The is alive and sounds pretty damn good for what wound up being a thirty dollar . Will try to post a clip soon.

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Yeah, my fretless banjo chops are pretty rusty, and I never did much chording out of first position. Also it's wicked humid which is no fun with a real hide head

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While working on it occurred to me that I might finally be able to come up with a relatively painless solution for expressing 5th string notes in standard notation.

... on a five string banjo, the 5th string is pretty much always played as an open string; in the older "stroke" style and more modern clawhammer and scruggs styles, it often functions as a drone. In the classic fingerstyle era, the fifth string is often cleverly used as a way to facilitate left-hand jumps up or down the neck; you don't have to fret it, so a note on the fifth string gives you a little extra time to move your left hand.

Back when banjo music was published in standard notation, the convention for communicating "play this note on the open 5th string" was to engrave the note+duration as usual, but add an upright stem with a sixteenth note flag.

A few years ago a kind soul on the mailing list showed me how it is possible to achieve this by using multiple voices and overriding the beaming/duration for the 16th note, but as you might imagine it's a bit of a pain in the ass when you've got multiple 5th string notes in a given piece; it's exciting to think I might be able to implement a tag to do most of the dirty work.

Anyway, on to the tip: While thinking about logic for such a tag, I found myself wondering how one would handle a half or whole note on the fifth string; When Lilypond encounters the same note with different durations in two voices, it engraves the two side by side, which makes sense... but not for this highly specific fringe case.

Poking around for solutions, I found that Lilypond has two helpful commands for exactly this situation, '\mergeDifferentlyHeadedOn` and `\mergeDifferentlyDottedOn`.

For the example in the graphic, the Lilypond markup that lets the sixteenth and half notes occupy the same space is:

\fixed c' { \once \mergeDifferentlyHeadedOn \once \mergeDifferentlyDottedOn \once \autoBeamOff g16*8\5 }
\fixed c' { g2\5 }
>> d4 b

... so to automagically generate everything within << >>, I'm imagining a tag like:

{{banjo5thStr dur="2"}}

...with logic to calculate the duration override for that 16th note, and an optional 'pitch' attribute to support the older so-called 'Rice' and 'Briggs' tunings.

... the tradeoff here is that MIDI output from this markup will have that note doubled up; when writing Lilypond "by hand" I've adopted a practice of putting 5th string notes in a separate part with silences between them and then just omitting that part from MIDI, but I'm not about to try to implement support for *that* pattern here. I can live with it.

I should say that I don't think I've ever actually seen a banjo piece with a half or whole note sounded on the fifth string, but I like handling fringe cases when they occur to me.

Got a wild hair to do the over on Instagram. I barely learned it and it's pretty slow, but it was a chill Friday night and I havn't recorded a clip in forever so here's "Betty Baker" with some parlor guitar for good measure.

I spent the first half of the day wrangling the piano accompaniment for Brooks & Denton's 'Tyro Mazurka' (1890) into ABC format, and the second half of the day playing along to it. Still rough around the edges but the piano part makes it more fun to practice.

It feels downright perverse to post creative content on , but it's a habit I'm going to try to cultivate because I get the impression that the signal to noise ratio is actually quite high in terms of people actually looking for specific types content being able to find it.

(For example, I used the tag to share Cupid's Dream Waltz, clicked through a few other banjo posts and learned that someone on the board of Fender Instrument Corp. is a 2nd degree contact, so, why not?)

Still trying to whip my brain into mindful practice mode vs “eh, guess I’ll play through this a few times.” I need to find some warmup exercises and make a ritual without going overboard


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.

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