Emile Grimshaw Plectrum

Page in progress

The Plectrum Banjo Music of Emile Grimshaw

Emile Grimshaw (1880-1943) was a leading player and composer in early 20th-century England. He wrote four brilliant tutors for the banjo, three of which included music for Plectrum banjo:

1. The Banjo and How To Play It

Despite being written for the fingerstyle player, Part 5 is entitled ‘Plectrum Playing’ for Plectrum banjo or regular 5-string banjo where the short 5th string is not used. It commences with a study of tremolo technique, both single notes and chords. Some typical popular rhythms are discussed, such as the Fox Trot and Waltz. A later edition adds solo pieces such as the aforementioned Lazy Rhythm by Bert Bassett.

2. How To Excell On The Banjo

Again, principally a 5-string fingerstyle tutor, with Part 8 containing ‘Exercises in all styles of Plectrum Playing’. There are a number of exercises to develop plectrum control – scales, arpeggios, chords and tremolo. It also includes a few ‘Banjo Breaks’. Part 9 includes three duets for Plectrum banjos.

3. Plectrum Playing for Modern Banjoists

Finally, Grimshaw devotes an entire volume to the Plectrum Banjo, with material for complete beginners through to advanced levels. I do not have a first edition copy, but I do have an undated later copy which includes a ‘new section’ by Roy Burnham on playing in DGBD tuning, which had become more popular with some players.

This was my first attempt at three studies from Emile Grimshaw’s Plectrum Playing for Modern Banjoists, Exercises 21, 26 and 25.
Here I am playing a tenor banjo with plectrum banjo strings:


Nocturne in Eb by Fred Chopin – A beautiful arrangement by Emile Grimshaw for the Plectrum banjo:

Lazy Rhythm by Bert Bassett. This piece appeared in a second edition of Emile Grimshaw’s “The Banjo and How To Play It”. Although this tutor was principally for the 5-string fingerstyle banjo, there is a chapter on Plectrum playing. Bert Bassett (1894 – 1937), played 5-string, plectrum and cello banjos to a very high level. He was also a decent composer, and for some years became the chief editor (after Grimshaw) of BMG magazine.

One of the interpretive problems is over the word “Lazy”. I was once criticised online for varying the tempo at different parts of the piece, but if the critic had taken two seconds to look at the score, he would have seen a variety of tempo indications 🙂