I'm trying to get my tremolo chops up to speed.

I am absolutely baffled by this diagram in Sheldon Green. The written instructions are quite clear, but can anyone explain what's going on here?

This makes no sense to me at all!

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 This is about basic strokes on the banjo. The author is saying that the thumb does not move perpendicular to the floor but rather as it moves down it approaches the index and other fingers. And the index finger similarly moves upward at an angle. Playing like this follows the natural unstrained way the thumb and fingers of primates will move towards each other.  Playing absolutely straight up and down is likely to cause pain and tendonitis in fingers, hand, and wrist.

When playing tremolo with the index finger the angle is similar.  I play tremolo with the middle finger, It works better for me But again to get the finger absolutely perpendicular to the banjo head would cause extreme strain to my hand and would only be possible with an extreme bend of the wrist.

Yes. The wrist is usually rolled towards the nut end of the fingerboard so that the thumb is above and the index is below and angled to sweep across the strings. Joel can better illustrate the position/process...as he does it very well.

Adding to this: The thumb and index sweep across the strings a bit diagonally. Both move toward the bridge,  It seems to me that this is what the diagram is intended to show. If there were arrowheads at the end of the lines it might be a clearer diagram,

Trapdoor2 said:

Yes. The wrist is usually rolled towards the nut end of the fingerboard so that the thumb is above and the index is below and angled to sweep across the strings. Joel can better illustrate the position/process...as he does it very well.

I found S. S. Stewart's article on the subject to be very helpful when I was trying to unravel who to do it.

https://archive.org/details/Observations/page/n7/mode/2up

Parke Hunter dealt, very comprehensively, with every form of tremolo anyone would be likely to play in his  famous book of studies. The Barnes and Mullins book also has an extensive coverage of the style. 

My first reply was so complicated I couldn't even read it let alone understand it. I've deleted it. Now I've had a nap I'll try again.

I see only one form of tremolo in the Parke Hunter book. Maybe there is more than one book. He teaches index finger tremolo staring with a downward movement. He applies it to different strings, both singly and several played together but it is the same form of tremolo: down/up with index.  He prescribes different fingers for bracing but the actual method of tremolo is only one way.

I have played and witnessed other ways. For instance:

Index starting with up

Middle staring with up.

Middle starting with down

Alternating thumb and index

Alternating index and middle, both up.

If there a different Parke Hunter book other than the one in the library here?

I'm not aware of any other books by Hunter but surely his coverage of Sostenuto/Tremelo (pages 36 -45) in his 'Banjo Studies' (pub. Dallas 1903) will satisfy even the most assiduous and enthusiastic student of the banjo? If Hunter's thorough coverage does  fall short of expectations then further instruction in the art of Tremolo/Sostenuto can be found in the Barnes and Mullins 'Banjo School' pages 43 -51? Should this be found wanting, then Grimshaw may have the answer in his 'The Banjo and How to Play It' where he devotes a little over one page (pages 32-33) to the 'finger tremolo' and offers the following advice, "Tremelo on the banjo is easier (and more effective) when the strings are vibrated by means of a plectrum".

Jody Stecher said:' 

My first reply was so complicated I couldn't even read it let alone understand it. I've deleted it. Now I've had a nap I'll try again.

I see only one form of tremolo in the Parke Hunter book. Maybe there is more than one book. He teaches index finger tremolo staring with a downward movement. He applies it to different strings, both singly and several played together but it is the same form of tremolo: down/up with index.  He prescribes different fingers for bracing but the actual method of tremolo is only one way.

I have played and witnessed other ways. For instance:

Index starting with up

Middle staring with up.

Middle starting with down

Alternating thumb and index

Alternating index and middle, both up.

If there a different Parke Hunter book other than the one in the library here?

Hunter teaches one and only one form of tremolo on all the pages: index, leading with down stroke with a different way of bracing according to which string or string this particular tremolo technique is applied. The Barnes & Mullins book teaches the same finger and order of strokes with a different hand position  from Hunter. In my copy (red cover) of the Grimshaw book tremolo is taught on page 29. He teaches the opposite of Hunter's technique. The thumb rather than any digit is used to brace so the brace is on the opposite side of the 5 strings as with Hunter.  The movement of the index finger begins with an UP stroke in Grimshaw's method. And he allows for using the middle finger instead of the index when playing the middle strings. In Sheldon Green book, the one referenced at the start of this discussion, the direction of the index finger also begins up, not down, as in Hunter or Barnes & Mullins. I've had a look at the early pages of the Green book and I think I can now better answer the original question which was about the diagram. There are exercises in the book that involve a thumb stroke on a lower string that takes place simultaneously with the first stroke of the index as it plays tremolo. The diagram may be meant to represent the hand position when playing this way.

