I play banjo, and it’s frustrating to hear hate from musicians of other instruments who actually play more callously and sloppy than I do.
I play banjo, and it’s frustrating to hear hate from musicians of other instruments who actually play more callously and sloppy than I do.
If banjo-hating is wrong… I don’t want to be right!
if everybody hates banjo, and everybody hates bodhrans and everybody hates accordions and everybody hates guitar players, djembe players, spoons players…who’s left? The Fiddle Players! I say lets get the banjo, guitar, bodhran, accordion, cajon, spoons and djembe players together and go teach those sckreeching session nazis a lesson!
Always took it as a joke. Never knew there are real people who actually hate it!
Oy just got a request for more banjo in the speakers at the gig this weekend. Band mate was like "you don’t hear that very often" and I just silently though "actually yes I do, can you imagine that." Just had to get that off my head. I love the banjo and don’t feel as articulate on any other instrument. Let the haters hate while I celebrate.
last post was terribly mis-worded….if that’s even a phrase…
Well not a big fan of Djembe in Irish music, but I’ll take some spoons and guitar please. I tend to prefer albums (usually solo albums these days as the old ones mostly have bouzouki) with guitar backing to those with bouzouki backing to be honest. I am biased as a guitar player which I once drifted from because of it’s vanilla flavor. I am still in love with guitar after finding other instruments that I like to play. Say it’s not pure drop, go on, say it, to me it is pure ecstasy so it doesn’t matter.
The cat that lives with me, runs and hides when my friend, Bill plays the banjo. (The cat likes my singing, fiddling and my friends guitar playing.)
Not to say my life is filled with haters. I started playing banjo because I liked the sound and I may have only continued this far because of the constant encouragement of fans, friends and musicians alike. I play for the people, that’s the thing that a banjo hater can have trouble seeing.
First they came for the djembe players, but I did not speak out because I was not a djembe player.
It’s just a sort of primitive bonding ritual, strengthening the tribe by pointing out the bad things the other tribe does, in order to feel accepted. Viola players have suffered from it for years; the banjo is the traditional equivalent. The people who ridicule the player and the instrument would probably be up in arms on hearing an ‘Irish’ joke, without realising they are doing the exact same thing. Best to try to see the humour, and ignore the stupidity. It’s human nature.
that’s a good point. The viola players would definitely help us sort out those snooty fiddle players!
"First they came for the djembe players…" - you caught me off guard there. Very funny stuff
I think the banjo is a GREAT instrument. As yet there are no banjo players at the local session I go to, but if they were Im confident they would be made very welcome by the rest of the gang etc. Maybe Im being naive here but I’ve never come across ‘Banjo hating’ yet.
"the banjo is a GREAT instrument" — Pass Friend! 🙂
Q:What do you say to a banjo player in a three piece suit?
A:"Will the defendant please rise…"
In my biased experience, it is almost always the way a person is playing an instrument rather than the instrument itself. If I may borrow a phrase from American gun enthusiasts, "Banjos don’t kill sessions - people kill sessions."
… or the instrument setup .. drum too tight … playing too close to the bridge …
A naughty fiddle site has a free monthly ‘tips and tricks’ letter. On the footer, in small print, it reads, "to unsubscribe, type ‘banjo’ in the subject line" 🙂
I always think it’s the other way round - I hear very talented banjoists and admire their playing, but it still isn’t something I would choose to listen to. ‘Plink’ just isn’t a very musical sound.
I don’t know that anyone ACTUALLY hates the banjo or doesn’t want one at their session. I think it’s just slagging, all in good fun. They can share a boat with the accordion players and viola players.
"Plink" does not accurately convey the complexity and shimmering delightfulness of my banjo’s tone. Not to say I haven’t heard some mighty harsh and unpleasant banjos.
