Banjo Hangout Logo
Banjo Hangout Logo

Premier Sponsors

Banjo Lovers Online

Discussion Forum

Want to hide these Google ads? Join the Players Union!

 All Forums
 Playing the Banjo
 Playing Advice: 4-String (Jazz, Blues & Other Trad Styles)
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Four String Players

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:

Picking Dick - Posted - 05/15/2019:  08:12:02

Anyone here play Plectrum Banjo? Cello Banjo - 4? I’ve pretty much changed from 5-string to them, and now I’m battling all the darned chords. However, I do seem to be making some headway.

I’m hoping that this group will be helpful to my endeavors.

G Edward Porgie - Posted - 05/15/2019:  08:33:00

I can't think of any reason why this forum can't be helpful. There are numerous expert players here who are always happy to share advice, experience, chord charts, reference materials, etc. Such players as Omeboy come readily to mind. He's a regular contributor. with loads of great advice. There are many others, too.

All you have to do is ask a question or report on some specific problem, and you will receive more advice and possible solutions than you can imagine.

Without knowing just what chord problems you are currently having, I can only offer encouragement and welcome you to the four-string world. 

Ancient - Posted - 05/15/2019:  08:58:42

Plectrum banjo is a lot of fun. I started on it almost 2 years ago (I started on 5 string many years ago and wanted to broaden my playing possibilities). Working between the plectrum tuning(C, G, B, D) and the classic 5 string tuning (g, C, G, B, D) makes it easier to learn the notes as well as the chords. A helpful website you might checkout is: There’s a ton of stuff there to help you along.

Knows Picker - Posted - 05/15/2019:  13:17:25

Just start out with the simple 3 chord songs and keep on going. Some of that stuff from the 20's and 30's can be pretty tricky if you want to play all the chords!

Knows Picker - Posted - 05/15/2019:  13:20:24

I was struggling with the bridge for a song called "Pencil Thin Moustache." It just didn't sound quite right, then I saw a video of it being played in concert. Almost the whole band sat it out while the vocalist sang it! And it was just Am, E7, Bm, F7 !!

Omeboy - Posted - 05/15/2019:  19:59:43


Originally posted by Picking Dick

Anyone here play Plectrum Banjo? Cello Banjo - 4? I’ve pretty much changed from 5-string to them, and now I’m battling all the darned chords. However, I do seem to be making some headway.

I’m hoping that this group will be helpful to my endeavors.


The following excerpt is from my blog on "Learning The Plectrum Banjo."  It will definitely help you with the chords and is the real key to understanding the neck:

"If you're ever going to make real progress on the plectrum, a good method book that explains how ALL chords are formed according to shape and the specific string that names the chord is absolutely essential.  The old method that used to be the gold standard was Charles McNeil Chord System for Plectrum (Long Neck) Banjo. It was published back in the early Twenties and is now difficult to find.  But the good news is, you can still see a copy of it on the Internet ArchiveBHO member, Joel Hooks did some research and found it available here:  Just sign in and register to gain access to this great book.  Study the section that explains the entire neck with regards to how all the chords are formed and named by the specific string that is responsible for naming that chord form (pages 21 & 22.)  For example, you'll see forms for major, minor and seventh forms that are all named from the first string, another set for the second string and another set for the third string."

Good luck and have fun.


Picking Dick - Posted - 05/15/2019:  21:22:42

A lot of good info here. Thanks to all for your input. I’ll be workin’ on it.

G Edward Porgie - Posted - 05/16/2019:  08:12:16

One thing I'll mention is that many if not most four string players hold the banjo neck at a higher angle than five string players do. I think it aids in changing chords and gives the left hand better mobility.

sethb - Posted - 05/16/2019:  08:24:26

When you played the 5-string banjo, what tuning did you use? If it was g-C-G-B-D, it's basically the same as the most common plectrum tuning, which is also C-G-B-D, so the chord shapes are also exactly the same.

While the McNeil book is excellent and has much good information, I think many beginners would find it fairly daunting. I started with a Mel Bay chord book in 1965, and I still refer to it on occasion for an odd chord like a Cm7, a 9th or an 11th.

If you are just accompanying a singer or other lead, playing the harmony chords should be fairly easy to do. Melody chords are another thing altogether, and are much more difficult to master.

The other big difference between 4- and 5-string work is the right hand, which uses a flat pick instead of finger picks, and strums instead of picking. To me that would be the bigger challenge; chord shapes are easy to learn, strumming rhythms are much tougher to master, in my opinion.

In any event, good luck to you and stick with it --- we need more plectrum players around here! SETH

Edited by - sethb on 05/16/2019 08:26:24

Omeboy - Posted - 05/16/2019:  08:58:58

Here are a few guys you can listen to all day:

Dave Marty (plec), Howard Alden (tenor) and Jack Convery (plec).

Fathand - Posted - 05/17/2019:  05:50:12

Is there any reason you can't use open G tuning on a plectrum and use all your 5 string chords?

Picking Dick - Posted - 05/17/2019:  11:50:55

I don’t understand what you mean, Fathand.

pdinneen1 - Posted - 05/17/2019:  12:31:02

You can use open G tuning on plectrum (Sean Moyses does) but the CGBD offers more accessible chord extensions and has a deeper timbre.

pdinneen1 - Posted - 05/22/2019:  19:30:03

Dick - I notice you live in Orange County, CA. You could possibly contact several tremendous players, who live near you, for lessons:

Brad Roth
Doug Mattocks
Tom Liston

pcoopy - Posted - 07/23/2019:  16:51:45

I started on the tenor in the '50s, went to 5-string in the '60s, and finally went to plectrum in 2000. When playing bluegrass on 5-string I played a lot of tunes in what they call drop C, which is standard plectrum tuning CGBD. So it helped me a lot figuring out the chord formations.

Picking Dick - Posted - 07/25/2019:  09:31:31

Well, all, I’m gettin’ along better now. I seem to be comin’ outta my dry spell.

I have switched from tabs to dots on my CGDA/GDAE instruments, and I’m doin’ better with ‘em. I’m playing mostly Celtic, Classical and Gospel with ‘em.

I have been playing my two 5 strings again too. I play them 2 finger, and I’m trying ta get usta finger picks for more loud. I had removed the 5th string on one, and I was playin’ plectrum banjo with it. But I’ll probably restring it today.

I removed the tuner and string from my GT 5 string Mini Travel banjo, and it’s now my mini plectrum banjo - works well.

I retuned my tenor banjolele to F,Bb,D,G which is 1.5 steps higher than D,G,B,E (Chicago). It sounds like a banjo now rather than a ukulele.

So I guess I’m really into 4 stringers now.

Hangout Network Help

View All Topics  |  View Categories