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 Playing Advice: 4-String (Jazz, Blues & Other Trad Styles)
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: kid-sized 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/348487

Veerstryngh Thynner - Posted - 11/22/2018:  00:54:24


Three toddler-age children (1, 4, and 5), in my wider family, the 4- and 5-year old of which are seriously interested in music. Their parents multi-instrumentalists themselves, and actively encouraging this. With the gift season soon upon us, I'm looking around for something tapping into that. I think I'll be going for melodica or sanza. But what also occurred to me is the following.



Many musical instruments have been adapted to more child-friendly size. Think three-quarter and half-sized guitars, for instance. But I'm wondering if child-friendly banjos are commercially available. Closest comes nylon-stringed banjolele in CGDA tuning. Child-sized banjos seen on BHO all purpose-built by members.



Veerstryngh Thynner.


Edited by - Veerstryngh Thynner on 11/22/2018 01:01:05

Don Lewers - Posted - 11/22/2018:  12:32:23


Veerstrygh, your post brings back magic memories for me, At about age ten, my Dad walked through my bedroom door playing ''Oh Susanna'' on my Christmas present, a little banjo mandolin, Santa did'nt let me down!.



Here's a clip of a young Croation lad Frano, playing a tune backstage for his idol, Tommy Emmanuel.

Tommy wrote the tune called, ''Half Way Home'' ...... I reckon, young Frano made Tommy's day with his performance! ..... Don. .....    youtube.com/watch?v=KPkpDHBxpG8 


Edited by - Don Lewers on 11/22/2018 12:34:41

MacCruiskeen - Posted - 11/22/2018:  19:00:23


The Gold Tone mini has an 8” head and 19” neck, so probably easier for a kid to handle.

Veerstryngh Thynner - Posted - 11/23/2018:  01:13:18


Don, 



Curiously, my first banjo was a little mandolin banjo as well. And  I was 11, I think, when I got it.



Before giving it to me, my father tried to figure out what tuning best to apply, for several nights in a row. Continuous plink-a-plonk from downstairs keeping me wide awake upstairs. I remember dashing down several times, bursting with curiosity. But my father was always quicker.



That little childhood mando of yours, do you still have it? And might it have been tuned as a uke, like mine?



MacCruiskeen,



Most guitar makers are offering three-quarter or half-size instruments, for children to learn the ropes on. Banjo builders aren't. So it's up to banjo building (grand)dads/ moms, inevitably, to build instruments kids can handle.



The Gold Tone you mention may well be suited for children, but has not been designed primarily with a view on children's needs. The former afterthought, the latter conscious policy. That's the difference. But there are lots of (grand)parents wholly without banjo building skills, too, so if  leading banjo builders don't have any genuinely kid-sized models in their range either, many children are going to be left out. That's the point I tried to make.



I'm wondering if Gold Tone, Deering, Ome, Rickard, Pietsch, Pruchka and other big banjo names, in the US as well as in in Europe, could be persuaded to introduce an instrument range designed specifically for children aged 4 to, say, 12. If there's commercial mileage in it, that is. But I think there is, since interest stimulated from young age almost guarantees adult loyalty.



Veerstryngh Thynner


Edited by - Veerstryngh Thynner on 11/23/2018 01:18:52

MacCruiskeen - Posted - 11/23/2018:  09:34:18


quote:

Originally posted by Veerstryngh Thynner

The Gold Tone you mention may well be suited for children, but has not been designed primarily with a view on children's needs. The former afterthought, the latter conscious policy. That's the difference.






Practically speaking, what is this difference? A small banjo is a small banjo. 

G Edward Porgie - Posted - 11/23/2018:  13:20:48


I doubt if a big company would find kid's banjos a viable thing from a finacial viewpoint. The banjo doesn't claim a huge market share with intsrument sales, and tooling costs for smaller necks , bodies, heads, resonators, and perhaps shorter hooks would likely be so high that the of a kid's banjo would have to be more than an average parent would be willing to pay.

I think producing a banjo for the 4-12 crowd might only be in the realm of hobbiests or perhaps a few benevolent boutique builders not caring about a profit if a child wants to learn.