I googled ‘naughty fiddle’ Jim — very entertaining 🙂
Most of the disparaging comments I’ve heard about banjos in sessions were complaints about volume. If they have a dicey reputation in some locales, I think that’s probably the root cause. A loud banjo can be like a spike in the ear. When it becomes the dominant tone in a session, I tend to edge my chair away or look for another seat across the room. Whistles can be just as annoying when played too loud and shrill (see, we can have fun slagging the whistle players too!). Pipers get a pass for high volume because they can’t help it. Also… tradition! 🙂
Not all banjo players play instruments that are too loud. A friend of mine has a small-size tenor banjo with the resonator removed and a sock stuffed behind the head, and it blends in nicely. I like *that* kind of banjo playing, so it just depends on what kind of banjo we’re slagg… er, I mean talking about.
"The only thing that stops a bad guy with a banjo is a good guy with a pair of wirecutters."
You’ll couldn’t pack a Broadwood half a mile -
You mustn’t leave a fiddle in the damp -
You couldn’t raft an organ up the Nile
And play it in an Equatorial swamp …
(Song of The Banjo - Rudyard Kipling - read the rest!)
I play banjo, but I think most of the banter about banjo is just a bit of fun. I have a sticker on my guitar case that reads: "If banjos are outlawed, only outlaws will have banjos".
I play banjo and I’m either the first one to tell the obligatory banjo joke or I know the punch line. It’s nice to have the volume to play with 3 or more fiddlers, but I often have to play quietly on the 2nd or 3rd turn of a tune if I want to hear anyone else. Some of the people that I play with have recently urged me to take the sock out of the banjo, but I still keep one handy. I don’t play on many of the slower more subtle tunes or try to back vocalists, but I still have lots of fun and I seem to get good feedback from most people.
Jusa Nutter Eejit - a similar question:
Q - What do you say to a banjo player with a beautiful woman on his arm?
A - "Nice tattoo!"
Tony O’Rourke, A sticker on my mandolin case says, "In Heaven, even the banjos will be in tune."
My friend Dennis DeLorme wrote on the bottom of the sticker, "What…There are BANJOS in Heaven?"
I am a banjo player.
"If banjo hating is wrong, I don’t want to be right …. and first they came for" ….. good stuff here.
Reckon banjo and bodhran players take the heat so fiddlers don’t have to. We mandolin players sop up all the pity ‘cause nobody can hear us anyway …. so bring on the banjos and poundy things.
It’s all about balance, baby.
Barney McKenna, rest his soul … and Enda Scahill …. just might agree.
I love the sound of a well played banjo. It has its own lovely, punctual, articulate voice. Of all the instruments to receive the slagging, I guess I’d figured the banjo to be lower down on the list of prime targets. Of course two or more at a session could be horrible, but one played well sounds great in the mix, IMO.
"Most of the disparaging comments I’ve heard about banjos in sessions were complaints about volume."
Yes, I think this is the biggest problem. I once was given piece of advice "not to play it like a mandolin".
Usually, with the latter, one has to make more of an effort to get heard in a busy pub but there’s not the same issue with the banjo. So, you can be much more relaxed and there’s no need to be aggressive or to "go for volume" as it’s already there. It’s also better to use a softer pick.
I like playing the tenor banjo and the only thing that deters me is that it is much heavier and bigger to carry into a session than a mandolin or fiddle and, if I bring it along, it’s usually in place of something else.
I also find it good for playing along with louder instruments such as the Highland(Sometimes, I’ll cheat and use a capo on the first fret) and other pipes, PA’s and so on. I’m not sure if all players of these instruments would be happy but I do try to be as subtle and sensitive as I can.
Speaking of banjos…
…for when you forget your socks.
I have one of those for my ukelele…probably, that’s one in the picture as opposed to a tenor guitar.
It produces too muffled a sound for the banjo though… I find that a .60mm pick is about right.
It’s the joy of playing the banjo, you’re never short of folk offering you advice.
Very true Andy,
I can just picture you there playing your banjo in The Wool Pack with Zak Dingle on bodhran.
