well everybody, I must confess to what some may consider a sin hereabouts. I got interested in this style of banjo back in June this year when I saw Clarke Buehling perform at Walthamstow folk club in East London, within a few short weeks I had stashed my old bluegrass jo in the case, found a new home for my go to Vega tubaphone banjos (under the bed, refuse to change the setup of either of them ) and bought a Weaver to begin my new banjourney ! All was going reasonably well as I have always been a fingerpicking kind of guy both on guitar and, banjo , I had Whistling Rufus and, the Sunflower Dance off to a reasonable level and have latterly got The Smiler Rag to a standard where I can perform it in public without inducing too much pain, here though is the rub ! I felt hampered by the high action and huge clubby neck of the Weaver at the higher frets, I felt this banjo was fighting me back all the time since, all my aforementioned jos were easier to play, this week I gave up the fight and bought a sweet mid 1930s Whyte Laydie with a newer repro neck by Clancy Mullins, put on my Colby Van Eps tailpiece, 1/2" Morley bridge and a set of nylgut strings. this banjo not only plays perfectly intonated all over the neck but sounds far fuller and more musical to me and others who have tolerated my fumbling around on unfamiliar tunes ! In short my understanding was that the CE Weaver should have delivered everything for the aspiring "classic" player and, this whole experience has left me somewhat unsettled. Am I odd in my choice of instrument ? will it pass ? should I spend some time in the stocks or, is it OK to favour a Vega over a pucker 1890s Essex & Cammeyer Weaver ? shall I for all time be a social pariah at banjo events as I wander sadly around in a hair shirt lugging my Vega jo with me ?

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Nick, your perceptive ability is what is known as "relative pitch".  You are able to effortlessly discern when music is in or out of tune with itself.  "Perfect Pitch", as Marc has hinted, is indeed an affliction. It's also called Absolute Pitch. It is the ability to recognize particular frequencies as the Right ones and to reject others as Wrong. This maladyusually appears early in life and usually in a classical music context.  One learns to recognize A 440 as A.  The problem is that this is not a universal standard. Various orchestras tune higher or lower. And the grand organs in the churches of Europe? Each has their own A, none of them 440. They will all sound out of tune to someone with Perfect Pitch.   The person with Perfect Pitch thinks it is a gift and sometimes becomes self-important. In all fairness it is the fault of family members who never miss an opportunity to boast within earshot of the Perfect Pitcher about the amazing ability of their sibling, child, or cousin. 

A few people with perfect pitch are able to get over the Right Wrong problem. They simply recognize a pitch as what it is and make no judgments about tunefulness.

As for electronic tuners, they have made amateur music far more out of tune than it used to be. What they indicate is In tune corresponds to the pitches of NO kind of music that has previously existed. But wait! It's worse. The different brands don't agree with each other. That's not all. The different models within a brand don't agree with each other as to what is In Tune. It can't get worse can it? It can. It does.  The different specimens within a model of most brands of electronic tuners don't agree with each other. A friend of mine photographed a battery of tuners of the same brand and model, clipped to an instrument peg head at the moment a string was sounded. Each gave a different reading. Not just different degrees of how flat or sharp of "in tune" it was, but some showed the note to be sharp, some flat.  

 But I agree that if the members of a band all use the same electronic tuner they will be internally in tune with each other even if their music is out of tune to all music that ever happened before. acronym : AMTEHB.

nick stephens said:

well, I dont know how perfect pitch is determined but I am often able to say what key a piece of music is in upon hearing it for the first time without reference to any instrument and, when I hear an instrument, any instrument played out of tune even slightly it actually makes me feel slightly ill, sick even ! before the advent of digital tuners I could not tolerate listening to local amateur bands as they nearly always were somewhat off with regard tuning together.

Trapdoor2 said:

We had a friend of the family who suffered from perfect pitch. She hated my banjo (naturally) but also most music. She was a concert grade pianist. Oddly, she had a stroke, late in life, and she told me that it made her pitch sensitivity go away.

Jody, you will need to explain that acronym to me, yes indeed the band sharing a common tuner was what I had in mind, to my ears things have improved tunewise within local bands, I no longer have to leave the room when they play ! I guess my modest musicality is quite normal amongst folk who have played for years, 46 years in my case !

Jody Stecher said:

Nick, your perceptive ability is what is known as "relative pitch".  You are able to effortlessly discern when music is in or out of tune with itself.  "Perfect Pitch", as Marc has hinted, is indeed an affliction. It's also called Absolute Pitch. It is the ability to recognize particular frequencies as the Right ones and to reject others as Wrong. This maladyusually appears early in life and usually in a classical music context.  One learns to recognize A 440 as A.  The problem is that this is not a universal standard. Various orchestras tune higher or lower. And the grand organs in the churches of Europe? Each has their own A, none of them 440. They will all sound out of tune to someone with Perfect Pitch.   The person with Perfect Pitch thinks it is a gift and sometimes becomes self-important. In all fairness it is the fault of family members who never miss an opportunity to boast within earshot of the Perfect Pitcher about the amazing ability of their sibling, child, or cousin. 

A few people with perfect pitch are able to get over the Right Wrong problem. They simply recognize a pitch as what it is and make no judgments about tunefulness.

As for electronic tuners, they have made amateur music far more out of tune than it used to be. What they indicate is In tune corresponds to the pitches of NO kind of music that has previously existed. But wait! It's worse. The different brands don't agree with each other. That's not all. The different models within a brand don't agree with each other as to what is In Tune. It can't get worse can it? It can. It does.  The different specimens within a model of most brands of electronic tuners don't agree with each other. A friend of mine photographed a battery of tuners of the same brand and model, clipped to an instrument peg head at the moment a string was sounded. Each gave a different reading. Not just different degrees of how flat or sharp of "in tune" it was, but some showed the note to be sharp, some flat.  

 But I agree that if the members of a band all use the same electronic tuner they will be internally in tune with each other even if their music is out of tune to all music that ever happened before. acronym : AMTEHB.

nick stephens said:

well, I dont know how perfect pitch is determined but I am often able to say what key a piece of music is in upon hearing it for the first time without reference to any instrument and, when I hear an instrument, any instrument played out of tune even slightly it actually makes me feel slightly ill, sick even ! before the advent of digital tuners I could not tolerate listening to local amateur bands as they nearly always were somewhat off with regard tuning together.

Trapdoor2 said:

We had a friend of the family who suffered from perfect pitch. She hated my banjo (naturally) but also most music. She was a concert grade pianist. Oddly, she had a stroke, late in life, and she told me that it made her pitch sensitivity go away.

Your reading of the situation seems very likely to me. I know a number of able musicians who began playing when young to please others and who later put it aside. 

Thank your for the subtle invitation to attend a rally. I have not specifically been staying away from ABF gatherings. I have been staying away from everything 3000 miles away. Or sometimes even 30 miles away. After  50 years of musical touring I now love being home the best. 


Joel Hooks said:

I think the truth was that she was compelled or felt obligated to play banjo for her brother whom she adored. 

Perhaps after she married she felt free from that obligation. 

Though she was a amazing banjoist, it is possible that she did not "like" playing.  But I don't know about that.  It would not be the first time a skilled musician did not enjoy playing music.

The story that I relayed above came from her Grandson.  He was very open with sharing information about her.  Perhaps there is "more to it".  It is possible that he will make another rally in the future.  If he does I'll let you know so that you can show up and ask him in person.  I got the impression that he would be happy to tell you any details.

It's the first letter of the words that preceded my typing it.   All Music That Ever Happened Before.

nick stephens said:

Jody, you will need to explain that acronym to me,

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