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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Has anyone worked through this book? Jazz for Five String Banjo - Comping &

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bagodonuts6 - Posted - 12/09/2018:  07:47:28

I already own Pat Cloud's books and recently ordered Mark Levine's Jazz Theory Book. Just wondering if anyone has checked this one out? Can't seem to find any reviews online.
It's going to be a long cold winter up here in Boston so I'll have plenty of time to study!

RB3 - Posted - 12/09/2018:  10:00:28

Perhaps you really can judge a book by its cover. When I see a book titled "Jazz for Five String Banjo - Comping & Soloing, Chords & Scales" and the book cover has three pictures of a four string banjo, I'm a little suspicious.

Greg Denton - Posted - 12/10/2018:  11:08:42

I can find no trace of the author, Ward Russell, on the internet other than another Jazz method book on tenor banjo, tenor guitar, and mandola. Both this book and the Jazz for Five String Banjo are published by "The California Banjo Institute" with Ward Russell listed as senior instructor. But "The California Banjo Institute" doesn't seem to exist on the internet either, other than these two books being available from a number of sites that sell method books.
The description of the books sounds like it has some interesting and useful content for 5 string banjo (with standard gDGBD tuning) despite the 4-string banjos on the cover.
I'll be very curious to hear your review once you receive the book. Please post a follow-up!

Greg Denton - Posted - 12/18/2018:  15:36:33

Okay, I decided to order a copy of this book from Amazon since I'm a bit of a banjo-bookaholic, and it seemed like a weird curiosity that would be worth the risk.
It's 210 pages of what looks like photocopied ink-jet printed pages (with some alignment issues) coil bound between two cardboard covers. Front cover (yes, 4-string banjos despite it being a 5-string standard gDGBD tuning book) looks like a color-copied ink-jet laminated onto the cardboard under a clear acetate protector.
The graphics (neck diagrams, standard notations, and tab) are generally poor resolution, sometimes awkwardly stretched and sized, but still legible. As a piece of book design and production, this is a decidedly amateur thing.
It also comes with 2 CDs which are CD-Rs with unprinted white surfaces in blank envelopes adhered to the inside front cover.
The CDs on a cursory listen are terribly produced with sometimes a heavily reverberated banjo and metronome, and sometimes with a tone generator (perhaps a synthetic organ sound) that also is terrible, and distorted. Though the number of tracks on the CDs corresponds to the list of tracks in the content page, I'm not confident that the tracks are accurately indexed to the exercises, demonstrations, and page numbers that the list indicates.
Sounds pretty crappy so far, right?
All that said, the text itself is in a crisp, clear, and legible sans serif font. The information is clear, well-written, and comprehensive. And I like the order and organization of the information in the book (though not the design, per se). It's definitely not a beginner book.
Section 1: Chords (p 12 - 38) starts with "Root Position" (F-Shape), "1st Inversion" (D-Shape), and "2nd Inversion" (Barre Shape) Major Triads. The exercises have you running the chords through the circle of fifths/fourths counter-clockwise (C - F - Bb - Eb - Ab - Db - Gb - B - E - A - D - G). This then repeats for the Minor Triads, Diminished, and Augmented. Then Dominant and Major Sevenths. And then pretty much any chord iteration you can imagine, each diagrammed with fingering recommendations, discussion of the effect of note ommissions on some voicings that make fingering possible. All very informative, clearly written and intelligible (clinical, there's no intention to entertain you while you learn).
Section 2: Comping (p 38-77) instructs on rhythmic accompaniment patterns and techniques (thumb pick and two finger picks), vi - ii - V - I progressions, Chordal voicings and voice leading, with a few songs as demonstration (in blurry notation and tab).
Section 3: Soloing (p 78-210) is the bulk of the book. It starts with various arpeggio patterns for various chords (again through the circle of fifths). Then over chord changes. Then using arpeggios to generate chord-tone improvisations. There's a chapter on using "guide tones" (the 3rd and 7th degrees of a scale control the major/minor and major/dominant quality of chords) as a basis to make melodic statements. This starts simply using some patterns and exercising them over some chord progressions, then moves on to concepts of Melodic Embellishment (passing notes, auxillary notes, chromatic movement, octave displacement, echape, etc). From there on to scale based soloing, mode and chord correspondence, and so on, and so on.

So, the actual information and instruction that the book provides looks really good, understandable, applicable, insightful, and useful. And the material has considerable depth.
I can see myself actually learning a lot from this book, though the CD supplement might not be very useful (or bearable even).

The crappy, amateur production and graphic work is still very functional. And though it's aimed at jazz and typical jazz harmony and progressions, it's still music theory and application that would be useful for any music.

Greg Denton - Posted - 12/18/2018:  15:47:51

I should also note (the author. Ward Russell, and the so called "California Banjo Institute" as publisher being a bit of a mystery), the book shipped from Ethan M Heutter, 1567 Cunningham Road, Sebastopol CA. Google maps shows that to be a residential dwelling.

hobogal - Posted - 01/06/2019:  00:45:58

Hey Greg - very good review of the book. There are some other books by the California Banjo Institute (one for jazz tenor banjo and blues tenor banjo) that looked interesting but I was put off by googling the Institute and authors and finding they don't exist! A strange way to do business. I wonder why the author didn't just put them out under his own name and do a decent kindle book. Anyway, sounds useful but very dry!  Am sure the basics can be found elsewhere.

I have been looking at an intro/beginner book for jazz theory so interested in suggestions  

hobogal - Posted - 01/06/2019:  00:48:27

This one looks interesting from the Hal Leonard Jazz Play along series:

Edited by - hobogal on 01/06/2019 00:49:01

Greg Denton - Posted - 01/10/2019:  09:47:51

Thanks for posting the link to the Joe Charupakorn book. It looks like a good intro to applied jazz theory. It's funny how I can find introductory jazz theory books that are instrument specific for something like ukulele, but not for 5-string banjo. I suppose there's an assumption that you will play 4-string plectrum banjo if you're interested in jazz.

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