A banjo is all attack and no sustain, so mushy-phrased, sustain-ridden pipes, flutes, whistles, fiddles and boxes get really frustrated when they can’t all loosely slobber around the beat with a decent banjo player reminding them of the correct phrasing all the time.
Ha ha ha. "Decent banjo player!" HO HO HO HO!!!! You’re on a roll!
One of the mandolinists at our session turned up last night with a banjo.
I’m a bit puzzled by it; 18-fret neck, nylon-strung, older-style ( not wooden ) friction pegs, metal cover around the ring, square-section rod inside. Apparently it had had a resonator back, but he’d taken it off, AND stuffed a face-flannel or something similar inside.
I actually reckon it might have been a baritone ukulele-banjo, but the best thing about it was the sound; both soft enough not to overwhelm, but clear enough to be heard against the rest of the instruments.
As opposed to another tenor banjo that used to turn up occasionally; a steel-string Framus with a resonator; it was so loud that the musician playing it would have to stop to hear what new tune had been started.
You might guess which one I would prefer to have in a session.
Impressed with the positive spin on the responses.
I always hated banjo. Perception was Loud, harsh, dominates everything..that was just the person playing!
After hearing some really good players who know how to CONTROL the instrument, i have come to appreciate its clarity. As a late-in-life box learner, it was kind of difficult to play along with banjo players at first. Had a terrible time following. Had to block out the banjo intellectually at first.
But some of the players I have worked with are very good and have converted me to be less critical of the banjo.
I don’t know about the bodhran and spoons though…. maybe in my next life when I take up the pipes 😉
so I got my snare set down by the beer store, and now I just got to figure out some banjo bait. What should I put in the snare to try and catch me one of these rascals?
@Nate: Well, if you’re after a Bacon & Day banjo, then the answer should be obvious!
I love all musical instruments.
"A banjo is all attack and no sustain, so mushy-phrased, sustain-ridden pipes, flutes, whistles, fiddles and boxes get really frustrated when they can’t all loosely slobber around the beat with a decent banjo player reminding them of the correct phrasing all the time."
# Posted by SWFL Fiddler 5 days ago.
Wow, just wow, Tom … kinds drifts over to my side of the pond there.
Gollygee willikers … I forgot Angelina Carberry!.
I like the clarity too. I find it very hard to get that into
fiddle - or flute - playing, but it’s one of my goals.
not got a problem with banjos, I quite like them.
It’s random percussion I don’t like, or the deadly drone of a badly played guitar leaching the love out of any tune it accompanies. Honestly, I played with a digerdoo at the weekend but it was the guitarist that spoilt it.
Hearing Gerry play those jigs it is clear that the banjo is one of the most gentle and relaxing instruments invented. I’ve not really been slagged at sessions, but more in bands. The stuffing a sock in it comments are enlightening to what I’m talking about. I haven’t heard these banjos but the idea that a banjo player has to hide the sound of their instrument to sound good is along the lines of what I’m talking about. You don’t see Gerry O’Connor or the like with laundry in their instruments, and that is the kind of playing I like and try to emulate, or more like Kieran Hanrahan actually. I know there are jokes all in good fun, but sometimes I wonder if certain people actually have a deep seated hatred that perhaps is rooted in jealousy or inadequacies on their own instrument, or perhaps just fear of the misunderstood or unfamiliar. I totally feel you whitebread, so many sessions here have nothing but fiddle players and I the banjo forces them all to play together. I must say though it’s essential that a banjo player practice as much as a fiddle player to get to the same level. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a few of us who don’t take practice seriously on any instrument.
One of the things I think is cool about the tenor banjo in Irish music is that if a player’s timing is good, he can get away with bloody murder.
And he often does.
What I don’t understand is why banjo players always want to play three times as many notes as everybody else.
Because they can! The same reason my dog …. well, never mind.
How do you know when a banjo player is playing a 1926 Gibson?
A.) He’ll tell you.
A banjo treble has less notes than a roll so I fail to see your point Mark.
