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May 26, 2024 - 7:47:43 AM
129 posts since 11/3/2015

Guys -

I am primarily a bluegrass and melodic player but I often sit in on a local weekly Irish session in which I am the only (surprise) 5 string banjoist. It's a good group and they seem to be relatively welcoming. Since I have a good ear, I can generally pick along with the huge variety of tunes that they play, none of which I actually know. I sometimes get tripped up briefly when the key modulates (as it often does) but I generally catch up. It is really good practice, especially for melodic picking.

I am curious if there is any history of 5 string usage in Irish/Celtic music. One of the tenor players told me to tape the 5th string down with masking tape but that's not happening! Maybe I should write down the names of the songs and see if BHO has any tabs. I am comfortable playing fiddle tunes and hornpipes so it seems as if the 5 string should have a role in this genre.

Thoughts? Suggestions?

May 26, 2024 - 7:51:04 AM

Enda Scahill

Ireland

108 posts since 4/28/2008

Tom Hanway has a whole series of Irish music on 5 string.
I also have one player on my Patreon community who plays Irish tunes on 5 string with incredible rhythm and phrasing

May 26, 2024 - 8:10:42 AM

martyjoe

Ireland

533 posts since 3/24/2020

5 string banjos go well in sessions, at one session I go to occasionally there are usually two of them. Notable Irish 5 string players Luke Kelly (rip) & Finbar Fury.

May 26, 2024 - 9:58:04 AM

anikmuan

United Arab Emirates

1 posts since 8/15/2020

In addition to Enda's I suggest Jamie Francis "Complete Tune Playing Toolkit for 5-String Banjo" on Mel Bay. Francis plays with Sam Kelly and the Lost Boys. There are actually quite a few players out there: Tony Furtado nails it, there's also Sam McGee, Johnny Toman, Ron Block. Five-string is actually the first banjo in Irish music a century and more ago when minstrelsy was popular on both sides of the Atlantic, and more recently with Kelly and Fury and Margaret Barry who used it more to accompany songs. It was your man Barney McKenna starting in the 60-70s who made it popular to play tunes on a four-string tuned in fifths like a fiddle. Time for us to show that fifth string is good for something! :)
My suggestion is not to fake it if you don't know the tune, as you propose go get a tune name and look up some tabs, or better yet find it the tune on Thesession.org, play it and just play along until you find a way to pick it; to my ear single string sounds more Irish-y than melodic.

May 26, 2024 - 10:53:56 AM

129 posts since 11/3/2015

If I didn't fake it, I wouldn't play anything. I find I can keep up most of the time. There is enough repitition in the genre (like bluegrass) for me to be able to jam successfully once I figure out the progression. There is generally a tenor playing single string and I'm of a mind to take advantage of the open strings where possible anyway. 99% of the songs are in D, G, or A or modulating between them. I have D Tuners which I haven't yet used for Irish but am considering trying at some point.

I'll give a listen to Tony Furtado, Finbar Fury, and the others for some ideas.

Thanks for all the responses!

May 26, 2024 - 11:45:40 AM

11366 posts since 4/23/2004

Irish music has a long history with the 5-string...like 1850s. Jigs, reels and hornpipes were common fare back then...long before the tenor banjo was invented.

I found that melodic style was a little too legato for me. Two-finger is better. Stroke style does very well on some tunes.

Also, it is very easy to park your 5th string on the side of your bridge...and then play with a plectrum.

May 26, 2024 - 12:11:37 PM

15289 posts since 6/2/2008

Tom Hanway has published at least one book of Celtic fiddle tunes for 5-string and I believe Tony Trischka's big book of fiddle tunes (forget the name, sorry) has a Celtic  section.

I played banjo and bass in a Celtic-Americana band from 2007 to 2020. Not all the tunes on which I played banjo existed in tab, so I had to work out my own arrangements. I devised my own approach of rolling, melodic and small bits of single string to render literal melody.

I've shared some of my tabs to my profile. Times that you don't typically see. So look there if you're interested.

May 26, 2024 - 3:10:56 PM
like this

129 posts since 11/3/2015

Ken -

That's helpful. I'll go look for the tabs. Also, I'm comfortable playing two finger single string. I do it often with melodic when necessary. Parking the fifth string to the side of the bridge and playing with a plectrum is definitely not a desirable option for me. I'm just gonna do what can work for me. These are jams, not competitions.

I haven't been thrown out yet and in fact have been invited to a couple of informal gigs.

May 26, 2024 - 3:54:25 PM

csacwp

USA

3362 posts since 1/15/2014

Like Marc said, 5 string players have been playing trad Irish music since at least the 1850s if not earlier. Check out the early banjo tutors from that era as well as collections of tunes like the Banjoist's Budget by A. Baur, a leading player of the mid-late 19th century. Keep in mind that modern "session" culture and it's various orthodoxies are a much more recent phenomenon than the 5-strings relationship with Irish music.

