My little sister had her 21st birthday this week, and she’s also closing in on graduating college this year. As she’s a lot like me, very outdoorsy and pretty rough and tough, we decided we should go camping. Sure, we could have gone to a campground nearby or somewhere along the parkway, but being avid hikers and the adventurous type, we figured it was high time we go camping somewhere a bit more rugged.
Last weekend, I decided it was high time I get back out on the trails after nearly two months of working full-time and not doing much else besides meeting new colleagues and spending time with them. And while new friends are all well and good, I needed a bit of a personal breather up in the mountains to properly clear my head and reset. So after looking around at what peaks I haven’t conquered in the Carolina portfolio, I settled on Mt. Mitchell.
A lot’s happened in the past month. Continue reading
If you’re like me, you don’t own a several-thousand dollar replica of the Minstrel banjo, an old-time banjo with far-reaching 18th century African roots. And if you’re like me in another way, you crave the ability to play those old-timey songs (like Brigg’s Corn Shucking Jig, Juba, and Hard Times), but only have a good ol’ American 5-string banjo.
Don’t panic. You can still play them, and play them right now with the trusty 5-string beside you. Keep reading, and learn a little first — it’ll make your banjo-ing experience all the more satisfying. Because unlike many other instruments, half the fun of playing banjo songs is knowing the history behind them.
Minstrel banjos have two key differences (there are more, but these are what matter for this particular comparison): string type and tuning style.
Your 5-string banjo has silver and nickel strings, common strings. The minstrel banjo has/had a variety of string types, but were not commonly silver and nickel like the American banjo. You can find strings like those on a Minstrel online or at your local music store, but that’s not really needed to achieve the sound you’re after. It will sound infinitely more like a minstrel banjo, but it’s not necessary. What is necessary is getting the tuning right.
Minstrel banjos were commonly tuned in dGDF#A. That’s the first string in D, the second string at G, the third at D, the fourth at F, and the fifth (the short, loud one) at #A. And while you can tune your good ‘ol 5-string to that very tuning (even if it feels like your fifth string is ready to pop as you do it), the sound won’t sound nearly the same as it does on a minstrel. In fact, it doesn’t sound very good at all. There are a few reasons for that, but there’s plenty of research on the topic if you’d like to learn more.
How to Play Minstrel Songs on Your Regular Banjo
You want to know the right tuning for playing these songs without plunking down the cash for another banjo. Well, thankfully, you can do it right now, in the next 30 seconds, by yourself.
It’s called Drop C Tuning, and it involves simply tuning the fourth string (the string right below the short fifth string) down to a C#. If your other strings (5,3,2 and 1) are in regular G tuning, then leave them how they are! You’re ready to play!
If you’re not in standard, open G tuning gDGBD, then tune to that. Then, once you’re there, just tune down the fourth string to C# as said above, which will result in a g#CGBD.
Now… go practice Brigg’s Corn Shucking Jig — it’s simple to learn, fun to play, and should be known by every young picker. Enjoy!
The on-campus organization I’m a member of called Campus Crusade for Christ (CRU), wanted to go on a camping trip much like the one all the men went on earlier this year. The gals thought the Men’s “Manmaker” retreat was cool enough to justify a co-ed camping trip — a sentiment I agreed with. So, they put me and my buddy Brad in charge of planning the thing.
So, last weekend, we took to Crowder Mountain State Park, home of the Ridgeline Trail where I took my two-day weekend hike less than a month before. We camped, we hiked, we played banjo, and we hammocked on the mountaintop. All was swell. Here’s some pictures.
Most of you might know this song as one made popular on the banjo by Woody Guthrie in the 40s and 50s or even Pete Seeger in the 60s and 70s. No matter how you look at it, it’s a fun little tune that’s a lot of fun to sing and clap along to. I’ve taken it upon myself to post the tabs here (so they’re easier to find), and I’ve added lyrics to each bar so you know when to start singing each line. It’s useful if you’re not used to switching your line on chord changes, like most bluegrass songs.
View or download the tab here, or view it below.
At the ever-popular Stone Mountain, I went hiking the other week. I went with two friends who hadn’t gone before, or at least, hadn’t been in several years and didn’t recall much of the hike or its scenery. And I got a great picture out of it, of them viewing the whole thing from the base for the first time. It’s a cool moment to capture, and I’m especially proud being someone not well-versed in photography.