As a part of their ongoing series of Banjo Picking Tunes, Mel Bay has released a slim volume of melodies for banjo taken from early European classics. Entitled Early Music Gems, the book was compiled by Spanish banjoist Lluis Gomez, who also arranged these pieces for five string banjo in tablature.
A total of 34 examples are included, taken primarily from Renaissance and pre-Renaissance composers. Often these are snippets of larger pieces, but they retain the basic form of these enduring melodies that have informed so much of contemporary music.
Gomez offers this book to banjo players of every sort who are interested in opening themselves to new ideas on their instrument, especially those who have limited their attention on bluegrass or old time music. You’ll find many tunes that are instantly recognizable, even if the source isn’t familiar to you.
Jake Schepps explains the value of a pursuit like this in his preface to Early Music Gems.
We all understand why a jazz pianist might study Bach for countless reasons. There is the same value in exploring these beautiful arrangements of timeless melodies. Along the path, we acquaint ourselves with composers like Gaspar Sanz (Spain), John Playford (England), and the classic ‘anonymous or traditional pieces such as Greensleeves. Capturing these arrangements requires a variety of right- and left-hand techniques that may turn your bluegrass banjo sensibilities on their head, yet mastering these will open up countless other possibilities. Enjoy the musical adventures ahead.
Like most editions from Mel Bay, there are online audio files associated with the book, which have Gomez playing through each piece. A link to these downloadable files is included on the title page.
He has also created this brief video of himself playing through one anonymous melody, Wilson’s Wilde.
Further details, including a complete list of tunes and several tab examples, can be found online.
Early Music Gems is offered in either a print edition for $16.99, or an ebook version for $12.99. The online audio is available with both.