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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: What is considered "standard" tuning for clawhammer banjo?


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cb56 - Posted - 08/10/2011:  16:54:50



Kind of frustrated right now. After only two weeks of owning a banjo. I know there are several tunings for banjo but right now I don't want to learn a dozen different tunings chord fingerings etc.



I've been watching the pat and patrick Costello videos and they are in open G tuning which is what my banjo was tuned to when I first picked it up at the store. I've learned 4 or 5 songs in that tuning and am pleased with my progress so far. I ordered the clawhammer for complete ignoramous book (apparently I am one) and this book which I thought was a beginner book and would use standard tuning starts out with 10 songs in double C tuning followed by 10 more in Sawmill tuning and then six in G tuning (four of which I already know) then on to C minor tuning cumberland Gap tuning (can't it be played in G?) and on and on.  Really?



I know guitar, bass and even ukulele has lots of different tunings but they all have one that is considered "standard tuning" So what's the standard tuning for clawhammer banjo? Is it open G? I was told that open G is "the bluegrass key" I like bluegrass but would like to play other styles too.



When I pick up my uke and want to play different songs in different keys, I use the same tuning but put my fingers in different places. Why not so with the banjo?



On top of all that, I broke a string trying to tune back and forth this morning just to give it a try and now I can't play until I go out and get some more strings!



Advice?



 



 


cb56 - Posted - 08/10/2011:  16:57:13



One more thing, is there a good place to buy banjo strings online? and what brand / guage do you recommend for my Gold Tone CC-OT?


Clawdan - Posted - 08/10/2011:  17:00:58



Start in double C/D (gCGCD or aDADE - double c capoed at the second fret). The reason is that most common starting jam tunes are in D so you might just as well start with those. I start my students with Spotted Pony because it starts with a simple scale, the add tunes like Angelina Baker, Soldiers Joy, Forked Deer (and 8 others in D) that help you get grounded in the most common key with some of the most common tunes.



Shameless plug - check out my book Clawhammer Banjo From Scratch. I will get you started well, from scratch! (Dvd also available). I explain why as well as how throughout the book.



Play Nice,

Dan

Clawdan.com


EggerRidgeBoy - Posted - 08/10/2011:  17:06:37



I tend to think of Open G and Double C as co-equal "standard" tunings for old-time banjo.  It would be hard for me to choose one as the most useful or most common.  If you are playing mostly fiddle tunes, which do make up a large part - perhaps the bulk - of the old-time banjo repertoire, I would think that Double C might get the nod.   The most common key for fiddle tunes - at least for the ones I hear played most often -  is D (which would be Double C capoed at the second fret).



I use G Modal (gDGCD) quite often, and I think of Open G, Double C, and G Modal as the "big three" tunings.  Standard C (gCGBD) is not as common as it used to be.  Many other relatively well known tunings are traditionally used only for one or two tunes.



Edited by - EggerRidgeBoy on 08/10/2011 17:21:56

tbfnyc - Posted - 08/10/2011:  17:13:41



As you have observed, there are many different tunings, especially for clawhammer.



Open G tuning is about as "standard" as it gets and there are many, many tunes that are played in this tuning. Start out with this tuning and you can't go wrong.



The next most popular tuning for clawhammer (because it is an old-timey style) is "Sawmill" aka "G-modal" tuning. From 5th to first strings that'd be gDGCD. This tuning is used for many popular clawhammer favorites like "Shady Grove", "Cluck Ol' Hen", "Pretty Polly", "Little Sadie", etc.



Then there is "Drop C" which is the same as open G but with the 4th string lowered down to a C note.



After that there are many others like "Double C", "Open C", G Minor, "Open D", and more.



Start out with "Open G" tuning and a capo though and you're good to go for a while.


EggerRidgeBoy - Posted - 08/10/2011:  17:20:10



quote:


Originally posted by cb56



I ordered the clawhammer for complete ignoramous book (apparently I am one) and this book which I thought was a beginner book and would use standard tuning starts out with 10 songs in double C tuning followed by 10 more in Sawmill tuning and then six in G tuning (four of which I already know) then on to C minor tuning cumberland Gap tuning (can't it be played in G?) and on and on.  Really?



 I know guitar, bass and even ukulele has lots of different tunings but they all have one that is considered "standard tuning" So what's the standard tuning for clawhammer banjo? Is it open G? I was told that open G is "the bluegrass key" I like bluegrass but would like to play other styles too.



When I pick up my uke and want to play different songs in different keys, I use the same tuning but put my fingers in different places. Why not so with the banjo?






You can indeed play Cumberland Gap (or almost any tune) in G tuning.  Or another tuning for that matter.



Alternate tunings are used in old-time banjo for a few reasons:



1) They make a tune easier to play (more use of open strings allowing simpler fingering, etc).



2) They create a certain feel or atmosphere through the vibration of open, unplucked stings (that C-tuned second string in Sawmill tuning, for instance).



