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 Playing Advice: 4-String (Jazz, Blues & Other Trad Styles)
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Why Do Jazz Banjo Players Sit? And In the Back?

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rockyjo - Posted - 11/09/2018:  11:39:37

AND have few and short solos?

[OK, for the purists...(most) banjo players (most of the time), in a band, historically and now. I’m not asking about the rare exceptions (like it’s a banjo player’s band).]

Yes, it’s a newb question, that continues to puzzle me.

1) Convention?

2) Instrument weight? Probably not...bluegrass banjoists in bands typically stand.

3) Band dynamics? Horn players are more in number and more dominant... and/or band leader plays a horn (fill in other loud instrument). (Uh, so why don’t banjo players stand their ground??)

4). “Banjo isn’t as loud as brass”; yup, yet, even when amplified the banjo is not turned up to similar volume of horns and clarinet (which are typically amplified too (?) but banjo is amped softer(??)).

5). “You don’t understand, the banjo is a percussion instrument”; yet there are great players past and present who prove that the banjo is fully capable of lead solos just like any other instrument in the band. (And yes, they can be played just as long as any other instrument that solos in the band.)

6). “The banjo has historically been associated with 1) claims or “jokes” that banjo players are stupid, and/or 2) black face players, or 3) the banjo has African American roots (we know, the racist stuff) apparently.. ergo, the banjo is a negligible (and dispensable) part of (most) bands.” Huh? I don’t even understand the connection between the former and the latter for today (let alone disagreeing with the “thinking” behind it).

7). As for sitting, is there some playing or tone reason? (Obviously, sitting means one is less seen by the audience than other band members who are standing.)

8). “Most banjo players are ‘old’,” ie, too hard to stand. Well, last jam I went to there was a 95 yr old trumpet player who did a bang-up job (meaning, very good); he walked up onto the platform directly to a microphone—he did not look for a chair and no one offered him one. Nor did he go physically to, or play in, the background. And yes, he played quite a few songs and never sat down. (It is one example, but in my experience, while someone in his ‘90s playing is not all that typical, the rest is typical, as long as it’s another musician than a banjo player.)

What happens in a jam that has an audience if you (any or all): put your chair in the front row alongside the brass and clarinets, move a microphone to your instrument, ask and keep asking that the volume be turned up comparably to the horns, play a solo every bit as long  as the other soloists, or stand like the horn/clarinet/sax players? Is that persona non grata so there is some backlash or substantive, ongoing resistance and refusal to change what seems like unquestioned “norms,” or what? I don’t get it. Why don’t banjo players subtly but continually insist on change, by their actions, just by not accepting this marginalization?

I think all of the above is killing the jazz banjo.

Yes, I am frustrated. I am annoyed with band members and very good banjo players (maybe some of you :) ) who keep letting this happen. Like I said, I think this behavior is killing the instrument, that is already struggling to survive. (No, I’ve never played in a trad jazz jam, I hope to one day, that’s part of why I’m asking.) Some of us go to jams or concerts to hear the banjo, listen INTENTLY to how you experts and pros play, hope to watch your fingers, all because we love the sound and might want to learn to play well or better ourselves. Good luck with trying to get that in a concert/jam.

Maybe I am missing something. Harang over.

Thank you,


Edited by - rockyjo on 11/09/2018 11:55:19

G Edward Porgie - Posted - 11/09/2018:  12:33:25

Killing the instrument? That seems like an overreaction to me.

Jazz, particularly trad jazz, is and alway has been an ensemble kind of music where no individual is more important than any other. Anyone can take a solo, and sometimes the banjo plays alone. Trad Jazz also uses a "steady rhythm" and that's mostly the banjo's job. It's not supposed to drown out the horns and winds, but to help them keep the pulse of the music and return to the beat when they've played a syncopated solo or duo. And even though a banjo might be in the back, I've never had a hard time hearing one in a jazz setting.

I have heard quite a few pieces where the banjo does take a solo, sometimes fairly extended. I can't recall the title, but there's an old Louie Armstrong piece where in one entire section, it features only Armstrong and his banjo man, Johnny St Cyr. There's also a prominent banjo part in Jelly Roll Morton's "Black Bottom Stomp." Harry Reser led his own group and usually stayed out front of them with his banjo.

As far as sitting down on the job, I think it's the most intelligent way to play. I read many complaints made by bluegrass players about back problems, but rarely any from four string players, or even from Classic five string banjoists, who also sit when playing.

If you're trying to actually see the banjo, I'd suggest that you look at videos of soloists such as Reser or Ortuso or Peabody or Mario dePietro. Most Trad Jazz players sitting in the back are playing typical jazz chords or partial chords, anyway, and if you don't know those chords, you won't benefit whether you watch or not.

I think it's wise to consider that the banjo is not the only instrument in the world and that sometimes, others have to be given the spotlight. There are other ways to learn besides trying to pick out hand movements that are sometimes so rapid that you'll never catch up with them anyway.


beegee - Posted - 11/09/2018:  13:40:38

They sit in the back so they have a barrier from the rotten tomatoes hurled at the stage.

Ryk - Posted - 11/09/2018:  14:47:37

They're heavy !!! Way heavier than a trumpet. I certainly play much better sitting. And they're not always in the back. Enjoy this one:


tdennis - Posted - 11/09/2018:  16:42:30

r , It seems you've put some thought into this issue, & it is an interesting claim, but I have to disagree on all points. I've looked at many photos within books documenting music history, & have watched a good slice of what's available on youtube, & have never noticed the downplaying of the banjoist or the lack of showcasing the instrument. I also haven't noticed that the banjo is dying or fading. I actually have never heard so much banjo in my life, showing up in popular music, advertisements , movies & tv soundtracks.

Again, I think your observation is interesting, but it may be the result of a narrow anecdotal impression,  & would be difficult to document.

Edited by - tdennis on 11/09/2018 16:48:24

beegee - Posted - 11/09/2018:  17:07:43

So the rest of the combo can bask in the mellifluous tone? If they were in front nobody in back could hear them.

rockyjo - Posted - 11/09/2018:  18:08:59

Hah! Beegee you crack me up! Thank you for the smiles; in all my thoughts about this subject, your first point never crossed my mind, so consider it the honorary #9 in my list! :)

Well, my response to others so far may take more than one post (in the interest of the length of a post).

Please keep in mind, and I thought it was clear, that my comments ONLY refer to 4 string trad jazz banjo (and not ukes); yes, I agree that 5 string banjos played in bluegrass or old time, as well as uke banjos, are in a heydey, if not something of a rebirth period, while 4 string trad jazz banjo playing languishes and seems to continue to shrink in players, bands, and audiences (at least in the US). I thought the last point was not debatable as it has even been lamented in BHO over time in multiple posts. Is there really a debate on this point? If it’s growing “healthily” or accelerating overall, we are living in different worlds, which may be true due to geographic differences, but I certainly have not seen widespread, increased interest in playing or hearing 4 string trad jazz banjo live or online, in any recent time period... Demographically, neither is it picking up an overall wave of new converts..

Pls enlighten me if you’re seeing healthy, widespread new interest in the US..and where..


rockyjo - Posted - 11/09/2018:  18:36:14

GE Porgie,

I think you missed one of my points and made another one: first, my point was that, where there is a banjo in a band, it is “below equal” to the other instruments in what I have observed repeatedly in the last 5 yrs or so, in volume, visibility, and length and number of solos, and that seems to be commonplace, and I don’t understand why. Nor why it is practiced or accepted by banjo players.

Second, if we have to go to several examples of pieces with banjo solos, as in your 3rd paragraph, it basically proves my point that banjo solos are more unusual. Compare it to bluegrass, it is a non-subject about 5-string banjo solos there, because banjo breaks are part of something like 99.9% of bluegrass music.

