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Apr 27, 2024 - 12:39:58 AM
142 posts since 7/13/2003

Hi.

I'm sure I'll be able to google and find stuff online later but now I need to know something for a workshop next weekend.

Minstrel banjo - do you mix down and up picking or is it mainly down down?

If you do, is it only for special licks like triplets or rolls?

Are there different Minstrel traditions where the main difference is in pickin direction?

Thank you for reading so far, any help is appreciated.

Kiitos!

Apr 27, 2024 - 1:48:41 AM
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446 posts since 6/20/2020

What strikes me is the peculiar paradox of a 'Minstrel Banjo Workshop' given that 'Minstrel' is not a genre, type or even a singular technique or repertoire. It is a moniker used today as a generalisation for any banjo or banjo playing from before about 1880. A label that implies a 'genericisation' or 'standardisation' of musical activity that was by nature and practice defined (and made uniquely beautiful) by it's instinctive non-standardisation! That's a vast array of butterflies on the wing to attempt to catch and examine meaningfully in the lepidopterist's 'net' of a weekend workshop.

In the broadest terms - wooden rim fretless banjos strung with gut. Contemporary banjos of this period were played in different ways; again in the broadest terms: a form of down-picking combined with other elements that is today labelled 'stroke-style'; and a form of 2, 3 4-finger up-picking today labelled finger-style (aka guitar-style). There were also other ways in which pre-1880 banjos that played relate to context.

Early English banjo? Here goes with an absurdly incomplete 30 second précis - English wooden rim banjos were 5, 6 or 7-string with a marked weighting toward 6 and 7-string banjos c. 1860-1880. Technique was both down and up-picking, though the evidence from recent research is showing a greater inclination toward up-picking. Tuning was either A/E or G/C from the earliest arrival of the banjo here. Repertoire was a diverse mixture and could include American 'plantation' melodies /songs imported by touring American musicians, appearance in Harlequinade, hornpipes, 6/8 jigs, reels and ballads traditional to the British Isles, contemporary compositions of comic and sentimental songs, and valses, polkas, schottisches and galops that were the popular 'soundtrack' of mid-Victorian dances and social events and increasingly the basis of published sheet music in people's homes and piano stools. One new form brought by American musicians was the 2/4 or 'straight' jig. This 2/4 jig form became very popular and was rapidly assimilated into the vernacular repertoire. I'm out of time, we'll have to leave the Victorian 'weird and wonderful' category for another day.

I'm sure someone else will step up and offer likewise for the American banjo scene of this period while I catch my breath and grab a coffee...wink

Edited by - Pomeroy on 04/27/2024 02:06:31

Apr 27, 2024 - 2:09:22 AM

446 posts since 6/20/2020

Apparently my lawyer just advised me in a cold sweat that I won't be leaving the Victorian 'weird and wonderful' category for another day at all.

Apr 27, 2024 - 3:46:27 AM
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Players Union Member

janolov

Sweden

42850 posts since 3/7/2006

In one of the first banjo instructors Briggs Banjo Instructor (https://timtwiss.com/uploads/3/4/8/4/3484716/briggs__banjo_instructor.pdf ) from 1855 it is all downpicking. later in the 1860's finger picking was introduced by Frank Converse and his tutors seems to be developed into two parts: banjo style (which is more or less down picking) and guitar style (which is up picking). In the old down picking style there sometimes were triplets inserted to give a rhythmic variation: a little simplified playing a waltz stroke (bum-pa-dit-ty-dit-ty) in a 4/4 measure.

Apr 27, 2024 - 4:05:23 AM

446 posts since 6/20/2020

1852. My lawyer says this is ok to post though. 'Borderline' were his exact words...but '...not liable to legal action'. wink


Edited by - Pomeroy on 04/27/2024 04:08:18

Apr 27, 2024 - 4:27:46 AM
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11385 posts since 4/23/2004

As @janolov says, primarily down-picking...with up-picking becoming prevalent a bit later.

I like to think of the early down-picking style as "proto-clawhammer". However, it actually might be better described as a "drop thumb" technique.

Edited by - trapdoor2 on 04/27/2024 04:28:15

Apr 27, 2024 - 5:35:02 AM

142 posts since 7/13/2003

Hi again
So, I am no way trying to run a 'minstrel workshop', I am just going to lead a bi-annual old time banjo workshop for beginners and some medium level pickers who usually have more specific questions. It is mainly clawhammering, some melodic , mostly straight forward clawing, occasional Pete Seeger style up picking etc.
Last summer one of the students caught me playing an Irish tune that I spiced up with fast triplets using both down and up picking with my first finger. Now he has asked me to tell more about 'picking both directions' and I thought this is the place where you get the info fast. I was right. Thank you!

Apr 27, 2024 - 6:31:56 AM

8348 posts since 9/21/2007

quote:
Originally posted by janolov

In one of the first banjo instructors Briggs Banjo Instructor (https://timtwiss.com/uploads/3/4/8/4/3484716/briggs__banjo_instructor.pdf ) from 1855 it is all downpicking. later in the 1860's finger picking was introduced by Frank Converse and his tutors seems to be developed into two parts: banjo style (which is more or less down picking) and guitar style (which is up picking). In the old down picking style there sometimes were triplets inserted to give a rhythmic variation: a little simplified playing a waltz stroke (bum-pa-dit-ty-dit-ty) in a 4/4 measure.


