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 Playing Advice: 4-String (Jazz, Blues & Other Trad Styles)
 ARCHIVED TOPIC: 5-string vs Plectrum vs Tenor


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: http://www.banjohangout.org/archive/359755

ronatr - Posted - 12/23/2019:  08:53:30


Not sure if this a tenor related or 5-string related question so am posting to both topics.



I am a decent 5- string bluegrass player (Scruggs style) and have recently been asked to back up a dixieland jazz combo. Which I realize is a different animal - ie - strumming chords to the beat more than picking notes. I also have a tenor banjo but am a beginner on that.



As I see it my choices for this dixieland stuff are:

1. Disable the 5th string and play as a plectrum banjo in DGBD tuning, which Id be most comfortable with.

2. Disable the 5th string and play as a plectrum banjo in CGBD tuning.

3. Tune my tenor to CGBD (or DGBD) to take advantage of my existing chord knowledge.

4. Learn proper tenor technique with CGDA tuning.



I see this dixieland music as a long term goal for me - I would like to become proficient in the style.



Anybody been in this position or have any suggestions as to pros/ cons?


Edited by - Bill Rogers on 12/23/2019 09:52:00

monstertone - Posted - 12/23/2019:  09:33:54


Option #4 makes the most sense due to the tuning in fifth's. Not to mention the tenor banjo being the most popular in that scenario. There must be a good reason for that. Not only that, a lot of what you learn on the tenor banjo is transferable to mandolin (& bazookie) being as they are also tuned in fifth's.



Until you become proficient on the tenor, option #1 will get you by.

Bill Rogers - Posted - 12/23/2019:  09:57:44


Also see: banjohangout.org/topic/359754/#4556302

Culloden - Posted - 12/23/2019:  10:00:28


I will try this again and hope my reply does not get locked out this time.
When I was in high school the chorus did Alexander's Ragtime Band as a spring musical. The chorus teacher wanted to put together a period band with piano, sax, trumpet, drums, banjo, and upright bass. We had the musicians in school to do it but I was the only banjo player and I played five string.
I had an old Kay tenor banjo that I played around with but I had not yet learned the proper chords well enough to keep up with a band. So I tuned it in a G chord and used the chords I was familiar with. In a band ensemble it was not noticed.
My suggestion would be to use option 3 for the interim and try option 4 for a long term goal.

Omeboy - Posted - 12/23/2019:  10:30:21


Option 1 will do for now, but Option 2 is all you will ever need. The idea that dixieland bands prefer a tenor is a fallacy perpetuated by ardent tenor players. But everyone knows the plectrum and tenor are equally suited for any dixieland band. Any preference is strictly up to the leader and his or her experiences with past banjoists. I've played both tenor and plectrum. There are many great artists on both. They both have certain strengths. You will have a nice head-start on the plectrum with your 5-string background.



As BHO member, Joel Hooks recommended ( archive.org/details/ChordSyste...rumBanjo1. ) is a great source to learn your chord shapes. 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 root on the first string, another set for the root on the second string and another set for the root on the third string.



And many dixieland band leaders will only want you to play "straight fours" for rhythm.  Nothing fancy.  But you will enjoy chord melody is due time.


Edited by - Omeboy on 12/23/2019 10:32:17

G Edward Porgie - Posted - 12/23/2019:  12:03:44


Option one for now, as you probably know enough of the fretboard to do it decently right now. Practice with option two or option four (whatever you prefer) for later. Options two and four are easier to find learning resources for than option one, and option three will not work as well, as the scale length is rather short for CGBD tuning and you can't practice tenor chords with your tenor banjo tuned as a plectrum.

trapdoor2 - Posted - 12/23/2019:  15:44:51


I cut a 5th-string sized notch in the side of my bridge to "park" it for plectrum playing. Works great and you don't even have to de-tune/re-tune it. I'm much more familar with the chords in DGBD tuning than CGBD...but if I had a regular gig, I'd probably go for CGBD.

If the band is adamant about a tenor, do it. The base set of chords isn't all that tough.

JackRyanNPU - Posted - 12/23/2019:  18:10:54


quote:

Originally posted by ronatr

Not sure if this a tenor related or 5-string related question so am posting to both topics.



I am a decent 5- string bluegrass player (Scruggs style) and have recently been asked to back up a dixieland jazz combo. Which I realize is a different animal - ie - strumming chords to the beat more than picking notes. I also have a tenor banjo but am a beginner on that.



As I see it my choices for this dixieland stuff are:

1. Disable the 5th string and play as a plectrum banjo in DGBD tuning, which Id be most comfortable with.

2. Disable the 5th string and play as a plectrum banjo in CGBD tuning.

3. Tune my tenor to CGBD (or DGBD) to take advantage of my existing chord knowledge.

4. Learn proper tenor technique with CGDA tuning.



I see this dixieland music as a long term goal for me - I would like to become proficient in the style.



Anybody been in this position or have any suggestions as to pros/ cons?








 



Feel free to call or email me offline! 

 



I play all 3 and I can help it all make sense to you. I always love this question!



 



Welcome to the dark side!

guitarbanjoman - Posted - 12/24/2019:  05:27:29


Good luck whatever you decide, Ron.

Back in the seventies, I made that same transition, from five to four string.

I found that the DGBD tuning just didnt sound very good to my ear because of the sound of the two D strings almost always being an octave apart no matter what chord shape I was playing.

So I switched to CGBD. It was a little weird at first, but luckily My fingers have gotten used to it over the past fifty years or so!

You’ll find that strumming instead of picking your banjo will also bring challenges, but we won’t go into that subject right now...

Merry Christmas!