As for the “steady rhythm” which is “the banjo’s job,” most bands I hear have a drum set playing that job, and many have found that the banjo is therefore dispensable; another way to say this is if we are going to accept that the 4 string banjo is primarily a rhythm instrument and not a solo instrument, I suggest we are really in trouble because, while a strummed banjo adds a little “shushing” to the band’s sound, it’s not enough different than a drumset (if it can be heard over the drums), so doing without a banjo in the band is easy and one less person to pay (or if there is no pay, coordinate with).

Thank you for mentioning dePietro and Ortuso, I haven’t heard of them and will look them up.



Edited by - rockyjo on 11/09/2018 18:36:36

rockyjo - Posted - 11/09/2018:  19:17:12

Thank you for the clip, Ryk; I hadn’t heard of Vince and his band so will listen to more of him.

All, Ryk’s view is that 4 string banjos “play better” sitting down—do others agree also? It is one of the things I was wondering. For Ryk and those who agree, how do they play better when one is sitting (I’m not referring to possible back aches from the weight)?

I wasn’t going way back in history where 4 string banjos were more popular than guitars.

I suggest that the “downplaying of the banjoist” is partly evident in that, unless it’s dubbed some sort of “banjo band,” there is basically never more than one banjoist relative to often 5- to what looks like 8-10 horn and reed players. If there is 1 banjo player and, we’ll say, 5 horn/reed players, by definition if every musician takes a solo (which is typical for the bands I’ve seen (although often not the banjoist)), the banjo is (very) underrepresented in the piece, and the concert. And, as I said, what I’ve observed is the banjo solo is seldom even close to being as long, for some reason. And no one seems to question it. For the countless hours that all the musicians put into practice, it seems like banjo players, who have to practice as much as any other musician, would want and create more playing time. Certainly as a listener, it seems oddly imbalanced. As a newbie player, it’s a bit de-energizing.

You may have a different experience.

I have observed what I state countless times (live and online) so it seems to be the norm, and I’m trying to understand why, and if there are substantive musical or cultural reasons, that I should appreciate, as to why banjo players seem to conform to that (not ideal, in my view) status quo.


johnstephen - Posted - 11/09/2018:  19:36:00

A very interesting little dialog going on here. I can't think of a situation that I have seen where four-string banjo players stand up, other than the annual Mummers' Parade in Philadelphia on New Years Day. They have a long series of string bands in outlandish costumes marching through downtown Philly , usually in 2-degree weather. Since the Mummers have to march, they have to stand (and some of them are so boozed up they probably don't know if they're sitting or standing). Aside from the Mummers Parade, I can't recall seeing a four-stringer play standing up. My observation matches Rockyjo's -- every four-stringer who I've seen, plays sitting down.

So Rockyjo, I can only conclude that if all thesefour-stringers (including me) play sitting down, they must find it easier or more comfortable to sit than stand. I sit because my tenor banjo is very heavy, so it's much more comfortable for me to play sitting down. And if I'm more comfortable, I can play better.

As to downplaying of the banjo compared to other instruments, I don't know. I'm interested to hear what others have to say, who are more knowledgeable than I am on that one. Very interesting post, so thanks for posing these questions.

L50EF15 - Posted - 11/09/2018:  19:50:18

Perhaps coming forward in jazz history a decade later than the four string’s heyday will illustrate what you have observed: Think Big Band. The archtop acoustic guitar serves much the same function in that setting (e.g. Freddie Green in Count Basie’s band) as the banjo does in trad jazz. It’s serving as a kind of glue to the rhythm section. From what I have learned so far, that’s the prime role.

Of course, Charlie Christian’s electric work demonstrated the way guitar could be used as a lead voice with his horn-like tone and phrasing.

I guess it’s a context thing. Maybe a stereotype thing. A tenor or plectrum banjo can play lead in a combo setting; there are plenty of precedents from way back (e.g. Harry Reser). That it’s often helping to carry the rhythm section doesn’t mean it’s confined only to that any more than a five string is limited to Scruggs rolls and bluegrass. That said, it’s probably true that most people taking up the five are going to try for Scruggs rolls and bluegrass; most people taking up the four are probably going to focus on carrying the rhythm section. Those are great sounds and people are still drawn to them. That doesn’t mean someone can’t step out and become a banjo version of Charlie Christian. Probably just a matter of time before that happens.

Greenmeat - Posted - 11/09/2018:  21:57:32

This is typical of The Woody Allen Jazz Band/Eddy Davis Musical Director.
We play a concert every Monday night at The Cafe Carlyle in Manhattan. We always sit and I take a solo on every tune. I would say we are the only U.S. professional Hot Jazz Band playing full time in America. We also tour regularly around the World. So how in the world have you overlooked us? Please everyone take a look at a working professional's website:
There have been many great Hot Jazz Banjoists in my 78 years in the world of "Hot Jazz". Sorry you missed or overlooked great 4 String Jazz Banjoists. This band has many many youtube from all over the world. Take a look sometime. Eddy "The Manhattan Minstrel" Davis
Woody Allen and Eddy Davis' New Orleans Jazz Band in Amager Bio 10/7 2017

rockyjo - Posted - 11/09/2018:  22:34:28

Hi Eddy,

I didn’t overlook you. I consider the band you play in to be your band. See my second paragraph, “..rare exceptions (like it’s a banjo player’s band).”

On the contrary, given the decades you’ve been playing and seen/heard so many other trad jazz bands (that are not led by a banjo player), I thought you might have some answers to, or perspective on, my questions and hoped you’d chime in... 



Edited by - rockyjo on 11/09/2018 22:37:01

Greenmeat - Posted - 11/10/2018:  05:18:47

OK -- Rocky, if you want what I think -- If you are referring to all these so-called Trad Bands -- They have always been around and they've been called "Weekend Warriors" -- To be "Brutally Honest" they are quite often made up of Doctors and/or Lawyers or Professors or what-ever and can't play anyway. So why should they Stand Up or even be Heard for that matter. Let them all set in the back row. But I guess they think they are learning --- Now don't you wish THEY WOULD LEARN AT HOME? But, with the sad "State Of Affairs" in the so-called Music Business -- No business -- No music. Don't you think all of this is the problem? Most of these so-called banjoists can't really play -- so who should hear them at all -- BUT, you know this is not a perfect world. It was still pretty fine when I was young and there was "Paying Work" to be a part of. BUT still there was a lot of bad music around. Back in my "Chicago Days" I kept a 7 piece Jazz Band going and paying them a weekly -- living salary! Man I wish you could have heard those fine musicians. Those Were The Days My Friend!! Eddy (A Minstrel)

CGDA - Posted - 11/10/2018:  06:40:13

That's why I always sit and refuse playing with marching bands.


parlour player - Posted - 11/10/2018:  06:56:39

i always sit when playing its easier to reach the whiskey glass!

We are all in the gutter
but some of us are looking at the stars

Oscar Wilde

Ryk - Posted - 11/10/2018:  07:42:35


I'm self taught on banjo and practically so on guitar. It always seemed to me the best way of doing something was the way it's done classically or the way the 'old guys did it.' Guitar was easy to get the information for ... but for the banjo it was slowly acquiring the tutors put out by the old masters Grimshaw, McNeil and Black along with the more modern tutors. It was all about the angle of the neck up and down, the angle away from the body and how much the fingerboard is rotated. It's taken practice to get that all down ... but it has been well worth it. I find it impossible to replicate that while standing ... plus four back surgeries and the bone grafts and bolts that came along with them makes sitting much more comfortable.


majesty - Posted - 11/10/2018:  08:07:49

You are bang on, Eddy. Most four string banjo players never pay their dues and study/learn to play properly. They can't or won't learn to read music, and learn proper rhythms such as samba, tango, waltz, polka, rumba, etc. Major and seventh chords are just about all you hear from banjo players in most senior home concerts. Jazz banjo is not dead, and probably will never be dead. But today, the deafening electric guitars, basses, and amplified drums drowning out the vocalists are the latest craze.

