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Celtic music on 5 string banjo

07 Aug 01 - 02:43 PM (#522754)
Subject: Celtic music on 5 string banjo
From: Margo

I play clawhammer banjo. I have been working on some of Ken Perlman's adaptations for banjo of celtic fiddle tunes. Here are my questions:

Do any of you know how his five string adaptations compare to the playing of the plectrum banjo? Isn't the four string what is traditionally played in Celtic music? I just wonder if I'm "banging my head against a wall" trying to play jigs and reels on five string or if I ought to look into a different banjo for that music.

Understand I have nothing against Ken Perlman teaching Celtic tunes for clawhammer, and I don't particularly find it hard to do, but I just wonder if there is really a difference in the sound of it to where it is really unique... What do you all think? Thanks,

Margo


07 Aug 01 - 03:22 PM (#522789)
Subject: RE: Celtic music on 5 string banjo
From: dick greenhaus

The five string banjo was played in Ireland long before the tenor was introduced. Do whatever works.


07 Aug 01 - 04:01 PM (#522835)
Subject: RE: Celtic music on 5 string banjo
From: GUEST,Don Meixner

This how it seems to me.....

Many of the tunes that Ken Perlman teaches are tunes of dual citizenship. That is to say they exist in both countries under the same name. Many of them are easily made to fit the Drp-thumb clawhammer and frailing styles used in the US. Typically tunes in 2/4 and 4/4 time fit these tempos. 3/4 time kinda bites for the Clawhammer style.

Tenor and plectrum styles lend them selves well to most time signatures because they are played more as a melody style on these instruments. Clawhammer is a rhythmic style that allows for some melody to sneak through. The drop thumb allows for more melody to sneak out.

I use a Five String in the Irish band I'm in and I play Frailing style for tunes that fit. I flat pick the banjo for the waltzes and jigs. This gives me a little more veratility in what I play which translates into not changing insruments as often. The added benefit of having it always in "Open G" tuning helps with my finger limitations.

I'm sure that just like in Appalachia, the Irish played their music on what ever instrument was available. So which ever you chose is historically. The style which you wish to play will determine the tool you use.

In any event, have fun with it.

Don


07 Aug 01 - 04:27 PM (#522860)
Subject: RE: Celtic music on 5 string banjo
From: Uncle Jaque

Whenever I find myself (for whatever bizzare reason) wanting a plectrum/tenor banjo to wham away on... I save myself the money and a trip to the music store, and capo my old Vega Folkmaster 5-ping up to oh, the 5th or 7th fret or so, hook the 5th string under the head of an HO model railroad spike driven in the fingerboard just upstream from the 10th fret (an old Pete SEEGER trick) pour myself another beer, and scrubba-dubba / ringgading-do!!! Bring on the riverboats!

The only advantage I see to the sawed-off 4-ping is that when playing in those snazzy little jazz-bands they all seem to compulsively wear those nattie flat-topped straw skimmer hats and sit real close together... the longer necked 5-er might knock the guys hat off to your left, or jab him in the ear, either one of which could prove distracting. Fortunately, it seems that us "Folk Artistes" like to spread ourselves out a little more.

Back in the '60s I lusted mightilly for one of those "long-neck" Vegas.. You really had to be a "loner" to pick onnea those dandies on stage... but later realized that the same effect could be achieved without the compromise of so much precious real-estate yby simply simply cranking down the strings a couple of steps. Duuuh!?


07 Aug 01 - 09:48 PM (#523106)
Subject: RE: Celtic music on 5 string banjo
From: Jon Freeman

Margo, Ken Perlman has a style that IMO suits the music but will never sound like the more commonly used tenor (plectrum is a lot rarer - both 4 strings played with a pick though).

If you wish to try what I guess you are looking for, I can point you to this post by Seamus Kennedy.

Jn


07 Aug 01 - 10:48 PM (#523134)
Subject: RE: Celtic music on 5 string banjo
From: Rick Fielding

Hi margo. Mudcatter Arnie Naiman is a superb banjo player and can probably give you some feedback. It's hard, but definitely do-able. You could PM Banjo Bonnie as well.

Rick


07 Aug 01 - 11:57 PM (#523205)
Subject: RE: Celtic music on 5 string banjo
From: JedMarum

I use a Vega long neck (5 string) for the Celtic music we play ... but I can't say I follow any discipline at all. I use some brushing, some three finger picking - usually a combination of both. The front of my nail brushing down on a string drives a loud melody line - and that method in combination with three fingered picking or thumb and finger brushing produces some interesting sounds that work well for us. I can't say it fits a classic Celtic style - but I like it.


