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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Plectrum Banjo Methods


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/371201

bassfiddlesteve - Posted - 12/22/2020:  22:25:00


I've posted here a few times but this is my first "new topic".



As my username implies I'm actually a bass player, but when the banjo spot in the trad jazz band I play with opened up about three years ago I claimed it, even though I'd never seriously played the instrument. I bought a Gold Tone plectrum and tuned it DGBE so I could use the guitar and ukulele chord shapes I was familiar with (a common tale) and off I went. Once we added a sousaphone player to our lineup I found myself playing as much banjo as bass, depending on the instrumentation the bandleader chose.



The break from regular gigs this year offered enough downtime for me to relearn the instrument tuned CGBD so I could work through the method books I had starting collecting. I have some clear favorites, but I thought I'd list them to see what everyone has to say about them. Only the last three are currently in print.



McNeil Chord System for Plectrum Banjo - Charles McNeil

Plectrum Banjo Playing - A Modern Method - Emile Grimshaw

The Banjo Player's Bible - Alfred Greathouse

Four String Plectrum Banjo Method - Alfred Greathouse

Plectrum Banjo Melody Chord Playing System - Mel Bay

Dixieland Jazz Banjo - Chad Johnson

Plectrum Banjo Playing for Modern Banjoist - Emile Grimshaw, edited by Ron Hinkle and Clem Vickery



- Steve


Edited by - bassfiddlesteve on 12/23/2020 17:46:31


Rob MacKillop - Posted - 12/23/2020:  00:28:34


I have a few of them. The original Grimshaw is a great method for learning to read standard notation in CGBD tuning, and has some nice tunes. I have some words about Grimshaw's books on my website: robmackillop.net/tenor-banjo/ from the days I played plectrum music on either a 5-string or a retuned tenor. I got a good plectrum banjo later: robmackillop.net/the-deering-e...um-banjo/ I would ignore the edited version of Grimshaw's book if you have the original.



The Mel Bay "Melody-Chord Playing System" is old fashioned, but thorough, and I learned a lot from it. 



I have Dixieland banjo, and it looks useable, but have never had the time to work on it. 



 

sethb - Posted - 12/23/2020:  05:49:19


Steve --- Congrats and welcome to the wonderful world of plectrums! 



I think the method book or books you would find most helpful depends upon the type of music you're playing and what you're called upon to do in the band.  Specifically, if you're playing rhythm in a Dixieland band, then you're probably playing harmony chords, so you need to understand chord inversions, how to move closed chords up the neck (away from the nut), and when to play higher or lower on the neck, depending on what else is happening (vocals, solos, ensemble work).  If you can get your hands on a copy, then "The Ultimate Plectrum Banjo Player's Guide" by the late Dave Frey & Susan Sangiacomo would be great for that.  Even the very basic Mel Bay chord book for plectrum banjo has a few pages in the back with a spreadsheet/list of many chord inversions. 



If you plan on playing solos, you'll need to explore chord melody work.  To do that, you can use your knowledge of chord inversions to help you work out fingerings that place the melody on the 1st string.  I'm not familiar with any of the method books you listed, but would suggest you take a look at any of the "Solo Books" that were published by Don VanPalta.  Each one contains 100 tunes, with a leadsheet for each one that contains the melody line, the lyrics, the basic chord changes, and chord fingering diagrams showing the melody chord for each note.  If you work through a few of these, you'll begin to see how chord melody works, and should soon be able to work out your own chord melody arrangements.  SETH 


Edited by - sethb on 12/23/2020 05:52:18

Joel Hooks - Posted - 12/23/2020:  06:50:09


quote:

Originally posted by Rob MacKillop

I have a few of them. The original Grimshaw is a great method for learning to read standard notation in CGBD tuning, and has some nice tunes. I have some words about Grimshaw's books on my website: robmackillop.net/tenor-banjo/ from the days I played plectrum music on either a 5-string or a retuned tenor. I got a good plectrum banjo later: robmackillop.net/the-deering-e...um-banjo/ I would ignore the edited version of Grimshaw's book if you have the original.



The Mel Bay "Melody-Chord Playing System" is old fashioned, but thorough, and I learned a lot from it. 



I have Dixieland banjo, and it looks useable, but have never had the time to work on it. 



