I'm back on my bullshit and revisiting helpful links I've found over the years, and as links like this have a tendency to disappear I'm going to try and download copies of these materials as I add them here.

Plectrum banjo is a four-string, 22-fret instrument with a ~26-inch or so scale, more or less the same as a modern 5-string banjo, but lacking the short drone string it's typically played with a plectrum (hence the name, which was originally used to distinguish them from 5-string instruments. Tenor banjos came along slightly later.) They're tuned CGBD, also inherited from 5-string banjos as they were originally tuned. (Some people will also tune them DGBE like the top four strings of a guitar.)

I don't know who andy(at) is, but I've had a print-out of their enormously helpful, public domain collection of chord shapes kicking around my desk for over a year now, and refer to it pretty much every time I'm working through a song.

The deal with jazz banjo "chord melody" is that as you play a tune, you try to map the melody to the highest string and find the chords that map most closely to it; so the goal is to

1) Memorize the different movable chord shapes in terms of which note of the chord falls on the 4th string (I, III, V etc)

2) Memorize the I, III/iii, V, and vii notes of the most commonly-played chords, so you can easily figure out which chord shape to play and where

I guess I'm the last person on earth to find out about , it's pretty cool; it would be very easy to overuse it, but I think it could also be really useful as a tool for fooling around with making soundscapes from melodies.

Here's a recording "Tiger Jig" (an 1868 tune) slowed down 800%


So my ADHD brain had me taking another look at classic style banjo arrangements of Scott Joplin's Maple Leaf Rag (you know, to record and release for Arbor Day 2022, because that's *minimally* how long it will probably take me to learn it well enough to record)

This was not the first time; there are a couple of arrangements out there in various keys in G and C (not surprisingly for 5-string banjo tuned gCGBD/gDGBD) but they never feel or sound quite right to my ears.

I watched a few clips of Aaron Jonah Lewis playing his own arrangement, and when I took a close enough look at some of his chords I was delighted to realize he's playing it in the original A♭major, which is why it just sounds correct in a way transposed arrangements often don't. Typical classic banjo gymnastics aside, it doesn't even look too tortuous.

Love to see Steve Martin playing clawhammer, this is a nice little set.

By coincidence, I just watched ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ earlier tonight and I was caught a little bit off guard by Steve suddenly being 30 years older here

Oof, been a while since I worked on a tune that really necessitates starting s l o w until muscle memory starts to kick in :mybrainhurts: :hje:

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It's that special time of year, when I tell myself I'm going to learn S.S. Stewart's 1879 arrangement of Auld Lang Syne + variations for 5-string and record it in time for New Year's Eve (I usually lose track of this until about Dec.30, and punt it to next year) :sss:

Well, another is here! I don't have anything new this time around, but if you like / / , you should check out my projects at and follow @magicians.


Ok, Daniel Koulack wins with this album title + cover concept execution. ( being another word for style playing, although some internet pedants like to argue that they're two different things)

The music is quite lovely too.

I managed to capture this clip of "Cold Frosty Morn" while the lovely golden hour light lasted.

Getting reacquainted with this slightly jangly old banjo. Steel strings take some getting used to.

Well I'll be goddamned.

If you want to hear one of the tracks that made me decide I wanted to learn clawhammer banjo (versus bluegrass) a million years ago, listen to John Sosebee's recording of Elkhorn Ridge, which I downloaded on July 17 2002 and which as far as I know has not been available anywhere on the internet since imploded in 2003. I can't even guess the last time I would have listened to it myself.

I just came across a CD-rom of stuff I burned that September, and I'm so happy to have found the entire folder of banjo stuff I downloaded from hither and yon while researching banjo styles; I had begun saving up for a banjo that spring as an abstract goal, not really knowing much of anything about them... I think I probably did a in internet search for 'beginner banjo recommendation' which would have led me down the bluegrass vs clawhammer rabbit hole. I gravitated to clawhammer pretty quickly.

