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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Sea Shanties and Sea Folk Songs

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Skyflyer911man - Posted - 12/01/2014:  23:20:39

I have taken an interest in sea shantie songs and wonder, is there a "proper" banjo to use for these types of songs?  I've enjoyed writing a couple of my own originals (instrumentals so far) and it definitely works on my lovely Yates 5 string Ron Stewart mahogany, but I wonder if they are mostly done on 5 string or some other form of banjo?

mmuussiiccaall - Posted - 12/02/2014:  00:54:01

All I would recommend is learning add2 chords!

Lew H - Posted - 12/02/2014:  05:57:34

Rick, What's an "add2 chord?"

mmuussiiccaall - Posted - 12/02/2014:  07:02:55


Originally posted by Lew H

Rick, What's an "add2 chord?"

They are chords that add a note one whole step above the root which gives an feeling of uneasiness, unresolved etc., to the chord. This equates to the waves sensations.

Edited by - mmuussiiccaall on 12/02/2014 07:10:42

add2 chords


JohnGP - Posted - 12/02/2014:  07:10:14

Cant speak for the USA but over here it's either unaccompanied or some sort of squeezebox, occasionally fiddle.

AllanJ - Posted - 12/02/2014:  12:56:08

Like most work-songs I think the 'proper' way is unaccompanied. 


I've played 5-string with a group doing shanties and it worked OK.



steve davis - Posted - 12/02/2014:  16:35:44

5 string is of course fine.I love to play these types of songs,but there is a beautiful combination with a tenor banjo and a concertina,imo.

I might feel the same way about a cello banjo.I should build a simple 12" banjo...maybe a solid maple fretless neck

Roll Player - Posted - 12/02/2014:  17:44:12

I think "add 2" chords are more commonly called "add 9." Same idea though.

Playin the radio - Posted - 12/02/2014:  20:02:53

Here's a couple of images from the American Civil War. Both are in the Library of Congress photo library where you can call them up with greater clarity.

The first is a US Marine aboard the USS Miami and is playing a 5-string.:

The second is a US Navy sailor aboard the USS Hunchback.:

So your into the stroke style with the above.

Depending on the time/sound, your choices start at fretless 5-string with gut/nylon strings and hide head progressing to frets (about 1870), to wire strings (about 1890 for availability and 1916 for general use).

Lastly, adopt the attitude of a model railroader, "I'll run what I want". Not to many folks are going to say you're doing it wrong and the few that do can be ignored.


mmuussiiccaall - Posted - 12/02/2014:  20:58:21


Originally posted by Roll Player

I think "add 2" chords are more commonly called "add 9." Same idea though.

add2 chords imply that the 2nd degree is added in the first or lowest octave which gives a darker sound since it is a step away from the third.

ex Cadd2 =. C D E G instead of the Cadd9 = C E G D

(not had fast rules though especially on limited range instruments like the 5 string banjo) These add2 add9 chords are ingrained in pop American culture in songs like THE WRECK OF THE EDMUND FITZGERALD & CALYPSO.

Roll Player - Posted - 12/02/2014:  23:03:25

Interesting. I never really distinguished between them (add 2 and add 9), but that is different. Thanks for making that distinction. Same note, different octave.

Back in my folkie days (decades ago), the D add 9 and the D suspended were very important guitar chords.

Bill - Posted - 12/03/2014:  06:26:21

Ah! Sea Chanteys...

You need to get in touch with Bob Zentz ( ). He knows more of those than anybody I can think of. And he's a "whale" of a banjo player.

Skyflyer911man - Posted - 12/04/2014:  17:47:58

Thanks fellas, I appreciate the input and for the recommendation on Bob Zentz. I am surprised to learn that many shanties are sung acapella! In my uninformed mind, I always hear a banjo in my head in a sea shanty, that and a penny whistle!

steve davis - Posted - 12/05/2014:  16:03:50

Audience participation choruses(chori?) are my faves.With Emphasis!

Klondike Waldo - Posted - 12/09/2014:  16:40:50

"Working" Sea Chanteys: Short-Haul, Long Haul, Halyard, Capstan, so-named for the particular task they went with were usually un-accompanied.  There was generally one sailor who sang the "lead" and the other sailors pulled on teh refrain. Focs'l chanteys may have been accompanied by whatever instruments the sailors had on board, as those songs weren't done for work, but for entertainment. .  Sea Chanteys were generally sung only on merchant ships, to get the crew working in rhythm. On naval vessels, fiddles, fifes or drums may have been used to that purpose- the singing of chanteys being considered loose discipline.  Fiddles, fifes or drums were also applied for the crew to dance as exercise on Naval vessels.

g3zdm - Posted - 12/10/2014:  14:25:15

Some sea shanties work pretty well with banjos in the mix with other instruments. South Australia is a good example. I seem to recall that the Seekers' version of that included a banjo.

There are no doubt some folk police that would disagree with me.

Chris Muriel, Manchester, UK 

steve davis - Posted - 12/11/2014:  10:00:43

They tend to take small instruments on small boats.Hence the popularity of the concertina.

mainejohn - Posted - 12/24/2014:  14:02:36

Back to your original question. I don't think there's a "proper" banjo for sea shanties, or for any genre for that matter. I play 5 string and plectrum, and wouldn't hesitate to use either one for Sea Shanties. The Dubliners effectively used a tenor and longneck 5string for years, and they blended quite well. I think it's healthy to play any type of banjo "outside of the box." I think it fosters creativity.

Banjowen - Posted - 01/14/2015:  05:20:25

I have an LP of "The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem Sing Of The Sea" which has a few tracks with 5 String banjo in them, It'd be nice if you could get it on CD.

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