I love the banjo. The butt of many musician jokes, the banjo is enjoying a resurgence in popularity due to the likes of Mumford and Sons.
Modern banjo-playing has historical roots that go back over 150 years.
The idea of stretching a skin tightly across a resonating chamber, attaching a neck, adding one or more drone strings, and playing in a rhythmical and percussive manner originated in West Africa.
I have been a guitar player most of my life and only took up the banjo a couple of years ago. I’m an enthusiastic beginner! It was a 60thbirthday present from Simon, a 5 string, open back ‘old-time’ banjo, the sound of which, for me, creates an atmosphere which is ancient, earthy, otherworldly. The deep-rooted folk-blues and country music with which it is associated touch me in ways that are hard to explain.
From West Africa to the Americas and back to the ‘old country’, from the Appalachian Mountains to Ireland and beyond, the banjo is truly a melting-pot instrument, made in a diverse country through cultural exchange.
Today old-time banjo players most commonly utilize the clawhammer style, but there were originally several other styles, most of which are still in use, loosely grouped by region, including two-finger index lead (also called "North Carolina picking"), two-finger thumb lead (Kentucky and East Tennessee), and a three-finger "fiddle style" that seems to have been influenced in part by late-19th century urban classical style.
Because playing with more fingers meant being able to put in more notes, three-finger styles intrigued many players. Individualistic three-finger styles were developed independently by such important figures as Uncle Dave Macon, Dock Boggs, and Snuffy Jenkins.
Don’t you just love those names? I also found some interesting old-time tune titles:
Anyone for: ‘Who Shit In Grandpa’s Hat?’
Ha, ha, love it. Would love to know which real-life event inspired it.
Being a guitar picker I struggle with the clawhammer style and tend to do whatever I can to make it sound good. The more I look into it, the more I realize there are no rules… there are lots of great banjo pickers out there and I’m not one of them (yet!).
What I do know is, there’s going to be a lot more banjo on the new Sadie songs!