May 26, 2024 - 5:44:36 PM

15289 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by TTtheBear

 I'll go look for the tabs. Also, I'm comfortable playing two finger single string. I do it often with melodic when necessary. 


My tabs are:

Donnybrook Fair https://www.banjohangout.org/tab/browse.asp?m=detail&v=15348

Gallagher's Frolics https://www.banjohangout.org/tab/browse.asp?m=detail&v=15350

Lilting Banshee  https://www.banjohangout.org/tab/browse.asp?m=detail&v=22829

Out on the Ocean https://www.banjohangout.org/tab/browse.asp?m=detail&v=22820

If I could do single string, my arrangements would do a better job emulating plectrum style Celtic banjo. But I'm happy with these arrangements. 

May 28, 2024 - 12:35:29 PM
likes this

679 posts since 5/20/2008

This topic has been addressed in previous threads.  And it's one that is, in my view at least, somewhat more complex and nuanced than has been addressed thus far.  

First, a few givens.  Yes, Irish tunes can be played on the 5-string, and some folks do it really well.  Check out Allison DeGroot's Youtube video wherein she plays a wonderful version of Tom Billy's jig.  Noah Cline also comes to mind.  The 5-string player with the Dukhs was great.  And yes, the 5-string has been around in some form or another in Ireland for some time.  As others have pointed out, Luke Kelly, the Clancy Brothers, Fureys et. al.  in the context of songs.

But the fact that examples of 5-strings in Ireland exist doesn't really speak to the current issue.  Reference was made, for example to A. Baur.  It's worth noting that Baur called several of the collected tunes "jigs" that are not, in fact, jigs.  And much of his 50-tune collection has little to do with traditional Irish music.   I could be utterly mistaken, but I don't recall that O'Neill's history of Irish music in America even mentions 5-string players.  I would love to stand corrected on that.  I also am unaware of the great ceili bands in Ireland starting in the 30s and 40s including 5-string players.  Again, please correct me if I am mistaken.

If any 5-string player is going to go deeply into Irish traditional music, especially the current session culture, then that player has to be fully prepared to deal with lightening-fast key changes, and for playing the actual tunes.  Re-tuning and capos can only go so far.  And a relatively tiny body of tabbed tunes will get swamped in the context of, literally, 1000s of traditional Irish tunes.  And in high-end Irish trad. sessions, vamping, playing rolls, chording, etc. is either not accepted or would at best be politely tolerated.  As has been said by many others who have written and published about Irish sessions, e.g. Barry Foy, you either know this music or you don't.  Whether it's fiddle, pipes, flute, whatever, the culture is that you sit out the tune if you don't know it.

Sure, some non-traditional instruments are late to the current session culture, and but have nevertheless been integrated.  Citterns, bouzoukis and the like come to mind.  But they have been accepted generally because they do not detract from the tradition, and indeed add to it.

Another nuance.  There are Irish trad, sessions, and then there are "Irish" sessions that are more like jams.  Many of those jams include tunes that are Old Time, Quebecois, Scottish, Cape Breton and beyond.   Wonderful if you are attracted to all-inclusive jams like that, but if it's  serious Irish trad. you're after, you might want to investigate it all a bit further. 

One poster mentioned that sessions are a relatively recent thing, and involve certain orthodoxies.  It's a fair comment, even if stated with a slight whiff of condescension.   But the fact remains that if one is interested in playing modern-era Irish trad. sessions, then you should be prepared to understand the orthodoxies and work around the limitations of the 5-string.  

Admittedly, my view drives my own approach.  I play Irish fiddle in trad. Irish sessions, I play clawhammer banjo at OT gatherings, and I play Scottish bellows pipes and fiddle in a Scottish trad. music session.  I just don't like to mix it up much.

Lastly, I don't mean to offend, or be discouraging.  If folks want to play Irish trad. tunes on the 5-string, and then dip their toes into the session culture, then go for it.  Really.  Just be prepared for what you might encounter.    

Matt

Edited by - Matt Buckley on 05/28/2024 12:48:14

May 28, 2024 - 1:15:29 PM

5038 posts since 9/12/2016

I am thinking melodic style--some fit three finger g tuning like a glove--some never
Tom Han Way was mostly single string--I know little about that style

May 28, 2024 - 1:37:41 PM

8298 posts since 9/21/2007

quote:
Originally posted by Matt Buckley

This topic has been addressed in previous threads.  And it's one that is, in my view at least, somewhat more complex and nuanced than has been addressed thus far.  