08 Aug 01 - 12:05 AM (#523211)
Subject: RE: Celtic music on 5 string banjo
From: Sorcha

In my experience, clawhammer style works best for Old Time/Mountain/Bluegrass tunes. If you want to play Celtic, look out for the tunings and don't use the 5th string. BUT---I'm not a banjo player. I'm a fiddle player with 2 "back up" banjo players. I strongly prefer the 4 string over the 5 string player, but the 5 string player doesn't listen well.


08 Aug 01 - 12:12 AM (#523215)
Subject: RE: Celtic music on 5 string banjo
From: JedMarum

... that's a common problem with us 5 string players; we listen as we play, hoping the subtleties we mis the first few times will get picked up along the way!

;-)


08 Aug 01 - 12:17 AM (#523220)
Subject: RE: Celtic music on 5 string banjo
From: Sorcha

Jed, LOL! If it might be wrong, play it LOUD, right? Actually, that is my philosophy too, grin. (Oh, and bang your foot hard against the floor while you play, eh?)


08 Aug 01 - 12:25 AM (#523225)
Subject: RE: Celtic music on 5 string banjo
From: JedMarum

chuckle ... I'm a quick study with American roots music, but must admit, I play quieter on the Celtic tunes 'til I can get the hang of 'em! And that's usually on guitar.


08 Aug 01 - 12:46 AM (#523235)
Subject: RE: Celtic music on 5 string banjo
From: Oversoul

Having have played clawhammer banjo for quite a while, I am finding great joy (renewed interest) in playing more and more "fretted" notes. I have a great book on "G-tuning" scales (in all keys) by Janet Davis. Fretting the fith string is foriegn, but I am learning it, you can too! The damn thing can be more than a drone. It can even be ignored. Maybe the big question here is the relative advantages of playing an instrument tuned in fifths as opposed to those myriad of 5-sting tunings. eh? I'm getting a headache.


08 Aug 01 - 01:06 AM (#523241)
Subject: RE: Celtic music on 5 string banjo
From: Margo

Your replys are great! I just did a workshop with Ken Perlman and I am very excited about playing the material he gave me. It just occured to ask your opinions, and I'm glad I did.

In the material I'm learning there is a lot of melody. Fretting the 7th fret is not uncommon, and off string pull-offs help you pull it off! (Pun intended) It does take some getting used to, but the tunes are great. I'm learning "Sean Ryan's Polka", "The Duke of Perth" "Lass O Gowrie", Mrs.McCleod's reel", and "Brae Reel".

The tunings used are open G, C tuning, and mixolydian (G,D,G,C,D). I love that last one - very modal.

Uncle Jaque, vous etes tres amusant! (Sorry, don't know how to punctuate with accents and circumflex)

Margo


08 Aug 01 - 01:12 AM (#523247)
Subject: RE: Celtic music on 5 string banjo
From: Sorcha

Dave, I have no idea what you mean by the tunings thing--it wouldn't bother me near as much if the 5 string player played melody no matter how loud---that is Celtic. Everybody plays melody.

What he does is play I,IV,V, and VII as loud as he can while banging his foot against the floor as hard as he can. He drones with chords on all 5 strings......and I can't kick him out because we are a "non profit club", not a band. My only choice is to quit and I don't want to do that because there is no one else to play with here. I love everybody else in the group--no problems at all, there.


08 Aug 01 - 04:16 AM (#523298)
Subject: RE: Celtic music on 5 string banjo
From: Charcloth

The Clancy Brothers used a 5 string quite a bit as so did the Corries. Some may argue that these groups are more folk than celtic but... Elderly instruments used to carry a book by Tony Sullivan which used the Seeger style for Irish banjo (Sullivan also has a book for the 4 string.)But Sullivan recomends the 4 string for jigs. I tend to disagree with him in that regard. I use my 5 string (Frailing style) alot for jigs I use G tuning & Double C (mostly Dbl.C for Irish tunes) I Do like the rhythmic qualities of the 5 string but I am not too crazy about what some call the melodic style. The rhythmic qualities are obviously great for dancing


08 Aug 01 - 07:52 AM (#523356)
Subject: RE: Celtic music on 5 string banjo
From: Jon Freeman

Hmm Charcloth, I'm not sure if I'm understanding you correctly but it is the percussive nature of the tenor played with the pick that I believe makes it such it a great tool for playing jigs and reels. The rythm is there and easily obtainible. The drawback I find is that I'm not particulary fond of it as a solo instrument. Even in the hands of players of Sully's ability, I find it usually sounds lonely (and at times even boring) without the support of other instruments. When it has that support, I believe it really shines and cuts through.

To expand on what I was trying to say before, I don't know what style Chris Grotewohl plays but I would imagine it has to be some form of 3 finger style - certainly not clawhammer. The only person I have met who could finger pick a 5 string and make it sound like a tenor used his own adaption of a 3 finger style.

