Books

Three Great Banjo Books with CD Recordings

EarlyAmerican

Here is the Forgotten Heritage: Great Banjo Music! 

Discover the birth of the American fingerstyle banjo in this collection of 28 of the finest tunes culled from banjo publications between 1860 and 1887. Learn amazing banjo music by some of the early leading players, James Buckley, Albert Baur, and the great Frank B. Converse, the greatest virtuoso of his day.

From folk-style dances to parlor dances such as the Polka, Mazurka and Schottische, to advanced Romantic-period classical-style solos. 

Can be played on modern banjos or period-style instruments. 

The CD recording by Rob MacKillop features a gut-strung banjo, and is played with the flesh of the fingertips, in the old American tuning. For modern instrument players, Rob has provided TAB and a Standard Notation stave at modern banjo pitch. 

Clawhammer players will find many of the pieces in the book suitable for their technique, and bluegrass/fingerstyle players will be able to play all the pieces. 

Rob MacKillop provides a fascinating introductory essay, placing the music in its historical context, while his CD of performances can be viewed as a stand-alone recording by a leading player in the revival of this great American banjo heritage.

Available as a hard copy from various retailers, or as a download copy (with mp3 files) from the Mel Bay website [see website for full contents]

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Irish

Here is the Lost Heritage of the Irish-American Banjo!

The Irish-style Tenor banjo has become immensely popular of late, yet the roots of Irish influence on American banjo music extends right back to the 1840s, when the legendary Joel Sweeney picked up a gourd banjo from Black American banjo players, and proceeded to perform ‘jigs, reels and breakdowns’. Other Irish-Americans played a leading role in the development and popularity of the banjo in America, and Rob MacKillop has collected 27 of their finest pieces in this collection, the first of its kind.

TAB for 5-string banjo as well as Tenor Banjo. The Tenor Banjo arrangements are in two tunings: GDAE and CGDA.

Can be played with either a flat pick or fingerstyle.

The CD recording contains brilliant performances of all 27 pieces by Rob MacKillop, a leading performer of historical banjo music. Rob performs fingerstyle, with the flesh of his fingertips on gut strings, on a period-appropriate banjo, in the old American tuning. This CD is a treasure in itself.

Tunes included: St Patrick’s Day; Rocky Road To Dublin; Savourneen Deelish; McCormick Party Reel, Sheridan’s Hornpipe, Connaught Man’s Rambles, and many others.

Available as a hard copy from various retailers, or as a download copy (with mp3 files) from the Mel Bay website [see website for full contents]

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Bach’s Cello Suite I – III arranged for Tenor Banjo by Rob MacKillop

BachTenorBanjoCover

Standard Notation plus TAB for tenor banjo, or any instrument in 5ths tuning.

From the Intro:

Despite the cello’s ability to sustain long notes, Bach’s cello music is largely constructed of  a line of continuous semiquavers, punctuated with occasional chords. It is this quality which the tenor banjo excels at. And as the two instruments share the same tuning, albeit an octave apart, it struck me that it would be worth exploring Bach’s cello suites on the tenor banjo, and I have to say that I think these three suites work magnificently.

Many years ago I played these suites on the guitar, then more recently on the baroque lute. It might surprise many of my guitar and lute colleagues when I declare that I think they work better on the tenor banjo.

We have two tenor banjo tunings in common use today: Standard [CGDA] and Irish [GDAE] and as long as one is playing from the TAB score, either one will do. Standard tuning will provide sparkle to the faster pieces, while Irish will give more of a sombre mood to the slower pieces. For the recording, I actually tuned Standard down a minor third, as I felt that pitch gave the best results on the banjo I was playing [Deering Eagle II], in the style I wished to play. But any pitch will do. I also play these suites on a cello banjo at cello pitch, with impressive results.

A ‘Suite’ is a collection of dances of varying speeds and time signatures, conceived to be performed as a whole, and preceded by a Prelude. Bach’s Prelude to the 1st suite here is magnificent and justly famous. He starts by simply outlining the Tonic, Dominant and Sub Dominant chords, before modulating to the Dominant. He then spends half of the entire piece returning from the Dominant to the Tonic. It couldn’t be more simple, yet it holds the interest throughout.

Each note has meaning in a harmonic context. Each single note is either outlining a chord, or moving to another chord. In this arrangement I have not taken out or added a single note. This is exactly what Bach wrote. Your roll as interpreter is to shape the lines, help give a sense of forward movement, pausing here and there to catch a breath. This is subtle music, requiring a subtle technique. Downbeats must have down strokes, upbeats, upstrokes. It’s a simple rule, though one not always easy to execute. Your downstrokes should be subtly stronger than your upstrokes, as this helps to articulate the harmonic movement and melodic phrasing.

INSTRUMENTS

All these suites can be played on a regular tenor banjo, but for this recording I decided to use three very different banjos…

Suite No. 1 – For this suite I used a magnificent Deering Eagle II Tenor Banjo. The 2010 tone ring used in this banjo helps provide a beautifully warm and clear sound, capable of playing brilliantly in many musical situations. A classic 21st-century banjo. To increase the resonance for this music for the recording, I detuned the banjo by a minor third.

Suite No. 2 – Here I used a beautiful gourd tenor banjo made for me by Jason Smith of JaybirdBanjos. Banjos having a sound chamber made from a dried out gourd came to America via the slave trade, and as such resonate with a sound heard in the time of Bach. The gourd banjo used here is tuned in what is often described as Irish tuning, GDAE, although that tuning was used also by early jazz musicians in the States.

Suite No. 3 – The cello banjo was a common addition to early 20th-century banjo orchestras. It seems an obvious candidate for Bach’s cello music, being tuned the same way and at the same low pitch. Gold Tone have created a beautiful modern version of this deep 4-string, which is a delight to play.

Please check out my website, RobMacKillop.net for more information, pictures of the instruments, and videos, and feel free to contact me from there if you have any questions or comments.

Rob MacKillop

Edinburgh

2013

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