunity for mandolin players.

Whether it be your cup of tea or not, as a working musician you sometimes have to go where the money is.

PS I agree with Nathan. NO regrets here. All opinions are welcome

Anthony Herner



===
This is bluegrass type advice; you can do what you want to with it.
The advice is, "Don''t let your deal go down."


Edited by - JohnTheWhite on 04/19/2009 10:44:55

scotty22 - Posted - 04/19/2009:  11:25:25


I don't know that one was created to make it "easier": there are distinctly different styles of playing suitable for the genre of music desired. Using a plectrum likely was not intended to make it "easy" but, rather, loud and rhythmic. I can see no use for a 5th-string for plectrum playing, but a "modal" string is very nice for fingerstyle playing. Re the relative "ease" of both stlyes: fingerstyle is "easy" to those who grew up playing fingerstyle guitar and banjo, and it is the "easiest" way to render alternating bass, arpeggiated patterns, and other syncopated note separation; plectrum is the "easiest" way to render rhythmic drive. When I play with my dixie-style band, I don't play fingerstyle. But when I play old-time and bluegrass banjo, flamenco and classical guitar or want to emulate piano on guitar, fingerstyle it is.

______________________________
"...fat-arsed, beer-gutted, grey-beared, balding Morris dancers with the little bent pipes clamped in their teeth and scraggly ponytails ... (and the men, too.)"


Edited by - scotty22 on 04/21/2009 18:13:41

NYCJazz - Posted - 04/19/2009:  13:30:33


quote:
Originally posted by jims38134

NYCJazz, ever listen to Bela Fleck?
Jim



Sure do. He & Cynthia are old friends, and I got to meet him at the Abigail Washburn show awhile back. I just missed meeting Tony Trishka, who was leaving the early show. Bela is a first-rate musician, and he really has expanded the 5-string from simply being a BG instrument. Perpetual Motion, a song I've heard many times since i was a kid, took on new meaning for me in his hands.






Improvisation is the ability to talk to oneself.
~ Cecil Taylor

neplusultra - Posted - 04/22/2009:  17:58:02


"more pleasing interval when all four strings are played..."

I supposed beauty is in the eye of the beholder...or, in this case, listener, so I won't argue...but, I must say that in all my years of playing, jamming and hanging out in the banjo world this is the first time I've heard it suggested that the full chord voicings available on a tenor are an aural improvement over the plectrum. But then, I switched from tenor to plectrum as my primary axe when I was seventeen so maybe it's just me.

NYCJazz - Posted - 04/22/2009:  20:21:52


neplusultra

I agree with you totally. I prefer the tighter voicing of the plectrum enough to switch from tenor about 5 years ago.




You don''t need any brains to listen to music. ~ Luciano Pavarotti

banjofanatico - Posted - 04/23/2009:  16:46:19


A lot of people prefer the tenor banjo sound. That's why they're playing it in the first place. They prefer the wider chord voicings and the brighter sound.

David


mainejohn - Posted - 04/25/2009:  14:06:19


tenor vs. plectrum
Scruggs style vs. old time
4 string vs. 5 string
Red Sox vs. Yankees
...must be human nature!

Cheers,
John Coleman
Scarborough, Maine


NYCJazz - Posted - 04/27/2009:  07:18:14


John

Since I've gotten myself involved with a Boston girl, I've had to temper my opinion of the Red Sox, but I'm finding that it does have a positive side...

I don't feel so bad when the Yanks get swept by the Sox!

Besides, I'll probably never be able to afford Yankee Stadium anyway.


BTW Cynthia Sayer's first professional gig was at a Mets game when she was 16!




You don''t need any brains to listen to music. ~ Luciano Pavarotti


Edited by - NYCJazz on 04/27/2009 07:18:44

Klondike Waldo - Posted - 04/27/2009:  11:54:56


quote:
Originally posted by NYCJazz

John

Since I've gotten myself involved with a Boston girl, snip
You don''t need any brains to listen to music. ~ Luciano Pavarotti



Smart move!

I''ll never play like Earl Scruggs or sing like Luciano Pavarotti, but I''ll pick better than Luciano and sing tenor better than Earl
deligo ergo renideo,
Bob Cameron

Thor - Posted - 04/27/2009:  15:05:49


quote:
Bela is a first-rate musician, and he really has expanded the 5-string from simply being a BG instrument. Perpetual Motion, a song I've heard many times since i was a kid, took on new meaning for me in his hands.

Me too.. except for me, it was when Bill Keith did it back in 1984.

I was watching an old movie from 1937 (Two Gun Man from Harlem), and in the opening scene The Four Tones do a "western swing" number that utilized a 4 string guitar... not much in the way of leads, but I guess it at least shows that a 4 stringed instrument could be used in this context. (I know this is considered a "tenor" guitar, but isn't the scale more like a plectrum scale? )

You can see it here (by watching about the first minute and a half of the film):
http://www.archive.org/details/two_..._from_harlem

The quality sucks-- I saw it on TCM which of course was a much better print.



Edited by - Thor on 04/27/2009 15:08:33

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