I have heard of small students who simply capo up a few frets so the stretches aren't so ominous. That certainly doesn't eliminate all problems like overall size and weight, but most beginners I've known are more likely to complain of sore fingers than an instrument they can barely hold onto, and many children I've met prefer "the real thing" rather than a tiny "wannabe" banjo that sounds like a rubber band stretched between two chairs. As an example, I can cite my sister, who began guitar lessons at age seven with a slightly smaller than standard size guitar. She griped about the difficulties of pushing down the strings so frequently that after
a couple of months my mother had no choice but to let her use her own slightly larger than standard size guitar, which could nave been considered too big for a small girl. But had a better action and sound, and Sis suddenly quit griping and has kept playing to this day, some six decades later.

Don Lewers - Posted - 11/23/2018:  22:42:24


Veerstryngh, take a gander at this photo attached, this's roughly about the same size as the instrument I first learnt on. It was tuned as a mandolin and violin are, in fifths ..... GDAE.

My Dad played Tenor Banjo, and led a dance band around Melbourne, before the 2nd World War...... so he was well aware, that as I got older, I'd progress onto Tenor Banjo ..... and that's how it worked out. ..... Don.


Veerstryngh Thynner - Posted - 11/27/2018:  03:28:04


Don,



This is genuine serendipity. :-)



I happen to  own an instrument almost exactly like yours, inherited from my grandfather. It'll need serious restoration, ere playable again, but that's in the planning for years to come.



I added a picture so you can judge for yourself.



Veerstryngh Thynner


Veerstryngh Thynner - Posted - 11/27/2018:  04:12:40


George,



You certainly have a point here.



On the other hand: metal parts adding considerably to a banjo's weight seem to make adult banjos less suited to very young children (from, say, age 4). So yes, you may well be right that size doesn't matter much. However, I believe that weight still is a significant factor. The 4-year old, in my wider family, definitely to be crushed by my "Morris" tenor, should he express a wish to give it a try.



Therefore I'd plead for the main body entirely stripped of metal parts, when thinking of banjos tailored to young children. I know that entirely wooden banjos exist. And all wood doesn't necessarily mean that the authentic banjo voice is "automatically" lost: I have seen several such instruments and I can assure you that this is definitely not the case. So all wood would look the better deal for children, if they want to learn to play banjo. To my mind at least.



 



MacCruiskeen,



"A small banjo is a small banjo."



No, I don't think it is.



Once again, a small banjo loaded with heavy steel parts is not quite the same, in my book, as a small banjo wholly without any heavy steel parts. The latter made entirely from some ligtwelight wood, for example, still making the crucial difference, I feel, if a young child is to choose between the two.



Veerstryngh Thynner


Edited by - Veerstryngh Thynner on 11/27/2018 04:36:45

mike gregory - Posted - 11/27/2018:  04:22:07


If it's light enough, a mandolin-banjo should be ideal.



Just to make it SIMPLER, take off one half of each pair of strings.

Quicker to tune, less pressure needed to sqush down the strings.



If the eventual goal is 5-string, why not tune it to an open chord, similar to the 5, but several notes higher?

Kid will then be familiar with the fingerings.



But, if you do not already HAVE a mandolin-banjo, may as well get a banjo ukulele.


Edited by - mike gregory on 11/27/2018 04:23:30

Veerstryngh Thynner - Posted - 11/27/2018:  04:48:03


Mike,



As it so happens, I just recently came across a four-string mandolin, online. No need then to remove four strings The model I saw semi-acoustic, I think. But it may have been flat-body - I'm not sure.



Banjolele would also be a fine solution, I agree. The more so since nylon strings for CGDA tuning are available, as I learned from a BHO post of sometime in the past.



Veerstryngh Thynner


Edited by - Veerstryngh Thynner on 11/27/2018 04:52:58

Veerstryngh Thynner - Posted - 11/27/2018:  08:07:52


Just another line to take this thread back to the top, so as to give Don, Mike G., and anyone else feeling like it another chance to respond. :-)



VT


Edited by - Veerstryngh Thynner on 11/27/2018 08:10:27

withelisa - Posted - 11/27/2018:  08:53:33


Love that you're making sure some stringthings get into the hands of these kids. I wish some benevolent adult had done the same for me!

