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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Plectrum newbie here


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/375476

Dallasblues - Posted - 06/04/2021:  10:09:01


Hello all. I just bought my first banjo yesterday. It’s a 1929 Weymann and Sons “Keystone State” plectrum banjo. I’m excited to get started on it but don’t know where to begin. I play an old National resonator guitar with the trad-jazz band I’m in here in Dallas. I think this will sound great on the old tunes we play. I’m aware of a couple tunings to use and the Chicago tuning seems like it’d be the easiest to get into for me. Is that a good place to start or should I begin with the more traditional tuning... DBGD I think?

G Edward Porgie - Posted - 06/04/2021:  11:06:28


Traditional plectrum tuning is CGBD.

However, there are those who tune the botton string up to D, and others use Chicago. I think it's really up to the individual what tuning to use, but I think you may, in fact, learn faster using the Chicago tuning, since your experienced with playing the guitar.

Omeboy - Posted - 06/04/2021:  11:10:04


Hi Todd,

Welcome, man. Good to have you aboard and congrats on the Weymann.



If I were you, I'd stick with the "Chicago" tuning, since that is what you already know. There have been many fine players who used that tuning. Paul Scavarda is one of the best who uses that tuning. He has a lot of good stuff on YouTube. If you want to explore the standard plectrum tuning in your spare time, here is a good starting point: 



banjohangout.org/blog/34982  (The standard tuning is great for chord melody playing.)


Edited by - Omeboy on 06/04/2021 11:19:41

tdennis - Posted - 06/04/2021:  11:40:23


Use what you already know, have fun immediately, & you'll be years ahead of the game w/ guitar "Chicago" tuning.  Tabs & chords to your favorite songs will be easier to find, & the plectrum sounds great played this way.


Edited by - tdennis on 06/04/2021 11:47:20

Dallasblues - Posted - 06/04/2021:  11:57:34


quote:

Originally posted by G Edward Porgie

Traditional plectrum tuning is CGBD.



However, there are those who tune the botton string up to D, and others use Chicago. I think it's really up to the individual what tuning to use, but I think you may, in fact, learn faster using the Chicago tuning, since your experienced with playing the guitar.




Thank you. That's what I thought too  I'll start with Chicago tuning I think.







 

guitarbanjoman - Posted - 06/04/2021:  13:01:02


Congratulations, Todd.



Welcome to wonderful world of 4-string banjo.



Maybe you could share some pix of that new Weymann?



I agree with all the advice above recommending Chicago tuning, since you already play guitar.



One thing you might consider is Chicago tuning but one whole step down... instead of DGBE.... CFAD.



The reason for this is that dixieland tunes tend to be in the flat keys...



.... and you may find that open C string on the bottom is handier (when playing in C, F, Bb and Ab) because then your fingers are freed up to form chords more easily on the three upper strings.



I guess you could make the same argument in favor of the open D string on the bottom which would of course work well for chords like G, Gm, G7, D, Dm, and D7, but...



... those “sharp” chords are not quite as commonly found in trad jazz as the “flat” ones IMHO...



Will


Edited by - guitarbanjoman on 06/04/2021 13:05:11

steveintampa - Posted - 06/04/2021:  14:16:20


I play both guitar and mandolin. A plectrum banjo has a longer scale more similar to a guitar, so the Chicago tuning would be the way to go.

I am just getting in to the 4 string thing and am staring out in Irish tuning on a shorter scale banjo.

Using what I already know I am playing all the songs with ease, just adapting to the scale and different chord pattersns that come with it.

Played once so far with the band at practice on some old time numbers and it went well.

Dallasblues - Posted - 06/04/2021:  14:40:23


Thanks to everyone for the input. Is there a gauge of strings that works better for Chicago tuning than standard?

Dallasblues - Posted - 06/04/2021:  14:41:15


Here she is!





 

tdennis - Posted - 06/04/2021:  15:00:53


What is the scale of your instrument ?  Whatever gauge you already  like on guitar  should work on your banjo , even though  the plectrum is probably  a bit longer in scale.  


Edited by - tdennis on 06/04/2021 15:09:14

Dallasblues - Posted - 06/05/2021:  06:01:31


quote:

Originally posted by tdennis

What is the scale of your instrument ?  Whatever gauge you already  like on guitar  should work on your banjo , even though  the plectrum is probably  a bit longer in scale.  






