Friday, December 14, 2012
“Gumbo Reel and The Pequot Galop”
Welcome, friends, to Banjo Friday! We sure do have a couple of pretty banjo tunes for you today.
If you’re a regular here, you know that this month’s featured artist is Rob MacKillop, a Scottish banjoist who excels in the classic banjo style (when he’s not excelling on various lutes, the classical guitar, the uke or the 4-string varieties of banjos!) & if you’re a regular you also know that the so-called classic style has its origins in the 19th century, & has two defining characteristics: it is typically played on a gut strung (or nylon/synthetic gut-strung) instrument, & it is played by plucking the strings in the same way as a fingerstyle guitarist, with bare fleshy side of the fingers & thumb. In this, it contrasts quite sharply with the two most prevalent styles in contemporary banjo playing—the so-called 3-finger Scruggs or bluegrass style, which also features “up plucks,” but builds melodies on syncopated patterns & is always played with fingerpicks & thumbpicks & on a banjo fitted with steel strings & a resonator; & the frailing or clawhammer style, which covers a host of techniques, but typically involves striking down on the strings with the fingernail of either the index or middle finger, which then alternates in various patterns & configurations with the thumb. The Scruggs style emphasizes the banjo’s brightness & volume; frailing emphasizes its percussiveness.
But the classic banjo style is a whole different thing altogether, & really makes for fun listening! I’ve always found it most natural to “fingerpick” the banjo myself, coming as I do from playing fingerstyle guitar, though I admit I’ve yet to actually put nylon strings on mine. Some day.
The “Gumbo Reel” & “The Pequod Galop” both come from Frank Converse’s 1865 New & Complete Method for the banjo, & features just the sort of pieces folks love to play in the classic style. As is his wont, MacKillop presents delightful versions for our listening pleasure.
Image links to its source at classicbanjorm.com