The fiddler who fiddles with this blog

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Selinsgrove, PA, United States
Beverley Conrad is a writer and musician who has played the fiddle for most of her life and she's no spring chicken. She performs regularly in her home state and beyond and teaches others how to play. She lives in the Appalachian Mountains in Pennsylvania. She also likes to cook. For more about Beverley and the fiddle visit her website at Fiddlerwoman.com

Monday, November 7, 2011

     I bought a banjo.  It occurred to me on several occasions that although I can sing a few songs while playing the fiddle, a banjo makes a better accompaniment for singalongs.  Many years ago I was able to play the guitar but now the neck on a guitar is too wide for my left hand.  It causes problems when I go back to playing the fiddle.  It makes my hand hurt.  Oh, well.
     A couple of weeks ago I started looking up banjos on the Internet.  Although I had tried to play a regular five string bluegrass banjo over the years, learning the chords and trying to find the notes for melody picking always eluded me.  I was used to guitar chord patters and too used to finding notes on the fiddle.
     I looked up four string tenor banjo.  Fond that they are tuned CGDA same as a viola.  I can play the viola.  There's not much difference between playing a violin to playing a viola.  It makes for a nice change and a different sound and mood for certain tunes.
     Tenor banjo links lead me to Irish banjo links.  An Irish banjo is tuned GDAE - same as a fiddle.  Same as a mandolin although I do not play a mandolin because I don';t like the feel of the double strings.  The strings on an Irish banjo are thicker than those on a tenor banjo and the instrument is actually tuned an octave lower than a regular fiddle.  This is to make is easier to sing along with.
     I figured I should buy one.  Luke and I play a regular gig at Puirseils Irish Pub in Lewisburg, PA every Thursday night and lately people have been asking us to play songs that they can sing along to.  This Irish banjo - if I could learn to play it passably - seemed just the ticket.
     First stop -eBay.  But it occurred to me that I would be buying an unknown quantity and might have trouble returning the instrument if I didn't like it or if it just wasn't any god.  So I found one pictured online, a used one, c. 1920's at Schoolhouse Music in Danville, PA.  Scotty's been there for a long time.  Trustworthy.  He opens at 10 am I was there at the shop at 10:15.  Ten minutes later I had the Irish Banjo in it's falling apart case in my car. 
     The learning curve for this banjo, given as how I can chord on the fiddle - was nil.  Straightaway I could play a three chord tune in G major.  D followed quickly.  I could find the melody notes to tunes I already know on the fiddle.
     We have already started bringing it along a I have been singing along to it at the gig at Puirsels.  Luke sounds great when playing his tin whistle along with my simple chording.
So if you're a fiddle looking to find a relatively easy to play chording instrument, get an Irish banjo.  I'm just beginning to learn how to really play it.  Rough as it is now, it can only get better.  At least I can find my way around this one. 

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