3) Tradition.



Probably other reasons, but that's all I can think of at the moment.



 



Edited by - EggerRidgeBoy on 08/10/2011 17:26:29

Oldpiper - Posted - 08/10/2011:  17:51:08


As far as buying strings go, I use Just Strings and usually buy GHS PF-150 but that's a personal choice for you to decide.

Paul R - Posted - 08/10/2011:  18:03:52



I started with G tuning, but find that there are many, many tunes and songs that fit double-D (double C, capo at 2nd fret). I'd start with those two first, and get used to switching between them and to the different fingerings. I don't see much use concentrating on just one tuning. You might as well get used to the differences, imho. You may appreciate and enjoy the variety of tunes and tones. Pretty soon, you may find yourself venturing into a variety of tunings.



Paul


AlpacaLips - Posted - 08/10/2011:  18:21:53



As for the standard tuning, I have no idea, since I've been playing for less than 2 weeks. I can say that I'm working through Mike Iverson's tabs at bluesageband.com/Tabs.html and ALL of the easy ones and many of the intermediate and advanced ones are in open-G. I play guitar and I share your frustration. I haven't broken any strings yet but I don't like changing tunings all the time. Most other introductory stuff I've seen starts you out in open G as well.



I decided to keep a notebook of all the tabs I'm learning, organized by tuning. As I practice, I play everything in G, and if I want to switch to another tuning I do that at the end. (The only reason I'm playing ANY non-G songs is because I really wanted to learn Needle Case, which seems to usually be played in double-C. It's such a nice sound though that it's worth it.)



And I think the reason you can't easily play other keys on a banjo like you can on a guitar without changing tunings is the same reason that pretty much every highland bagpipe you've ever heard is in the same key (D I think): The drone pipe/string. The banjo seems to be designed to be easy to play, with lots of open strings. A side effect of that though is it limits your key flexibility.



If you're a loner, play whatever you want. If you want to jam, I think you're going to have to put up with the tunings. Or you could buy a truck and 5 more banjos and never have to change tunings again.



Maybe us beginners will get used to changing tunings quickly and it won't be such a big deal any more.



Edited by - AlpacaLips on 08/10/2011 18:23:42

JimHand - Posted - 08/10/2011:  18:22:13



Chris: I have had good luck getting strings from Janet Davis, as well as other things. I usually buy in bulk 6-12 sets at a time, cheaper that way. If you can find somebody else close to you that uses the same strings you can go together and split the shipping, even cheaper. I prefer the D'Addario Mediums, J-61. You should not be breaking strings retuning the 2nd and 4th strings from open G to double C. We can talk more at Shelbyville.


Bill H - Posted - 08/10/2011:  18:50:43



Try keeping a tuner clamped to your headstock to keep your banjo in the proper pitch as you change tunings. Staying in pitch saves breaking strings.


Miguel MC Dowell - Posted - 08/10/2011:  18:50:53


Prior to getting Dans Clawhammer Banjo from Scratch I played all my tunes in G, and once I started with Dans book he showed me how to play in other keys like he mentioned in his post. Also Old Woodchuck has a free book that shows you several keys to play in as well as 25 tunes.

ChuckJo - Posted - 08/10/2011:  19:09:19


I agree that G (A), Modal (sawmill) and Double C (Double D), are the big three.

If you are going to play clawhammer, and you want to play old-time fiddle tunes, you are going to have to acquire the skill to change tunings quickly. A clip-on tuner is standard equipment.

John Gribble - Posted - 08/10/2011:  19:18:04



Since you've already made a good start in G, I'd stay there awhile. When you're ready to try a different tuning, try "sawmill"/G modal for some minor/modal/"lonesome" tunes. It is only one string different (second string B to C) but a very different flavor.  From there you can go, when you're ready, to the double C tuning by dropping the fourth string from D to C. That's assuming you want to play the old-timey fiddle tunes in a way compatible with fiddlers. Not everyone does.  



You asked an excellent question which no one has yet to address. 



 






































"When I pick up my uke and want to play different songs in different keys, I use the same tuning but put my fingers in different places. Why not so with the banjo?"



 







There are a couple reasons for this. "Tradition" is one, another is many arrangements use the open strings, including the fifth, which don't always fit well in different keys. An increasing number of three-finger style players do play in all keys out of one tuning (usually G) but very few clawhammer players go down that path. That's why you'll see so much discussion of retuning, using capos, and spikes for the fifth string. 



Another tuning which has fallen out of favor but was the "standard" five-string tuning for over a hundred years is gCGBD. It was the first tuning I learned and I still prefer it to "double C." It and G both lend themselves to playing in different keys. 