As to the original poster's complaints about banjoists, I have a few comments as well:

You cannot learn by watching banjo players and what their fingers do. You need a good teacher, who plays your type of banjo.
Yes, sitting is better. I stand a lot while playing out of necessity, but sitting places the banjo and arm/wrist in the proper position, which allows smoother playing for chords, and tremolo. It also reduces fatigue.

A good banjo player is a very important member of a jazz band. The horns, and reeds depend on the banjo player for the right chords. Play one wrong chord for fun with some horn players, and they will probably tell you. As such, you have to be at the back, or in a position where they can hear you. Most horn/reed players have always shown me respect.
The most heard comments from onlookers are: I have a banjo at home. No, I can't play it, it's too hard. I just strum it, cause I like the sound of it. If asked what make it is, the usually reply " I don't know".
In the 1924 issue of the FRETS magazine, an advertisement reads " Banjo players in orchestras can earn $100. a week". That was a lot in those days.Today, the banjo is not as profitable or popular, so not as much effort is being put into learning to play a tenor banjo.
I can understand some of the original poster's frustrations, but maybe he should start with a good banjo teacher.

Veerstryngh Thynner - Posted - 11/10/2018:  14:14:46


The prerogative of the newbie is to shake us gnarled veterans up, from time to time, with fresh perspectives on accepted practice.  The questions you are asking valid, and very much to the point. Tenor player myself, I'll try to respond from that angle as best as I can.

1) Convention:

Yes. Partly anyway, I think.

2) Weight:

Yes, I think that, too, is quite often a factor. In my own experience, I have more control over the fingerboard sitting down than standing up. My "Morris" weighs quite a lot and is, for that reason, not very suited to streetparading. I'm not in a band any more and my street parade days are long over as well, but when soloing standing up, I invariably find that I'm much less versatile than when sitting down.

- Bluegrass banjoNIsts typically stand:

The general preference in Europe is sitting down as well, I believe. Except in the UK, where, generally, standing up seems to be much more popular. On evidence of historical YouTube footage and personal observation at live concerts, banjo players in Kenny Ball's and Chris Barber's bands, for instance, are always playing standing up. So did Sheila Collier's, playing a 5-string with the fifth string removed - and this didn't gell at all. That's only three mentioned, yes, but I'm sure that I have seen many more British banjo players performing like this. Furthermore, I remember the banjo player of (Australian) outfit Max Collie's Rhythm Aces very vividly still. Don't know if playing standing up is the norm in Australia, too, but this fellow hung his instrument literally down to his knees! Never saw anything the like. Neither before nor after meeting him.

3) Band dynamics:

There are reasons that brass and reeds take up position in front of the rhythm section.

One has to do with projection (the band performing without a PA, presumably). The other with internal communications. In this fashion, each member hears what any other is doing. And being capable of hearing ánd seeing each other thus properly opens the field to anticipating on and/or reacting to what anybody else is doing, as to riffing, breaks, applying syncopathic patterns and the like. This, if executed exemplarily, will infallibly boost the dynamics of whatever the tune performed.

Furthermore, in the rhythm section, bass, drums and banjo serve to provide the fundament for the wind section, at the front to thrive on. Collectively as well as individually, I'd argue that bass, more than drums, is responsible for steady pulse, rather, than rhythm. Two different things altogether. Rhythm, and variations as well as accentuations thereof, thus on the drummer's plate. In the meantime, banjo is to give the wind section harmonic support. And if piano is also involved, the harmonic onus will be more on piano than banjo, usually, in my experience.

Nevertheless, piano and banjo may work well in tandem, too, giving the wind section even more floor room. But each of those three (or four) also have ample license to break away from their assigned roles, in solos or features. Yet like each member of the wind section need to be able to see and hear each other, so do all three or four in the rhythm section. Where separate set pieces  wil be going, at given gig, also communicated verbally, by visual contact, or by a series of hand signals known to all 

4) Banjo isn't as loud as brass :

Curious then that banjo, in the era of electric amplification not yet even being a blip on the horizon, was the go-to match with brass and reeds. And in rooms where a PA is not required, that still applies today, I feel, in a standard six-piece Trad setting.

5) "Banjo is just a percussion instrument", etc.

Here we go again. Sigh.

Banjo's awful reputation dates from the first Trad craze of the 1950s. On this crest, banjo became extremely popular with old men absolutely shorn of any real musical talent. Hence the myth that intelligence is best left at the door, if you intend to learn to play the banjo, and endless banjo "jokes" always casting aspersions on players' IQ.

Even after more  than half a century, banjo hasn't ever seen fit to get rid of that kind of bias. And as to banjo being unfit for soloing, I'll just say that such an allegation doesn't merit any breath.

6) See 5).

7) Sitting, part 2:

There are no codified regulations, for sitting down or standing up. That's largely a matter of convention and personal choice, I think. But Rockyjo also applies "standing up" as meaning "standing up for your rights", as banjo player. That suggests at least that banjo players are consistently browbeaten by their wind instrumentalist overlords.

I don't think so. Unlike Eddy Davis, I'm not happy with solos in every number. In a four-hour set, I'd 'rather have one single stunning special feature coming from my heart than half-baked solos in every number throughout the night. But the bottom line here is that if I want the limelight, so as to show off my prowess, I will be given it any time. In other words: I always have a choice here. Any excellent Trad band a team, ideally, of which each and every individual part has every chance to shine solistically. But this cannot else but happen within some organisational frame, however loosely.

8) "Banjo players are old"

Well, you may have a point there. A BHO regular since several years, I have yet to find any teenage interest here. Are there any twenty-something BHO contributors reading this, I wonder? I assume a smattering of thirty- and forty-somethings is populating these pages as well. But I suspect the majority of BHO readers and active correspondents is well-north of fifty.

In yoof eyes, banjo isn't cool. Partly because of the heavy prejudice it still can't get around, but also because it is a favourite of middle-aged and elderly men, predominantly. Which is, rightly or wrongly, tantamount to stuffy and dull, from the perspective of the young. More bad PR for banjo then.

Furthermore, I recently had a conversation with German banjo builder Karsten Schnoor. I asked why there are so few banjo professional builders left, all over Europe, compared with twenty years ago. Karsten's opinion that European Trad "forgot" all about educating, motivating, and nurturing the next generation. And I agree. Dogmatism of the 'New Orleans' fundamentalist set first and foremostly to blame for efficiently drowning all initial enthusiasm coming from young(er) people. They really have a knack for being punitive of every note even slightly diverging from any "documented" on 78 rpm shellac records from the 1910s and 1920s. And in their hang for preserving the style, they have managed to fossilize it instead, if not to kill it off altogether.

I hope that George is right, in that the death of banjo is still a long way off. Stateside not, perhaps. But for Europe I'm not optimistic, to be honest. Jamie Cullin, for instance, managed to re-enegise genuine interest in pre-Sixties jazz, among the 16-25 demography. If briefly, and at the start of his career. However, I don't see any sign of anyone compatible, in the banjo community, of reversing banjo's fortunes the same way.

Veerstryngh Thynner


Edited by - Veerstryngh Thynner on 11/10/2018 14:50:54

Ryk - Posted - 11/10/2018:  14:24:07

Many, many thanks for your post.

parlour player - Posted - 11/10/2018:  14:43:02

weekend warriors we need more of them !

cant play, they can play. without them Eddie you would playing to nobody but yourself
we don't need negative comments about fellow Banjoists .