First, a few givens.  Yes, Irish tunes can be played on the 5-string, and some folks do it really well.  Check out Allison DeGroot's Youtube video wherein she plays a wonderful version of Tom Billy's jig.  Noah Cline also comes to mind.  The 5-string player with the Dukhs was great.  And yes, the 5-string has been around in some form or another in Ireland for some time.  As others have pointed out, Luke Kelly, the Clancy Brothers, Fureys et. al.  in the context of songs.

But the fact that examples of 5-strings in Ireland exist doesn't really speak to the current issue.  Reference was made, for example to A. Baur.  It's worth noting that Baur called several of the collected tunes "jigs" that are not, in fact, jigs.  And much of his 50-tune collection has little to do with traditional Irish music.   I could be utterly mistaken, but I don't recall that O'Neill's history of Irish music in America even mentions 5-string players.  I would love to stand corrected on that.  I also am unaware of the great ceili bands in Ireland starting in the 30s and 40s including 5-string players.  Again, please correct me if I am mistaken.

If any 5-string player is going to go deeply into Irish traditional music, especially the current session culture, then that player has to be fully prepared to deal with lightening-fast key changes, and for playing the actual tunes.  Re-tuning and capos can only go so far.  And a relatively tiny body of tabbed tunes will get swamped in the context of, literally, 1000s of traditional Irish tunes.  And in high-end Irish trad. sessions, vamping, playing rolls, chording, etc. is either not accepted or would at best be politely tolerated.  As has been said by many others who have written and published about Irish sessions, e.g. Barry Foy, you either know this music or you don't.  Whether it's fiddle, pipes, flute, whatever, the culture is that you sit out the tune if you don't know it.

Sure, some non-traditional instruments are late to the current session culture, and but have nevertheless been integrated.  Citterns, bouzoukis and the like come to mind.  But they have been accepted generally because they do not detract from the tradition, and indeed add to it.

Another nuance.  There are Irish trad, sessions, and then there are "Irish" sessions that are more like jams.  Many of those jams include tunes that are Old Time, Quebecois, Scottish, Cape Breton and beyond.   Wonderful if you are attracted to all-inclusive jams like that, but if it's  serious Irish trad. you're after, you might want to investigate it all a bit further. 

One poster mentioned that sessions are a relatively recent thing, and involve certain orthodoxies.  It's a fair comment, even if stated with a slight whiff of condescension.   But the fact remains that if one is interested in playing modern-era Irish trad. sessions, then you should be prepared to understand the orthodoxies and work around the limitations of the 5-string.  

Admittedly, my view drives my own approach.  I play Irish fiddle in trad. Irish sessions, I play clawhammer banjo at OT gatherings, and I play Scottish bellows pipes and fiddle in a Scottish trad. music session.  I just don't like to mix it up much.

Lastly, I don't mean to offend, or be discouraging.  If folks want to play Irish trad. tunes on the 5-string, and then dip their toes into the session culture, then go for it.  Really.  Just be prepared for what you might encounter.    

Matt

 

 

 

 

 

 


I'm not sure why Baur's book was mentioned as it is all (as far as I know) original compositions by Baur for that work.  Albert Baur was from Pennsylvania and New York not Ireland.

You also mention "not a jig" for some of his pieces titled as such, but more correctly they are "not a jig" based on the modern "Irish" classifying standards which did not seem to exist in the 1880s.

In fact, I'm not sure any pre tenor banjo 5 string banjo history has anything to do with the modern post folk era "session" style "traditional Irish" music. 

Sure, there were scads of "jigs and reels" published in the 19th and early 20th century for regular banjo, many of them "Irish" (and many taken from violin sources)-- but the modern system of Irish session music is, well, modern and post dates all of that.

And like "old time" banjo-- there is a hint of "accuracy" (just enough), the same goes with "Irish Trad"... there is some historical precedence with a whole lot of modern influence like the bodhrán.  While much of the source material is "old", the context and rules of classification are not that old.

May 28, 2024 - 2:23:04 PM

679 posts since 5/20/2008

quote:
Originally posted by Joel Hooks
quote:
Originally posted by Matt Buckley

This topic has been addressed in previous threads.  And it's one that is, in my view at least, somewhat more complex and nuanced than has been addressed thus far.  


You also mention "not a jig" for some of his pieces titled as such, but more correctly they are "not a jig" based on the modern "Irish" classifying standards which did not seem to exist in the 1880s.

Sure, there were scads of "jigs and reels" published in the 19th and early 20th century for regular banjo, many of them "Irish" (and many taken from violin sources)-- but the modern system of Irish session music is, well, modern and post dates all of that.