Edited by - John Gribble on 08/10/2011 19:25:48

cb56 - Posted - 08/10/2011:  19:20:18



Thanks everybody. Feeling better about it now. I think I'll stick with open G for now until I get a bit of technique happening. Then I'll try some double C and go from there. Clawdan I'll be looking into your book at some point also.


slabounty - Posted - 08/10/2011:  21:30:36


The biggest problem with Costello's material is the reliance on open G (I believe he's been quoted as saying that "double C kind of sucks"). Clawhammer, as you've seen, is a style of many tunings and I'd rate open G only 2nd behind Double C in popularity tunes that use it. I'd get used to using multiple tunings right away and not stick with just open G. In fact if you have a few tunes in open G now, go ahead, get your tuner out and get into double C and learn a few tunes in there. I believe that Iverson has quite a few tunes in it and I always recommend Dan's book to everyone. Additionally, there's OldWoodChuck's Rocket Science Banjo (RSB) that's available for free and it is also something you should check out.

Good luck and don't get stuck in open G!

Scott

oldwoodchuckb - Posted - 08/10/2011:  21:54:16



I think you mentioned having a copy of RSB, The 3rd Chapter is called Tunings, Tuning & Tunings. It talks about the reasons why there are so many tunings how they work and how to get to them.



For your own uses I would probably stick with G tuning for a while until you are more used to the banjo. G tuning works well for uke style chording, and ther are probably a gazillion clawhammer and bluegrass tunes tabbed in the key.



I know a lot of people never explore the tunings but I think they are the poorer for it, and strongly suggest you start getting used to the idea by trying some tabs in Modal tuning gDGCD. You can and should capo most of these to A Modal (2ns fret with the 5th tuned or spikes to an "a" above the usual "g"



Mountain Minor or Sawmill tunes involve only 2 chords if the transcriber is a true old time banjo player and doesn't convert them to minor key. Here are those chords in text format.



54321  the strings



gDGCD   the pitches



00020   The G chord (although it is centerless - no "mi" note



00320  G minor



00000  G suspended 4th (and My preferred version of the chord)



x3203  F Major (the other chord. Wherever you aren't using Gsus4, you use F



If you capo to A and raise the 5th to an "a" then the chords are Asus4 and G major



(if the string you broke is was a 5th make sure your current set has a .010 or smaller for the 5th string)



In G tuning you can get chord charts and even a chord book or too to find what you need to go along s to go along with the tunes your family plays on ukes



G tuning is also equivalent to Uke tuning save for the 1st string being a whole tone lower. Instead of DGBE you are at DGBD. Some people tune their banjos up to DGBE but I suggest a smaller 1st string for that .010 feels tight to me so I would probably switch to an .009. If you tune like this you are in baritone uke tuning with a extra kicker on the 5th string. It makes every guitarist a banjo player and was popular during the folk scare of the 1950s/



BTW if you (or anyone reading this) don't have my free ebook, go to:



rocketsciencebanjo.com



And join the billions of others who are learning banjo the Rocket Science Way



 



Edited by - oldwoodchuckb on 08/10/2011 21:57:46

R.D. Lunceford - Posted - 08/10/2011:  22:12:42


As above, gDGBD, gDGCD, and gCGCD are the big three, so not too many tunings to learn off the bat.
You'll notice there's only one string tuned differently between each in that progession.

As for learning a bunch of chords in each one, don't waste your time. If you're playing traditional clawhammer,
chords are not the primary concern. Learn some chords in gDGBD and if and when it becomes necessary, it's not
hard to modify them for the other two tunings.

You'll also want to get a capo:

gDGBD= G
gDGBD(capo2)= A
gCGCD= C
gCGCD=D

gDGCD(capo2)= A modal

That pretty much covers you for the majority of fiddle-tune keys.

Most other tunings are for handfuls of tunes... sometimes only one or two.

cockneybanjo - Posted - 08/11/2011:  00:02:12



One thing that hasn't so far been mentioned is that clawhammer players tend to spend much of their time playing in the first octave. The great thing about gDGBD is that it provides repeated chord shapes in at least three inversions as you move up the neck. BG players tend to do quite a lot of this, OT players much less so, so gDGBD suits BG very well - in fact the genre is effectively designed around it. As Oldwoodchuck has already remarked, gDGBD is also useful if you are playing "country rags" like Pig Ankle Rag, or stand-up songs like "Draft Dodger Rag" which tend to be progressions like A-D-G or A-D-E and can be played banjo-uke-style around the 9th to 12th frets. See Cathy Moore's material for more on this particular aspect. It also suits jig-time tunes like "Garryowen" which are usually finger-picked, although they can be played in a frailing style.



aDADE provides for quick, easy switches between playing in G and D, which is useful for OT. gCGCD is useful for playing in C, which BG players very rarely do - and if they do, it will be for things like "Turkey in the Straw", "Angeline The Baker" or "Under The Double Eagle" where it is usual to capo at the 5th or even 7th - which you will be most unlikely to see an OT player do. If you know a couple of inversions of C, D and G plus G,A, C, D, Am and Em you will know all you need to know for quite a while.



