Re: the Analytical Banjo Method of 1886, is this (the fingerstyle section) material considered early Classic, or is it just not really a part of this genre? Would somebody please share a brief history of the change from "E" tuning and reading to "G". I know I could do it, but I am looking uphill when I think of learning to read in yet another clef.

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Comment by Jody Stecher on May 31, 2011 at 2:03
As the new century grew closer banjos got smaller than they used to be  and the vibrating length of the string ("scale") got shorter. The pich of a banjo string at same tension and diameter as the way it used was ergo higher. Players kept reading in A/E and their banjos were actually playing in C/G. At a certain point reading a note that symbolized a pitch higher than the one that was heard was considered silly. Consensus that Silly was Undesirable was reached in the UK earlier than in the USA.  That's as concise as I can make it. A search on this very site will turn up more detailed discussion and information.
Comment by Tim Twiss on May 31, 2011 at 2:40
Thank you Jody, that was helpful. Can you point to some sample of instruments that would have fit this "E" tuning, or does anybody here keep one tuned as such?
Comment by Jody Stecher on May 31, 2011 at 4:00
Tim, I have a no-name fretted banjo from the late 19th century that has a scale length of 28.5 inches. I have to tune it low or the strings break. It sounds great down there anyway. I also have a Clamp fretless banjo from the UK which seems to have been made in the 1890s.  I can make the scale whatever I want it to be but it sounds best at about 26.5 inches.  I keep other banjos with 27 inch scale up to C/G but this one sounds better around E so that's where I leave it.  Both these low tuned banjos have pots of about 12.5 inches and that is part of why they sound so nice tuned low. And of course any of the banjos on which you play stroke style would be an example of instruments using  D or E tuning.
Comment by Mike Moss on May 31, 2011 at 11:58

Hi Tim,


most (if not all) of the music published in Stewart's B&G Journal was in A notation, and a lot of it is pretty good!

Comment by Trapdoor2 on May 31, 2011 at 13:38

There is nothing like consensus on tunings vs notation at all until 1907, IFAIK. American publications generically point to eAEG#B well into the 1890's. I don't recall the issue but Stewart remarks on how intelligent we are to be reading/teaching in three sharps (but tuning gCGBD) as compared to none. Some of my sheet music has notes which give the banjoist specific instructions on tuning to play with the piano...usually to eAEG#B/eBEG#B. This, I take as an implication that the banjo was otherwise tuned gCGBD, though the notation is in A. I believe this 'transition' started to appear in the mid-to-late 1880's. Indeed, I have some American stuff published in C notation from the early 1890's...and a few pieces published in both (Brit pubs designed for export). 

The Converse Analytical is indeed part of the Classic canon. AFAIC, anything played fingerstyle from the 19th cent to the early 20th is fair game. The ABF has been running a series on the early banjo tutors for the past couple of years...mostly obscure stuff (ie, not the 'big four') but much is transitional between stroke and fingerstyle.

There is absolutely no prohibition regarding tuning or reading in a particular notational scheme. The biggest issue I see is that learning to read in A notation limits you to American publications prior to 1907 (Hi Joel!), while learning to read in C notation limits you to mostly Brit publications prior to 1907 and then whatever has been published thereafter.

OTOH, if you were to say, attend an ABF rally, you would probably be playing alone in eAEG#B tuning and reading tunes out of A notation. The bulk of their rep is both C notation and gCGBD tuning. Same goes for visits to the UK.

Comment by Tim Twiss on May 31, 2011 at 17:58
Good info..thanks. I don't think the Luscomb I have works well with the "E" tuning...too short. Does anybody here play with that tuning?
Comment by Mike Moss on May 31, 2011 at 18:02
I guess if you use a set of Sands heavy nylons you'll be able to tune it down three steps from C whilst maintaining decent string tension. I think Elderly carries them in the US, and they're well worth it -- best nylon banjo strings money can buy.

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