Veerstryngh Thynner - Posted - 11/10/2018:  15:15:02

No disrespect intended, Eddy, but I agree with parlour player. What I seem to read into your post is that in olden days everything was better. Yet at the same time I'm not sure that this is what you wish to convey.

Veerstryngh Thynner

Edited by - Veerstryngh Thynner on 11/10/2018 15:16:01

malarz - Posted - 11/10/2018:  16:05:12

With all respect to Eddy Davis,we need more “weekend warriors” to continue the tradition, no matter at what level of ability and talent. I’m 65, just started to play earlier this year and am having a great time despite my level of inability and talent and late start in life. I’m not playing for audiences much but am playing with friends for fun. And, am having loads of it.

I listen to you, Eddy, for inspiration and guidance and just for the sheer joy of hearing you play. No way I’ll ever ever get to your level of experience and talent. But, I’m having fun not only on the weekends but also anytime during the week when I can take time from work and family responsibilities to put that banjo on my lap—yes, I sit—and play away.


G Edward Porgie - Posted - 11/10/2018:  18:09:03


Originally posted by rockyjo

GE Porgie,

I think you missed one of my points and made another one: first, my point was that, where there is a banjo in a band, it is “below equal” to the other instruments in what I have observed repeatedly in the last 5 yrs or so, in volume, visibility, and length and number of solos, and that seems to be commonplace, and I don’t understand why. Nor why it is practiced or accepted by banjo players.

Second, if we have to go to several examples of pieces with banjo solos, as in your 3rd paragraph, it basically proves my point that banjo solos are more unusual. Compare it to bluegrass, it is a non-subject about 5-string banjo solos there, because banjo breaks are part of something like 99.9% of bluegrass music.

As for the “steady rhythm” which is “the banjo’s job,” most bands I hear have a drum set playing that job, and many have found that the banjo is therefore dispensable; another way to say this is if we are going to accept that the 4 string banjo is primarily a rhythm instrument and not a solo instrument, I suggest we are really in trouble because, while a strummed banjo adds a little “shushing” to the band’s sound, it’s not enough different than a drumset (if it can be heard over the drums), so doing without a banjo in the band is easy and one less person to pay (or if there is no pay, coordinate with).

Thank you for mentioning dePietro and Ortuso, I haven’t heard of them and will look them up.



You've been listening to the wrong bands, I think. I've heard many bands that did not have drums, and even when they did, the functions of banjo and drums were a bit different. Certainly, some of the rhythm can be sustained by a decent dtrummer, but a drummer does not supply anything at all in the way of chord structure (something that's very important when a melodic improvisation is being played--it keeps the soloist from going off-course harmonically) while also supplying some rhythm.

I also disagree that the banjo has suffered because it's in the back, doesn't get enough solos (which, as my examples show, is simply not quite accurate) or hasn't enough volume compared with the other instruments.

The banjo has become less popular because the music itself has become less popular. Trad jazz was already being supplanted by "swing" by the early 1930's, and "swing" really had no use for the banjo. The sound had become different, and the banjo would have been too harsh and was therefore replaced by guitar. Music changes; you don't hear very many lutenists or harpsichord players or crumhorn virtuosos these day, either.

Veerstryngh Thynner - Posted - 11/11/2018:  02:20:45


I tried to address the points Rockyjo is raising myself, in my longer post somewhat further up, and see now that you and I are pretty much on the same page, regarding Rockyjo's arguments. But I'm under the impression that he hasn't yet read our posts, at this moment in time, so we'll just have to wait for his reaction, I guess.

In the meanwhile, I know of one instance that clavichord was actually used in a Trad setting. The Dutch Swing College Band recorded  I Found a New Baby, sometime in the 1950s, with clavichord substituting piano. It gells very well with the rest of the band. With Arie Ligthart's swinging guitar in particular. And I believe a clip is still available on YouTube.

I also can't help imagining, in connection with your post, what Trad or Swing would sound like on Period instruments and played by bona fide jazz pros. Sackbut and crumhorn (or serpent, perhaps) for trombone and clarinet/saxophone, respectively; lute, cister, or vihuela substituting banjo/guitar; and medieval hand drum and tambura as percussion. But what to use instead of modern-day trumpet and double bass I can't yet think of. Trumpet especially, since Medieval and Renaissance trumpets don't have valves and only produce natural tones.

I'd really like to see some symphony, chamber music, or Period orchestra taking up that challenge. :-)

Veerstryngh Thynner

Edited by - Veerstryngh Thynner on 11/11/2018 02:24:24

G Edward Porgie - Posted - 11/11/2018:  08:31:51

Interesting thoughts, Mr. Thynner. Early instruments playing trad jazz would be rather difficult to get right, though, because of some of the limitations of the instruments themselves, such as those valveless trumpets. If I recall, the serpent is not a very versatile instrument, either.

I am intrigued by your comment about the clavichord being used, but I suspect you may mean harpsichord. The clavichord was a very quiet keyboard instrument and most likely wouldn't be heard at all in a trad jazz group. Of course on a recording, it could have been heavily amplified.

Harpsichord has been featured on quite a number of tunes from somewhat later in jazz history. "Delicado" comes to mind immediately, but there have been others that I just can't recall.

One other thing I might mention that the OP may not read (he so far seems a little frustrated with some of the responses to his initial diatribe) and that is that there are, in fact, some fairly youthful practitioners of four-string playing. Only just a few years ago, one event here in Greenville had an appearance by a North Carolina dixieland outfit. As far as I could tell, no one in the group had reached their 30th birthday. I used to regularly hear a trad jazz trio playing at the Rose Bowl Swap Meet which also featured a young tenor player--younger than the others in the group. I also have a recording of a progressive rock group (Tin Hat Trio) which features the tenor banjo on several tracks.

As I postulated earlier, I doubt if it's the banjo being perceived as an inferior instrument that has led to its decline, but it is the music itself. A new way to use the banjo might help its popularity, because whether we like it or not, trad jazz is no longer mainstream, but is more the realm of a select group of aficionados. 

Veerstryngh Thynner - Posted - 11/11/2018:  09:29:05


- Calling me Veerstryngh is fine. I've become quite attached to the Veerstryngh Thynner handle, actually.

- Secondly, thank you for correcting me. Of course I meant harpsichord. And harpsichord it was indeed, featuring in that DSC record aforementioned.

- I also agree with you that Medieval land Renaissance instruments may be somewhat limited in range, for playing Trad and Swing. But busily "plotting" a digital banjo quartet, to be launched sometime 2019, hopefully, and already planning to tackle some Dowland with it, for starters, why not jazz on Period instruments? Should be fun, and may even lead to unexpected results. :-)

- If there are some youthful 4-string practitioners in your area, why haven't they yet found their way to BHO, I wonder?

- I, for one, didn't read the OP's opening shot as a diatribe. I agree with him that some longstanding conventions in Trad may be looking a tad strange, when viewed afresh, and I think he is right in bringing those up. So, Rockyjo, please do remain part of the interesting and rewarding debate you yourself initiated.

- Some years ago, I had some correspondence with the banjo player of a Hip-Hop banjo band. The word 'Turbo' in their name, I believe. But it was 5-string what he played.

Veerstryngh Thynner


Veerstryngh Thynner - Posted - 11/11/2018:  10:04:34

More generally, I also need to rectify an error in one of my earlier posts.

I'm writing my replies on a smartphone, and automatic spelling control here has a habit of butting in uninvitedly time and anon. And so British pianist, singer and broadcaster Jamie Cullum, in one of my previous posts, became Jamie 'Cullin', before soon.

