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Banjo versus TV week 106: Finally learning that F-ing chord position

Posted by jrjenks on Sunday, March 21, 2010

A check-in on the Banjo versus TV project — J.R.'s ongoing plan to spend more time on his banjo than on TV. This post covers 3/7/2010 through 3/13/2010.
Banjo 625 hrs, TV 622 hours

I've been playing the banjo for nearly three years now and I still couldn't finger the first major chord position well if my life depended on it.

An aside: Most of you might be used to the term "F form" instead of "first major chord position." "F chord" is how I refered to this chord position in in October of 2007 when I first wrote about my inability to do it. There are a lot of people who refer to these three major chord positions...

... as (respectively) "F form," "D form" and "barre form."

But I think the terms "first major chord position," "second major chord position" and "third major chord position" make more sense because the root notes of these chord positions are on the first, second and third strings. I first encountered this nomenclature at Midwest Banjo Camp, where somebody or other told me that Alan Munde uses these terms.

Okay, enough with the aside. Back to how bad I am at doing it.

I can sorta/kinda finger this form slowly. But what I can't do is to pop right into it the way I can pop quickly between the first position C and first position D7.

How am I going to teach my fingers to switch quickly into this chord position?

For starters I'm going to find recordings for a bunch of 2-chord songs. Pete Wernick's got a good list.

Then I'm going to practice by playing these songs in a loop doing a basic strum (or boom-chick) as I switch in and out of chords that use the first major chord position.

For example John Henry is a 2-chord song that Steve Martin plays slowly in the key of G (on The Steve Martin Brothers CD). I'll play along with this song, switching between these chords...

...over and over until I burn the chord position into my brain.

Things I learned at this week's banjo lesson:

  • I showed David how I've been challenging myself to play Midwest Banjo Camp's Official List of Jamming Tunes without resorting to tablature.
  • I played the version of Mama Don't 'Low that I worked up. He liked it but had a few suggestions. For example, he likes the way I slip two measures of Foggy Mountain Breakdown G lick in after the singer first sings "don't 'low no banjo pickin' here" and he'd like me to find a good two-measure D lick to play after the second time. In fact, he switched quickly between praising me for breaking my habit of learning songs from books to suggesting that I break out my copy of Bill Knopf's Hot Licks & Fiddle Tunes for the Bluegrass Banjo Player...

    ...because of its wealth of D lick ideas.

Also in the last week:

  • Remember those four troubled banjos that I've been slowly turning into three good banjos?

    Well, I messed one of them up when I attempted to install a geared fifth string tuning peg. The base of the geared peg is a little wider than the base of the original peg so I bought a $25 fifth string peghole reamer to widen the peg hole. But I made it a little too wide which caused the peg to twist when I tightened it all the way.

    I took the thing to Ben, the instrument repair guy at Flatts & Sharpe, who charged me just $15 to correct the damage by inlaying some glue and wood into the peg hole.

    The moral of the story: I should have saved the money on that special tool and paid Ben to install the new peg in the first place.
  • The redhead is pretty patient but she got really tired of the few 2-chord songs that I was practicing. So I spent a little time building up a list with some variety. Here's what I came up with:

Cross-posted at J.R. Jenks' blog

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