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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Re Classic(al) Banjo: Does Anybody Know--?

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brokenstrings - Posted - 08/01/2007:  15:33:02

Is the music written an octave above true pitch, as guitar music is (but lute music inexplicably isn't), or on pitch?

Someone once pointed out that a good part of the guitar's range is actually on the bass clef, but the convention existed to cram it all onto one staff.


Frailaway, ladies, frailaway!

stringbeaner - Posted - 08/01/2007:  16:09:52

Hi, Jessy!

I'm not sure which particular music you're asking about, but guitar music IS mostly in the bass clef. I taught classical guitar at several (3) colleges a few years back. Guitar music is written in the G clef mostly for convenience. Middle C on the guitar is on the first fret of the second string. It's more economical to write in one clef and use only 3 ledger lines below the staff than it is to write it like piano music which has a much greater range than a guitar.

Lots of orchestral instruments have music written in keys other than they actually sound. Wierd, huh?


stringbeaner - Posted - 08/01/2007:  16:14:29

Added note: Look at the banjo - They have some discussion on that.


trapdoor2 - Posted - 08/01/2007:  16:51:26

Yes, classic banjo notation is always written an octave above the actual sound. This keeps the notes on a single clef, simplifying things a good bit. Even the early stuff (pre Civil War) was written with this in mind.

There is no consensus regarding whether the banjo was a transposing instrument from the 1860's to the 1880's. Prior to that, the tutors essentially are making it up as they went along. Some people believe that though Buckley's 1860 tutor used "A" tuning, (eAEG#B) his notation indicates that the tunes ought to be played out of "C" tuning (gCGBD). Converse's 1865 tutor is more specific (and is notated using the A tuning) regarding keys but by the 1880's Stewart is commenting that the American A notation (banjo tuned to gCGBD) makes better musicians (better than the British "C" notation)...because they have to learn to transpose in order to play!

"If banjos needed tone rings, S.S. Stewart would have built 'em that way."


Edited by - trapdoor2 on 08/01/2007 17:00:58

brokenstrings - Posted - 08/01/2007:  17:36:19

Thanks, folks. And Stringbeaner, I KNOW how guitar music is written. It was my main instrument for many years and still the one I play best. It was the banjo I wanted to know about, seeing as I'm used to seeing it only in tablature.


Frailaway, ladies, frailaway!

stringbeaner - Posted - 08/04/2007:  20:29:36



CageyK - Posted - 08/04/2007:  20:42:27

Okay, now I'm confused.

Where is the "real" middle C on a banjo when tuned gDGBD?

I understand the guitar stuff--the "real" middle C is on the first fret of the second string. What is it on the banjo in standard G tuning?



stanger - Posted - 08/05/2007:  01:30:09

Hi, Cagey...

Ya can't get middle C in open G tuning... the tuning is too high.
If you tune to classic C tuning, it's on the 4th string open. In open G the first C note is on the B string, first fret, an octave above middle C.

The tenor banjo's 4th string is also tuned to the same middle C note., and the classic C tuning is the standard tuning for the plectrum banjo.

I hope Bill corrects this if I'm wrong... I get messed up with the real note vs the written note sometimes. Pitch in, Mr. Cheatwood!

"Sometimes I like green shade, and sometimes I like dry shade"

Edited by - stanger on 08/05/2007 01:31:58

trapdoor2 - Posted - 08/05/2007:  13:14:36

Just backwards, Stanger. Middle C (true pitch) is actually found on the 2nd string, 1st fret....same as on the guitar.

Classic banjo notation puts "middle C" on the 4th string...but only to make writing the music easier. The actual pitch is as above. True pitch for that 4th string (when tuned to C) is the C below middle C (on the piano).

"If banjos needed tone rings, S.S. Stewart would have built 'em that way."


brokenstrings - Posted - 08/05/2007:  20:13:08

It actually threw me when I started to play harp that middle C was just where it was supposed to be instead of an octave off.


Frailaway, ladies, frailaway!

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