Just that you know.


rockyjo - Posted - 11/11/2018:  11:12:02

Greetings All,
Just so you know, have not dropped off, but today we are having a high of 28 degrees :( and snow, as predicted yesterday, so needed to tend to the yard yesterday, and today am tied up. ‘Will be back :)

Veerstryngh Thynner - Posted - 11/12/2018:  10:03:20

Rockyjo, this is a bit confusing, from European perspective.

28 C would be quite summery, over here, which doesn't combine well with snow. So I guess you mean 28 F, which, in combination with snow, would be a low, to my reckoning.

In the meanwhile I'm looking forward to your comments on all that has gone on during your absence.

Veerstryngh Thynner

haildixon - Posted - 11/15/2018:  00:18:59

In my band, there's generally just 2 rhythm instruments, myself on banjo and the bass (usually Tyler Thomson). Our gigs range from 3 to 5 hours long. If given the option of sitting or standing, I'm sitting. Also, whether it's tradition or what, but New Orleans bands generally sit. There's just no good reason to stand. We're every bit as dynamic as any band that stands, so the standing thing is just silly. As far as solos and whatnot, I personally view my role in the band as 90% rhythm. I tend to not like most banjo solos and am not a huge fan of the banjo as a soloist instrument, it just doesn't do a lot for me. Neither do drum solos. I could take or leave most bass solos, too. The idea that any of this is 'killing' jazz banjo is kind of silly considering how obscure jazz banjo currently is. We live in the bubble. To 99.9% of the rest of the world they have no concept of jazz banjo, and that's honestly just fine. I get people that come up to me all the time on gigs and tell me how surprised they are to see a 4 string banjo because they either didn't know they existed or didn't realize what they were used for. Most people just want to know where the 5th string is.

Edited by - haildixon on 11/15/2018 00:19:18

guitarbanjoman - Posted - 11/15/2018:  08:25:02

Fascinating thread! And the digressions from topic turn out to be just as interesting as the original posting!

I see so much of myself in all the comments...

The crappy banjo player who sits at the back of the dixieland band? Yeah, I've been that guy...

The weekend warrior? Check!

The guy who is so nutty over obscure jazz from the 1920's that people think he's a crank from some kind of musical cult? Check!


My observation is this... we banjo players are so consumed with thoughts about our instrument that we may not even notice that LOTS of other instruments are similarly thought of as passe and irrelevant...

The piano, for one... around here nobody will even buy pianos!... I played a gig at an old folks home where there were six or seven expensive donated pianos in the room where we played!

The clarinet... you ever notice how hard it is to find people under sixty who play one of these?

Ditto the trumpet... the string bass... the tuba... the trombone.... they're all halfway to the musical junkyard along with anything else that remains of classic twentieth century jazz and pop music...

See, the trouble with all these instruments is... they're not loud enough! They're old fashioned! And they take a hell of a lot of effort to play well--- for little or no money!

Ok, that's enough depressing stuff... now for something completely different...


One of the interesting digressions in the postings above was a bit of jazz history regarding the guitar's total eclipse of the banjo from the period of approximately 1930 to 1935.

One of the now-dead branches of that musical evolution was the style of jazz banjo (mostly tenor but some plectrum) played by sidemen in black jazz bands.

These guys eschewed the carefully studied virtuosity of Reser, Bechtel and Peabody, and went for a more primitive style... a style which I, for one, greatly enjoy!

Well, anyway, I hope I've piqued your interest and I am planning to make a separate posting about this later on today or perhaps tomorrow.


Edited by - guitarbanjoman on 11/15/2018 08:39:22

Veerstryngh Thynner - Posted - 11/15/2018:  10:33:49


I wouldn't say brass and wood instruments are a dying breed. Not in mainland Europe anyway. Brass and reed bands of all stripes flourishing: no sign of terminal decline there.

To give you one small, unscientific example: almost my entire family is on brass, wood, or both, to start with. Some family members virtuoso on three or four instruments. I the sole string specialist around. But for two, all are playing and performing with 50-odd-strong orchestras. Quite a lot of youthful enthusiasm evident in there, on several occasions I saw one of those perform. All sitting, by the way. And the number of US college bands marching in the London New Year's Parade, every January, does not give the impression either that wind instruments are on their way to extinction.

There's literally a sea of young talent out there that could be persuaded to give Trad and/or Swing a try. I was in my early twenties, when I started out in Trad. That was on the crest of a Trad craze that let many young people rediscover jazz styles that had been popular with their parents and grandparents. The Eighties a feast of jamming and gigging with people my age, predominantly, often helped out and advised by weathered veterans.

That passion and curiosity is still there, potentially, I believe. And if there's anywhere to recruit fresh blood for Trad from, it's American and European brass & reed band culture. However,  no one that I know of, in Trad circles,has ever been seen tapping  from that rich source. 

But the best evidence that we shouldn't give up on young people's interest in jazz too soon is San Andreu Jazz Band from Barcelona, Spain. A jaw-droppingly professional big band consisting of 6- to 19-year olds. Their musical director Joan Chamorro a pedagogue I highly admire, since he starts from passion and love. And only when that has been instilled do theory lessons start.

Navigate to YouTube and type in 'San Andreu Jazz Band, Joan Chamorro'. Or just copy'n paste it. That guarantees best audio and image quality. And a couple of hours well-spent, too.

Veerstryngh Thynner


Edited by - Veerstryngh Thynner on 11/15/2018 10:40:40

jlmyers - Posted - 11/15/2018:  11:51:24


Originally posted by beegee

So the rest of the combo can bask in the mellifluous tone? If they were in front nobody in back could hear them.

That's the purpose of foldback speakers (in all genres).

beegee - Posted - 11/15/2018:  12:05:48


Originally posted by jlmyers


Originally posted by beegee

So the rest of the combo can bask in the mellifluous tone? If they were in front nobody in back could hear them.

That's the purpose of foldback speakers (in all genres).

I dare say that in the heyday of jazz banjos in combos, there were no foldback speakers.

G Edward Porgie - Posted - 11/15/2018:  12:12:25

None of the music is actually dying; it's just not very popular with the general public, which has a tendency to go for the latest and greatest (read: FAD). If a person tries even just a little, he can find music and instruments being played that haven't been in general use for centuries, as well as more recent genres and instruments, such as the classic banjo being played by some of the members of this very Hangout. And the odd part? Some of the practitioners of these lost musics are young people. Sometimes all it takes is for a musical person to hear something in a cittern or lute solo or a baroque trumpet, and he might actally go get one to try himself. Most may still get themselves an electric guitar and amplifier, and many, many more will buy video games and motorcycles, but there will always be some who choose to play an archaic music. I myself have several recordings by Renaissance ensembles (I even knew a player in college) and listen to such non-popular things as piano ragtime, hot jazz, classic banjo, and I've been to enough college concerts to know that not all the players of these less-than-mainstream musics are feeble old farts and fartettes.

One other thing is that if a young person does grw intrigued, it will take him/her at least some time to get good enough to play in public and it may take time to surround himself/herself with enough like-minded people to form a musical group. Some of the youngest players may not have shown up yet.

While it's nice to dream of a trad jazz reaching the point it did in the 1920's, but that ship has sailed. So instead, I suggest simply focusing on what we do still have: the joy of playing what we like to play, enough audience to remind ourselves that the music isn't completely gone, the thrill of being part of a group of people dedicated to a single thing, and the extra added pleasure when we are approached by a curious child or adolescent or young adult who wishes an explanation of some of the music's passages or expresses a desire to learn it.

aintbrokejustbadlybent - Posted - 11/15/2018:  15:35:06

Hey Varilyn,
I think you hit a nerve sister. Haven't seen this much interest on a topic in some time.
I've attached a couple of vids that might interest you. First one is from a lister here, Bob Barta (a very tastee player). This one has a tuba solo! I could listen to these guys all day long.