I just about fell out of my chair when I found the subfolder called 'Minstrel' with a few tracks in it; I remember finding Bob Flesher's web site at the time and reading about stroke style playing, but wouldn't have said I had heard any until about 8 years later.

It's also a weird slightly dizzying 'time doubling back on itself' effect to see the subfolder of Vess Ossman cylinder recordings I had saved; I remember listening to those classic style tracks that summer and being unable to wrap my head around this banjo music that was neither folky nor jazzy, and I wrote it off for another 12 years or so.

Anyway, I've looked for this recording on and off over the years and I'm delighted to have found it.

...also I had never really found anything about John Sosebee until now, because I think I was always specifically including the search term 'Elkhorn Ridge'. Turns out he's younger than I am, which is also a slightly dizzying revelation; when 27 year-old me went looking for info about old-time banjo on the internet in 2002, there was a whole a lot of heavily romanticisized stuff that painted a mental picture of your average clawhammer banjo player as a grizzled appalachian man of some indeterminate age between like 45 and 80, but I think he would have been in his early 20s. I'll have to drop him a line.

Whoa, somebody actually purchased some printed sheet music vs my page!

Bandcamp has support for digital bonus content (PDFs, etc) but only for albums, not individual tracks... so when I released 'Funeral March' as a standalone track the only way I could also release the sheet music was as physical merch.

Looking ahead to next month's bandcamp Friday, I'm thinking I may try to put together a shorter EP that includes 'Funeral March' and 'Ephriam's Lament', plus a bonus edition that includes a notation+tab PDF.

This is a pretty good deal if you live in eastern Massachusetts and are for some reason looking for a banjo mandolin.

...with the caveat that the action may be terrible. I got my banjomando for even less than this via craigslist and it was basically unplayable. Had to have a luthier shave the heel to fix the action. The eventual total cost was still reasonable, although I never play the thing.

Story about the American Banjo Fraternity: Pete Seeger included contact information for the ABF in an appendix of his book "How to Play the 5-String Banjo," which was tremendously popular during the folk scare of the 1950s and 1960s.

Apparently the secretary of the ABF at that time was a real right wing asshole, so when people would write for information and mention that they'd heard about the American Banjo Fraternity in Seeger's book, he would write back to them basically saying "Go to hell, you pinko commie beatnik hippie, " and so there were a whole lot of potential members turned away... like, enough to do genuine damage to the ABF's original mission of preserving the classic-style banjo that had fallen out of popularity and public consciousness by the 1950s.

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Just re-upped my American Banjo Fraternity* membership, better late than never.

*Despite the name, ABF is not gender-exclusive. You should join if you're interested in pre-country/folk/bluegrass 5-string banjo music.

, "Briggs' Breakdown" from from Briggs Banjo Instructor (1855) I recorded a few years back. Audio boosted, pretty noisy :briggsbook:

Getting reacquainted with this instrument that I set aside for a while for various reasons (pardon the messy strings, a couple of the pegs slipped and unwound at one point, which was partly why I set it aside)

Remembering the chronology of this project a little better now that I'm thinking of it, and I'm a little dismayed to realize it was actually *eight* years ago I started fooling around with it.

Most of my motivation at the time was wanting a "real" minstrel (tension hoop and adjustable brackets vs tackhead, the only functional difference being the ability to tighten the head when it sags in humid weather) which I did not own at the time.

Not long after abandoning my own efforts I did acquire such a banjo through other means, and so my itch was scratched for a good long while; a few years later I began focusing on slightly newer music, played on more modern, fretted instruments, so it's just been hibernating, mostly out of sight out of mind.

I certainly don't *need* another banjo but I've been bitten by my older fascination of making objects that make music, and as I mentioned the other day, Boucher's banjos were beautiful objects in and of themselves, I'd love to have a clone hanging on the wall even if I don't wind up playing it much.

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