That's a good question. I'll have to measure it tonight. I just put a set of D'Addario 10's on there yesterday and tuned it to Chicago. They feel really light. Of course, I typically play 13's or even 14's on my National resonator. So almost anything would feel light. Still... it was fun to play last night. It's a bit odd not having the two lower strings that I'm used to having. The neck is so narrow!!! Ha! I'll play these strings for a bit before trying a heavier gauge. This is mostly because I'm cheap and don't wanna waste a set of strings by changing them immediately. 

Dallasblues - Posted - 06/05/2021:  06:09:25


Putting new strings on my banjo last night left me with some questions that I hope y’all can help me with.

The first is intonation. I changed the strings one at a time as I do on my arch top guitars that have a floating bridge. I’m assuming setting intonation on a banjo is the same as on those types of guitars? Is it as simple as sliding the bridge forward or back until it’s correct?

The next question concerns head tension. The banjo came with what appears to be a typical drum head key for adjustment. How do I know what the correct tension should be? Will any adjustment affect string height or intonation?

And before I forget... Thank you all for the warm welcome and input. I think I’m gonna like it here.

tdennis - Posted - 06/05/2021:  06:27:46


I forgot, when I talked of string gauge that you played resonator guitar which usually has pretty heavy strings. ( I usually put a set of .011's on my plectrum to get a good feel & voice).
For bridge placement, measure the length of your neck from the nut to the 12th fret & double that, to get a starting point for the bridge placement. You can then finesse it correctly from there.

guitarbanjoman - Posted - 06/05/2021:  09:43:54


Yep, just keep on wigglin’ that bridge until you are happy with it... sometimes it may even look a bit slanted but that’s fair ball, too... you may need to fiddle with it again if the humidity changes.... that looks like an old skin head on your new beauty, I think...?



String gauges are entirely a matter of personal taste but if you start  with the exact same ones you already use on guitar and decide how to tweak them as you go along... next time you change them, try some slight variations here and there....



...that being said, the world’s greatest plectrum banjoist of all time, the amazing Buddy Wachter (be sure and check his YouTube stuff) once said someplace that the gauges he likes are 30-20-15-10...



...that combination is real easy to remember, but I found in practice that the 10 was just too thin for me...



Will



PS re: head tightening... the correct instructions are gonna have a lot to do with whether you have a plastic head on your banjo or a calfskin one...?


Edited by - guitarbanjoman on 06/05/2021 09:47:53

craig wood - Posted - 06/05/2021:  12:30:24


At the risk of opening up a new topic, It is true Buddy uses the above mentioned string gauges
30 20 15 10..Another great player is Brad Roth, a solo and big band player..his choice is
20 w 14 12 10. There you have it..two masters on either side of the scale..

Dallasblues - Posted - 06/05/2021:  12:57:45


quote:

Originally posted by guitarbanjoman

Yep, just keep on wigglin’ that bridge until you are happy with it... sometimes it may even look a bit slanted but that’s fair ball, too... you may need to fiddle with it again if the humidity changes.... that looks like an old skin head on your new beauty, I think...?



String gauges are entirely a matter of personal taste but if you start  with the exact same ones you already use on guitar and decide how to tweak them as you go along... next time you change them, try some slight variations here and there....



...that being said, the world’s greatest plectrum banjoist of all time, the amazing Buddy Wachter (be sure and check his YouTube stuff) once said someplace that the gauges he likes are 30-20-15-10...



...that combination is real easy to remember, but I found in practice that the 10 was just too thin for me...



Will



PS re: head tightening... the correct instructions are gonna have a lot to do with whether you have a plastic head on your banjo or a calfskin one...?






This one is a smooth plastic head. 

guitarbanjoman - Posted - 06/05/2021:  17:50:40


Ok, is the bridge sunken down into an indentation?

Or does the head remain even flat despite the load when the strings are in tune?

G Edward Porgie - Posted - 06/05/2021:  19:27:11


For head tension, check the archives for the "Steve Davis coin and straightedge" method. Although he uses it on 5 string banjos, it works equally well for other banjo types.