 



One thing you haven't mentioned is how long, and how often you practice. I've seen it said many times that it takes AT LEAST 500 hours to be a reasonably competent clawhammer player, and I'd say that's probably right. The biggest problem many self-taught beginners have, is accomodating a useful amount of practice in between everything else, and making best use of what practice time you do have. You will probably learn more in an hour with a teacher than in a week on your own, and you will learn things in a couple of days at a workshop that you will never, ever learn on your own.



I'd suggest that you make every effort to find a local group to play with. At this point, your actual working repertoire and style will become fairly clear, fairly quickly. You will findb at this point, that a lot of questions tend to solve themselves.



 



 


cb56 - Posted - 08/11/2011:  03:26:29



Thanks for all the info folks, and thanks for the email Tony. (No I don't have every song in open G memorized just 4 and working on #5)



Found someone locally to loan me a set of strings until I could get to the store. a fellow uker that dabbles in BG banjo.



After I restrung, I opened the ignoramus book to the first song in double C and tried it (Old Molly Hare very basic arrangement with no frills)



My head didn't explode nor did blood shoot out of my eyes (all good) But I did feel like I was kind of painting by numbers not really knowing what I was doing.



I have found two local old time groups in my area (Thanks to banjo hangout) and plan on checking them both out.



I think I'll just relax now and go with the flow.


banjoak - Posted - 08/11/2011:  03:59:18



quote:


Originally posted by R.D. Lunceford


gCGCD=D

 






oops, you made a slight typo, you for got add the (capo 2) for that. And although already mentioned in other posts, just in case it's not clear, all of those (capo 2) include the fifth string as well, either capo or tune to an "a" pitch.



---



As you can see, the concept of "standard" tuning for clawhammer is not quite the same as most other instruments. Which tuning you would use more is dependent on many things, among tehm, who you are going to play music with. Should be mentioned as well that some folks want to clawhammer to just accompany songs; and mostly do like BG and use G (gDGBD) tuning and use chords and capo mostly. I agree that if you are going to play with OT fiddlers, fiddle tunes, the key of D seems to be probably the most used, but it depends on the fiddler. After that, IMO, the G and A tuning. Some jam groups really like A modal. Some jam groups hardly ever use A modal. The other aspect about "standard" for these tune playing with others is most folks find they need to learn at least the 2 at the same time. D tunes and G/A tunes. It's not likely you would become decently proficient and start amassing a decent repertoire before you then learn an "alternative" tuning. Many of these jams, they stay in one key for a long time. If you only know G and they are all D tunes, you sit out for a very long time. So most instruction books, teachers start you in one tuning, but after just a few tunes, quickly get you to another tuning.  Some books, generally toward the end, show some "cool" tunings that are indeed more alternate that are a bit more limited use, I think just to show you possibilities. The three main ones mentioned will be plenty to work on for a long time, some folks only know those and find that's all they need. And they aren't that much different from each other, and the right hand action is basically the same. IMO the right hand is what clawhammer is about.



 



 


Fathand - Posted - 08/11/2011:  04:24:26


C Tuning gCGBD used to be considered Standard Tuning for 5 string Banjo, G tuning gDGBD seems to have become the standard at some time, probably 50 years ago or more. Most of the bluegrass arrangements are in G tuning which means you can convert them to frailing/clawhammer in G tuning. I surprised myself last night by frailing Dear Old Dixie almost without thinking what I was doing. As for Strings, I have always liked Vegas which I have veen ordering from Elderly Instruments for under $3.00 lately. I have used them for 30 years Mediums on my bluegrass banjo and Lights on my frailing banjo. As for a simple book try to find Mel Bay's Frailing the 5 String Banjo by Muller & Koehler. It does use all the tunings but starts simple and gives you some chord charts for the different tunings and works its way into clawhammer. Several copies on ebay right now.

Wingeezer - Posted - 08/11/2011:  04:41:17



I'm in about the same situation as you with respect to different tuning s- except I have been playing for a couple of years now.    I started in standard open G tuning and since I have found a ton of TABS  in that tuning have stayed with it without any real problem.



I do wonder if I am missing a lot by not venturing into other tunings, and also sometimes I am unhappy when I search for a particular TAB and find it only to find that it is for double C or some other tuning.



I think that the main reason I have resisted trying other tunings is that in addition to playing from TABS, I like to lay by ear a little and can do that fairly well now - at least for my own amusement - in open G, and my fear is that if I change tunings  I will get all messed up and won't know where to find the notes I want !



Maybe I'm wrong in that?   And even if not, maybe the advantages  of being able to play in different tunings will outweigh any disadvantage.



Incidentally, for tuning, I have several clip on tuners,   and recently bought the  "Peterson Stroboclip."      A little pricey, and takes a bit of getting used to,  but I love it.  



 



Apart from its extreme accuracy due to its strobe feature,  the Peterson  allows for easy drop tunings,  has a setting for instruments with short sustain such as a banjo,  and also offers   "Sweetener"  tuning  settings for many instruments including banjo.  Very impressive.