Second one from a master player Don Vappie. I watch him and I want to cut off my fingers. Want some banjo solo? Check it out.


malarz - Posted - 11/15/2018:  15:42:31

hey Mike,

Thanks for the Don Vappie! Inspiring and daunting and entertaining.


aintbrokejustbadlybent - Posted - 11/15/2018:  16:16:24

He is crazy good. Check out the Wynton M. Video featuring Eric Clapton playing Layla. Don plays banjo at that concert. I use that video to turn my non jazz listening to friends to jazz.

jlmyers - Posted - 11/15/2018:  16:47:47


Originally posted by beegee


Originally posted by jlmyers


Originally posted by beegee

So the rest of the combo can bask in the mellifluous tone? If they were in front nobody in back could hear them.

That's the purpose of foldback speakers (in all genres).

I dare say that in the heyday of jazz banjos in combos, there were no foldback speakers.


malarz - Posted - 11/15/2018:  17:00:37

That tuba player, Art Hovey, is in the Galvanized Jazz Band which plays every third Sunday at a restaurant about an hour away from me. Really good band!

Veerstryngh Thynner - Posted - 11/16/2018:  02:09:35


You're wise and sensible. And you're well-versed in banjo matters, too. That's what I like about your posts.

I think I'll skip filling my Morris with water, though. I'm not prepared to throw it away just yet. But I'm hoping that it'll join me, six feet under, when my time has come. :-)

And in addition: mathematics has never been my strong suit. If I had been paid for years of struggling with the subject, I'd probably have been a millionaire by now. But even today, in my "dotage", maths is as much a dead spot as it was in my formative years. So maybe you'd like to expand a little on how to calculate cubic volume of a circular body?

In the meanwhile, I concur with what you are writing about genres of music not prominently mainstream, yet never entirely disappearing from view. Or maybe that should be from collective consciousness. But what I'm also thinking of is of musicians that inject old forms with fresh energy. For Trad the great Alex Welsh Band, of the mid-Seventies, for instance, and still as sparkling as when first recorded; or Dixie Machine (not on YouTube, unfortunately, but from about the same time). And from Trad, originally, but his horizon very extensively widened since, Dutch banjo virtuoso Arno Hagenaars is also warmly recommended. Well-represented on YouTube. For classical music, John Bullard springs to mind. A true pioneer who had to go through a lot of mockery and ridicule ere recognition became his due. And then there is that banjo hip-hop band I briefly corresponded with. Hip-hop and affiliates certainly not making my heart beat any faster, but I do appreciate their effort, and that of kindred spirits, in treading paths previously unexplored.

Finally to your remark about Trad jazz reaching the point where it was in the 1920s. That ship has sailed indeed, as you write. However, the less kind opinion of the same would be that this perspective can also be interpreted as jazz history having come to a definite halt by about 1927 conceptually. Because of this angle, and a generally dogmatic attitude supporting it. So-and-so playing  note X or passage Y in bar 19 of <Title>, on this-or-that record from 1922, declared alpha and omega of how this note, that passage, or <Title> in its entirety is to be played, unchangeably, in all perpetuity. Yet this is bound to suck even latent vibrancy out of any genre, of course, turning it into a wax exhibition of ancient farts and fartettes indeed, before too long. My personal impression that NO has become exactly that museum piece already, some three decades or so ago. 

Any musical practice that, out of its own free will, chooses for starving itself of fresh oxygen cannot be expected to survive for long. In Desire to preserve departing from a sense of nostalgia is an act of love. But if this turns into preservation by decree, it changes the whole setting. Besides, there's also an unpleasant whiff of sectarianism about it, to my taste. As confirmed by dozens of accounts, online, from young musicians (particularly in Fred Burnett's Northern Jazz newsletter, I suddenly remember - if that still exists). The recurring pattern in their stories that they are initially charmed with and enthusiastic about NO, but ultimately drop out, usually within a year or so, totally despirited and put off, forever and anon. Precisely because of this basically fundamentalist attitude. And that's definitely not a good thing.

Mike (Maggard),

Your message to 'Varilyn', was that actually meant for Veerstryngh (me)? If it is, I think that your observation is correct: I notice, too, with pleasure, that this thread has quite some traction.


You're right that nobody in this thread mentioned loosening the head a bit. But whilst experimenting with classical guitar strings and DIY nylon, someone did, in an earlier thread.

I followed up that advice, but it didn't make much difference, really.

Veerstryngh Thynner

Edited by - Veerstryngh Thynner on 11/16/2018 03:04:10

aintbrokejustbadlybent - Posted - 11/16/2018:  05:22:28

@Veerstryngh Thynner
Hey Veerstryngh,
Haha!!! Nothing gets by you. I was trying to be subtle. I enjoy your post.

L50EF15 - Posted - 11/16/2018:  16:57:37

Thing is, you can never tell when the hook will sink into someone- for that matter, what might become the odd hit. I remember a tune called “Music Box Dancer” hit the Top 40. I also remember The Stampeders “Sweet City Woman,” with a plectrum banjo carrying the tune.

There’s a lot of life left in the four string, tenor and plectrum. I think it’s going to be the new sound from way, way back (Beastie Boys quote there).

Veerstryngh Thynner - Posted - 11/17/2018:  01:48:49


Why Tune A leaves a lifelong impression and Tune B sinks without a trace is still anybody's guess. No plausible scientific explanation either for that as yet, as far as I know.

A personal experience.

Once upon a time I travelled to Germany with some regularity, for weekends with friends in the North. They are still living in a communal complex that offers the right balance between social interaction and privacy. Kids especially roaming over the premises all day, playing and doing homework together.

Furthermore, analogue multitracking had just become available to the consumer market, in those days. My own audio cassette four-track machine in frequent use and tapes often sent to my German friends, too. And so it happened that some of my music was played at communal dos as well, occasionally.

The adults liked my "greatest hits", but their kids' reaction to those, played over the stereo at one such party, was truly extraordinary. That whole band of 3- to 8-year olds enthusiastically dancing up and down the room, laughing their heads off, and asking for more. The greatest compliment ever, that, as to my musical prowess, surely.

Cue to 2018 now. Several banjo projects in the works, at present. A new home studio on the cards, for sometime next year. I'd also like to promote my music online, one day. But as to whether my music will once more evoke such joy as at that bash in Germany only time will learn.

In the meanwhile, I'm not well-versed in contemporary "dance" genres. I don't hear much difference, personally, between hip-hop, drum-'n-bass and grime, personally, to be honest. Yet each generation creates their own "rebel" soundscape, I suppose. Designed so as guaranteed not to be "understood" by parents and grandparents; in exactly the same way as Beatles and Rolling Stones antagonised 1960s parents and grandparents no end. I myself not young any longer, at present,"so" now it's my turn, I guess, to fail to "understand"  contemporary pop most of the time. However, I refuse to reject or condemn it as "just" noise right out of hand - as 1960s parents often did, regarding Beatles and Stones output, and as their parents qualified Trad, 1950s contemporaine "pop", as "jungle music". 

Popular as traditional (acoustic) banjo briefly was, in those same 1950s, I still very much fear that it's on the way out, in continental Europe. With professional banjo building and maintenance in terminal decline everywhere but in the US. Living in, say, Belgium, but having to fork out substantial additional money on top of banjo acquisition or repair proper, if the choice is between the last remaining banjo workshop in, say, the Czech Republic or one in the US, not much will be left of the attraction of buying an acoustic instrument, I expect.

If traditional banjo is going to be prohibitively expensive, it'll stand avoid chance of disappearing from Europe altogether. This may well be the situation, I foresee, in less than twenty years or so, if the trend of presently existing banjo workshops have gone, too. Their owners already close to retirement age, overall, and their expertise not being passed on to the next generation, as far as I'm aware. I believe this.should be of real concern.