String guages depend mostly on player preference, but are also influenced by scale length. I've found that even though most strings usually work passably, a shorter scale may require slightly heavier gauges than a longer scale, and also that some shorter scale banjos have better3rd string intonation with a wound string. Plectrum banjo scales usually run from about 26-27 inches (if I recall, the Triple X used a 28 inch scale) so there can be a wide range of what's best for each banjo.

guitarbanjoman - Posted - 06/05/2021:  19:34:48


When you take off all the strings and tap the banjo head, the ideally tightened plectrum banjo head is supposed to produce a 'G' tonality.



I confess that I have never been able to hear this tone, it just sounds to my ear like a 'thunk' despite all my best attempts...



But one important tip is to tighten the tension equally and alternately on opposite sides of the banjo head, instead of tightening all the brackets in the same area all at once... you can bust even a plastic head that way I'm told, though I have never done it...


Edited by - guitarbanjoman on 06/05/2021 19:35:32

sethb - Posted - 06/06/2021:  05:40:01


I was going to suggest a set of D'Addario 11's, which should be fine for a plectrum banjo in Chicago tuning.  I also like a wound G string, but that's a personal preference.  I find that anything heavier than that can make it difficult for me to strum quickly and accurately.  The 11's should be heavy enough to produce plenty of volume and also be fairly long-lasting. 



As far as intonation goes, unlike many guitar bridges that can adjust intonation for each string individually, banjos have a solid one-piece bridge.  So you can really only adjust intonation for the 1st and 4th strings, and have to settle for whatever you get on the 2nd and 3rd ones (but it's usually close enough).  And the bridge does not necessarily have to be perpendicular to the stings; in fact, it's pretty common for it to be slanted slightly. I like to test for intonation by plucking an open string, then fretting it at the 12th fret and comparing the two notes, which should be exactly an octave apart.  You can also use an electric contact tuner to compare the notes, but I've found that I still need to make final adjustments by ear.  Once you set your intonation, make some light pencil marks on the banjo head on both sides of each foot of the bridge, so you have a visual setting as well.  Some bridges have a nasty habit of moving around slightly over time, and you may need to scootch it back into place.  (A wandering bridge is also a sign that your banjo head may need some tightening, in order to put a little more pressure on the bridge.)  And if you ever decide to change string gauges or the action, you'll probably have to recheck your intonation and reset the bridge position accordingly. 



Don't forget to tighten down your tailpiece, it does more that just hold one end of your strings.  I have found that putting a little pressure on the tailpiece, which will decrease the angle at which the strings contact the back of the bridge, really helps to produce a sharper tone and a longer sustain, although I have no idea why that's so. 



After playing around with various fancy and often pricey bridges (pearl inlays, two-piece bridges with ebony tops, exotic woods, etc.) I've found that a plain old one-piece solid wood bridge with three feet works the best for me.  That third center foot keeps the bridge from sagging, which can mess up your action and cause sting buzz; it also provides an additional contact with the head, moving more vibration from the strings to the head and then out to everyone's ears.  Banjo bridges also come in various heights, so you can easily adjust the action if necessary without moving the banjo neck around. 



The banjo head should be tight enough that it only depresses a little bit when you press on it with your thumb.  As Will noted, try to tighten the head evenly all the way around. I start at the 12 o'clock position on the head, then do 6 o'clock, 9 o'clock and 3 o'clock, then 2 o'clock, 8 o'clock, 4 o'clock, 10 o'clock and so on.  And only tighten a little bit at a time, maybe a quarter or half turn at most. All of the lugs should be tightened evenly and to the same tension, no lugs should be looser that any other ones.  There is a fancy gadget called a "Drum Dial" that drummers use to check and set the tension on their drum heads, and you can also use it on a banjo head. It's good for making sure the head is evenly tightened, and if nothing else, it may keep you from overtightening the head.  Here's a link to that product:  guitarcenter.com/DrumDial/Drum...039794.gc   And if you ever change your banjo head, you might want to put a little bit of lube on the banjo rim first, which will help to move things along when you're tightening the head.  Here's a link for that, too: guitarcenter.com/DrumDial/Bear...tioner.gc 



Congrats on your new banjo, and here's hoping you get miles of pleasure from playing it!  SETH


Edited by - sethb on 06/06/2021 05:56:00

guitarbanjoman - Posted - 06/06/2021:  09:23:10


Hey, Seth, do you own a Drum Dialer?

