Bach On The Banjo

 Cello Suites I – III by J. S. Bach arranged for Tenor or Cello Banjo by Rob MacKillop (Mel Bay Publications)



I chose to explore his cello suites on the tenor and cello banjos, which both use the same tuning as the cello. This allowed me to play pretty much the left-hand fingering used by cellists, and has given me an appreciation of the physical nature of this seemingly abstract music.

In my arrangement, not a note has been added or taken out.

Here is his first suite for cello, performed on a Deering Eagle II Tenor Banjo, with the resonator taken off, and the pitch lowered by a minor third. The lower pitch increases the warmth and resonance of the banjo, and renders it, in my opinion, more suitable for Bach’s deeply expressive music.

Comments welcome below, or via

Videos using the Gold Tone Cello Banjo, CEB-4. The cello banjo has the same tuning and pitch of a cello, and is therefore the perfect choice for this beautiful music.

In September, 2013, Jason Smith of made me a tenor gourd banjo. This is an updated version of the type of banjo made by slaves on Southern US plantations, as depicted in this painting from c.1780:


The thought of playing some of the most exalted Western solo instrumental music on a slave’s instrument, was too much to resist. As one Banjo Hangout reviewer said, “No tones more dulcet were ever drawn from a vegetable on a stick!”

Encouraging Comments (it seems people like Bach on the banjo!)

“Thank you, thank you thank you, Rob! Absolutely beautiful in every way” Bill Evans

“Wonderful! This stuff really rings my bell. I am so glad you did this. It shows another way that the banjo can be used to great effect. Your work can and I hope will, bring new paradigms to our favorite instrument. With that, I hope new devotees will flock to our shores! Superb playing my friend!” Steve Caddick tenor banjo instructor

“Superb! Thanks for putting these all together in one place – I have been listening to the MP3s – but I had to start each one in turn. This is lovely.” Mzeesimba

“Absolutely beautiful Rob, stunning!” Neil Connor

From Banjo Hangout:

Wow!  BEAUTIFUL!  Well done, Rob!
Remarkable.  The suites are some of my favorite music of all time.  Never thought I’d hear them on a banjo.  Sounds terrific.
Oh, this is beautiful. I’m going to play it for my students so they can hear the versatility of the banjo.
Rob, another fine posting!  You not only play well, but you’ve got the tone and feel of the pieces just right…there is almost a harpsichord quality to your attack here.  As I’ve said before, you seem to have the touch…that ability to play and interpret music in a way that most of us lack.
Bach would be quite proud, I’m sure.  I’ve listened to these recordings over and over . . . this is masterful work and I’m grateful for your gifts.
Since the first video I saw of you playing some obscure Scottish lute piece, it’s been a pleasure to follow the music you’re making. Fine job indeed!
This is magical to listen to, truly enhancing and quality. Keep playing please.