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Author Topic: Banjo Advice  (Read 11355 times)

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Online Norfolk Slim

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Banjo Advice
« on: December 19, 2008, 05:20:43 AM »
On a mad impulse I bought a cheap and cheerful banjo.

I have now discovered that playing the thing and making the noise I want to make is a bit more complicated than just pretending its a five string guitar :o

Im in the market for a good instructional dvd / book to get me underway and Id be grateful for recommendations, and for advice on whether to take the fingerpicking / scruggs route or the clawhammer route.

Im much more interested in old time, blues, string and jug band type stuff than bluegrass as such.  Have been really enjoying the Carolina Chocolate Drops recently.

All thoughts welcome!


Offline Prof Scratchy

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Re: Banjo Advice
« Reply #1 on: December 19, 2008, 06:45:20 AM »
1) tune to open G
2) plunk first string with fingernail of right index finger (I'm assuming you're right handed)
3) using same fingernail, brush down on strings 4 to 1, letting your thumb come to rest on string 5, but not plucking it
4) repeat - the action of lifting your thumb from the fifth string will sound it

When you've mastered this, you've got a basic old timey method - combine with lots of pull-offs and hammers-on and you could fool anybody!

Satchel

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Re: Banjo Advice
« Reply #2 on: December 19, 2008, 02:39:36 PM »
Welcome to the wonderful world of open-back 5 string drop thumb frailing/clawhammer banjo!!  You'll be up and about in no time- or a few months.
Check out this website for good basic information on developing the Chocolate Drop style-

http://zeppmusic.com/frameset.htm


Although I started guitar by learning country style fingerpicking blues, for the last year I've been enjoying the heck out of the banjo.  Good luck- it's lots of fun!

Online Norfolk Slim

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Re: Banjo Advice
« Reply #3 on: December 20, 2008, 01:47:39 PM »
Thanks chaps.  Looks like its clawhammer...  I shall start work.

That 5th string is very confusing to me- what with it not being frettable in first position!

And I just realised that Charlie Jackson used a banjo guitar, so I need one of those too....


Offline frankie

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Re: Banjo Advice
« Reply #4 on: December 20, 2008, 02:49:57 PM »
There's more to old-time banjo than clawhammer.  By all means, get started with some kind of down-picking, but there are old-time up-picking styles, too - a person coming at banjo from guitar might call them fingerpicking styles, which is close enough, I suppose.  Mike Seeger has a few videos which demonstrate and teach a wide range of old-time banjo styles.  I don't think they're ideal for absolute beginners, but once you get acclimated to the 5-string and a little more old-time music, I think they'll really open your eyes to the breadth and depth of old-time banjo.

There are also a couple of threads on weenie that discuss starting points for old-time music...  good stuff in there.

Offline Rivers

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Re: Banjo Advice
« Reply #5 on: December 21, 2008, 09:40:09 AM »
I second frankie's rec of Mike Seegar's DVDs, I have Old Time Banjo Styles which is a tour of banjo techniques. On first viewing I was surprised to learn that the stuff I was naturally doing, as a crossover from guitar, was absolutely kosher, IOW it's not all clawhammer.

Becoming a solid clawhammer player is the holy grail for me though since it's such a good groove, and it's still eluding me. I need a teacher, and some work done on the 5th string nut; it's too low and doesn't feel comfortable for the thumb to come to rest on naturally. One of my New Year resolutions is to progress my banjo playing, and that means getting a set-up, and a teacher.

I have an openback GoldTone White Ladye+ with a lot of pearl, tree of life inlay, I wanted a plain one but this guy was hanging on a wall, good price, sounded great and I couldn't wait to get started.

Offline arlotone

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Re: Banjo Advice
« Reply #6 on: December 21, 2008, 03:45:18 PM »
That 5th string is very confusing to me- what with it not being frettable in first position!

I don't think anyone frets the 5th string, in any position, but I could be wrong. It's a drone string so it just adds extra sound to whatever chord you're playing. You can tune it to different notes to be more compatible with whatever key you're playing in.