UJ, I know you were joking but these sawed off things do have a big advantage for those of us who like the GDAE tuning. I prefer a 17 fret tenor to a 19 fret one because of the shorter scale length and the smaller stretches involved. Playing a plectrum banjo (or a 5 string minus the 5th string) in that tuning is hard work.

Jon


08 Aug 01 - 09:20 AM (#523398)
Subject: RE: Celtic music on 5 string banjo
From: Charcloth

Jon made a good point about the legnth of the neck. I play bouzouki in GDAE tuning & a mandolin as well. You can realy fly on a mandolin but you have to take it slower on the longer necked bouzouki. But if you your 4 string & 5 string have the same legnth (some do)then both work well. Sometimes I do desire the plucked sound so occasionaly I will flat pick mine. That way I can go back to frailing when I want to do back up work. I really dislike a four string for back up. The extra drone of the 5 greatly adds to accompaniment as does the G or dbl.C tuning. But even then as much as I like the banjo I can't bear to hear it throughout every song or tune. Sully mentioned (in his book)needing a 4 string because of having to use different tunings I don't find this a problem as I only use the two mentioned.


08 Aug 01 - 10:13 AM (#523455)
Subject: RE: Celtic music on 5 string banjo
From: Jon Freeman

Drifting even further of the original topic but, yes Charcloth, I too dislike the tenor used for chord backup -at least in folk music - funny really, I like it in a trad jazz band.

I'm not sure I understand Sully's comment in the book as I view him primarily as an Irish style tenor banjo player - I'd have thought a 4 string essential to him for that reason! I got to play with him in a small session a couple of months ago and he did use both but mostly tenor on that night.

Jon


08 Aug 01 - 12:51 PM (#523586)
Subject: RE: Celtic music on 5 string banjo
From: GUEST,Bob Frost

Ken Pearlman is a fine player, Howie Burson is a fine player. Both play Celtic tunes (among others) on the five-string using melodic clawhammer right hand and some very intricate and accomplished left hand techniques. I've been using three-finger melodic style for whatever I play (mostly Celtic) for over 30 years. In my opinion, "the Tune rules" and it doesn't matter how you get to the notes.

In Ireland, many of the instruments played at sessions are not Irish by origin: synthesizer, hammered dulcimer, banjo. If you like the tunes enough to learn them and to get the feel of how they are presented in the Celtic idioms, that's what counts most. If you want your instrument to sound like a tenor banjo, I suggest you buy a tenor banjo.


08 Aug 01 - 02:47 PM (#523696)
Subject: RE: Celtic music on 5 string banjo
From: Geoff the Duck

Another recent thread was BLUE CLICKY
I'll probably add some to this thread If I have the time...........
Quack!!!!!
Geoff the Duck!


08 Aug 01 - 04:57 PM (#523798)
Subject: RE: Celtic music on 5 string banjo
From: Seamus Kennedy

Jon, you're right. Chris Grotewohl plays a three-finger style in a standard "G" tuning. He plays the melody to Irish tunes, with all the embellishments, triplets, hamer-ons and pull-offs. It's really something to see and hear.

Seamus


08 Aug 01 - 08:03 PM (#523969)
Subject: RE: Celtic music on 5 string banjo
From: Cap't Bob

Hi Margo ~ It seems there are several definitions of the clawhammer style picking. I use the term clawhammer when I play 5 string melody using primarily the fingernail on the first finger and fill in impossible notes using the thumb. There are several celtic tunes that sound real nice using this method. I'm curious as to your definition of clawhammer.

Some tunes are easier to pick using the melodic style using three fingers and the thumb toe pick out the melody (not the same thing as three finger bluegrass picking). I use finger picks when I play using melodic picking. There are a few melodic style books out there dealing with celtic music.

On the tenor banjo I play both ragtime and celtic tunes. When playing celtic tunes I use the standard "C" tuning and put the capo on the second fret. This makes playing in the keys of D,A,G quite easy. The "C" cord becomes "D" etc. I agree with everyone else that rhythm on the tenor doesn't sound just right.

Cap't Bob


08 Aug 01 - 11:56 PM (#524101)
Subject: RE: Celtic music on 5 string banjo
From: GUEST,Margo whose cookie was eaten

Well Cap't Bob, Clawhammer as I know it is strum down (index or middle finger, I use index) and pick up with thumb. So that's only the two digits. Getting into the Celtic music I have been using tab (Ken Perlman's) so I use what ever tuning he's indicated. C tuning is common, but he does use G tuning as well. Lots of work with the left hand in hammer-ons and pull-offs and the right hand thumb dropping to carry melody too.

Boy, I just had the workshop with Ken Perlman, and just a month prior I went to a workshop with Mark Johnson. I have walked away from both thinking, "Anything goes!"

Margo