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Banjo players - How do you play?

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(@hurley09)
Active Member
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 9
Topic starter  

I've been playing guitar for about 2.5 years now, and I just got a Banjo for my birthday. I'm pretty excited about it, but I was wondering, does it translate at all - Like the top 4 strings in the guitar equals all 4 strings on the bass guitar, is there any relationship like this between the guitar and the banjo?

ps. What's the tuning?

GO HOKIES!!!

-Hurley


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(@ricochet)
Illustrious Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 7850
 

The banjo's most commonly tuned in a 4-string version of Open G. The 5-string banjo has an extra G string stuck on, but it's higher in pitch though it's on the low side. So it's kind of like Keith Richards' Open G, but with the bass string tuned up two octaves. http://www.ezfolk.com/banjo/Tutorials/G_Tuning/g_tuning.html

"A cheerful heart is good medicine."


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 KR2
(@kr2)
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Joined: 14 years ago
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Wow. Nice gift. A banjo!
There's something about a banjo that makes me want to dance and I can't dance.
I love the sound. Nothing like it. It must be hard to play since it seems to be played fast.

Go Bluegrass!

(A popular T-shirt for tourists in Tennessee "Paddle faster. I hear banjos") LOL

It's the rock that gives the stream its music . . . and the stream that gives the rock its roll.


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(@ricochet)
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Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 7850
 

(A popular T-shirt for tourists in Tennessee "Paddle faster. I hear banjos") LOL
Yeah, I see that on shirts and bumper stickers. The movie took place in Georgia, though.

I see "Fight Incest: Ban Bluegrass" (or "Country Music") a lot around here.

"A cheerful heart is good medicine."


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 KR2
(@kr2)
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I see "Fight Incest: Ban Bluegrass" (or "Country Music") a lot around here.

Oh, man. That's not right. Bluegrass is about as down to earth as you can get.

I just recently starting to listen to Folk and Bluegrass radio stations through the free iTunes program.
It kinda grows on you. Country is alright too but I quickly overdose on it.

I originally wanted to learn the banjo but my wife talked me into trying something easier.
So (while touring the crafts area in Gatlinburg, TN) I bought a dulcimer and played that a couple of months since I was told it was easier to play than a guitar or banjo. I liked it so I went to an electric guitar. I'm sure playing the banjo would drive my wife nuts. The nice thing about the electric guitar is I can plug in the headphones and I'm not bothering anyone.

I was told that Deliverance was sued over the "Dueling Banjo" song. They used it without the permission of the writer.
I forget his name but I believe he lives in S. Carolina (or was it N. Carolina?)

Not answering the original question but staying on topic (banjo),
Ken

It's the rock that gives the stream its music . . . and the stream that gives the rock its roll.


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(@maliciant)
Reputable Member
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 259
 

I'm kind of curious about that myself, it seems with the typical tunings of a banjo a lot of times you'd simply bar the strings with a single finger and move around from there to play chords (at least major chords...). That 5th string though, that confuses me a little, is it almost always played open, it just seems so weird that the string is placed on top and yet only goes about half way. Banjo's are awesome (and in the running for being one of my next instruments...).


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(@ricochet)
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Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 7850
 

Ken, I started with a dulcimer, too. Easiest instrument on earth to play. Except maybe a triangle or something like that. Great fun! I also have a McNally Strumstick, which is a backwards strung dulcimer rigged to hang on a sling like a guitar and play with the fingers. With its little soundbox, it sounds a good bit like a banjo.

"A cheerful heart is good medicine."


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(@poorpetebest)
Eminent Member
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 38
 

It's a bit different than guitar. I went in approaching it as a guitar and it just doesn't work. Sure, some of what you know transfers over like how you fret a string but most things need to be relearned. Just as you learned open chords on guitar, you'll probably have to relearn them for banjo and progress to different shapes from there.

Then there's the playing technique. That's a whole different beast. There are two main ways to play the banjo - Clawhammer and Three-finger or Scruggs style. I ended up deciding to go with clawhammer just because I like the sound but people are more familiar with the three finger style.

