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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: General Questions - 4 String Tenor banjo

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Roadapplered - Posted - 11/27/2019:  11:57:17

I have just recently begun lessons (3) on a tenor banjo. I have never played any instrument before. I am a senior
My teacher tells me that he only teaches chords. Is that common or unusual? Should I change teachers at some point? When?
Also someone told me of a teacher in London Ontario that I should contact. I cannot find my previous message and can't remember the person's name. Would appreciate him sending that info again.

mmuussiiccaall - Posted - 11/27/2019:  13:06:23

If someone came to me as a newbie and ONLY WANTED to learn chords I would first make sure the instrument is setup properly. Then I would use the major scale to start explaining the theory behind each chord and BTW eventually I would add right hand strum patterns.

Roadapplered - Posted - 11/27/2019:  13:45:32

Thanks Rick.
I want not only to learn chords but also melody. For example I really want to learn "Lorena" and Ashokan Farewell on the tenor banjo not just the chords that support both.

jfkeebler - Posted - 11/27/2019:  15:23:47

You def need a different instructor for tenor.

Omeboy - Posted - 11/27/2019:  15:26:38

Just my opinion, but your teacher sounds kind of "sketchy" to me.

Look for a teacher who is familiar with the "McNeil System." It was the gold standard for both tenor banjo, plectrum banjo and guitar.

Published in the Twenties, the McNeil System for Tenor Banjo is also accessible as a FREE download on the web from the University of Rochester. Pages 16 and 17 are what you need to see right away. That's the "key" to the system. (How chords are formed and named based on the "root note" that names the chord on a specific string.) Here's the link:

For a little more information about the McNeil System, take at allok at this blog:

I hope you find a good teacher.  Tenor man, Steve Caddick is always available with his lessons on-line.  He's a BHO member too.


Roadapplered - Posted - 11/27/2019:  15:36:52

Thanks for the advice guys

KennyB - Posted - 11/27/2019:  16:30:25

Here's the previous thread you referred to

G Edward Porgie - Posted - 11/27/2019:  16:31:17

A teacher that only teaches chords shouldn't claim to be a teacher and shouldn't be taking anyone's money.

Roadapplered - Posted - 11/27/2019:  16:41:26

thanks for the info Kenny. It seems like he is onemember of Dinny and the Allstars band.

Roadapplered - Posted - 11/27/2019:  16:44:12

Thanks Omeboy. I have watched all kinds of videos with Steve Caddick. Great musician. AT this point I think that sitting across from a live teacher works better for me. Once I have the basics down, maybe switching to video or online lessons may work.

Fathand - Posted - 11/27/2019:  19:39:13

Just learning chords and how to use them to accompany a song is great for a beginner. I wish I had been started on a 5 string that way instead of solos. It would have saved me a lot of time. I only figured that part out when I later learned guitar.

If you do want to do more than the above though, you will outgrow that teacher.

guitarbanjoman - Posted - 11/29/2019:  01:10:33

I agree with Rick.

A lot of playing music is ear training.

Being able to play basic first position chords playing along with simple three or four chord songs in just two or three keys is a great way to start.

After that, whatever wonderful scales or arps you want to learn, God bless, have at it, knock yourself out!

But if you can’t do the first thing, you won’t be able to do much with the second thing either... my 2c...


sethb - Posted - 11/29/2019:  14:51:52

I think the answer depends upon how much musical experience and training you are bringing to the table. You say you’ve never played an instrument before, and you’re a “senior” (is that a “senior citizen” or a “senior” in high school or college?)
Do you know how to read music – which notes are which, and what the “time signature” and time values of notes means? You would need to learn something about musical notation before you could start to play single-string melody notes.

But assuming that you can’t read music, and have never played an instrument before, I believe you might find it very difficult and frustrating trying to play individual melody notes right off the bat. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but you might find it to be a very steep learning curve.

On the other hand, at least in my opinion, there is nothing wrong or shameful in learning some groups of banjo chords (such as C-F-G7, with Am, Dm and Em thrown in for good measure) or learning a couple of the different chord fingering patterns. You will then be able to play lots of songs almost immediately, and can also start working on your right-hand (strumming) technique at the same time.