 



Brian 



 



 



 



 



 


Kitt - Posted - 08/11/2011:  04:49:39



There are reasons for using different tunings. Others have mentioned what some of those reasons are. But my advice to you is, you don't need to know or understand all of the whys and whatfors right now. What you do need to understand is that your banjo playing tool box will be much better equipped if you learn to use the tunings. So, while you are unfamiliar with the whys and wherefores, just learn tunes in those tunings other than G  anyway, and don't be intimidated or convince yourself that the tunings are just more work. As they say, jump in, the water's fine.



Edit addressed to moderator: How come this thread runs out of the regular size window? Can if be fixed



Edited by - Kitt on 08/11/2011 04:52:24

wahr - Posted - 08/11/2011:  05:25:36



quote:


Originally posted by Wingeezer




I'm in about the same situation as you with respect to different tuning s- except I have been playing for a couple of years now.    I started in standard open G tuning and since I have found a ton of TABS  in that tuning have stayed with it without any real problem.



I do wonder if I am missing a lot by not venturing into other tunings, and also sometimes I am unhappy when I search for a particular TAB and find it only to find that it is for double C or some other tuning.



I think that the main reason I have resisted trying other tunings is that in addition to playing from TABS, I like to lay by ear a little and can do that fairly well now - at least for my own amusement - in open G, and my fear is that if I change tunings  I will get all messed up and won't know where to find the notes I want !








I agree with that. Most of the time I play in open G, at least for two reasons: First I'm too lazy to change the tunings all the time. For me, tuning and retuning is not a part of having fun with a banjo. Second, I want to explore the patterns and structure of a tuning, so that one day I am able to play by ear. Like Wingeezer wrote, other tunings with other patterns and chord-forms will messed me up. On the other hand, I understand people who choose different tunings to gain certain flavours of musical textures. But that's not my goal - maybe it will be in five years. Who knows?



Edited by - wahr on 08/11/2011 05:27:45

djepicurus - Posted - 08/11/2011:  05:53:11



Hey CB, just wanted to chime in and give you some encouragement. I'm a beginner myself and thought



"oh lord, different tunings, this is getting crazy!", but now I'm enjoying the different tunings as I find they inspire me to play



around on the fretboard and really get a feel for the different notes.



 


ZEPP - Posted - 08/11/2011:  07:17:44



Beyond some of the excellent responses to "why multiple tunings?" I would add the following:



I teach from the beginning that learning to tune (and change tunings) is simply part of learning to play banjo.  And yes, I do this with (to?) my bluegrass students, too.



Unlike Dan, I still start clawhammer students in G rather than 2C, not because I think it's a better tuning for learning, but because most of the other information out there assumes G, and I don't want to confuse folks any more than they already are when they first start out. I do switch to Sawmill, thence 2C fairly early in the game, though.  I certainly admire Dan's approach, and have threatened to switch to it for the reasons he mentions.



I also encourage my students to practice tuning by ear.  In G, I have them tune the Ds in the easy-to-hear octaves, then listen for the G-D almost-as-easy-to-hear major 5th interval  and then tune the 5th string to the octave above the 3rd string.  The B then becomes a matter of "just make the chord sound right."



To get to  2C from G, I have them drop the 4th string until they get that nice major 5th interval with the 3rd string, and then raise the 2nd to the octave above above the 4th.  Ta-da.  They're done.



I've got nothing against electronic tuners, but I really think it's a good idea to learn what these intervals sound like--it's a lot quicker, and works even if your tuner's battery is dead... smiley



Oh, on an unrelated note, I do believe the wide screen effect on page 2 is a function of John Gribble's quote, above.



Cheers,

ZEPP



Edited by - ZEPP on 08/11/2011 07:20:54

Miguel MC Dowell - Posted - 08/11/2011:  07:50:45


Wow and hear I thought it was my computer screwing up or something!!! thanks again Zepp. I like your idea on tuning I might not always have the tuner with me or the battery might go out then I would be in trouble for sure

R.D. Lunceford - Posted - 08/11/2011:  09:49:28



quote:


Originally posted by banjoak




quote:


Originally posted by R.D. Lunceford


gCGCD=D

 






oops, you made a slight typo, you for got add the (capo 2) for that. And although already mentioned in other posts, just in case it's not clear, all of those (capo 2) include the fifth string as well, either capo or tune to an "a" pitch.






 Thanks for catching that.



 


oldwoodchuckb - Posted - 08/11/2011:  10:39:00



Well, as you all probably know I am a proponent of using the tuning that fits the tune. As Kitt mentioned, there really is nothing to "know" about the tunings, it is a really matter of knowing the tunes. If you simply put the banjo into Sawmill tuning you will quickly find that Kentucky tunes like Shady Grove and Pretty Polly are really only going to work in a Modal Tuning. In G tuning the banjo is actually crippled when you try to play these tunes because the 2nd string 0pen (the B) is so wrong. Meanwhile if you play them in Round Peak style they work better in Major tuning.