Will

stevo58 - Posted - 12/27/2019:  07:50:11


I’ll tell you my little story. It won’t help you at all to make a decision between tenor and plectrum, but maybe with the tuning.

Earlier this year I bought a 5-string and started teaching myself Scruggs style (I’ve played guitar for 50 years, including a lot of Gary Davis-type stuff, so Scruggs came pretty easy). A friend heard about it and said ‘Great, you can play in the Dixie bands. The banjo players are dying off.’ I replied that it was a different type of banjo. He said ‘Buy a tenor’ in a way which made me think I had no choice, so I bought a tenor. In the meantime he had shopped me out to four bands(!)

I had four weeks to learn 40 tunes in a new instrument. Easy would have been Chicago tuning. But I looked at the set list, and the progressions. I found that:

- It was all in F, Bb, or Eb (horns)
- 80% was I-IV-V
- Most of the rest appeared again and again.

Since most of the tenor literature is in CGDA, I decided it made most sense to just go with standard tuning. I learned what I needed in those three keys and the little bit of extra, and it was fine. It’s more about your right hand anyway, at least in what passes for Dixie over here.

So if I were you I would just tune your 5-string to standard plectrum tuning and go from there. Tenor or plectrum isn’t really important.

Jmho

Steven

mainejohn - Posted - 01/01/2020:  06:42:42


I started playing the the 5 string banjo in 1960, using Pete Seeger's book as my guide, thus the standard C tuning (gCGBD) was what I learned first. In the mid 60's, the banjo band craze hit, and I learned plectrum banjo style good enough to play at Your Father's Mustache in Chicago, tuning my plectrum CGBD. Since then, I have continued to play both styles, much of the time in C tuning, with knowledge of the respective styles complimenting each other. I think CGBD tuning works better on a plectrum than DGBD, as I find it easier to play up the neck using chord formations in CGBD tuning. As far as tenor (CGDA) tuning being better suited for jazz, I really don't think that's true, and your 5 string background will make the transition to plectrum style much easier and faster. The ratio of tenor to plectrum back in the jazz age may have favored tenor, but I found the opposite to be true in the 60's, which is a period I refer to as the "second coming of the 4 string banjo." Sadly, the "second coming" didn't last long, as most jazz tenor and plectrum players, like me, are in their 70's. Regarding the 5th string, if I'm playing plectrum style on my 5 string, I just leave it in place, and avoid hitting it unless I'm playing in G or C. For a long gig, I'd just remove the 5th string.


Edited by - mainejohn on 01/01/2020 06:45:01

pearcemusic - Posted - 01/09/2020:  05:58:17


You could shoot a message to Pat Cloud. He played 5 string without a 5th in the professional Dixieland band at Disneyland for 13 years .... he has just retired and is now working on his own web presence... 

jwold - Posted - 02/04/2020:  10:09:56


I've sat in on a local dixieland jam and the guy that runs it wants me to sit in with his group as the banjo/guitar chair recently vacated. I already play 5 string & some jazz guitar as well and I've sat in on the jam sessions he's had though I was playing a 6 string banjo. Any further opinions on playing plectrum with the 4th string tuned to D or just learn it tuned to C? Or stick with the 6 string and call it good?

guitarbanjoman - Posted - 02/05/2020:  14:16:54


Jeff, unless you are burning with desire to learn to play tenor or plectrum, I think that playing a six string banjo would be fine.



The main drawback is the small size of a banjo head doesn’t give much “oomph” to your bass strings... but if you are playing in a loud dixieland band that may not really be obvious to anyone but you...



When I converted from 5 to 4 strings many moons ago, I found that the DGBD tuning just didn’t sound very good to my ears... but once again, that may not be obvious to anyone but you...





Will



ps Your other "easy" choice might be DGBE "Chicago" tuning... or perhaps even buying a resonator guitar, which would give you a nice chunky chinky sound which would be almost as good as a banjo for traditonal jazz... Louis Armstrong used one of these for a while in the early thirties.



That being said, I still think the traditional tenor or plectrum banjo would sound the best in the long run... assuming you have the time and energy to put into learning either of those tunings...


Edited by - guitarbanjoman on 02/05/2020 14:31:28

stanger - Posted - 02/10/2020:  13:38:32


I started on the 5-string, and after about a year, got a gig playing dixieland at a pizza joint.
I took the 5th string off on Friday afternoon and put it back on Sunday for the next 6b months. I doubled with a real-deal plectrum player, who took all the leads and knew all the chords, and was a great guy.

It was a fantastic experience, and left me with a lifetime affinity for the plectrum banjo. Although I always played a 5-string first, most, and most often, learning how to navigate a plectrum taught me how to use the entire fingerboard extremely well, and the plectrum style taught me a lot of very useful things I never needed to play bluegrass, but were really good for other music.

Learning the style also freed me from capo dependency. I seldom use a capo, and only use one when playing in a couple of keys; the common fiddle keys don't bother me at all playing open.

They are all different banjos that have their own thing happening. Each has its own singular abilities, advantages, disadvantages, and tonal specialties. I have tried to learn the tenor banjo a lot over the years, and I like the sound of a tenor, but the plectrum feels like 5-string home to me, comfortable and familiar, and that's why I prefer it the most. I don't have to think about playing it any more than I have to think about playing the 5-string.

Playing the plectrum in open G works fine and dandy. But the C tuning does have a richer, deeper bottom to the sound, and the extra low notes on the 4th string can come in very handy to play some tunes.

The coolest thing about the plec is how well it can work for playing finger style guitar tunes. It's great for that.
regards,
stanger

Here's a picture of my favorite plectrum. These things are very hard to find!



 

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