However, I see the odd Gold Tone electric banjo bass or flat-body Deering electric tenor or 5-string banjo cropping up in pop settings, so perhaps there's where a glimmer of banjo's future might be. Even better if banjo could be made fit for the 21st century as MIDI instrument playable over laptop or desktop Why not? If MIDI guitar is technological fact, I don't see why MIDI banjo can't be.

Veerstryngh Thynner

Edited by - Veerstryngh Thynner on 11/17/2018 02:11:14

rockyjo - Posted - 11/17/2018:  15:07:31

Greetings Everyone,

Thank you for your patience. Based on some later posts, I need to start off with clarifying (sometimes again from my first questions/post) some earlier comments:

A) Yes, 28 degrees F (ie., -2 Celsius); nippy!

B) I said earlier that my first post was about "4 string trad jazz banjo (not ukes)" playing and listening as an audience member, and am thinking local but didn't specify it, meaning I was and am referring to "in the US." I have no experience attending trad jazz jams or concerts in the other countries (yet :)), and much of my post came about as I am trying to see how the banjo player "fits" (eventually, hopefully pertaining to me) in trad jazz jams, concerts, bands locally, which means within driving distance on a regular basis from home. My observations, however, are based on various in-state concerts and countless youtube hours searching and viewing. It does seem to be a reality of youtube, however, at least from the US, that doing a search pulls up more US-based sources (ie., bands), which isn't something I particularly chose, so my listening is skewed American. (So for examples in another forum about banjoists in bands from other countries who stand.. fine, that was not the geography of the question in my original post.) I very much appreciate the insight from those of you outside of the US on all of these questions, either about playing here or in your own country. (It is beginning to sound like there may be different practices in different countries, which begs the question in some cases of, "why is it so?".)

C) I am a little uncomfortable that a partial requote, midway through this forum, stating when I wrote, "Banjo players are old..." could be misinterpreted that I have something against seniors. I am not suggesting that was the intent of a poster's partial requote, it was not. But for those who connect with a forum down the line and/or skim earlier posts, I want it to be VERY clear that I have nothing against seniors. I love seniors! Seniors are the backbone of this country and, no doubt, others. Nothing is as humbling as days like Amistice Day (Monday); but for seniors, many of who are veterans, and no small portion of 4 string banjo players are veterans, we might be having to discuss here the length of lederhosen or the optimal number of matryoshka dolls in a set. Further, if not already, we'll all get to being a senior on day and, as far as I know, that's still preferred by most people relative to the current alternative.

My point (#8) in my first post, was that age is a reason given for banjoists to be sitting when they play the banjo, but musicians who play other instruments in trad jazz bands do not routinely sit, and no one in the band seems to expect them to. Recall the first words of my post, "Why do banjo players sit?" ..a question, and #7, is there a musical reason to sit when playing? We got some helpful answers on that, thank you.

Also, I certainly was not suggesting that any banjo player who would be in pain to stand should, for some reason, do so anyway. Agh! No. And for those who can march and play banjo, more power to you! Not something I see myself doing. Perhaps the libations that someone suggested "help" to march, but seems like there would be some nasty falls regardless... Yowch!


rockyjo - Posted - 11/17/2018:  16:02:17

D) I wrote in an earlier post, "Some of us go to jams or concerts to hear the banjo, listen INTENTLY to how you experts and pros play, hope to watch your fingers, all because we love the sound and might want to learn to play well, or better ourselves." Several of you understood this to mean that I think one can learn how to play the banjo by listening/watching someone else play. I do not think that (and didn't say that). I said, "...learn to play well...". I meant that within close limits (in other words, do I think it's a good idea to try to "mostly" learn to play the banjo by watching/listening to some else? No), do I think that watching/listening to experts/pros or skillful players can be an aid to playing well or better? Absolutely. Ex: One thing I have learned from watching the best players is that they have an "economy of movement" in their arms, hands, and fingers. They are not making wide finger motions or flailing around. And arms, fingers, are relaxed. And they have a delicate touch on the fretboard. And one can see where, from the bridge to neck, are they playing for what kind of sound they want when.. (It doesn't matter if you know which chord is being played or not.) I find this imperative to think about and understand (learn) early, and get that intent and muscle memory in order to not be hobbled when advancing significantly in speed. Otherwise you're stuck not getting as fast as you might want, or later after it's ingrained, have to replace a bad habit (neither of which do I want). One cannot get this from listening to a Reser youtube while seeing a picture of his record cover during the song. As well, if there are video youtubes of the legendary greats, they are, from what I've seen, distance shots of the whole band, not helpful for this purpose.

The broader point here is that, for prospective or newbie banjo players, I suggest that it is really helpful that the better and best banjo player's hands and fingers CAN BE SEEN by most of the audience.

I will go down a side road on this briefly and suggest you ask yourself, "What were the circumstances surrounding when you got hit by the lightening bolt that was the 4 string banjo sound and decide to put countless hours into learning to play it? If it wasn't a relative or close friend who kept encouraging (or possibly insisting) that you pick it up and practice, most likely you happened into a jam or concert where you SAW it and HEARD it; if you heard a record, chances are you sought out a musician or band to see and hear it LIVE! And that solidified or juiced your interest further.

Like it or not, whether an instrumentalist or vocalist, when on stage (yes, I did say, "when on stage," not necessarily every where we play/sing), we are all emissaries for our instrument(s). And for the reasons enumerated in my first post, I will say that frequently what is presented to an audience is that the horn and reed players receive a lot more audience recognition (understandably, given what I've described) and (not unrelated) appear to be having a whole lot more fun!

Of course, if you think that 4 string trad jazz banjo is growing nicely or by leaps and bounds in numbers of players and listeners, none of this matters. If your reaction is that trad jazz is not favored now and that is the cause of lack of growth in 4 string banjo playing (when 5 string is in its heyday), then do the emissaries of the instrument matter more or less to the likelihood of one or more new players picking up the 4 string banjo and taking it in entirely new musical directions, resulting in a resurgence for playing the 4 string banjo? (Did someone predict that in this uber, techy, stainless steel era that sales and playing of old time banjos would take off? Did bluegrass seem like a fit for this era, anyone?) I did not suggest that "the banjo being perceived as an inferior instrument..has led to its decline," nor that it is or is perceived as an "inferior instrument"; I do suggest that the items, in total, mentioned in my original post haven't and don't help matters with respect to more people playing 4 string banjo. (I think that the reasons that "led to its decline" are a broader subject and, as such, best as genesis of a different forum, actually.) If your response is that obviously I want to take up playing some horn or other, I do not. (Nor would my neighbors be in favor :) .) I write as a newbie from the outside with questions who loves the sound of the 4 string banjo and the music of the trad jazz era; is trying to figure out why things are the way they repeatedly generally seem to be in trad jazz bands; where my niche might be as a banjo player in this music down the road; and BTW, it is incredibly enjoyable just to listen to the sounds and watch the hands, and fingers play (particularly "fly") of good, really good, and great jazz banjo players, marvel at and think about, how do they do that...?

I said in my original post that I was frustrated; I am not frustrated by the responses--far from it, I am reading them over and over as there is a lot to glean, thank you.

Now to catch up with later posts...



rockyjo - Posted - 11/18/2018:  09:09:10

Here's what we have so far on my first questions:

1) Q: "Why...sit..?", ie, "Is there a musical reason to sit?"