 



You are not learning an instrument in Old Time so much as you are learning a mostly lost culture or set of cultures. I'll be back.


oldwoodchuckb - Posted - 08/11/2011:  11:55:07



I'm back



I wonder how people who are interested in folk music can get caught up in the Single Tuning thing. For many of the Old Time tunes the tuning is half of the tune.



If you have been playing in G tuning (or any other tuning) for more than 3 months it is time to break out of that cell.



All you need to do is tune your banjo to a different tuning and try reading a tune or two in that new tuning. If you are sticking to one tuning because you think it is better for learning by ear - you are hurting your playing in order to stick to a erroneous principle. I learn tunes by ear in ALL of my tunings. If you have trained your ear the tuning is simple. If you haven't you are just frustrating yourself anyway. Your ear is the instrument you want to train. Holding your banjo to one tuning does not teach it a thing.



Everyone wants to do things fast these days and frequently they lose sight of what they wanted to do originally. You probably started by wanting to play like someone you heard play the banjo - Pete Seeger, Mike Seeger, Ritchie Stearns, Frank Lee, Someone younger, it doesn't matter. Whoever you started out wanting to play like - plays in multiple tunings. Bluegrass is bluegrass they stick to G and God bless them. Folk music is as much about tunings as it is about tunes.



I suggest and strongly recommend those who have played in only one tuning for a long time get a book (Or use my free stuff) that has other tunings and learn a half dozen tabs in another tuning (Don't approve of tabs - you might as well quit reading because without tab you are probably going to remain stuck). So take a tuning like Sawmill (in A - use your capo Luke - guitarists and fiddlers will thank you) and learn Shady Grove, Pretty Polly, Lonesome John, Little Sadie and/or a couple others. Now dig out a cd with some other sawmill tunes (you can ask here -there are a lot of people who would be happy to write you a list) Listen to these tunes that you don't know, and you might start to hear some of the things you've learned from the tabs. You are training your ear to hear in a new tuning.



If someone has convinced you that you have to know all the chords in G and know the neck like Les Paul did - they have led you down the garden path and dumped you in the well. You need to know enough tunes to have fun playing by yourself and/or with friends. If you spend all your playing time working on doing D Minor scales out of G Major tuning you don't have time to have any fun - unless that is your fun. If that is your idea of fun -- why have you read this far?


cb56 - Posted - 08/11/2011:  15:28:30



Great post. I think I'm starting to "get it' now.



 


wahr - Posted - 08/11/2011:  15:32:29



quote:


Originally posted by oldwoodchuckb




If you have been playing in G tuning (or any other tuning) for more than 3 months it is time to break out of that cell.





I can only speak for myself, but I don't feel that "it is time to break out of that cell". I simply don't need to play in another tuning than open G to have fun and to take an inspirational musical journey on the banjo. At the moment I don't want a new alphabet to find my own voice. I'm totally satisfied with the old alphabet called open G. Maybe that's the kind of guy I am - I don't need a zillion tunings nor a zillion banjos. I own only one banjo and I am playing in one tuning. That's enough to enrich my life.


cb56 - Posted - 08/11/2011:  15:33:51



"You are not learning an instrument in Old Time so much as you are learning a mostly lost culture or set of cultures.".....



I also think I need a history lesson, any suggestions?


oldwoodchuckb - Posted - 08/11/2011:  16:17:34



I don't think there is a book on the subject but The Old Time Herald is a worthwhile read, and there are a number of articles on the web. Google the terms you hear here like Clawhammer banjo, Frailing banjo, Old Time Music and spend an evening looking for interesting stuff.



I think you can download the liner notes to the New Lost City Ramblers even if you don't own the albums. Go to the Smithsonian folkways site.



They came to OT the same way I did - only I had their knowledge to start with because of the pioneering they did.


Kitt - Posted - 08/11/2011:  17:39:01



Wahr:



I noticed that a musician who you named as one of your favorites is Sarah Jarosz. I'm not familiar with her music, but I searched and then enjoyed what I heard from her. But there was something specific to this discussion that I heard her say in a video that I watched of her. What she said might give you something to think about.



I'll transcribe what she said:



"That song is a really good example of one of those songs that just happens really naturally. I co-wrote it with Alyssa Bonagura. It was our first time writing together, and she showed me this different tuning on the guitar. And basically, right when we both got into that tuning...the song just sort of happened."



--Sarah Jarosz



myspace.com/sarahjaroszmusic/videos


Mschaefer - Posted - 08/11/2011:  20:39:14



I haven't been playing for all that long, but I had the same struggle you are having.  As a former violin/guitar/uke player I thought multiple tunings were an annoyance.  I've also found that the clip on headstock tuner is the best $25 I've spent since I bought a banjo. 