Can you use it to tune your head to a “G”...?

Does it make your banjo sound better?

G Edward Porgie - Posted - 06/06/2021:  10:33:07


On head tension, it's my opimion that drum dials, tap tones, coins-and-straight-edges get you close, but it's using your ears that should be the ultimate step to adjust the head to produce the best tone from your banjo.

sethb - Posted - 06/06/2021:  11:30:39


quote:

Originally posted by guitarbanjoman

Hey, Seth, do you own a Drum Dialer?



Can you use it to tune your head to a “G”...?



Does it make your banjo sound better?






Will -- I do have a Drum Dialer, and I think it's useful, but not absolutely necessary; my thumb does a pretty good job on its own.  I've never tried to tune the banjo head to any particular tone, although apparently it's something that's important to drummers (having both sides of a snare or bass drum tuned to the same note or tension). 



Having a good tight banjo head helps the banjo to produce a clear, bright, ringing tone.  If the head isn't tight enough, the banjo will sound mushy and will also have less volume than it should.   SETH

guitarbanjoman - Posted - 06/06/2021:  17:36:11


Well, although I think I’ve got my head tightened properly, I would really be interested in getting it properly tuned to a G, just to see what it sounds like.

And by the way, what Craig mentioned about Brad Roth using 20w-14-12-10 is still kind of on my mind.... because my beautiful Deco Vox banjo was handmade by Brad Roth, so I imagine that it was designed to be strung to those exact gauges...?

Just one question is bothering me before I try stringing up this banjo the same way.....

Craig, do you know if Brad chose such extremely light gauges in order to tune his instrument up one whole tone higher... ?.

....the same way that Eddie Peabody used to do?

It certainly makes a solo banjo sound a lot brighter.

Omeboy - Posted - 06/06/2021:  18:25:44


To gather some insight into Eddie Peabody's banjo string approach, go to time code: 6:20 on the following interview with the great Dave Marty:


guitarbanjoman - Posted - 06/07/2021:  04:11:05


Thanks, Paul, that entire interview was delightful!

craig wood - Posted - 06/09/2021:  11:43:57


Will..Those are the string gauges he uses..I as well. One time i used a 009..(5 string DAddario light..)
check out his video where he demos a B&D Montana #3 and talks of strings.. I am a big fan of his sound..
youtube.com/watch?v=yOa8jikP2V4&t=5s

guitarbanjoman - Posted - 06/09/2021:  13:21:01


Thanks, Craig... now I am going to have to try those gauges... so you are using them right now? How long do they last? Do they break easily?


Edited by - guitarbanjoman on 06/09/2021 13:23:32

Dallasblues - Posted - 06/09/2021:  13:22:00


Thank you to all who’ve responded and welcomed me here!

So far I’m not sure what, if any, adjustments are needed to the head tension. I do, however, feel like I need heavier strings. This is probably due to the very heavy gauge I use on my resonator guitar. Going from the .14’s on my National to the .10’s on my banjo is quite a leap. I’ve found that picking too heavily on the plectrum causes the notes to just go “thunk”. I lighter approach let’s them ring and resonate much better. This is also often the case with guitar. So, I’ve got some experimentation to do. I’ll take it to rehearsal with our trad-jazz band tonight. I’m curious to hear how it’ll sound in the mix.

craig wood - Posted - 06/09/2021:  13:47:23


Will..The recordings of my last posts are light gauges. breaking string?.Very rare, and usually the bridge was at fault..A little Graphite solved the problem...In the last 20 years i have never broken a string. Replaced the bridge.

craig wood - Posted - 06/09/2021:  14:10:02


Todd..Now as an opinion regarding Chicago tuning. I learned guitar before banjo.However if i was today to pickup a plectrum with that tuning, it would be weeks for me to to learn, as i always played the 6 strings..
My opinion , you have a wonderful plectrum banjo..learn the new tuning. When you have C as your fourth string, the scope of the instrument is much larger and better..The same can be said for the 5 string..The classical C tuning gave the the 5 string a better range.

sethb - Posted - 06/09/2021:  14:21:54


quote:

Originally posted by Dallasblues

 I’ve found that picking too heavily on the plectrum causes the notes to just go “thunk”. 






