My foray into Minstrel style is not really a foray, I found a few of the tunes enjoyable and set out to learn how to play them. Brigg’s Instructor in tab format can be downloaded for free here and will be the source for my attempts at playing.
“This book contains many choice plantation melodies which the author learned when at the south from the negroes, which have never before been published — thus forming a rare collection of quaint old dances, &c., which will render them attractive to all the lovers of music.”
My first attempt at Minstrel Stroke style was Old Dan Tucker back in January of 2012. At that point I was still trying to figure out double thumbing, drop thumb and how they work while frailing.
A few days ago I decided to take another run at Stroke style and I think I’m starting to get a handle on it. Here is my attempt at Brigg’s Corn Shucking Jig:
NOTES ON PLAYING BANJO BY BRIGG’S:
To begin I read the intro by Brigg’s to see if it would affect my clawhammer/frailing. Brigg’s wrote,
placed transversely on the right thigh, the right fore arm resting upon the edge of the instrument, the hand hanging above the strings so as to bring the wrist just over the bridge. The head of the Banjo should be elevated so as to bring it nearly even with the left shoulder.
Simple enough. I pretty much do that already. He goes on to explain,
the left hand should lightly press the neck just below the Nut, between the thumb and the first finger, leaving the ends of the thumb and fingers’ free. The arm should hang naturally, with the elbow separated from the body ; the fingers should be separated and held ready to strike the strings perpendicularly. The thumb is sometime used to stop the fourth string.
All good. The Minstrel Stroke style has more in common with frailing than I first thought.
The right hand,
thumb should be extended and rest on the 5th string. The fingers should not be separated, but held closely together, and, move simultaneously with the first finger ; the first finger should be held a little farther out from the hand than the other fingers. The fingers should be held stiff, except at the 3d joint. The wrist should be held limber.
The tuning of the Minstrel Banjo is different from the common “Open G” tuning found on most modern banjos which would be D = 1st string, B = 2nd, G = 3rd [one octave lower than the 5th string], D = 4th [one octave lower and the 1st string], G = 5th string [the short string on top when holding the banjo]. Brigg’s Instructor had a nice drawing of an old banjo with his recommended tuning. Click image to enlarge.
I really didn’t want to mess around with yet, another tuning! The banjo has so many of them already and I am still in the beginner stages of playing, I just leave it in Open G. A poster on a Minstrel Banjo forums explains, “The main tunings used are essentially either ‘Drop C’ (gCGBD) or ‘open G’ (gDGBD) but lowered by anywhere from three to five steps. That is, ‘Briggs’ tuning is dGDF#A and ‘Converse’ is eAEG#B. Both are equivalent to ‘Drop C’ and the raised bass versions (dADF#A and eBEG#B) are equivalent to ‘open G’.”
Interesting historical note about the strings,
The Banjo has 5 strings, the 1st, 2d, 3d and 5th of which, are Gut, and the 4′ is of Silk covered with silver, wire.
Keep pickin’and grinnin.’
Yours in the Lord,
Screen shots taken from: https://archive.org/stream/briggsbanjoinstr00brig#page/n0/mode/1up