 

Joel -  

Good points, and again I'm no scholar.  But I guess I'm not entirely clear on what you are saying.  Certainly, some early Irish music collections have categories that stand-up to the this day.  For example, Petrie (1855) includes jigs, hop-jigs, reels, marches, airs, etc. as categories.  And O'Neill (1903) uses categorization that continues to this day.  My guess is that some of the early American collectors, e.g. Baur, used "Irish" tune terminology very loosely at best, and didn't know certain genres of trad. music all that well.    

But then, I know very little of Irish tune collection scholarship.  Wish I knew a great deal more.  My knowledge, such as it is, is far more based in Scottish trad., fiddle and piping collections, and early collections in that genre used categorization that remains standard today, re: jigs, marches, reels, strathspeys and beyond.   My guess is the same holds true of many early Irish collections.   

Another subject entirely, for another discussion, is the great commonality of Scottish and Irish traditional music in the 17th and 18th centuries.  The Irish Sea wasn't all that wide, and the music flew back and forth. 

Edited by - Matt Buckley on 05/28/2024 14:33:38

May 28, 2024 - 4:31:31 PM

5038 posts since 9/12/2016

In my formative'' pre net'' years --finding fiddle tune sheet music was a whole different world ------On the net--One can get free tune books to download ----from the 1600s on--All of the regions ---the abc notation collections --and many similar sites have unearthed the whole history in a way--I like to take the ones with a dotted type shuffle and add the missing note-- sugar in the gourd from the fifers guide is a good one

May 29, 2024 - 4:30:12 AM

129 posts since 11/3/2015

In the future I will endeavor to learn if it is a true session (Sessiun?) before I join it. Methinks I'll stick to the jams. They seem to be more tolerant of my melodic playing plus single string. I'm not a culture warrior. I'm not even Irish.

May 29, 2024 - 5:55:47 AM

8298 posts since 9/21/2007

Matt Buckley , to be clear, I am very ignorant when it comes to "Irish session music" or "Irish traditional music" in general.

My point was that the VERY narrow definition of "jig" with the set parameters in the context of Irish music did not seem to exist or even apply to anything outside of that.

Checking period musical dictionaries on the Internet archive, these narrow definitions for "jigs" in Irish music exist (complete with all the sub categories)-- but then there is the rest of the world where "jig" is broadly applied to any sort of dance tune.

1908: "English Jigs seem to have no special characteristics. The word came to be synonymous with any light irreverent rhythm, giving the point to Pope's line

Make the soul dance upon a jig to heaven." This definition shows up in many dictionaries.

Even broader was this application to the mid and late 19th century banjo (usually within minstrelsy, but not always). "Jigs" could be simple two strain pieces in any signature or they could be quite advanced with modulating trios. Often (but not always) "Irish jigs" (weather nor not actually from Ireland) were 3/4, 6/8, etc. and titled as such either by the subtitle "Irish" or using a title that follows stereotypes (Paddy, shamrock, green, shillelagh, etc.).

Then there is the subgenera of "minor jigs". These are usually weird and involve the use of diminished chords and was a very large part of the regular banjo tradition of the English speaking world.

It seems that since the folk revival, many are quick to claim "that is not a jig" when it actually is... just not an "Irish Jig".

May 29, 2024 - 1:38:05 PM

3209 posts since 7/28/2015

Not really what @TTBear is asking for at all (Not melodic, not Irish) but this channel I've been following is great: youtube.com/@cerddoriaethfynyddig

May 29, 2024 - 6:57:24 PM

199 posts since 11/26/2004

To be really welcome in many Irish sessions, it's not about having the right instrument, it's about knowing tunes. I'm glad you're coming to the Geneseo session regularly, keep at it! Focus on learning the melodies (not just "keeping up") and leading some tunes yourself, and you'll be more than welcome in a lot of sessions. Particularly, work up some tunes in jig and slip jig time, with good rhythm matching the dance -- these are often tricky for 5-string players accustomed to playing in 4. Some jigs played a lot by folks like Billy, Jim, and Peri include Irishman's Health to the Ladies (A), Diplodocus (Amix), Tom Billy's (Amix), The Castle (Am), Old Favourite (G), Atholl Highlanders (Amix), Mug of Brown Ale (Am), The Reverend Brother's (Am -- okay, that was a lot of A, definitely Billy's doing), Cock of the North (G or A), Muckin' o' Geordie's Byre (D), Father O'Flynn (D), Rose in the Heather (D), Kesh (G), Jimmy Ward's (G), Blarney Pilgrim (Dmix), Out on the Ocean (G), and Dusty Windowsills (Am), and some slip jigs like Foxhunter's (D), Butterfly (Em), Na Ceannabhain Bhana (G), and Hardiman the Fiddler (Dmix).

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