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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One other thing which occurred to me is why is B. Sheldon Green seen to be such an authority on the Tremelo? I don't know much about him apart from that he was from Australia/New Zealand and wrote a few tunes for the banjo and a couple of instruction books, so why is he so important?

Jody Stecher said:

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?

Perhaps it's because he is he only person to have written and published a work devoted entirely to this one technique applied to the 5-string banjo. His name and "sostentuto" are on the cover so the two are connected in people's minds.

Richard William Ineson said:

One other thing which occurred to me is why is B. Sheldon Green seen to be such an authority on the Tremelo? I don't know much about him apart from that he was from Australia/New Zealand and wrote a few tunes for the banjo and a couple of instruction books, so why is he so important?

Jody Stecher said:

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?

FWIW, I don't associate Green with tremolo.  The two people that I do connect with it are Alfred Farland and Fred Bacon, (Farland being obsessed with it).  I have only flipped through Green's book and have not given it any study.


The idea behind tremolo was that it was a sustained note to simulate violin bowing or the sustained notes of the same. While a nice novelty, I don't hear it that way.  To me it sounds like a bunch of trilled or rapid short notes, which is what it is.

Tremolo began long before there were banjos. It seems to have originated on double-strung instruments all over the world. Mandolin and its ancestors in Europe, oud in the middle east, tar in Persia.  Players of single strung instruments like pi'pa and sanxian in China are tremolo experts. None of these instruments have long sustain as do wind instruments, bowed instruments, and especially singers.

Yes, to the player and to those nearby what is heard is a flurry. But the technique developed, in Europe at least, to be used in venues where much of the audience was too far away to hear the sound of the plectrum on the strings. It is for these distant listeners that the effect is intended to convey the sound of a continuous sustain. 

Or so the story goes. Whatever the origin, tremolo has become a signature sound of  mandolin, oud, etc, and the sound of the plectrum has become part of enjoyed experience of hearing it. 

Joel Hooks said:

FWIW, I don't associate Green with tremolo.  The two people that I do connect with it are Alfred Farland and Fred Bacon, (Farland being obsessed with it).  I have only flipped through Green's book and have not given it any study.


The idea behind tremolo was that it was a sustained note to simulate violin bowing or the sustained notes of the same. While a nice novelty, I don't hear it that way.  To me it sounds like a bunch of trilled or rapid short notes, which is what it is.

I agree Joel, attaining the necessary smooth and rapid flow of notes to simulate a continuous unbroken note is impossible but the banjo sounds good played in the tremolo style and has been used to good effect, using that style, in the past. Farland  and Bacon were the masters in the USA, Sid Turner and David Milner were the main protagonists in the UK. but it is not heard very often nowadays. It takes a long time to learn how to do it smoothly and the time and effort required to get it sounding good might not be seen to be justifiable by most people. 

Joel Hooks said:

FWIW, I don't associate Green with tremolo.  The two people that I do connect with it are Alfred Farland and Fred Bacon, (Farland being obsessed with it).  I have only flipped through Green's book and have not given it any study.


The idea behind tremolo was that it was a sustained note to simulate violin bowing or the sustained notes of the same. While a nice novelty, I don't hear it that way.  To me it sounds like a bunch of trilled or rapid short notes, which is what it is.

What I said about not hearing the sound of the plectrum also applies to the sound of the finger in the case of banjo, sanxian, pi'pa etc.  

Jody Stecher said:

Tremolo began long before there were banjos. It seems to have originated on double-strung instruments all over the world. Mandolin and its ancestors in Europe, oud in the middle east, tar in Persia.  Players of single strung instruments like pi'pa and sanxian in China are tremolo experts. None of these instruments have long sustain as do wind instruments, bowed instruments, and especially singers.

Yes, to the player and to those nearby what is heard is a flurry. But the technique developed, in Europe at least, to be used in venues where much of the audience was too far away to hear the sound of the plectrum on the strings. It is for these distant listeners that the effect is intended to convey the sound of a continuous sustain. 

Or so the story goes. Whatever the origin, tremolo has become a signature sound of  mandolin, oud, etc, and the sound of the plectrum has become part of enjoyed experience of hearing it. 

Joel Hooks said:

FWIW, I don't associate Green with tremolo.  The two people that I do connect with it are Alfred Farland and Fred Bacon, (Farland being obsessed with it).  I have only flipped through Green's book and have not given it any study.


The idea behind tremolo was that it was a sustained note to simulate violin bowing or the sustained notes of the same. While a nice novelty, I don't hear it that way.  To me it sounds like a bunch of trilled or rapid short notes, which is what it is.

I decided to test the theory. What a novel idea!  Theory based on empirical evidence?  How dangerous. My wife is somewhat hard of hearing so she is the perfect assistant. I played tremolo on a string and backed away from her. At the open door to the next room she could still hear the individual strokes. I moved into the adjoining room, taking care not to back into a chair or to trip on anything. At 32 paces I could go no further and she reported the effect of continuity was "better" but she still heard the individual strokes. I think Joel and Richard are right. Continuity may be suggested by the technique, but not replicated. Not by me, anyway.

Jody Stecher said:

What I said about not hearing the sound of the plectrum also applies to the sound of the finger in the case of banjo, sanxian, pi'pa etc.  

Jody Stecher said:

Tremolo began long before there were banjos. It seems to have originated on double-strung instruments all over the world. Mandolin and its ancestors in Europe, oud in the middle east, tar in Persia.  Players of single strung instruments like pi'pa and sanxian in China are tremolo experts. None of these instruments have long sustain as do wind instruments, bowed instruments, and especially singers.

Yes, to the player and to those nearby what is heard is a flurry. But the technique developed, in Europe at least, to be used in venues where much of the audience was too far away to hear the sound of the plectrum on the strings. It is for these distant listeners that the effect is intended to convey the sound of a continuous sustain. 

Or so the story goes. Whatever the origin, tremolo has become a signature sound of  mandolin, oud, etc, and the sound of the plectrum has become part of enjoyed experience of hearing it. 

Joel Hooks said:

FWIW, I don't associate Green with tremolo.  The two people that I do connect with it are Alfred Farland and Fred Bacon, (Farland being obsessed with it).  I have only flipped through Green's book and have not given it any study.


The idea behind tremolo was that it was a sustained note to simulate violin bowing or the sustained notes of the same. While a nice novelty, I don't hear it that way.  To me it sounds like a bunch of trilled or rapid short notes, which is what it is.

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