As you become more familiar with your instrument, you can progress to working on melody chords and/or single-string melody. If your teacher isn’t familiar with these things, then you can progress to another teacher who is. I frankly appreciated the honesty of the teacher you contacted, when he said he can only teach you “the chords.” There is still plenty to learn about the proper way to finger a chord, and to learn the relationships between all of the chords. It will probably take you quite a while just to absorb all of the different fingering patterns and the various chord inversions up the neck.

But I think if you master most of the simple things first, you will progress faster, get more satisfaction, and have more fun --- which is probably the reason that most of us play the banjo in the first place. SETH

G Edward Porgie - Posted - 11/29/2019:  15:04:36

Although I can see a point to starting with chords, I would have to guess that this teacher only teaches them because yhe has an extremely limited knowledge of the banjo fretboard and where various notes lie.

When I started, I found out very quicklt taht I could play C, G. and F chords in first position, but only wyhen soemone else was playing along or singing, but I couldn't yhave told anybody why they worked or what the actual notes were in any of those chords until I counted the frets up from the open strings..."Well, thos ebottom two are easy, C and G. Let me see, D string, hmm, D#, E. Now The A string, A#, B... Aha! C!

That's a pretty slow process.

Roadapplered - Posted - 11/29/2019:  15:29:18

I find the Dminor a tough fingering but then the teacher told me to use my pinky instead of the third finger and to do that until the music could not allow that. Works fine.

Roadapplered - Posted - 11/29/2019:  15:34:44

Thanks for the advice Seth. I broached the issue with my teacher on Thursday about just the chords. HE corrected my understanding along the lines of your advice. He also told me that technique is not absolute and that if I find it easier to use a different finger at the outset, do it until it can't work in a particular situation. Then go to the "correct" way.

Roadapplered - Posted - 11/29/2019:  15:36:32

BTW Seth, I am a senior citizen, into my 70"s

sethb - Posted - 11/29/2019:  15:56:47

Jim --- unless your teacher has a different suggestion, I would suggest you pick up a copy of a tenor banjo chord book that has 1) all the major, minor, seventh and augmented and diminished chords in the first position (that is, close to the nut where the tuning pegs are located) and 2) pictures of each fingering, so you can see where each finger goes and exactly how to place that finger. If you can't make any fingerings in the suggested way, then do whatever you gotta do to make it work, at least for now. There are some plectrum banjo fingerings that I cannot do, such as a D7th chord at the nut, but I have a few workarounds for them.

One good basic chord/photo book is the Mel Bay series, which will have all the basic chords plus 6ths and 9ths, and photos of each fingering, which is PLENTY for starters. Don't get a book with a zillion chords in it, because that will only confuse or overwhelm you. Your teacher can explain how to move chords up the neck (chord inversions) when you're ready to do that.

Best of luck to you with your tenor banjo, and remember to pay attention to the right hand as well --- there are a few basic strumming patterns you need to learn, too! SETH

Roadapplered - Posted - 11/29/2019:  15:59:30

Thanks Seth

sethb - Posted - 11/29/2019:  16:49:15

I just looked on Amazon and the Mel Bay "Tenor Banjo Chords" book is available for about $8. It's available as a paperback pamphlet and also as a Kindle download (which I would not recommend because the pictures won't show up as well).

Here's the link:

When I searched the Amazon book section using the phrase "Mel Bay tenor banjo," I also found another Mel Bay publication for a "Tenor Banjo Melody Chord Playing System." But since I've never seen that publication and I play a plectrum banjo (tuned C-G-B-D) rather than a tenor, I can't say whether it's worthwhile or not. But for about $20, you couldn't go too far wrong!

However, please get all the basic chord fingerings "under your fingers" first, and make sure your chord changes are smooth, clean and fast, and that you can clearly hear each note in each chord (that is, so that each string rings out and isn't damped by an errant finger or fingernail). Then, if you like, you can start playing around with melody chords (which will usually have the melody note on the first string) or single-string melody. SETH

Roadapplered - Posted - 11/29/2019:  16:52:19

I'll look them up and buy them. Can't go wrong for that money

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