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Chord Nerd Tip #14: How to Play Banjo Without a Banjo Part 2

Posted by Banjolio on Tuesday, October 7, 2014

like this

Recently I talked about how tuning a guitar to Open G tuning lets you take advantage of all your banjo knowledge and technique on a guitar. Now, let’s take another approach.

A very commonly used banjo tuning is Double-C (or capoed up two frets to Double-D). It’s mostly used by old-time players, but I’ve heard some Bluegrass pickers play some absolutely wonderful stuff in this tuning.

For those unfamiliar with it, here’s how it compares to open G:

Open G       Double-C    Double D (capo 2)

gDGBD       gCGCD       aDADE

To get from G tuning to Double-c, you lower the D string 2 frets to C and raise the B string 2 frets to C. For those new to the tuning, here are the I, IV and V chords:

If you’re playing in Double-C, then these chords are: C, F and G.

If you capoed up to Double-D, then they’re: D, G and A

The 5th string is the 5th of the key, either G or A.


Now, let’s apply this to guitar. It’s easiest to get to if you’re already in Open G. Once there you just lower the two lower D strings to C, and raise the B string to C.

Now, strings 1-4 are just like playing on banjo.

String 5, like banjo, is the 5th of the key, but a couple of octaves lower.

String 6—the coolest part of this, in my opinion—is a very low root, which is a nice addition to this tuning.

Now, the I, IV, V chords are:

They’re very similar to banjo. You can just ignore the 6th string and play it exactly as you would banjo, but with a lower drone string. Or you could take advantage of the 6th string as the drone for the I and IV chords and use the 5th string as the drone for the V chord. Or add the extra fingers as in the diagrams and mix things up.

OK, what can you do with all this? Three choices: pick, strum or claw. Almost anything you can play in double-C or double-D on banjo you can play on the guitar in this tuning. Admittedly, that low C string is pretty loose and floppy, so when I claw on it, there’s a lot of clicking and percussiveness … but I like it.

Once you’ve transferred your banjo parts to guitar, you can start playing around with moving bass lines and really low melodies. Plus, there are a lot of easy-to-finger octaves that sound really good.

When I came up with this, I thought I was being so original, but I’m now pretty sure some fingerstyle guitarists have used it. Also, it’s only one string different from Steve Baughman’s Orkney tuning (CGDGCD), and one string away from the Slack Key Wahine tuning (CGCGCE).

Now, go ahead and give it a try, and let me know if you like it. Unless I get specific requests to show more about this, next time I’ll return to chord nerdity. I’m thinking it may be time to look at turn-arounds ….


Oh … if you’re really into this, then try Modal tuning on guitar ….

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:

Hal Leonard Folk Banjo Method is basic instruction for beginning players focusing on strumming, basic picking and accompanyment. It'll be out any time now ...


2 comments on “Chord Nerd Tip #14: How to Play Banjo Without a Banjo Part 2”

bahruse Says:
Monday, October 13, 2014 @8:26:20 PM

I'm in. My guitaring could use a new sound.

engineer43 Says:
Monday, October 13, 2014 @9:10:41 PM

I stuff my handkerchief under the strings next to the bridge to shorten the sustain. Try different thicknesses to get the sound you like.

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