Parke Hunter's coverage is thorough in demonstrating various applications of one particular tremolo technique. It is not a survey or exploration of the many ways tremolo may be played,  Knowledge of this variety and the discovery of which technique suits the hand and mind of an individual player may be obtained by consulting the conflicting opinions of the various experts in print, and by trying them out and/or discovering new ways through experimentation, taking care not to injure the hand. One banjoist's "correct" method can lead to pain and injury in the hand of another banjoist. I have seen too many classical guitarists get tendonitis from adhering to "correct" technique (in both hands).

Richard William Ineson said:

I'm not aware of any other books by Hunter but surely his coverage of Sostenuto/Tremelo (pages 36 -45) in his 'Banjo Studies' (pub. Dallas 1903) will satisfy even the most assiduous and enthusiastic student of the banjo? If Hunter's thorough coverage does  fall short of expectations then further instruction in the art of Tremolo/Sostenuto can be found in the Barnes and Mullins 'Banjo School' pages 43 -51? Should this be found wanting, then Grimshaw may have the answer in his 'The Banjo and How to Play It' where he devotes a little over one page (pages 32-33) to the 'finger tremolo' and offers the following advice, "Tremelo on the banjo is easier (and more effective) when the strings are vibrated by means of a plectrum".

Jody Stecher said:' 

My first reply was so complicated I couldn't even read it let alone understand it. I've deleted it. Now I've had a nap I'll try again.

I see only one form of tremolo in the Parke Hunter book. Maybe there is more than one book. He teaches index finger tremolo staring with a downward movement. He applies it to different strings, both singly and several played together but it is the same form of tremolo: down/up with index.  He prescribes different fingers for bracing but the actual method of tremolo is only one way.

I have played and witnessed other ways. For instance:

Index starting with up

Middle staring with up.

Middle starting with down

Alternating thumb and index

Alternating index and middle, both up.

If there a different Parke Hunter book other than the one in the library here?

Hunter and Barnes and Mullins both give examples of Sostenuto/Tremelo playing in the duo style in which the thumb is used to play the accompaniment whilst the melody is played on the 1st string so I cannot agree that Hunter and B&M advised only to use the thumb as the 'brace' as this would have made it impossible to play in the duo style. I'm not really sure what you mean when you write, "Parke Hunter's coverage is thorough in demonstrating various applications of one particular tremolo technique. It is not a survey or exploration of the many ways tremolo may be played". What are the 'many ways that tremolo may be played' which are not covered by Hunter and B&M?

Hunter and B&M do not say to use the thumb as a brace.  I didn't say they did. It is Grimshaw who advises thumb use.  I did say that. I mention several other types of tremolo in an earlier message. Here they are again. They are not the only ones.

Index starting with up

Middle staring with up.

Middle starting with down

Alternating thumb and index

Alternating index and middle, both up.


Richard William Ineson said:

Hunter and Barnes and Mullins both give examples of Sostenuto/Tremelo playing in the duo style in which the thumb is used to play the accompaniment whilst the melody is played on the 1st string so I cannot agree that Hunter and B&M advised only to use the thumb as the 'brace' as this would have made it impossible to play in the duo style. I'm not really sure what you mean when you write, "Parke Hunter's coverage is thorough in demonstrating various applications of one particular tremolo technique. It is not a survey or exploration of the many ways tremolo may be played". What are the 'many ways that tremolo may be played' which are not covered by Hunter and B&M?

You win, I got confused (not uncommon these days) with the various references, but having re read your comment a few times I see that you say that Grimshaw said to brace with the thumb 'so the brace is on the opposite side of the 5 strings as with Hunter'.  In his 'Banjo Studies,  Hunter says to brace with the tourth finger when playing a melody on the 1st string or when playing in the duo style. Exercises 61 -70.  However he goes on to advise using the thumb to brace, in combination with the second finger  when playing sostenuto on the inner strings. Hunter is the only banjo player, as far as I am aware, to give instruction in  playing tremolo on the 3rd,4th and 5th strings, something which I have never seen or heard done by anybody, since I started playing the banjo in the early 1960s, perhaps he was the first and last person to do it. Hunter seems to have covered most aspects of this particular technique except perhaps incorporating artificial harmonics whilst playing a tremolo melody duo style.  I think that Grimshaw tells you all you really need to know about Tremelo. One good thing as a result of this discussion i got my banjo out and played through 'Massa's in the Cold Cold Ground', and 'I Dream of Jeannie With the Light Brown Ale' something which I haven't done for some years, it went surprisingly well for a 75 year old pensioner but not something I would risk playing in public. David Milner was famous for playing in the Tremelo style but Ii doubt whether 'Alice Where Art Thou' etc. would be well received by modern audiences. Sid Tuner was also famous for his duo style/tremelo rendition of his arrangement of 'Home Sweet Home' , he used to charge 5/- (25p), which was lot of money in the early 20th century) for a hand written copy of his arrangement of this well known tune, I may have a copy in the archives somewhere, if I could only remember where it is.