I've been teasing my nieces (ages 4 and 6) for a month by bringing my soprano ukulele over. Their Christmas gifts will be plastic Kala Waterman ukuleles (durable and relatively quiet) and weekly lessons from me. If/when their interest grows we will transition to banjos. The Deering Goodtime parlor banjos are very light and easy to play. Or I could try making something.

G Edward Porgie - Posted - 11/27/2018:  09:12:33


Another part of the equation would certainly have to be what banjo configuration would be the most viable to produce. There seems to be a more limited market for four string models, so it's likely that any production banjos would need to be five string models, probably set up for bluegrass. That's where the most interest seems to be these days.



As far as the four string, it's pretty easy to get a small size using a mandolin banjo or banjo uke. One merely has to remove strings on the former and use different strings/tuning on the latter. Not so with a bluegrass banjo, which needs a different neck.



As far as weight goes, most of that is the heavy tone rings and thick rims used on many banjos. A few hooks and nuts don't add much at all, and the tension hoop is probably best made of metal because its function requires a certain robustness that is only found in strong, thick woods that aren't really much lighter in weight than a thinner piece of metal.

There are banjos that have been made that have thin wooden rims and no tone rings, and I believe there still are. Unfortunately, there is a perception that's developed that bluegrass must be played on a resonator banjo with a good, solid, heavy, rim and a loud sound. That's completely ridiculous when considering a child who would be happy just to be playing something. Throw the resonator away and ditch the tone ring, use a smaller, thinner, pot with fewer hooks, and good smooth, friction tuners instead of heavier planetaries and the weight goes down substantially, then "But it won't be good for bluegrass, and my child will learn the wrong sound," would be the cry. If you can change that kind of bluegrass thinking, or get more people interested in four string banjos, a child's banjo would be more conceivable. But good luck on that.



Perhaps there would be a limited market for small banjos, but there may be a maker who could limit himself to making these and still turn a small profit. I might even try if I had the equipment and time and weren't so bloody old and no longer had time to sway parents away from pushing every one of their kids into some injurious sports (I know about injurious sports; I've broken both wrists, a finger, and a tibia doing such activities, and have relatives who've dislocated shoulders and torn their labrums). I'd love to see more kids get into music, and the best way, rather obviously, would be instruments made for a smaller person.


Edited by - G Edward Porgie on 11/27/2018 09:17:12

Veerstryngh Thynner - Posted - 11/27/2018:  09:47:08


Elisa,

You're giving me some ideas. I've got a present for the 1-year old now, but nothing yet for the 4-and 5-year old. Some kind of musical instrument for both, that's for sure. So I might follow you up on those cheap, plastic Kala's. :-)

I'll also be working on a song for the young daughter of a dear friend I'm since recently back in touch with, one of the coming days.

George,

I'm almost sure that banjos with thin wooden rims and no tone rings are still being made. I may give that a try, once the turbulence I'm currently going through has subsided somewhat.

As to your fractures: all I have ever broken, in my lifetime, are drinking glasses, tea/coffee cups, saucers, plates, and the incidental oven dish. Immensely grateful for that. :-)

Veerstryngh Thynner

withelisa - Posted - 11/27/2018:  10:02:48


More thoughts. I'll be performing three small upgrades to the ukes before wrapping them up. Aquila makes color coded strings for teaching children so I will install those. Will place number stickers on the fingerboard. And maybe a personalized drawing on each.



Used to be a teacher, so I will not be able to resist making a binder with some worksheets for the older of the two. And the girls will think they are the ones having fun...

Veerstryngh Thynner - Posted - 11/27/2018:  11:36:12


Great, Elisa! :-)



Thanks for your additional suggestions.



Veerstryngh Thynner

Explorer - Posted - 11/27/2018:  17:38:07


I'm lucky enough to have a shop nearby with ibstruments from the various Magic Fluke lines. The banjo ukes sound great, and so i've been considering getting the concert size, and changing the strings to the Aquila CGDA set.

magicfluke.com/Firefly-s/1514.htm

amazon.com/Aquila-31U-Ukulele-...005WFTKGS

At one pound, it's an extremely light and small travel instrument.