[*What I don’t understand is why banjo players always want to play three times as many notes as everybody else.*]
I’m sure if the banjo notes had the long sustain of fiddle notes, they’d be playing cuts and rolls too, instead of just same-note triplets.
So just because the longest note they can play is ‘plink’, when the fiddler plays a lament with those long, bendy notes that would bring a tear to a glass eye, it’s OK for the banjoist to turn it into something that sounds like automatic gunfire?
🙂 … I don’t think the banjo is the instrument for a lament, any more than pipes is for a Stones number …
All the same, triplets played now and again as b-d-b, instead of b-b-b would make for a nice change.
Or even just play the note once, and then keep quiet until the next note comes along.
Some of us do play triplets like that, Jim or b-a-b- or b-c-b on banjo, on mandolin or any plucked string instrument. I also play rolls on the 5-string, which has more sustain than the tenor.
@5string - good to know 🙂 I play 5-string too, but mainly Scruggs-style. What r/h picking pattern would you use for a b-c-b triplet?
Jim-it depends on where you are on the fingerboard. I like to use a lot of cross-string fingerings a la Bill Keith,so I would frequently play the b open and the c on the 3rd string 5th fret,in which case i would likely use index-thumb -index or possibly middle-thumb-index. If I play them single-string a la Don Reno I would use thumb-middle-index. But it varies with the context. I might also slur the first two notes or all three. Depends.
Thanks 🙂 One last question - would you use a similar technique for rolls?
Keith style enables the player to obtain legato "I would frequently play the b open and the c on the 3rd string 5th fret,in which case i would likely use index-thumb -index"
I would play the above, middle index middle, because I play up picking with Three fingers, another style I use is index and thumb, in which case I would Like 5 string use Index Thumb Index
"Or even just play the note once, and then keep quiet until the next note comes along."
Yes, that’s possible, but it depends on where the long note is in the tune. As outlined by Tirno in the ornamentation thread ( https://thesession.org/discussions/31844#comment681740 ):
"Sometimes the abc is too restrictive (making you think you have to play "those notes", some times it’s too permissive making you think you can actually play bg g2 instead of bg ~g2 or bg g/g/g or b ~g3 or bg fg or bg g/f/g etc."
A long note doesn’t always sound that great.
>>"A long note doesn’t always sound that great."
On a banjo. But on other instruments they do. So in those situations I always think it would be much better if the banjoist were to just keep quiet, rather than stuffing in extra notes that suit the banjo but totally destroy the meaning of the tune.
I play banjo and have come across banjo hating, I just rise above it! check out GRUIG over the moor to Maggie.
on youtube I don’t come in till the second tune.
I play in a band with a fantastic banjo player, and love to listen to banjo. I sometimes attempt to poorly play it myself… Doesn’t mean I won’t still make jokes about it nevertheless. I expect guitar and flute jokes to come right on back to me, as well.
I say it’s all in good fun, generally. I have met a fellow once who actually hates the banjo, though. I simply don’t understand it myself… I think the only instruments I’m really not a big fan of would be the djembes, congas, or bongos.. not to say they can’t be used to great effect in trad.
Caught my daughter with that one earlier in the week, so there are still some who have never heard it.
No objection to banjos whatsoever…. the only dislike I would have is any instrument played badly, loudly… but you got to admire any player who can spin through half a dozen reels while a piper is still filling his bag…
[*One last question - would you use a similar technique for rolls?*]
I’ll re-phrase that one - how does one play a roll on a 5-string (assuming the notes are eg b-c-b-a-b) ? On the same string, or across strings? I’ve never tried it myself.