 






Hi Rob, what do you mean by "edited version?"  Do you mean the "revised" version published in the 1960s that includes a short section on "raised bass" or the so called "G tuning"?

bassfiddlesteve - Posted - 12/23/2020:  09:49:32


quote:

Originally posted by sethb

Steve --- Congrats and welcome to the wonderful world of plectrums! 



I think the method book or books you would find most helpful depends upon the type of music you're playing and what you're called upon to do in the band.  Specifically, if you're playing rhythm in a Dixieland band, then you're probably playing harmony chords, so you need to understand chord inversions, how to move closed chords up the neck (away from the nut), and when to play higher or lower on the neck, depending on what else is happening (vocals, solos, ensemble work).  If you can get your hands on a copy, then "The Ultimate Plectrum Banjo Player's Guide" by the late Dave Frey & Susan Sangiacomo would be great for that.  Even the very basic Mel Bay chord book for plectrum banjo has a few pages in the back with a spreadsheet/list of many chord inversions. 



If you plan on playing solos, you'll need to explore chord melody work.  To do that, you can use your knowledge of chord inversions to help you work out fingerings that place the melody on the 1st string.  I'm not familiar with any of the method books you listed, but would suggest you take a look at any of the "Solo Books" that were published by Don VanPalta.  Each one contains 100 tunes, with a leadsheet for each one that contains the melody line, the lyrics, the basic chord changes, and chord fingering diagrams showing the melody chord for each note.  If you work through a few of these, you'll begin to see how chord melody works, and should soon be able to work out your own chord melody arrangements.  SETH 






Thanks Seth. I'm already comfortable playing chords in the rhythm section using different inversions in CGBD tuning. I do take solos and I'm focusing on chord melody playing and hope to become more fluid. I have a dozen or so arrangements in this style but I want to be able to better play improvised solos using chord melody.  A few people have directed me to the Don VanPalta books but they don't seem to be available.



I've played a few gigs (on bass) with Ken Salvo who recently moved to Florida and I'd love to be able to do what he does. He also has a nice archtop plectrum guitar and he sounds great on that.



- Steve

bassfiddlesteve - Posted - 12/23/2020:  10:05:05


quote:

Originally posted by Rob MacKillop

I have a few of them. The original Grimshaw is a great method for learning to read standard notation in CGBD tuning, and has some nice tunes. I have some words about Grimshaw's books on my website: robmackillop.net/tenor-banjo/ from the days I played plectrum music on either a 5-string or a retuned tenor. I got a good plectrum banjo later: robmackillop.net/the-deering-e...um-banjo/ I would ignore the edited version of Grimshaw's book if you have the original.



The Mel Bay "Melody-Chord Playing System" is old fashioned, but thorough, and I learned a lot from it. 



I have Dixieland banjo, and it looks useable, but have never had the time to work on it. 



 






Thanks Rob, I've been checking out your website and videos for a while. A great resource.



I'm actually using both the new and old Grimshaw books side by side so I can see what's been added. I think the updated material from the editors is helpful and having the exercises and pieces on the CDs is also nice. I agree that these are some nice tunes and arrangements. It's interesting that this book does not include any chord diagrams and most of the chords use only three strings.



The other book I find useful is the one by Mel Bay which is very straightforward. It's interesting that it was actually written by Mel Bay himself.



The Dixieland Banjo book is a missed opportunity. It's stated on the back cover that the chord voicings were chosen so the melody notes were within easy reach in case you want to play chord melody, but by themselves they are pretty useless. If the author had fully realized the chord melody arrangements, or at least included some examples and explanations, this would have been a much more useful book.



The Greathouse books seem to be geared towards beginners and I don't like how they identify the chord shapes by which string the root is on, whereas McNeil and Mel Bay identify them by which note is on the first string.



- Steve

Omeboy - Posted - 12/23/2020:  10:13:32


Hi Steve,

Nice to see another plectrum player for a change. I had a lot to say about this topic. Here's the link to my blog about learning the plectrum banjo.  banjohangout.org/blog/34982



 

Rob MacKillop - Posted - 12/23/2020:  10:28:08


quote:

Originally posted by Joel Hooks





Hi Rob, what do you mean by "edited version?"  Do you mean the "revised" version published in the 1960s that includes a short section on "raised bass" or the so called "G tuning"?






Hi Joel. I meant the last book he mentioned: Plectrum Banjo Playing for Modern Banjoist - Emile Grimshaw, edited by Ron Hinkle and Clem Vickery. 


