There are three basic techniques for playing the historical banjo:
1. Fingerstyle - not dissimilar to guitar fingerpicking – For info on my work with the Classic banjo go HERE
2. Plectrum or pick style – used mainly on 4-string Tenor and Plectrum banjos – For info on my work with the early Tenor and Plectrum banjo go HERE
3. Stroke style – hitting down on the string with the index or middle finger – I do not play this style much, but you can learn all about it on this site.
- Pegs on Cole Banjorine, c.1890
My Banjo Journey
I had always had a liking for the banjo, but I had only been aware of it in the context of Dixieland, Bluegrass and Irish Traditional styles. My interest developed rapidly when I became aware of its repertoire, technique and social history in the 19th and early 20th centuries – the early ragtime and proto-ragtime eras.
The tutor books of Frank B. Converse delineated a technique of fingerstyle on gut strings, plucked with the flesh of the finger, not the nail – a technique I had come to know from my time playing lutes and 19th-century guitars, though not a technique I had associated with the banjo.
The repertoire in Converse’s Analytical Banjo Method of 1887 ran the gamut from simple folk dances to complex Preludes and Romantic fantasia-like explorations, as in the following contrasting items:
For the early 20th-century repertoire I looked to the tutor books of Emile Grimshaw, The Banjo and How To Play It
and How To Excell On The Banjo.
More about that on the Classic Banjo Page
A liking for early jazz, pre-1930, led me to the Plectrum and Tenor banjos – both of which were to suffer painfully from the wild strumming and grinning excesses of Dixieland.