A lot of people have made this mistake, the song section is "guitar style" in Briggs.  So not all stroke style.

Apr 27, 2024 - 6:38:37 AM

8348 posts since 9/21/2007

Generally, what people mean with “minstrel style” is actually (by period terms) “stroke style” or “banjo style”.

But in reality “minstrel banjo” is a nonsense term that would only apply specifically in the context of one playing a banjo (any type including tenor) in minstrelsy with burnt cork on their face.

Since minstrelsy was an active (if not relevant) art form from the 1840s to the 1980 (yes 19 not 18) and included every type of banjo that was popular at the time including tenor and plectrum.

I would recommend not corking up to play banjo unless you are looking to hurt people and get canceled.

Apr 27, 2024 - 5:58:02 PM

Fathand

Canada

12398 posts since 2/7/2008

quote:
Originally posted by Joel Hooks


Since minstrelsy was an active (if not relevant) art form from the 1840s to the 1980 (yes 19 not 18) 
I would recommend not corking up to play banjo unless you are looking to hurt people and get canceled.


I do know of a fund raising "minstrel show" by a local service club that was advised by their national office to abandon the black face as late as 1992.

Apr 27, 2024 - 6:06:54 PM

8348 posts since 9/21/2007

quote:
Originally posted by Fathand
quote:
Originally posted by Joel Hooks


Since minstrelsy was an active (if not relevant) art form from the 1840s to the 1980 (yes 19 not 18) 
I would recommend not corking up to play banjo unless you are looking to hurt people and get canceled.


I do know of a fund raising "minstrel show" by a local service club that was advised by their national office to abandon the black face as late as 1992.


Elks?

Apr 27, 2024 - 7:34:21 PM

Fathand

Canada

12398 posts since 2/7/2008

quote:
Originally posted by Joel Hooks
quote:
Originally posted by Fathand
quote:
Originally posted by Joel Hooks


Since minstrelsy was an active (if not relevant) art form from the 1840s to the 1980 (yes 19 not 18) 
I would recommend not corking up to play banjo unless you are looking to hurt people and get canceled.


I do know of a fund raising "minstrel show" by a local service club that was advised by their national office to abandon the black face as late as 1992.


Elks?


Lions

Apr 28, 2024 - 5:38:51 AM

446 posts since 6/20/2020

quote:
Originally posted by Fathand
quote:
Originally posted by Joel Hooks


Since minstrelsy was an active (if not relevant) art form from the 1840s to the 1980 (yes 19 not 18) 
I would recommend not corking up to play banjo unless you are looking to hurt people and get canceled.


I do know of a fund raising "minstrel show" by a local service club that was advised by their national office to abandon the black face as late as 1992.


Or how about 2024? The 'classic' banjo website currently has an unnecessarily copious array of 19th and early 20th century photographs of blackface performers under the title 'Just a bit of fun'. Maybe 'classic' is a reference to a 19th century mentality rather than a dubious modern 'genre' invention in regard to the banjo?

It appears the penny hasn't dropped that there is a fundamental difference between an archived historical photographic record and a selection presented for modern eyes and offensively described as '...fun'.

Edited by - Pomeroy on 04/28/2024 05:49:09

Apr 28, 2024 - 6:50:41 AM

8348 posts since 9/21/2007

Pomeroy Mike, I won’t speak to the personal motives of the webmaster, but my understanding was that it was originally just a part of the website as a dumping ground for any photo of Banjoists, particularly “older” images. The “just for fun” was because it also includes modern and meme photos mixed in. And there was no serious attempt to narrow the photos down to a certain time frame.

The photos of minstrels are a “period” and of their time and hold interest as including depictions of banjos. And, obviously finger style banjo became part of minstrelsy as soon as it became popular as that is how it works.

I have gone through those photos a few times and discovered many interesting images. Most of the ones featuring black face are British.

Apr 28, 2024 - 9:50:09 AM

446 posts since 6/20/2020

quote:
Originally posted by Joel Hooks

Pomeroy Mike, I won’t speak to the personal motives of the webmaster, but my understanding was that it was originally just a part of the website as a dumping ground for any photo of Banjoists, particularly “older” images. The “just for fun” was because it also includes modern and meme photos mixed in. And there was no serious attempt to narrow the photos down to a certain time frame.

The photos of minstrels are a “period” and of their time and hold interest as including depictions of banjos. And, obviously finger style banjo became part of minstrelsy as soon as it became popular as that is how it works.

I have gone through those photos a few times and discovered many interesting images. Most of the ones featuring black face are British.


Anyone viewing the images can see what they are and identify roughly when they date from.

In relation to blackface imagery the 'why?' is the more problematic question. Particularly when the chosen text also explicitly states that the freely displayed photographs are not intended to serve any 'educational' or 'historical' purpose: "...But just for fun!" (Quote).

In 2024, with or without inclusion of a banjo, I'm curious who derives 'fun' from viewing images of blackface?

Edited by - Pomeroy on 04/28/2024 10:04:34

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