Anyway, this really threw me off, too, when I started playing banjo because I'm so used to the strings being ordered from lowest to highest pitch. I just couldn't get over having to pluck the second to last string, to get the lowest sound. But I guess those little differences are what makes it fun and challenging to learn a new instrument. Some of your knowledge carries over, and some doesn't.

Offline Rivers

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Re: Banjo Advice
« Reply #7 on: December 21, 2008, 03:55:40 PM »
I installed a Shubb 5th string banjo capo, wanting to keep up with guitarists changing key on me without having to retune. Plus I dabble with bluegrass.

Some people use railroad spikes (HO model railway track mounting spikes) inserted in the fretboard to capo 2, 5 and 7 (A C & D if the string is in G). You hook the string under one and it pulls it down onto the fret to capo. Probably a more acceptable solution for an old time setup.

Some otherwise reputable people do fret the 5th string w/thumb, others are dead set against it. Me I don't care, so long as it works for you.

Offline arlotone

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Re: Banjo Advice
« Reply #8 on: December 22, 2008, 10:11:29 AM »
Some people use railroad spikes (HO model railway track mounting spikes)

Wow, those are really model railroad spikes, huh? I have heard people talk about those but assumed "railroad spike" was just a colorful name for "specialized banjo part."

Offline Rivers

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Re: Banjo Advice
« Reply #9 on: December 22, 2008, 04:52:46 PM »

Offline BlindSockeyeSalmon

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Re: Banjo Advice
« Reply #10 on: December 23, 2008, 09:56:02 AM »
I play mostly clawhammer but also do a bit of up-picking -- neither terribly well, mind you. I think this book from Wayne Erbsen is a good introduction to general up-picking banjo styles:



http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1883206448?ie=UTF8&tag=thebesselofboocd

Despite its title, it's not really a bluegrass book (nor is it an "old-time" book, but I think if you work with the book you'll end up a bit closer to someone like Charlie Poole than you do to Earl Scruggs) but a good primer for getting a sense of how some basic right-hand rolls and patterns work. Gail Gillespie recommended it to me for this purpose, and I've found it useful. More than learning specific songs or artists' styles, which the Mike Seeger tapes are more aimed at, you'll get a general sense of how basic rolls, etc can be added around a melody.

And yeah, the title and the cover are both pretty cheesy...

John

« Last Edit: December 29, 2008, 01:56:33 PM by BlindSockeyeSalmon »
http://sugarinthegourd.com
Old-Time, All the Time

Offline Johnm

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Re: Banjo Advice
« Reply #11 on: December 24, 2008, 06:01:12 PM »
Hi Norfolk Slim,
Congratulations on purchasing a banjo, you have hours of playing pleasure in front of you.  This isn't so much a suggestion for learning the banjo, but more a suggestion for a possible source of inspiration and some insight into what can be done on a banjo by an Old-Time master.  Dan Gellert, an occasional visitor here, did a great CD, "Waitin' On the Break of Day" a couple of years ago, that is reviewed on the Weenie site at http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?amp;Itemid=60&topic=1176.0.  On the CD, Dan plays banjo on nine tunes and fiddle, on which he is also a master, on seven tunes.  His banjo playing throughout the CD is about as good as it is possible to imagine someone playing, really astonishingly strong and imaginative.  The CD can be purchased at his website, which is listed in the thread.  I can't recommend it highly enough.  Best holiday wishes to you and the family.
All best,
Johnm     

Online Norfolk Slim

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Re: Banjo Advice
« Reply #12 on: December 29, 2008, 04:04:29 AM »
Thanks John- I will look into it! :)

Offline Rivers

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Re: Banjo Advice
« Reply #13 on: December 29, 2008, 06:17:24 PM »
x 2, I ordered Dan Gellert's CD today.

jeffdelfield

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Re: Banjo Advice
« Reply #14 on: December 30, 2008, 07:57:54 AM »


Another great clawhammer and two finger up-picking banjo player is John White of Jasper, GA.  His "Banjo Blues" is (as the title implies) more blues than "old-timey."  I got it this past summer and it was probably my favorite record of the year.  Check it out at:  http://cdbaby.com/cd/johnwhite

By the way, I started playing clawhammer banjo last April and I'm addicted. 

Jeff

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