To me,a lot of the banjo sound is the way strings open strings resonate against each other.  A problem with "standard" tuning is that closed chord inversions will start making you sound like a lousy guitar.  Other elements of tunings have been mentioned, such as the fact that most songs are played in one position.  Thus, some songs in the key of D are in f#DAF#D while some are in gCGCD with a capo on the second fret.  A  great example of this is in Art Roesnbaum's book "Old Time Mountain Banjo" where he shows that you can play the song Reuben's Train in open D without using your left hand. 



Don't be overwhelmed by the tuning lists.  As Woodchuck says in his book, you don't have to learn the tunings.  I've yet to play any scales on a banjo, and would have to work out any chord names in my head while staring at my hand. 


wahr - Posted - 08/11/2011:  22:04:29



quote:


Originally posted by Kitt




Wahr:



I noticed that a musician who you named as one of your favorites is Sarah Jarosz. I'm not familiar with her music, but I searched and then enjoyed what I heard from her. But there was something specific to this discussion that I heard her say in a video that I watched of her. What she said might give you something to think about.



I'll transcribe what she said:



"That song is a really good example of one of those songs that just happens really naturally. I co-wrote it with Alyssa Bonagura. It was our first time writing together, and she showed me this different tuning on the guitar. And basically, right when we both got into that tuning...the song just sort of happened."



--Sarah Jarosz



myspace.com/sarahjaroszmusic/videos






Thanks for the reply, Kitt (and Mschaefer, too). In fact I hear and enjoy a lot of musicians who work with different tunings. Occasionally I play in sawmill. I tried also a few tabs in double C from Michael J. Miles' "Teach Yourself To Play Clawhammer Banjo". But, well, as I wrote above, it messed me up a bit. It's not written in stone, but at the moment I prefer to play in open G.



Edited by - wahr on 08/11/2011 22:09:40

slabounty - Posted - 08/12/2011:  07:36:36



quote:


Originally posted by Mschaefer

 A problem with "standard" tuning is that closed chord inversions will start making you sound like a lousy guitar. 





Nailed it.



Scott


ZEPP - Posted - 08/12/2011:  08:42:17



An after-thought:  To those who fear that learning multiple tunings will confuse their hands, I would offer two analogies:



1)  I daily switch between my vehicles with automatic transmissions and my vehicles with stick shifts.   There is absolutely no thought involved, I simply do whatever each particular vehicle requires.  



2)  When one achieves fluency in a language, he does not translate.  His brain simply works in whatever mode he is in.  



(As a personal aside, I remember a night in France when my wife and I were returning home from a party where we were the only anglophones.  As such, the entire evening had been in French. Further, its being a French party, I had had um... a bit to drink.  At one point in the evening we had all been arguing vehemently  about some socio-political issue, and I continued on in the car, railing to my long suffering and very sober wife about the others' folly, etc.  I vividly remember her stopping at a traffic light , and turning to me to say "That's nice, Dear, but you can speak English now."  I said "But I am shpeaking English" [sorta], and she replied, "No.  You're not."  I thought about my words, and realized, I had, indeed, been speaking in French.  As a very, very bad speaker of French, I am still remarkably proud of that moment!)



Thus, in the same automatic manner, changing from one tuning to another leads to one's hands simply doing what is needed--there is no conscious effort whatsoever required to make the change.  Simply put: Given repetition, our brains are more than capable of easily handling such changes.



Cheers,

ZEPP


wahr - Posted - 08/12/2011:  09:38:58



quote:


Originally posted by ZEPP

 


2)  When one achieves fluency in a language, he does not translate.  His brain simply works in whatever mode he is in.  



(As a personal aside, I remember a night in France when my wife and I were returning home from a party where we were the only anglophones.  As such, the entire evening had been in French. Further, its being a French party, I had had um... a bit to drink.  At one point in the evening we had all been arguing vehemently  about some socio-political issue, and I continued on in the car, railing to my long suffering and very sober wife about the others' folly, etc.  I vividly remember her stopping at a traffic light , and turning to me to say "That's nice, Dear, but you can speak English now."  I said "But I am shpeaking English" [sorta], and she replied, "No.  You're not."  I thought about my words, and realized, I had, indeed, been speaking in French.  As a very, very bad speaker of French, I am still remarkably proud of that moment!)



Thus, in the same automatic manner, changing from one tuning to another leads to one's hands simply doing what is needed--there is no conscious effort whatsoever required to make the change.  Simply put: Given repetition, our brains are more than capable of easily handling such changes.



 






What a nice story! So I promise: Next time I visit France I will play in double C! ;-)


Kitt - Posted - 08/12/2011:  10:04:35



quote:


Originally posted by cb56




"You are not learning an instrument in Old Time so much as you are learning a mostly lost culture or set of cultures.".....



I also think I need a history lesson, any suggestions?






Strings Bands in the North Carolina Peidmont:



By Bob Carlin



The book is written in somewhat like a text book form but it is full of 'history lesson" type of information. I read it with fascination and with great interest. It's also inspirational in that it tells the stories of so, so many people and families who have gone on this music and banjo journey that we are currently experiencing first hand.