No financial interest, but I must confess that I picked up their Cricket violin as a travel instrument a while ago, along with a carbon fiber bow, and have been *extremely* surprised at how good it sounds and how small it is.

G Edward Porgie - Posted - 11/27/2018:  20:45:51


I am truly pleased that people are thinking in terms of four string instruments and tenor banjo-like tunings. Maybe we can get kids interested in playing these and scoffing at all the other kids who only want to learn Bluegrass. Maybe those kids will even grow up and start converting 5 string banjos into tenors, reversing what I sometimes find an annoying trend!

Veerstryngh Thynner - Posted - 11/28/2018:  02:08:37


George,



I fully share your pleasure. But if promoting four-string banjo is to work, interesting children is the first port of call. This the idea at the very root of this thread.



However, if  parents play any instrument, their kids will invariably follow their example, I believe. Either voluntary or under parental pressure. Until they're old enough to make their own choices, that is. So let's not be too hard on those 5-string kids. :-)



To Explorer: thanks very much for joining this discussion and bringing up some wonderful new suggestions.



To everyone else: I'm hoping that some big-name banjo maker is reading this thread. Their view on commercial viability of a kid range a truly interesting contribution.



Veerstryngh Thynner


Edited by - Veerstryngh Thynner on 11/28/2018 02:16:32

dcolpitts - Posted - 11/28/2018:  04:05:08


I am happy to see interest in this kind of instrument for kids. My grandchildren (5 of them, from five down to 1) all love to sit with me (I am “Doodah” to them all.....any guesses why) and pluck/strum away. I gave the three oldest a Waterman uke, but when with me, they all love the Firefly banjo-uke mentioned above, with the Aquila “soprano-5ths” strings. Weighs under a pound, and sounds great. It doubles as a light instrument to take to sessions, and has been a real hit. I am about to switch the Waterman units to the 5ths tuning, since I can only show them anything about picking melodies in that tuning (I don’t “do” chords or strumming, per se, but tunes come to me in that tuning.)

Anyway, what magic to share with little ones, and independent of the grid, phones, tv, and other technology. Bravo!

David

Veerstryngh Thynner - Posted - 12/01/2018:  12:49:08


dcolpitts,



Thank you for joining in. And thank you even more for passing on the banjo flame.



I don't have kids myself, but the 5-, 4-, and 1-year old, mentioned in my opening post, may provide some opportunity to follow your example.



Veerstryngh Thynner

G Edward Porgie - Posted - 12/03/2018:  14:43:17


quote:

Originally posted by Veerstryngh Thynner

George,



I fully share your pleasure. But if promoting four-string banjo is to work, interesting children is the first port of call. This the idea at the very root of this thread.



However, if  parents play any instrument, their kids will invariably follow their example, I believe. Either voluntary or under parental pressure. Until they're old enough to make their own choices, that is. So let's not be too hard on those 5-string kids. :-)



To Explorer: thanks very much for joining this discussion and bringing up some wonderful new suggestions.



To everyone else: I'm hoping that some big-name banjo maker is reading this thread. Their view on commercial viability of a kid range a truly interesting contribution.



Veerstryngh Thynner






Mostly just having a little fun with some players who seem to think that bluegrass is the only form of banjo playing that exists (although I do sometimes wish that fewer rare and interesting banjos were converted). I really don't care what a child wishes to play, nor what a parent wishes for them to play, so long as none of it is forced on an unwilling child. If a boy or girl wishes to play bluegrass, that's fine. I do agree that interest in any instrument needs to be awakened, and it's extremely regrettable that so little emphasis (sometimes it's even "no emphasis") is placed on music in our schools these days. I think with a little more experience hearing jazz, symphonies, string quartets, and even some pop standards from times past could excite more musical diversity, and interest in all fields of music. Research has shown the importance of music in a person's development, but so-called educators and self-important politicians never seem to listen.

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