“The banjo drum set is an unnecessary, but inevitable, instrument of the modern convenience era”
Any combination of banjos, drums, and metal objects you hit with your hands, sticks, feet, mallets, etc. is your banjo drum set. Set it up any way you like. P Experiment with different tunings and extended techniques. Prepare your banjos with metal objects, wire, thingamabobs, and what nots. The potentiality is boundlessly banjodrumtastic!
Recipe for drumset ala banjo:
Start by putting a banjo on a snare drum stand. Loosen the arms of the stand to be slightly wider than the resonator or rim, then tighten the arms until it is snug. Using an open-back banjo you’ll need to position the banjo so the rubber arms fit in between the bracket hooks.
Now that you’ve got a horizontal banjo set up, add one or more of the possible ingredients:
- more banjos on snare drum stands
- a bass drum, cymbal, tom, etc.
- put a loose snare on a banjo (or a rattle, buzzy object, etc.)
- tiny cymbal on the head or strings
- more instruments on your bass drum
- another banjo upright in an instrument stand, strike with a bass drum pedal
- plug it in and add effects
Two Short Pieces with Electronics
These are my first experiments with the banjo drum set. On Collided Yellow, I removed the 5-string from the stand and played clawhammer in addition to hitting strings with mallets. I since have stopped using this as an option, because it is a hassle to readjust to the snare stand in performance. The second piece, Loose Nutron, uses other percussion objects and strings prepared with sewing needles.
For one thing, using open tunings allow you to play a chord by hitting the banjo head. Having 2 banjos in the same tuning can create a nice sympathetic echoing, while using different chords gives you a wider variety of sounds to work with. You can use a slide to play more chords, and you can mute certain strings with one hand to isolate certain chord tones. In an arrangement of three banjos I call “Scalene Slapper” a kick pedal strikes the head of an open G banjo. The two banjos on snare stands are tuned to an open D (f#-D-F#-A-D) and open C (g-C-G-C-E).
Here is a rendition of the folk song John Henry as an impromptu demonstration of this set up.
You could use just intonation, just to sweeten the harmonic resonance of your open tunings a bit. Learning to calculate tunings in this way, you can create special scales by striking open strings of multiple banjos.
The first video demo, with the composed theme, used a 6 note scale: C D E F G Bb. There are 9 strings so the banjos also add c, d, and e in the 2nd octave. Just Intonation uses whole number ratios to express the relation between frequencies. Below each note/ratio is the aproximate amount of cents sharp or flat the note is from it’s “regular” equal temperament.
C = 1:1
D = 9:8 – (perfect 5th of G)
E = 5:4 – perfect 3rd
F = 21:16 – (7th harmonic of G)
G = 3:2 – perfect 5th
Bb = 7:4 – 7th harmonic
Banjo #1 is a 4 string plectrum tuned (C – F – G – c)
Banjo #2 is a 5 string tuned (e – D – E – Bb – d)
The scale is split between the two banjos primarily to have a good balance of tension on all the strings. The notes are a little more loose than most conventional tunings, but not so much that it is quiet or unplayable. I place banjo #1 on my right side, banjo #2 on my left. To play the scale tones in ascending order I have to use the sticking: R, L, L, R, R, L, R, L, L. I call this tuning system The Six Fools.
I first used this tuning in a live performance with my friend Jimmy in our duo Health Channel. We make peaceful psychedelic improvisations. Banjo #1 has a vibrato effect on it, and both banjos are going through a loop pedal.
The Future of Banjo Drum Set
I haven’t seen other examples of this sort of thing out there yet, but chances are I’m not the first to explore banjos in this way. Let’s hope more people develop their own ideas and share them with others so we can all learn and promote this as an art form. I’m very interested in building instruments; putting banjo necks on snare drums, strings on bass drum rims, giant banjos, etc. At this point, I’m only a beginner at this instrument, and while I may set it aside for more practical endeavors (i.e. a banjo, or a drum set), I will inevitably set the banjos up again and play the traditional banjo drum set anthem, “yoooooooong, euuuuur… twang boioioioioioing!”