Edited by - Rob MacKillop on 12/23/2020 10:28:53

Rob MacKillop - Posted - 12/23/2020:  10:32:43


quote:

Originally posted by bassfiddlesteve

 


 It's interesting that this book does not include any chord diagrams and most of the chords use only three strings.



 






 



It's funny how modern Plectrum playing is getting back to three-note chords, same with the tenor. And not every melody note needs a chord underneath it. Grimshaw was WAY ahead :-)

guitarbanjoman - Posted - 12/23/2020:  12:49:24


Hey, Steve, dig this version of Tiger Rag by the amazing Buddy Wachter

youtube.com/watch?v=pHOC4d5bZg...io=1&t=16

And I love the playing of John McKinlay...

youtube.com/watch?v=l2MYknDOxu4

bassfiddlesteve - Posted - 12/23/2020:  14:11:53


quote:

Originally posted by Omeboy

Hi Steve,

Nice to see another plectrum player for a change. I had a lot to say about this topic. Here's the link to my blog about learning the plectrum banjo.  banjohangout.org/blog/34982



 






Thanks! I actually ran across that blog entry before and found it very helpful. That's what lead to me seeking out copies of the McNeil and Greathouse books.



- Steve

sethb - Posted - 12/23/2020:  16:15:47


quote:

Originally posted by bassfiddlesteve

 


Thanks Seth. I'm already comfortable playing chords in the rhythm section using different inversions in CGBD tuning. I do take solos and I'm focusing on chord melody playing and hope to become more fluid. I have a dozen or so arrangements in this style but I want to be able to better play improvised solos using chord melody.  A few people have directed me to the Don VanPalta books but they don't seem to be available.



I've played a few gigs (on bass) with Ken Salvo who recently moved to Florida and I'd love to be able to do what he does. He also has a nice archtop plectrum guitar and he sounds great on that.



- Steve






Steve --- Sounds like you're already pretty far along with plectrum technique, which is great!  If you're comfortable with chord inversions, it shouldn't be a huge step to improvise something, since you'll already be "in the neighborhood" of the melody, so to speak. 



Don Van Palta used to have a website where he sold his materials, but he seems to have closed that down a while ago.  Some of his stuff is available from the American Banjo Museum store; I'm hoping his Solo Books and other material may someday be available through that outlet, too.  



I believe Ken Salvo played plectrum banjo and guitar with Vince Giordano's Nighthawks band.  If you have him as a mentor, that's a wonderful resource, we're all jealous!  SETH

guitarbanjoman - Posted - 12/23/2020:  21:34:17


Whoa yeah, I saw Ken Salvo a few times at the Iguana with VInce Giordano and the Nighthawks... great player!



 


Edited by - guitarbanjoman on 12/23/2020 21:35:20

bassfiddlesteve - Posted - 12/26/2020:  09:52:54


Rob MacKillop I see now why you recommended sticking with the original version of the Grimshaw book. The way the new book is edited it's difficult to determine what is from the original method and what has been changed or added, and I just can't listen to the awful Midi banjo on the CDs. I wish they had taken the same approach as Carl Fischer did with the Simandl double bass method where the original exercises and text were left as they were and new material was added as footnotes.



I also obtained a book called "Riley's Routines for Better Banjo" which I'm not crazy about. The format of the book, not much bigger than a paperback novel, makes it difficult to work with. I bought a new-old-stock copy from Amazon and I plan to return it.



- Steve


Edited by - bassfiddlesteve on 12/26/2020 09:55:32

Rob MacKillop - Posted - 12/26/2020:  15:00:02


Exactly, Steve. The original is the best, but at least they took an interest in it, and will bring it to new players. The original is hard to find, so I agree with you that they could have made clear which was the original and which was new.

Never heard of Riley's Routines.

bassfiddlesteve - Posted - 01/26/2021:  20:35:38


I've decided to go back to Chicago tuning so I am selling the method books listed in my original post. $100 shipped, US only. They are also listed on the two four-string banjo groups on Facebook along with pictures.

- Steve

Omeboy - Posted - 01/26/2021:  20:44:50


@bassfiddlesteve





Paul Scavarda plays great plectrum banjo in the Chicago tuning:

youtube.com/watch?v=x2G5Dee6ddM

bassfiddlesteve - Posted - 01/26/2021:  20:49:46


Thanks! I live in Florida and while I haven't met Paul, we are friends on Facebook and have several mutual friends in real life. Someday I'd like to meet him and hear him play in person.

- Steve

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