You might also want to play around with a few different picks and see if that helps the situation.  For years I played with a Fender Medium pick; then about 10 years ago, I went with a Dunlop .50 (red) pick.  I found that the slightly thinner pick gave me better control, and without lowering the volume of the banjo or the durability of the pick. 


Back in the day, I think Fender only made three versions of its pick -- thin, medium and thick.  The Dunlops come in about six or more different thicknesses.  And if I remember correctly, you can buy a "variety" pack that has a couple of each one, so you can road test them all to your heart's content.   SETH


 


 

guitarbanjoman - Posted - 06/09/2021:  16:13:06


Hey Todd,

Here’s a “how to” video all about banjo setup by the ace repair guy from Stew-Mac, Dan Erlewine... good luck!

youtube.com/watch?v=nQvyih4ch3w

Will

PS Here’s another little trick I just found out about last year...

...guys like Brad Roth who play Peabody-style, usually on Vega Voxes, use super-low bridges...

... the one on my Brad Roth custom made banjo is about a quarter inch in height!

...so that’s one more way to lower your action if need be... check this out...

bernunzio.com/product/tenor-ba...le-20496/

Dallasblues - Posted - 06/10/2021:  06:47:51


quote:

Originally posted by craig wood

Todd..Now as an opinion regarding Chicago tuning. I learned guitar before banjo.However if i was today to pickup a plectrum with that tuning, it would be weeks for me to to learn, as i always played the 6 strings..

My opinion , you have a wonderful plectrum banjo..learn the new tuning. When you have C as your fourth string, the scope of the instrument is much larger and better..The same can be said for the 5 string..The classical C tuning gave the the 5 string a better range.






This is good to know! I fully intend on learning the traditional C tuning. I play in a trad-jazz band and just kinda jumped into it with what I already know. However, the Chicago tuning isn't as easy as I'd imagined. I never realized how much I relied on the lower two strings of the guitar for chord voicings. I'm having to think a lot more about inversions and theory than I'd expected. That's not necessarily a bad thing! But it's definitely not as simple as picking it up, tuning it kinda like a guitar, and letting er rip. The one benefit I have found though is being able to play single note solos and melodies like I could on guitar. That's been a fairly easy transition. 

 



Most of the jazz playing I've seen or heard on a plectrum have been chord comping and chord melodies for soloing. Does anyone play single note solos on these things? Or am I weird? Ha!

craig wood - Posted - 06/10/2021:  08:21:37


Todd..Good point about single note solos..You are right..I usually leave the single note improvised solo to the guitar.Plectrum not so much..Still its a lot of fun flying all over the neck with the chords..
Bring both!

Will..never heard of a quarter inch bridge..send pix..Half inch for Silver Bells and Vega's, usually.
I've always used the 1/2 inch, (silver bell) and just recently changed the factory 5/8's on my Ome to 1/2 inch.Still works!

Dallasblues - Posted - 06/10/2021:  08:30:40


quote:

Originally posted by guitarbanjoman

Hey Todd,



Here’s a “how to” video all about banjo setup by the ace repair guy from Stew-Mac, Dan Erlewine... good luck!



youtube.com/watch?v=nQvyih4ch3w



Will



PS Here’s another little trick I just found out about last year...



...guys like Brad Roth who play Peabody-style, usually on Vega Voxes, use super-low bridges...



... the one on my Brad Roth custom made banjo is about a quarter inch in height!



...so that’s one more way to lower your action if need be... check this out...



bernunzio.com/product/tenor-ba...le-20496/






Thank you! I'll definitely check that out. I've followed many of Dan's tips for guitar. So I'm sure these will be equally on point!

Omeboy - Posted - 06/10/2021:  08:50:53


Single string on the plectrum? 



But of course you can. Here's the great Ken Aoki (plectrum: CGBD) playing Mozart's Rondo Alla Turca: youtube.com/watch?v=AJwZzo6cS8c

craig wood - Posted - 06/10/2021:  12:28:22


We all do of course, and who better then Ken.

guitarbanjoman - Posted - 06/11/2021:  06:20:07


Craig wanted a photo, so here 'tis...



...ok, I lied, I thought it was 1/4" but it's actually 5/16"...



