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Learning the fretboard while practicing chords

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

My instructor has asked me to take another try at learning old
standard C tuning (gCGBD), aka "drop C."  This used to be the standard
tuning before open G took over.  It's a popular tuning for plectrum
banjo (except a plectrum banjo is CGBD, because it has no fifth

Not coincidentally, old standard C is his favorite tuning.

Previous attempts to learn this tuning were just learning some chord
shapes, and applying them by rote to play a song or two.  You know,
make this chord shape at the fifth fret for the G, then this chord
shape at the nut for C, etc.  You can learn a lot that way if you play
in a tuning often, but I didn't play in it often.  This time through
I'm applying some of the practice techniques I've learned that I hope
will have a more lasting effect.

The first thing I did was to not consult any chord charts, but instead
work out the chords myself.  This took me many hours, but was worth it
because I arrived at an easier (for me) way to think about and
remember chord shapes.  I worked out the three closed chord shapes for
making major, minor, diminished, augmented, 7th, minor 7th, and 6th
chords.  Not coincidentlly, I need these chords to play the theme to
"Mister Roger's Neighborhood," a song I've long wanted to perform.

The next step was, in my chord chart, to note which fingers are
playing which notes.  For example, one shape for playing a major chord
in old standard C is:

| | | |

Note that I haven't notated which major chord it is (CMaj, DMaj,
etc.), nor what fret it is played at.  It's a moveable shape which
makes a different major chord depending upon where on the neck you put
it.  What I've notated is that the 1st string is playing the 5th of
the chord, the second string is the third, the third string is the
root, and the fourth string is the third.  Since the root is on the
third string, then the third string determines which major chord I'm
playing.  The third string at the fifth fret is a C, so if I make this
shape with the third string fretted at the fifth fret, it'll be a C
chord.  Here it is with notes and fret numbers:

E-+-+-+  4
| | | |
+-C-E-G  5

But I'm not thinking about putting this shape at a particular fret.
I'm thinking about putting down this shape so that its root is at a
particular fret.  C on the third string is the fifth fret, so I place
this shape such that the third string is fretted at the fifth fret.

Here's another closed shape for a major chord in old standard C

| | | |
| | | |

Here, the root is at the 2nd and 4th strings.  You could use either
string for thinking about where to put this shape, but I use the 2nd
string.  Let's say I want to make an F using this shape.  The 2nd
string at the 6th fret is an F, so an F is like this (with fret
numbers added):

F-C-+-+  5
| | | |
+-+-F-+  6
| | | |
+-+-+-A  7

Traditionally, you might say that to make an F, you'd put this shape
at the 7th fret.  But I'm thinking about the shape being centered
around the 6th fret, 2nd string, because that's where the root is.

The next step is to practice making each major chord, everywhere it
can be made on the neck.  So first, play C up and down the neck.  Then
F, then Bb, and so on (I'm going around the keys by fourths, but
sometimes I go by fifths.  You can play them in any order you like,
but going in "circle" order reinforces the circle of 4ths/5ths.

As I play each C on the neck, I look at where I'm about to fret the
root note and say "C."  This is how I am attempting to learn not just
the shapes and the chords, but the notes themselves.  I'm making a C
chord not because I laid down this shape at the 7th fret, but because
I'm fretting the C on the 2nd string, sixth fret, and making that
chord shape around that note.

It is my hope that this style of practicing chords will help me learn
or reinforce all of these at the same time:

* How to make the closed chord shapes
* Where the notes are on the fretboard
* The order of the circle of 4ths/5ths.

If I succeed at this style of learning a tuning, I should never need a
traditional chord chart again.  That's the goal.
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Playing Since: 2012
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WayneConrad has made 34 recent additions to Banjo Hangout 

Occupation: programmer

Gender: Male
Age: 57

My Instruments:
Short scale banjos, most of them with frets, and one without. Most of them by Backyard Music, and one Goodtime Parlor.

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Created 10/21/2012
Last Visit 10/14/2018

Was born. Lived 51 years without playing anything. Dad handed me his banjo. Here I am.

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