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3 against 4

Posted by WayneConrad on Monday, February 18, 2019

This week's homework has two parts, one I like, and one I don't.

The part I like is a variation of last week's exercise, "harmonizing the C major scale in drop C tuning using arpeggiated 7th chords on strings 4 and 3."  That sounds really impressive, but that's an illusion.  Like a lot of exercises, it's much easier to do than it is to describe.  The variation is to instead do it on strings 3 and 1 instead of strings 4 and 3.

It's interesting because the same patterns I learned on strings 4 and 3 work as well on strings 3 and 1, just shifted up the neck five frets.  That's because, in drop-C tuning, the 3rd string is a fifth of the 4th string, and the 1st string is a fifth of the 3rd string.  So if you just skip the 2nd string entirely, you can use the same scale patterns for strings 3 and 1 as you can for strings 4 and 3.  My instructor says that 4-string banjo players use this common relationship between strings 4-3 and strings 3-1 all the time (they commonly play in drop-C, aka "old standard C").

It's also interesting because it's harder to do these arpeggios on strings 3 and 1 than it is to do them on strings 4 and 3.  Harder spurs me on, as long as it's not so much harder that it seems impossible, and so long as I can trust it's going to have some use in my playing (more on that later).  These arpeggios are a big workout for the pinky finger, and for accuracy, and more of a workout when you're skipping a string.  My pinkie finger is getting much stronger and more adept. 

I was questioning the worth of these arpeggio exercises, because they don't seem to have a direct use in my playing.  However, yesterday I decided to try to work out the guitar solo from the Carter Family's "You Are My Flower."  You can hear it at the beginning and in the musical breaks here: .  It requires more dexterity than I thought I had, but yesterday I found that I'm going to be able to do it, with a little practice.  I'm getting better at quickly putting my fingers where they need to go, even when moving up and down the fretboard.  I think all these exercises are why.

This is a repeated theme with me: An exercise doesn't seem to have relevance to my playing, but my playing gets better when I do it.   But I'm having trouble believing that the second part of my homework is going to improve my playing.

The other part of my homework, the part I don't like, is the 3 against 4 polyrythm.  You can hear it here:  It's hard, but just being hard doesn't demotivate me.  I'm just not trusting that I'll be able to use it in my playing, or that it'll have a knock-on effect on my playing like scales do.  My instructor showed me how you can make your solos more interesting using polyrhythms, but I think we're skipping over the step where I have solos to make more interesting.  I need to talk to him about that.


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