In this journey (obsession) of historic banjo playing, I have turned to reading all of the period literature on the subject that I could find. An observation I made is that it seems most banjoists had a version of "Home, Sweet Home with Tremolo." I had read the instructions for how to play it, listened to Ossman and Eps, but really did not give it much mind.

Then, from Trapdoor's recommendation, I bought Douglas Back's The Banjo Goes Highbrow (if you don't have this get it now). It is incredible, I was riveted. When I got to "Variations on Massa's In The Cold Cold Ground," the hair stood up on the back of my neck (Mr. Back, I would love a copy of your arrangement, though I don't think I could do it justice). My skin crawled. I must have listened to it a hundred times.

I had to learn tremolo. I read Stewart's and Converse's instructions again. I watched classical guitarists play with multiple fingers, it was not the same sound.

My biggest concern was repetitive movement injuries. I did some research on this. It seems that CTS may not even be caused by movement. I also found a correlation between the injuries and sedimentary lifestyles. I just added more forearm exercises and stretches to my workout regiment (this all may be my youthful ignorance).

Other then that, I added Converse's tremolo exercises to my practice sessions, and I am slowly getting there. I am not rushing anything.

Sorry it this sounds a little crazy. I do feel that way when it comes to our instrument.

Views: 88

Comment by Jody Stecher on April 12, 2009 at 20:46
Hi Joel,
First of all please don’t feel the need to apologize for banjo craziness. Jeez, yer amongst a buncha nutters like me who post photos of chairs that look like banjo pegheads. Crazy is taken for granted. In music those who are crazy and obsessed are the ones who make progress.

Second, if you are worried about injury from tremolo Don’t Use Your Forearm! Just wiggle yr finger, she’ll be alright if you do it lightly, Muscle isn’t necessary.

Third, Fourth and Fifth etc:

I recommend you also listen to Fred Bacon's historic recording of Massa. What you'll hear in the tremolo section there (and no doubt in Doug Back's rendition, which I haven't heard) is a rapid movement where the individual strokes can't be discerned.

You can hear that recording here:

(and a hundred or so other classic banjo cylinders here) :

What you’re doing in your video is of historic interest. You are dividing the beat in sixes. In fact some great mandolin players did this (albeit with a plectrum). Except they went a lot faster. Most just let it fly unmetered.

I’m not as good with my index as with my middle. I’ll also do two finger tremolo and sometimes it even works. I agree it doesn’t sound the same at first, but it can. I’m not sure Doug Back is not using two finger tremolo. Maybe he’ll see this post and let us know. His right hand is mostly hidden behind a music stand in this video but this sure looks like 2 finger tremolo and it sounds very fluid indeed:

For a good clear look at index finger tremolo check out these two Persian setar players. Yes, it’s not banjo but it is finger tremolo and well done. The players are Dariush Talai and Alizadeh. There are many more such videos on youtube. I happen to love Persian classical music but don’t expect everyone else to. My point in posting these URLs is the clear view of the index finger playing tremolo.


Comment by Trapdoor2 on April 12, 2009 at 23:55
As I recall, (it has been some years since I saw Doug in concert), Mr. Back doesn't do the "finger wiggle" but uses his finger like a plectrum and moves from the elbow and wrist. My memory is fading but I think he did initally use the 'finger wiggle' but had some pain and switched to a method he found more comfortable for him. Perhaps he'll chime in here...
Comment by Jody Stecher on April 13, 2009 at 0:24
Bacon in his "improved paramount method" and Grimshaw in "the banjo and how to play it" are pretty explicit about the finger moving freely for tremolo. But each player has his/her own hands and has to do what will work for them.
I would think moving from the elbow would be overkill. But every time I think I've seen everything someone comes up with something seemingly unlikely that works well for them.
Comment by Joel Hooks on April 13, 2009 at 1:05
Thanks for the videos. It actually looks looks like he is doing all three.

It also looks like he is using one of these

Marc, what you are describing sounds similar to the "shake" in the ABM p.19.

So far I have not had any problems with the wobble. I have slowly been chipping away at a trem. version of "Who's That Knocking at The Door."
Comment by Trapdoor2 on April 13, 2009 at 1:30
Yes, Doug is shown using the Hartnet "Tone Enhancer". I saw one on ebay some years ago...shoulda bought it.

I believe Mr. Van Eps eschewed the finger wiggle, preferring instead the use of two finger trem...and sometimes including something like a "drum slide" to get two strings on a single finger for certain effects.

Keep up the great work, Joel. You'll be clipping along with F. Bacon soon enough.
Comment by David Wade on April 13, 2009 at 9:06
Morley page 42 affords two lines under the general heading of Finger Tremolo : Melody Tremolo
"Place the tip of the 3rd finger of the right hand on the vellum below the strings and tremolo the melody on the first string wile playing the accompanying notes with the thumb" Quite a nice little exercise follows but no indication of how many notes.
I'll post some other extracts later on, the definative book is the Sheldon Green Sustenuto one - I'll dig it out later on.
Comment by Jody Stecher on April 13, 2009 at 15:46
I posted a comment a half hour ago but it hasn't shown up. Here goes again: it appears that there may be two related but distinct topics at hand here: the technique of tremolo playing and the technique of the "duo style" where the thumb plays a bass line and the treble strings take the melody with tremolo.
Comment by Joel Hooks on April 14, 2009 at 2:27
This is the first I have heard the term duo style. My knowledge is limited to the tutors and Stewart's journal's I have available. It seems that it was all lumped into one classification. I have a arrangement of "Home, Sweet Home" that has variations with single string tremolo and the duo style, but it is just called tremolo.

When I practice, I try to get four tremolo notes ( that is two finger strokes) to every count, but it may not work out that way at speed. I think I will give the two fingers a try and see how it goes.
Comment by Jody Stecher on April 14, 2009 at 2:57
"Duo style" as a term may derive from the world(s) of plectrum instruments. I don't know if it shows up in any banjo tutors. Musically it amounts to the same thing. The usual amount of strokes per count (depending on how *count* is defined) is *as many as possible* according to the unmetered tremolo school, 12 per beat (2 sixes or 4 threes) according another, and the way Fred Bacon did it which was in very precise fours, re-accented on each new *1*. In the intro to Massa ITCCG for instance, the shortest note gets 8 strokes. The longest gets 20. That means 16 per count. It's really fast but very steady. How do I know? I just listened at 20% speed with Amazing Slowdowner.

I'm trying to work out how you get four tremolo notes with two finger strokes. I get one per stroke.
Comment by Joel Hooks on April 14, 2009 at 3:03
Back and forth.

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