Archive Page 2

Hey Australia! Want a workshop or jam?

I’m happy to report that I’ll be visiting Australia from mid-November to mid-December on a business speaking tour, and so far it looks like I’ll have time for a banjo workshop or jam at these points:

Nov. 15 or 16: Adelaide or Tasmania
Nov. 22: Perth or Darwin
Nov. 28-29: Brisbane or Sydney
Dec. 6: Melbourne

I don’t want to book all these dates (even if it were possible) but if the date for your area looks good and you’d like to organize something, please let me know at the email address listed under the “About” tab.

Workshop topics could include syncopation/beyond bum-ditty, learning by ear, making a tune your own, or similar ideas. Or we could just jam–whatever works for you.

I’m also hoping to go to a bush dance or two and otherwise check out the music & dance scene, so if you know of anything I shouldn’t miss, please pass it along.

Nylguts + light bridge = great pop!

When I first put nylon strings on my Stewart, I kept using my usual Grover bridge with the ebony inset. I liked the strings but they seemed quiet.

Then the banjo’s neck needed a repair, which lowered the action, so I wanted a taller bridge. Luckily I found this page, where Joel Hooks describes the type of bridges that work best with nylon strings.

I ended up getting a tall maple “minstrel style” bridge by Bill Morris. It has no ebony inset.

minstrel bridgeNow the Nyguts have a surprising amount of volume and “pop”—more than the steel strings ever had. After hearing the minstrel bridge, a banjo buddy made a similar light bridge for his Nylgutted banjo and also got the boost in volume.

So if you try nylon strings, you might try a lighter bridge, too!

See how Aquila owners make gut strings

Here’s a video visit to the small Italian workshop where the Aquila folks (of Nylgut fame) show you how they make gut strings. At the end you’ll see a garage full of Nylgut.

The video is part of the Ukulele Safari, in which uke players Bosko and Honey film ukulele players around the world. I want to be Bosko & Honey.

Beginners: What do you need?

Several people have asked me to make some videos for beginners, so I guess I will. I’ll start with the very basics, like how I hold the banjo and how I tune it. I’ll also cover how I approach the basic clawhammer stroke.

A bit of a caveat: I’ll assume that beginners plan to play all sorts of music, so I won’t focus exclusively on what’s considered correct in the old-time community. I’ll just show what has worked for me.

Are any beginners reading this? If so, what do you want to see that isn’t already covered by other YouTube videos? Please leave a comment.

Experimenting with rhythm, Arabic style

Here’s another installment in my ongoing quest to explore the lands beyond bum-ditty. I play an old-time tune on top of a sort of funky Arabic pattern to show how playing over a different rhythm can warp you. My playing is messy but you’ll get the idea.

This video is also the debut of my overhauled Stewart. It now has a sturdily re-glued neck, Elite amber head, tall minstrel style bridge by Bill Morris, and Nylgut strings. I’m getting a lot more pop out of the banjo than I did with the thick Fiberskyn head and heavier bridge, and the Nylguts invite me to mess around with rhythm more than the steel strings did.

And here’s a happy “Thank you!” to Joel Lensch of the Fatted Calf String Band for helping me reglue the neck and to Bill Banker of Bloomington’s Monday Night Music for giving me my first set of Nylgut strings and telling me about the Elite amber head. I love my new-old banjo.

In Europe? Make your Banjoree plans!

Want to break out of the “bum-ditty” box? I’ll teach “Progressive clawhammer banjo rhythms” on May 2 at the Banjoree near Hagen Germany. We’ll play several non-“bum-ditty” rhythms, including Balkan ones like 7/8, that you can use to expand your clawhammering creativity.

The rhythm workshop is just one of several at the weekend. You can build your expertise in many styles, including:

  • Scruggs technique: Juergen Biller
  • Classic and minstrel: Clarke Buehling
  • 3-finger single string: Andreas David
  • Progressive clawhammer banjo: Udo Weihrauch

There are also workshops in three-finger bluegrass guitar (Wayne Henderson) and bluegrass mandolin (Ulli Sieker).

Of course, we’ll also have jams. If you’re usually focused on melody but want to connect more with rhythm, then find me and we’ll organize a “trance jam” that will help you dig down into the groove.

I may also visit the UK, the Netherlands, and France near the time of the workshop. My plans aren’t firm yet. If you know of any festivals in the region, or if you’d just like to jam, let me know!

Chair dancing

Only marginally banjo-related, but hey, there’s a banjo playing.

Minneapolis Eagle’s Club #34; caller is Ann Carter. Unfortunately, I don’t know who the band is.

How to use this site

The most recent tune appears at the top of the blog page. To download an MP3: right-click the MP3 link; choose "Save Link As." Learn more-->