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 Playing Advice: Bluegrass (Scruggs) Styles
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Chicago Tuning

Please note this is an archived topic, so it is locked and unable to be replied to. You may, however, start a new topic and refer to this topic with a link:

Rysher - Posted - 09/23/2010:  22:30:14

A friend sent me an email with 118 different banjo tunings. I use a handful of tunings but first attempt G tuning because tuning between songs at gigs is unpleasant. G tuning has limitations once your outside of G. Often the key of C is better with drop C tuning to get the Low C which is a nice sound. The Key of D present for me four choices for tuning; rail road the 5th string up to A , tune the 5th down to F#, tune to open D tuning with 5th at A or F#, last capo and railroad at 7th fret. I did some shows in North Carolina and Tennessee, and the folks begged me to play more tunes with capo up high. They loved the D fiddle tunes where I used the capo at the 7th fret for the key of D (like G). I have a railroad tie at fret. 12. With a capo any other key is possible with these tunings. But many tunes fall outside of these keys or modulate. Most Jazz tunes modulate to several keys. In Jazz, chords use upper structures like 9ths 11ths 6's, 13s, which are more difficult to voice in open tunings. The original banjos had a drone string up the neck but had only 3 strings all together. The 3rd and 4th string were added later. As the banjo moved north to Chicago jazz musicians removed the drone string to create the 4 string plectrum banjo which is often tuned D G B E, like the top 4 strings of a guitar. This became known as the Chicago tuning. I use this tuning often when I play classical or jazz because the modulations and ability to get the extended chords. Who ever decided to removed the 5th string in my opinion was short sited because with the added string you can roll through jazz changes, if you find the right note for the drone. Take the song Round Midnight in the key of Eb minor. If you tune the G down a half step you get the minor third of E minor and this drone works over every chord in the song. Here are a couple tunes using Chicago tuning (like a guitar 1st string tune up to E).

Edited by - Rysher on 09/24/2010 19:35:55

Have Yo Met Miss Jones

The Irish Viking

jbraun002 - Posted - 09/23/2010:  23:46:03

Neat - I liked your rendition of "Have You Met Miss Jones"!

I used to use Chicago tuning on my plectrum banjo when I played in a dixie combo in college - but that was mostly because I didn't want to learn a new tuning (coming from jazz guitar).

The more I played with "alternate" tunings, however, the more I realized (in my experience FWIW) that most other tunings aren't so much better or worse for complex chords than they are different. So, if I play in open G, for instance, I can't just use standard guitar voicings - but at the same time I really don't feel like I miss too much. And triad subbing is really easy with open tunings. That's something I think that is actually easier to do on a banjo than with a guitar (or with Chicago tuning).

KingStudent - Posted - 09/24/2010:  04:06:54

Beautiful playing on the clips -- thanks. I'm fascinated by the whole topic of using open strings as much as possible, across all keys (and musical styles, for that matter). In my unreconstructed days, when I was still a guitar player, I wrote a guitar book on this topic called Open Chord Advantage (still available from Hal Leonard Publ. ... maybe ). There is also a fine guitar book by Tom Principato on the subject. Ultimately I want to apply the same approach to banjo, for the C tuning (gCGBD), and maybe write another book.

Edited by - KingStudent on 09/24/2010 04:07:50

drew-gurbach - Posted - 09/25/2010:  06:49:43

I like the idea of alternate tunings. You can see Scruggs basically playing the basic rolls and hammer-on/pull-offs in Ruben, but being tuned in “D” gives it a whole different flavor. I’d like to learn more on this subject. I fear, however, some “alternate tunings” may fall into the “novelty” realm and only be used for a very few songs and never really expanded upon. RYSHER: “A friend sent me an email with 118 different banjo tunings.” WOW! I had no idea!

Martian - Posted - 09/26/2010:  18:18:03

There has to be at least 118 tunings. Every time I take her out, it is in a new tuning.LOL

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