The banjo is not all bad

The banjo is not all bad

Just spent some time this evening nattering on this subject and it was all good and positive.

Why the feck do you guys seem to have a problem with banjo players? I know my fiddler is a stunner, but as soon as we tinkle a few notes on the banjer the crowd love it.

So why does it get knocked so much?

Re: The banjo is not all bad

It doesn’t. Neither do bodhrans or guitars, really. At least not in my experience.

Re: The banjo is not all bad

The important word is "bad". Applies to all instruments.

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Re: The banjo is not all bad

I’m with you, man.
Up the banjo!
But, seriously, chill on the plural guitar(s) & bodhran(s). How many do you really need?

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Re: The banjo is not all bad

I love banjos…all kinds!

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Captacoustic, in that case I’m thinking you might appreciate the following clip. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uj5Lvdxg6tI

Tomorrow I’ll be in his neck of the woods; working. Though most of the music will be chickens, horses, dogs, turkeys & the banging of my tools.

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Re: The banjo is not all bad

It’s the Irish way… You slag that which you love

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I’m with the Reverend. In Australia, (and I think the Irish are much the same) you politely show respect to most people but take the piss out of those you most respect. We have to keep you banjo guys down to earth.

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"So why does it get knocked so much?"

"It doesn’t. Neither do bodhrans…"

Bodhrans do get knocked. How else would you play one?

Re: The banjo is not all bad

Back to banjos: I think what it boils down to is that a banjo is capable of sounding very loud and brash - in fact, it takes very little effort to get a very loud and brash sound out of a banjo. This probably makes it an attractive choice of instrument for loud and brash people. Also, it is a relatively easy instrument to play to a basic level, so perhaps it is also true to say that a lot of people achieve that basic level and don’t improve much beyond it Unfortunately, hearing the banjo played by such people obscures the fact that it can also be played with great delicacy and taste. Among those familiar with the likes of Mick O’Connor, Kevin Griffin, John Carty, Angelina Carberry, Mary Shannon (and many more), I don’t think there is much wholesale knocking of banjos.

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Does the tenor banjo get maligned any more or less than the 5 string banjo? I find the latter exceptionally irritating unless it’s in good hands…… 🙂

I’ve found the tenor banjo very good for playing along with the Highland bagpipes/small pipes etc. Better than the mandolin as the octaves are lower although the tenor guitar isn’t bad either. I do it subtly, of course. One of the first things you learn is not to give it "too much welly".

This duo use this combination for some of their sets quite effectively although they are predominantly accordion, fiddle, and guitar.

http://www.mairearadandanna.com/about-2/

Re: The banjo is not all bad

You know who makes up all those banjo jokes, don’t you? Its fiddle players at home on Saturday night with nothing better to do!

Re: The banjo is not all bad

Thanks for the Vid AB lovely stuff.

Yeh I guess I was havin a bad banjo day and feelin sorry for meself as all the work I had been doing appeared to come to nothing. So I grabbed the guitar and went and played a few tunes with some friends. A much more forgiving instrument.

I just wonder how long it will take me to be as comfortable with a banjo? A very unforgiving instrument I believe, and, very difficult to play well.

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I invented a palm rest, a little board of plywood that my hand can rest against, instead of having to place it on the bridge: http://www.banjohangout.org/archive/291233 This lets me pick closer to the neck, which is softer in tone. I also go out of my way to pick softer, if that’s what’s called for. Also I got over the tendency to cram as much ornamentation in as possible like real hot shots can, especially in a fast reel it’s no shame to go for a straightforward, simple approach.

For all that I still get grief from some parties about the noisy banjo - but other people whose opinion I respect tell me the griefers in question are just asserting their control over things, and that they like what I’m doing on the tenor just fine. As it happens I can play other instruments too so just bring the fiddle to those sessions. Where I live there are three very good banjo players who also play the fiddle, and one has an old 4 string resonator guitar that he usually plays at sessions instead of the banjo, so it’s good to have options, I guess.

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Kevin, could you not get a good picking angle just resting the heel of your thumb on the head? Generally people seem to get a much better tone if they are anchoring on the head or the bridge unless you are going for a really plunky ringing sound.

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My complaint about the tenor banjo would be the potential to take over because of its volume. Subtle and sensitive players are always welcome, but a banjo-player who has to stop playing so that they can tell what tune the rest of the session has changed to is obviously too loud. In the wrong hands it can destroy all opportunities for the give and take that is an essential part of a good session.

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Kevin, I was going to ask the same thing as Frank just asked. Doesn’t it need some sort of damping?

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I’ve recorded myself and it sounds like a banjo, not overly sustained or anything. You can control that with the fingers of the left hand too. I emailed Enda Scahill about my idea and he brought up the whole picking angle thing as well. Doesn’t seem to slow down guitarists who play up by the neck. I get by OK, I think. Also I don’t like putting my hand down by the bridge in the first place, it makes me tense up which is the enemy of all banjo players. This seems to vary from banjo to banjo, I notice. Dunno why some banjos are harder for me to play in the conventional manner - it doesn’t seem to be a short vs long scale thing, too. Probably it has to do with the size of the pot.

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Note your comments Kevin. I am a fairly light player and only really give it welly where its warranted. As we all know, most people actually love the banjo really.

My technique has evolved to the stage where I’m not anchoring my hand at all really as I found it restrictive. Yes its harder to play with a floating hand, but once you’ve developed the strength in your arm/wrist to do it makes sense.

To quote Guernsey Pete "In the wrong hands it can destroy all opportunities for the give and take that is an essential part of a good session." Well now couldn’t that comment apply to any instrument?

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AB, thanks for the video. Fine playing!

IMO, banjos are like any instrument: played attentively and correctly, they are great and add to the overall enjoyment of a lot (not all) musical pieces. Even Carolan pieces can work. I recently worked up Sheegeg and Sheemore and play it with George Brabazon.

As for Santa never bringing banjos…thankfully we know he doesn’t exist.