A: In addition to that posters noted that it can be painful for some to stand (which would be a sufficient reason to be seated), here are some notable excerpts (some summarizing of comments, mine):

"If I'm more comfortable, I can play better.." -JohnStephen, Ryk
".. the best way is the way it's done classically," taught in the vintage tutors "by the old masters.." "the angle of the neck up and down, angle away from the body, how much the fingerboard is rotated--can't replicate that while standing." -Ryk
"Sitting places the banjo, arm/wrist in the proper position, which allows smoother playing for chords, and tremolo. It also reduces fatigue." --Majesty

(Ah! Tremolo.. Bluegrass banjo players stand with equally heavy banjos, but they're not doing tremolos regularly; I can see that it would be helpful in playing tremolos to have more steadiness of the banjo, ie., sitting! Light bulb goes off for me.)

Similarly, V. Thynner says, "..more control over the fingerboard.." "(I am).. much more versatile sitting down."

Haildixon plays 3-5 hour gigs! Enough said as a reason for sitting in that job!

A: Awesome, substantive comments, thank you! So I will say, "Yes, there appear to be musical reasons for sitting down when playing 4 string jazz banjo."

The only caveat is that V. Thynner said that he believed that British 4 string jazz banjo players typically stand, as do possibly those in Australia. Don Lewers from Australia chimed in and said Aussie players typically stand.

So, a shout out to Don Lewers and our British friends: Do you feel that you and your Aussie or British jazz banjoists (who frequently stand) play just as well whether sitting or standing? Especially given the above comments. No difference in the quality of the music coming out of the banjo?

Any techniques you use when standing, or how you hold the banjo, because you are standing, to get around any possible(?) disadvantages of standing?

(Let's ignore marching, excess libations, and standing for more than a 2-hr set.)


Veerstryngh Thynner - Posted - 11/18/2018:  10:13:54


Glad you're back. Thank you for your super-extensive posts. And also for your explanation of the Fahrenheit/Celsius thing.

I have been typing since seven, this Sunday morning, so for now I just pick one single detail out of your long posts.

You mentioned watching a YouTube clip of a Harry Reser piece with only a record label revolving - thus having no visual reference to what's actually happening on the fingerboard. Your observations on using other banjo players' shapes, movements and general technique as learning instances by visual reference is acute and correct, I think. But I disagree with you that NOT seeing technique being displayed before your eyes is tantamount to learning instance lost. It isn't.

It's a matter of perspective, really. Has it ever occurred to you that reconstructing a banjo piece wholly by ear is a great learning curve as well?

If you own audio recording equipment, try and lift the soundtrack from YouTube, simply by placing a stereo audio wire in-between the headphone socket of your laptop and Line-in on whatever you use as recording device. If you can download the whole clip and transfer it to Audacity, so much the better: only the audio track now visible, in waveform, so no visual distraction any longer.

1. Firstly, move your fresh waveform slightly to the right, to the 5 seconds mark. Zoom out, a couple of times, so that you have a clear view of visual representation, in peak moments, of every single chord played, in the piece in question. Don  a headset, and monitor carefully where each single chord begins and, most importantly, ends. Make a secure cut there (scissors symbol) and move the rest of Audacity's graphic audio representation slightly to the right. You have now isolated the first chord of the piece you wish to analyse.

2. Open up another track, then highlight that first chord just isolated. In playback, this is now the only one to be heard, simply by clicking on Play. If you want to hear it again, just repeat. You'll do this many, many times.

3. Open up another track and take your banjo. Try to reconstruct shape and position by listening to that chord very intently and trying out all possible options on the fingerboard. Playback, strum. And again. And so on. Do not move on until you have nabbed that chord completely.

4. Now place the cursor a little bit ahead of the chord isolated, i.e. to its left, BUT in your empty second track. Four or five seconds is enough. You need this margin for syncing with your isolated first chord.

5. Now, open up a third track by simply clicking on Record (the big red button). The cursor immediately starts moving to the right. Follow its course carefully, hold the correct shape on the fingerboard, and make sure to play it at the same time as audio comes in on your headset. Hit stop when done. Never mind if you're a fraction late or early. That can easily be corrected.

6. Subsequently, copy the chord just recorded. Align it, with the cursor, securely at exactly the same spot, in the SECOND track, as where the the original, isolated chord in the first track has been located. Correct if necessary, but you have to make sure that beginnings of original and recontructed chords match perfectly. Subsequently, remove third track and save.

7. Move on to the next chord and repeat 1-6 for every single chord representation throughout the entire length of your waveform. Painstaking and time-consuming, yes indeed. But this dissection will also contribute to ingraining the piece at hand. I guarantee that you'll still play it flawlessly half a century on. And if you're completely done analysing, dissecting and reconstructing, you simply line up disparate bits the way they originally were, in tracks 1 and 2. They'll "click" together again automatically. Cuts previously performed indicated by black vertical lines that can simply be removed by holding the arrow to them, and one single left-click. Save again and your done.

Good luck.

Veerstryngh Thynner

Edited by - Veerstryngh Thynner on 11/18/2018 10:20:39

rockyjo - Posted - 11/18/2018:  10:51:43

BTW, for anyone who is just jumping into this forum at the end here, it is worth reading, and I commend V. Thynner's post about 1/2 way into the thread to read, that goes point by point in response to my original post. (Thanks, V.T.)

2) G. Edward Porgie posted earlier that I am "..listening to the wrong bands." Huh? OK. So I put youtube on and let it run on autopilot through many bands... I didn't find anything different from my first observations. (@G Edward Porgie , which bands do you recommend that I/we listen to?) ...That run, past listening and viewing other bands, and more comments in this forum leads me to think that there are, to perhaps simplify, 3 kinds of bands on a spectrum in this space:

At one end of the spectrum, there are trad jazz bands where the banjo player is a rhythm player (only) the middle, bands where the banjo player plays rhythm and solos...and at the other end of the spectrum are bands led by banjo players as well as banjo bands. From the beginning and now, I'm thinking and querying about the middle group.

So, ON VOLUME:  I've said that, what I've observed (4 string, trad banjo in jam-concerts and concerts, based in the US) (and most of the time), even when amped,

1) the banjo is at a lower volume and too often can't be heard when it's playing rhythm as it's overwhelmed by the drums, winds, and sometimes piano, and

2) when the banjo plays a solo, the volume is invariably much lower than the other soloing instruments, especially horns and clarinet.

I strain to hear it (my hearing is good), and I'm specifically listening for it. For you who feel that the banjo isn't typically lower volume, maybe that's because you're a banjo player and your ears already pick up on it?

So, since "can't hear it" means different things to different people, here is a scale for volume from 0 - 5. 0 is not playing, 5 is playing full loudness. (5+ means when the horn, reed, or drum player is REALLY getting into it, in a solo.)

a) When the horns and reeds are carrying the melody and the banjo is playing rhythm only, what volume level should the banjo be? No one is soloing. I'm going to say, from an audience perspective, the horns and reeds are at a 3.5-4. Should be same volume as the rest of the rhythm section? What I hear, often, is the banjo is generally at about a 2, when audible, sometimes essentially 0 (though you can see motions going on by the banjo player). This is from someone who is intentionally seeking to hear it, of course, not a typical audience member. I'm not sure I know what the banjo volume "should be" in this situation...comparable to the drums, I would think, but periodically audible is playing is not loud enough.

b) What volume level should the banjo be relative to horn and reed solos when the banjo solos? Horns and reeds are at 4.5-5+. My experience, banjo 2.5-3. (Yes, all are amped.) I think it should be 4. 4.5, maybe 5, allowing for the difference in the sound type ("scratchier" string sound vs. round, smooth tone) of a banjo vs. a horn.

Granted, different pieces are different; but a lot of trad jazz is pretty "boisterous" music, so that's what I'm referring to, while not all marching pieces per se.


Edited by - rockyjo on 11/18/2018 10:52:52

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