Clawhammer involves shaping your hand like a claw and essentially turning it into one giant pick. There's a signature stroke called the 'Bumditty' that involves a downstroke on a single string with the nail on either your index finger or middle finger, a downstroke strum, and then a pull on the fifth string with your thumb. Put the three together and it kinda sounds like bum - dit - ty. It's hard to describe with words, so I'd suggest looking up clawhammer on YouTube.

A good resource for learning either style is http://www.banjohangout.org .

Happy pickin'!


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(@tinsmith)
Prominent Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 830
 

I dunno about the last comment.

I used different variations on a alt pick & still can fake it pretty good, although I haven't touched it for a year & a half.
By variations I mean.... starting with a basic alt pick....switching to a "forward" pick...back to an alt pick & then to a "backwards" pick. I guess what I meanby forwards & backwards is, a forward & backward type "roll."

Granted I can't "run the neck," but it doesn't sound too bad as I recall. I probably sounded like a guitar picker that plays banjo.

If you have a 5 string use G tuning..

I thought a 4 string was a tenor banjo & used C tuning.


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(@welshman)
Trusted Member
Joined: 15 years ago
Posts: 99
 

I tend to play a ot of Irish traditional music so a few years ago I had to decide between a banjo and a mandolin. The mandolin one and I love it. I found my learning with each instrument has easily transposed ont the other - even with different tunings. I'm a great believer that guitarists should always have a go at a second instrument because I feel the new slant it gives has added to my playing. For example I play bodhran (Irish drum) and that helped me to develop a sense of rhythm. Then the Irish whistle gave me a sensitivity to melody.

Enjoy your banjo - I envy you.

D

What did the guitarist do when he was told to turn on his amp?
He caressed it softly and told it that he loved it.


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 KR2
(@kr2)
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Joined: 14 years ago
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Welshman,
If you ever learn to play REM's "Losing My Religion" record it and upload here.
Maybe to the Hear Here forum.
I'd love to hear that song.

It's the rock that gives the stream its music . . . and the stream that gives the rock its roll.


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(@matt_e)
Active Member
Joined: 14 years ago
Posts: 8
 

There are many different types of Banjo.
The most common ones are five string these days, available in open back or Resonator versions.
Open back is an older style, primarily used for Clawhammer/Frailing, described above. Those are also relatively common in four string versions.
The resonator banjos have a closed back, and a resonator tone ring. Those banjos are primarily for Scruggs style playing - the familiar Bluegrass banjo sound. It's basically a fast fingerpicking where the thumb plays a melody on the two bass strings (strings 3 & 4), while the higher strings are used for "rolls". You play mostly single notes at a time.
That's why the resonator Banjo is preferable - something about single notes ringing better in that style body.
Scruggs style is played with two finger picks and one thumb pick.

With either style, the fifth string (high octave open G) is almost always played open (it can be capo'd), sort of as a rhythm note I guess.

I started playing a few months ago and started out with Clawhammer/Frailing. I found it very tough, due to the very unique down-picking with index finger and thumb. Sounds cool though.
I am now trying myself at Scruggs style, which I find easier.
It is a very neat instrument, I love it.
Chord finger positioning is different from a guitar, of course. Yes, you can bar up the neck starting from that open G, but there are many more positions available. And quite a few are four-finger chords, to my chagrin.


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(@unimogbert)
Estimable Member
Joined: 14 years ago
Posts: 174
 

I was learning guitar using thumb and metal fingerpicks.

I rented a banjo for a summer during high school. The picks and the mechanics of picking translated very nicely.
Not of the chords did though.

The banjo was so loud that I pretty much couldn't play it when anybody was home!

So it had to go back to the store after awhile.

Unimogbert
(indeterminate, er, intermediate fingerstyle acoustic)


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(@matt_e)
Active Member
Joined: 14 years ago
Posts: 8
 

For an open back banjo, stuff a towel into the pot to mute it.


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(@bassguitarchick)
New Member
Joined: 9 years ago
Posts: 1
 

Good luck with the banjo!

I got a 5-string banjo for my birthday last year. I use clawhammer style.

(though bass is my primary instrument)


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