This bridge was on the banjo when I bought it, so presumably the luthier, Brad Roth, chose it.



I had never heard of using this kind of bridge before, but I bought the instrument from tenor banjo virtuoso Tyler Jackson, who informed me that Peabody-style players commonly use them.



He said these players actually seek out the occasional "pick slap" noises which such low bridges engender.



I'm not a fan of pick-slap noise, but I AM a big fan of Brad Roth... so his teeny-weeny bridge stays!



Will



 



 


Edited by - guitarbanjoman on 06/11/2021 06:24:43


craig wood - Posted - 06/11/2021:  10:13:22


You were close enough..a first for me..never doubt the Will.

bassfiddlesteve - Posted - 07/06/2021:  18:27:52


quote:


This is good to know! I fully intend on learning the traditional C tuning. I play in a trad-jazz band and just kinda jumped into it with what I already know. However, the Chicago tuning isn't as easy as I'd imagined. I never realized how much I relied on the lower two strings of the guitar for chord voicings. I'm having to think a lot more about inversions and theory than I'd expected. That's not necessarily a bad thing! But it's definitely not as simple as picking it up, tuning it kinda like a guitar, and letting er rip. The one benefit I have found though is being able to play single note solos and melodies like I could on guitar. That's been a fairly easy transition. 

 



Most of the jazz playing I've seen or heard on a plectrum have been chord comping and chord melodies for soloing. Does anyone play single note solos on these things? Or am I weird? Ha!








This is a key point. I too started with Chicago tuning thinking that it would allow me to get up to speed faster, but I still had to relearn chord voicings and progressions without the bottom two strings as I tended to think of guitar chords from the bottom up (this may also be because I'm a bass player). Last year when I had a break from playing gigs I re-learned the instrument in CGBD tuning and basically went through the same process as when I started. The advantage is that I now have access to a century's worth of instructional material, arrangements, and recordings to learn from, plus I could watch other plectrum players and figure out what they were doing. The low C is nice too.



The majority of banjo players in trad jazz bands play chordal solos, sometimes with some single-note runs mixed in, and a lot of the instructional material for the plectrum banjo is designed to teach you how to play chords with the melody note is on the 1st or 2nd string. When this is developed to a high level, you can quickly construct chord solos from a lead sheet or piano arrangement and play improvised melodies using chords combined with single notes, passing chords, and idiomatic techniques like glissandos and tremolo. Some of these books have become quite scarce, but The Mel Bay "Plectrum Banjo Melody Chord Playing System" is still in print and used copies of Alfred Greathouse's "The Banjo Player's Bible" are usually easy to find. 



- Steve

PTOEguy - Posted - 07/11/2021:  16:15:22


quote:

Originally posted by Dallasblues

quote:

Originally posted by craig wood

Todd..Now as an opinion regarding Chicago tuning. I learned guitar before banjo.However if i was today to pickup a plectrum with that tuning, it would be weeks for me to to learn, as i always played the 6 strings..

My opinion , you have a wonderful plectrum banjo..learn the new tuning. When you have C as your fourth string, the scope of the instrument is much larger and better..The same can be said for the 5 string..The classical C tuning gave the the 5 string a better range.






This is good to know! I fully intend on learning the traditional C tuning. I play in a trad-jazz band and just kinda jumped into it with what I already know. However, the Chicago tuning isn't as easy as I'd imagined. I never realized how much I relied on the lower two strings of the guitar for chord voicings. I'm having to think a lot more about inversions and theory than I'd expected. That's not necessarily a bad thing! But it's definitely not as simple as picking it up, tuning it kinda like a guitar, and letting er rip. The one benefit I have found though is being able to play single note solos and melodies like I could on guitar. That's been a fairly easy transition. 

 



Most of the jazz playing I've seen or heard on a plectrum have been chord comping and chord melodies for soloing. Does anyone play single note solos on these things? Or am I weird? Ha!






Regarding single note solos - it certainly can be done on a plectrum in plectrum tuning but just noodling around on a plectrum vs. tenor I've found the tenor banjo to be much easier for picking out a melody because the fifths tuning gives the ability to play a lot wider range with your hand in one position on the fingerboard, plus the intervals are consistent from one string to the next. 

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