So, you think you know the banjo...
There are many different kinds of banjos and styles of playing. My banjo playing falls largely into these categories:
Tenor Banjo (4 string tuned CGDA, played with a pick) -- The style used in classic Jazz. I use this banjo in orchestras -- playing the works of George Gershwin, Ferde Grofe and others.
Irish-style Tenor (tuned GDAE, played with a pick) This tuning is an octave lower than mandolin tuning and is mostly used for playing the jigs, reels, hornpipes etc. of Irish dance music.
Minstrel (5 string fretless, gut strung -- variety of tunings, played with a "frailing" type of technique) The repertoire for this instrument comes from the mid-19th century and is strongly influenced by the African styles that were played on the instruments that the early banjos were modeled after.
Classical (5string, gut or nylon strung, tuned to gCGDB or gDGDB or a minor 3rd lower than each of these, played with the fingers like a guitarist) Repertoire for this style is drawn from the late 19th and early 20th centuries and includes popular and light classical pieces and ragtime.
Frailing or Clawhammer (5 string, gut or metal strings, fretted or fretless, wide variety of tunings, played by striking the strings with the back of the index or middle fingernail and plucking with the thumb.)
I also own and perform on hybrid instruments:
Mandolin Banjo -- a mandolin neck on a banjo body -- tuned and played like a mandolin
Uke Banjo -- a ukulele neck on a banjo body --tuned and played like a uke (though I do frail on this one as well).
Some lessons and other resources:
--an annotated list of the tunings used in 19th century banjo repertoire
--Introduction to picking technique for Irish jigs
--Introduction to basic minstrel banjo technique
--music and tablature for Juba perhaps the most ubiquitous piece in the minstrel banjo repertoire
--An article that I co-wrote with my wife, Maggi [link] that introduces Louisa Dewhurst, [link article] an important late-19th century banjoist.
--music and tablature for Louisa Dewhurst Polka [link]
--music and tablature for Squirrels in the Firs [link] a clawhammer banjo piece that I wrote as part of a forthcoming collaborative Northern Banjo Tune Project. (More about that later.)
Follow these links to some free lessons, publications and other information about some of the instruments that I play.
If you are interested in private lessons on plucked string instruments, music theory, ear training, improvisation and/or composition, please contact me.
About Jim Dalton
Jim is on the faculty of The Boston Conservatory, teaching music theory, ear training and world music courses for both the Music Theory and Music Education Departments.
He maintains a private teaching studio in Salem, MA.
He has written articles for Blues Revue Magazine and is the author of Mandolin for Beginners, published by Workshop Arts, Inc./Alfred Publishing. He is a frequent guest lecturer on topics such as composition, choral arranging and Irish traditional music.
He recently (2004-2005) received a MACRO research grant (Univ. of Wisconsin) to study and analyze palindromic compositions in the concert music repertoire and presented this work at the 2005 Macro Musician's Workshop in Madison WI.
Jim Dalton endorses and plays the Phoenix Neoclassical Mandolin
Jim's book, Mandolin for Beginners, has been published by Alfred Publishing (and National Guitar Workshop)
It's available online and in retail stores both nationally and internationally. You can learn everything from how to hold/ tune a mandolin, how read tablature and strum -- to reading music, tremolo techniques, improvising.
It's full of interesting tunes and practical advice. There's a CD in it, so you can hear as well as read all the good stuff in the book. 48 pages Book & CD
copyright 1997-2005 Jim & Maggi Dalton