Jim-when I play trad on the 5 string I do my best to emulate the sounds of the more commonly used instruments especially for ornaments. So,normally I will do a roll all on one string using hammer-ons and pull-offs . So for your example(and assuming I’m in open G tuning which I tend to use almost exclusively for trad) I would usually play all the notes on the 3rd string,playing the b with the 2nd finger(l.h.) hammering the c, pulling off to the b, pulling off to the a (1st finger l.h.) and then hammering the b back down.So this is all done with a single right hand finger stroke. Sometimes this is impractical because of the context, so then I might play the lowest note of the roll on a lower string. There are two ways I do this-either I’ll use a "hammer-on from nowhere" where I just smack the finger down on the note hard enough to sound it with the left hand alone, or if that doesn’t work I’ll very lightly pluck the lower note and then pluck the last note of the roll slightly louder while stilll holding the lower note down to blur the sound together a little bit. When done at reel tempos it sounds fairly convincing. It is also possible to play certain rolls with all three notes on different strings-eg a roll on a where the a is on the 3rd string,the b is on the open 2nd string and the g is on the 4th string 5th fret, but I don’t do this too often. Not sure why.
Thanks, 5string. Interesting stuff 🙂
r6bb1t you definitely need to be turned up on the the second tune. On the next tune the bouzouki player should follow you better. I like his jazzy licks but this is a moment where he should move to a more basic rhythm, perhaps sparse it up in the transition.
r6bb1t-I for one thoroughly enjoyed your set. Watched it twice,in fact and then watched the Rocky Road set too. Lovely playing and I thought the balance was fine. It is clear to me that you are deliberately playing along with your volume off on Over the Moor so that it is all the more effective when you come in full blast on Toss the Feathers. I also rather liked the somewhat jazzy chords on the mandola-everyone else is playing pretty pure drop which for me balances it out.
I just got back from my aunt and uncle’s anniversary. I took my tenor banjo and played tunes while everybody’s visiting. Nobody hates banjo over there, and they even live up in town
The YT link, FWIW http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hN6wJEx-7dQ
Banjo haters are jealous because generally there aren’t 5 or more of them at any given session, and everyone in the room can actually hear the individual banjo. If the banjo player is good then the haters are even more jealous and resentful.
People don’t really "hate" the banjo; they just like to pick on it. It’s a lot like the Hammer Dulcimer or the Irish-Percussion-Intstrument-That-Will-Not-Named-Or-Made-Fun-Of-Because-There-Will-Be-So-Many-Jokes-That-Jeremy-Will-Run-Out-Of-Server-Space. The solution for your problem is the Octave Mandolin. It is played the same as a tenor banjo, but it sounds way better!
Also, people really get mad at me when I play down by the bridge, so play closer to the fretboard and closed! Tilt the pick so that the picking doesn’t sound so harsh and even the most hard-core banjo haters, unless they are all out Session Nazis, will leave you alone.
"People don’t really "hate" the banjo; they just like to pick on it" Hysterical.
I not long ago finished reading several scholarly histories of the banjo for an article I’m writing, and how the banjo gets to be classed as an element of traditional irish music is, well, a tortured path. It’s an african instrument—overwhelmingly, in 1820 the banjo is the instrument slaves play. It’s clear in descriptions, and then illustrations and paintings.
Then it’s adopted by white people as part of the minstrel show, in which white people blacked their faces and pretend to be african american. Minstrel shows are the core of US popular music well into the twentieth century. You just can’t overstate the centrality of the minstrel show to American music, and minstrel music is popular worldwide. Then in the twentieth century the banjo undergoes a strange transformation: from the signature instrument of Africans to the signature instrument of rural white folk in Appalachia. It’s pretty remarkable, really, from minstrel shows to kentucky hollers, and in the process it loses its african origins and gets reimagined as the sign of folk authenticity
The only ways the banjo could get into irish traditional music would be.
1. The large numbers of plantation slaves growing cotton in Galway. (sarcasm)
2. Minstrel shows touring ireland in the 19th and twentieth century
3. Irish musicians inspired by the folkies of the 60s, who forgot about the african/minstrel show part.
It has to be less "legitimately traditional" than, say, the Bodhran
I will admit to disliking the banjo, at least the modern, steel banjo. Gourd banjos sound pretty cool. But to a historian, banjos as tools of irish traditional music are odd indeed.