Edited by - Kitt on 08/12/2011 10:06:31

Castania - Posted - 08/12/2011:  11:10:58



Just to add a bit more to this discussion . . . I knew a wonderful clawhammerer who played most everything in the open/standard C tuning (gCGBD).  He liked this because he had C, with a capo he was in D, fret the fourth string and he was in G, which capoed was A.  His reason:  he hated to re-tune.



I hate to retune as well, but in most settings, folks have been kind enough to play a nice long set of G or A tunes before reaching a consensus to switch to C or D -- and were patient while I re-tuned.  Still, most everything I play uses "standard" G (gDGBD), double C (gCGCD), or sawmill (gDGCD) -- with capo-ing as needed.  And, if I find something played in an alternate turning (like gCGCE) -- unless something is gravely lost in the translation -- I'll "convert" it to one of the three tunings I'm more comfortable with.



Ken



 


R.D. Lunceford - Posted - 08/12/2011:  16:44:33



quote:


Originally posted by cb56




"You are not learning an instrument in Old Time so much as you are learning a mostly lost culture or set of cultures.".....



I also think I need a history lesson, any suggestions?






In this order, but I'd recommend both: 



African Banjo Echoes in Appalachia by Cecelia Conway



and



America's Instrument: The Banjo in the 19th Century by Gura and Bollman


R.D. Lunceford - Posted - 08/12/2011:  16:50:28



quote:


Originally posted by wahr




quote:








I can only speak for myself, but I don't feel that "it is time to break out of that cell". I simply don't need to play in another tuning than open G to have fun and to take an inspirational musical journey on the banjo. At the moment I don't want a new alphabet to find my own voice. I'm totally satisfied with the old alphabet called open G. Maybe that's the kind of guy I am - I don't need a zillion tunings nor a zillion banjos. I own only one banjo and I am playing in one tuning. That's enough to enrich my life.






May depend on what you're doing with the banjo.  Old-Time tunes nearly demand to be played in particular tunings assuming you are playing them in the standard keys.



We are all coming from a certain place based on our current level of development.  All I can say is that if you feel your life is presently enriched by the gDGBD tuning, I envy you because when you get turned onto the different tunings your musical life will be enriched in ways you can't even begin to imagine. 


chip arnold - Posted - 08/12/2011:  20:59:22


zepp's post above nails it. put in the time (and it won't take long) and you'll be easily switching from one tuning to the next. no thinking/puzzling required. don't let a banjo bluff you.

howseth - Posted - 08/12/2011:  22:46:06


Zepp's comment ring true with me too - when switching tunings one gets into that specific tunings mode (usually) and it's as if you do forget the other tunings, (I have not got that far with my French.)

But, If I have a standard - or central tuning - its the "Double C" (but down tuned to Double B, to take advantage of the depth and lows of my 12" Silverspun Ome)

bublnsqueak - Posted - 08/13/2011:  00:35:33



quote:


Originally posted by cb56




"You are not learning an instrument in Old Time so much as you are learning a mostly lost culture or set of cultures.".....



I also think I need a history lesson, any suggestions?






I find this guy's work inspiring: dwightdiller.com/ 



However, I'm from England so immersing myself in Appalachian culture from a particular small region might be a bit too much commitment.



Its not usual in England to pause while the banjo player retunes so I try and learn lots in open G and reserve alternative tunings for home plunking. Although if I ever gain a reasonable level of competence maybe it will be less awkward.



One aspect of the banjo I enjoy is the learning. All these tunings mean that the long term future looks interesting.



Paul


majikgator - Posted - 08/13/2011:  06:40:22



obviously it is f#BEAD why anything else? Seriously the Big three are what you need to know, but if you had to choose one unfortunately you better get that puppy tuned to open G because every time you get a gathering of CH players you will be forced into that one and usually is the first one that comes up. Why not Open A or Double D, A modal i don't know other than assuming that no one either owns a capo,  is afraid to tune up or as an act of rebellion against fiddle players or just another OT conspiracy to make things arcane whenever possible. Hone your tuning skills my friend you are in for a rough ride (just kidding?)..


JohnTheWhite - Posted - 08/14/2011:  00:49:16


With the banjo more than is the case with the guitar the availability of the correct note at the right time, open or fretted or drone, is the big thing. If you are learning to play a song like someone else has played it it's imperative to use the tuning of the original. If you are arranging your own variation of a traditional song the tuning will suggest itself. Someone said earlier that the selection of gDGBD or gDGCD has everything to do with whether the melody contains a B note. A songs that is clearly modal but played in G-tuning is, "Every Man Gets in Tough Luck Sometime ... I'll be lucky some old day." You have to have the B note to play the melody. The song "Walkin' boss ... I don't belong to you" never has a B note. It is important to not confuse tuning to play different scales, G versus C for instance, with this other form of tuning variation.

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