Jody Stecher said:

Hunter and B&M do not say to use the thumb as a brace.  I didn't say they did. It is Grimshaw who advises thumb use.  I did say that. I mention several other types of tremolo in an earlier message. Here they are again. They are not the only ones.

Index starting with up

Middle staring with up.

Middle starting with down

Alternating thumb and index

Alternating index and middle, both up.


Richard William Ineson said:

Hunter and Barnes and Mullins both give examples of Sostenuto/Tremelo playing in the duo style in which the thumb is used to play the accompaniment whilst the melody is played on the 1st string so I cannot agree that Hunter and B&M advised only to use the thumb as the 'brace' as this would have made it impossible to play in the duo style. I'm not really sure what you mean when you write, "Parke Hunter's coverage is thorough in demonstrating various applications of one particular tremolo technique. It is not a survey or exploration of the many ways tremolo may be played". What are the 'many ways that tremolo may be played' which are not covered by Hunter and B&M?

I'm also a year older than you and therefore entitled to be even more confused. The first reply I made to your post about Hunter (one of my favorite banjo composers) was so confusing that when I read it I couldn't understand what I meant. So I deleted the post and tried again.

What I meant about bracing—as I think you worked out — is that Grimshaw recommends bracing on the side of the strings towards the sky, which is the opposite of the side towards the earth, which is where Hunter prescribes bracing.

In addition to confusing things I may really type, sometimes my computer "corrects" what I wrote, often a full minute later and makes nonsense out of what I meant to say.  When I used to write magazine articles I would sometimes get a human editor who performed this function. Now we can all get nincompoopified with no human intervention.

Richard William Ineson said:

You win, I got confused (not uncommon these days) with the various references, but having re read your comment a few times I see that you say that Grimshaw said to brace with the thumb 'so the brace is on the opposite side of the 5 strings as with Hunter'.  In his 'Banjo Studies,  Hunter says to brace with the tourth finger when playing a melody on the 1st string or when playing in the duo style. Exercises 61 -70.  However he goes on to advise using the thumb to brace, in combination with the second finger  when playing sostenuto on the inner strings. Hunter is the only banjo player, as far as I am aware, to give instruction in  playing tremolo on the 3rd,4th and 5th strings, something which I have never seen or heard done by anybody, since I started playing the banjo in the early 1960s, perhaps he was the first and last person to do it. Hunter seems to have covered most aspects of this particular technique except perhaps incorporating artificial harmonics whilst playing a tremolo melody duo style.  I think that Grimshaw tells you all you really need to know about Tremelo. One good thing as a result of this discussion i got my banjo out and played through 'Massa's in the Cold Cold Ground', and 'I Dream of Jeannie With the Light Brown Ale' something which I haven't done for some years, it went surprisingly well for a 75 year old pensioner but not something I would risk playing in public. David Milner was famous for playing in the Tremelo style but Ii doubt whether 'Alice Where Art Thou' etc. would be well received by modern audiences. Sid Tuner was also famous for his duo style/tremelo rendition of his arrangement of 'Home Sweet Home' , he used to charge 5/- (25p), which was lot of money in the early 20th century) for a hand written copy of his arrangement of this well known tune, I may have a copy in the archives somewhere, if I could only remember where it is.

Jody Stecher said:

Hunter and B&M do not say to use the thumb as a brace.  I didn't say they did. It is Grimshaw who advises thumb use.  I did say that. I mention several other types of tremolo in an earlier message. Here they are again. They are not the only ones.

Index starting with up

Middle staring with up.

Middle starting with down

Alternating thumb and index

Alternating index and middle, both up.


Richard William Ineson said:

Hunter and Barnes and Mullins both give examples of Sostenuto/Tremelo playing in the duo style in which the thumb is used to play the accompaniment whilst the melody is played on the 1st string so I cannot agree that Hunter and B&M advised only to use the thumb as the 'brace' as this would have made it impossible to play in the duo style. I'm not really sure what you mean when you write, "Parke Hunter's coverage is thorough in demonstrating various applications of one particular tremolo technique. It is not a survey or exploration of the many ways tremolo may be played". What are the 'many ways that tremolo may be played' which are not covered by Hunter and B&M?

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