Last time I gave part one of playing banjo without a banjo—basically guitar for banjo players—by tuning to open G. There will be a part two (and maybe more if you want it), but this time, I wanted to share a little accidental discovery I made.
I play with singers that like to sing in Bb on a few songs. Not a major problem, but it does take me a little time to get ready. I’ve been approaching it in three ways:
So, at a band practice last month, we were playing a waltz in Bb, but I forgot to retune the 5th string; it was still a G. I started playing, and something sounded strange … but not bad.
Here are the chords to the verse (it’s a waltz so there are 3 beats to the measure):
||: Bb |A |Bb | |
Eb |F |Bb | :||
Bb is the I, Eb is the IV, and F is the V. The A is a flatted I chord for flavor.
In this song I use these two shapes:
For the Bb and A, I use the E (often called F) shape at the 6th fret for Bb and 5th fret for A.
For the Eb and F I use the closed D shape at the 3rd and 5th frets respectively.
Here’s how it sounds, first time through with no 5th string, second time through with it tuned to G:
The song ended, and instead of making banjo jokes, everyone liked it. I thought about it, and realized that the G works with all the chords of the song. For the Bb, it’s a 6th, so the Bb chord is a Bb6. For the A, it’s a flatted 7th, making it an A7 chord, which works well for this song. G is in the Eb chord, so no conflict there, and for the F … it’s either a 2 or a 9, so it becomes an add 2 or add 9 chord (like a sus 2, but it also has the 3rd … anyone want a lesson on sus chords?). The only other chord in the song is a Gm so G works with that, too.
Admittedly, that Bb6 gives it a swing/jazz tinge, which may not work for your band especially if they’re strictly traditional bluegrass, but it’s worth a try.
So … when my band asked if I’d put in the time to work out a new part for the song or if it was an accident, I proudly borrowed a line from Pee-Wee Herman when he crashed his bicycle, “I did that on purpose!”
Michael Bremer is a writer, editor, publisher and banjo player. He is writing and publishing the Banjo GED series of instructional materials, and also writes and edits for Hal Leonard.
Banjo GED #1: Chords! Chords! Chords! teaches you everything you could ever want to know (and more) about playing chords on a 5-string banjo in G tuning.
Banjo Aerobics (published by Hal Leonard) is a book of exercises to help you gain technique and better understand the banjo neck.
Clawhammer Cookbook (published by Hal Leonard) is now available. Here's a link to it on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Clawhammer-Cookbook-Techniques-Recipes-Playing/dp/148033832X
Wednesday, September 10, 2014 @5:34:53 PM
About a year ago stumbled across the fact that the open G chantarelle also works well in E flat / Cmin keys.
Mary Schons Says:
Friday, September 12, 2014 @10:23:42 AM
My phone left off the last two measures in the waltz, so I'm playing it at home thinking, "hmmm, sounds kinda abrupt..." Then I get to a desktop. :)
I love these lessons so much, thank you for doing them! They're easy to understand for novices like myself and very fun to play. I'm a big fan.
Friday, September 12, 2014 @10:54:00 AM
RJWMitchell: thanks for the tip! I'll try it.
Mary Schons: thank you. It's good to hear that people find these useful.
Friday, September 12, 2014 @2:09:23 PM
it gives an Eflat, Amaj7, Bflat6, Cm, Fm2 or 9 [add 3], Gm & produces a slightly edgy quality that goes well with jazzy tunes, works well with Guitar and kjeyboard working with the 'straight' chords.
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