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Telltale signs a banjo player is a guitar player

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Feb 20, 2020 - 4:00:14 PM
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44 posts since 1/31/2020

Why guitar players have an urge to learn banjo... They have a primeval urge since they were circumcised to gain control of any thing that has skin attached to it., Does not include European guitar puckers.

Feb 20, 2020 - 4:25:06 PM

99 posts since 1/28/2016

I am a guitar player and a banjo picker. I started with guitar and learned ragtime picking and such. I found that I had to "unlearn" the bass thumb as it could not be used for most banjo tunes. Successfully did this by concentrating on rolls. There is a logic to rolls that you find helps you through any difficulties in tablature reading. I don't preach any type of picking. Sometimes I get lazy and find myself using the "bass thumb" technique in banjo, but only on the lower four, never the fifth. But it always feels strange and never sounds quite right, so I pretty much give it up. That's my take. I feel that having been a guitar fingerpicker was an advantage and a hindrance at times. You bring certain skills and muscle memories to all you do.

Edited by - lbullock on 02/20/2020 16:25:53

Feb 24, 2020 - 4:06:01 AM
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1 posts since 11/15/2019

No hope for me then! A former Bassist (electric) now learning to pick a little after a 20 year gap. Furthermore learning in England on a British made banjo. Spend my lunch breaks having the best damned fun ever!

Feb 25, 2020 - 4:09:07 AM

78 posts since 8/20/2019

... you know he's a guitar player when he's standing there holding a banjo, but still bragging on his "1938 Martin D-28 Herringbone with quarter-sawn Brazilian rosewood back and sides, yadda-yadda-yadda"... *yawn* ...

Feb 25, 2020 - 11:14:28 AM
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401 posts since 10/19/2007

I play both banjo and guitar. Though techniques and ideas transfer either way, I look at them as two different animals. The scale work I've done on guitar with a flat pick translates to banjo; the rolling and timing from the banjo transfer to fingerpicking guitar. But I don't pick up a banjo and think "Guitar licks." I'm thinking primarily of my basis in listening to, studying, and playing along with Flatt & Scruggs, Crowe, and other older bluegrass. That's the base, and then I add other stuff to that foundation.

I play in a particular style with AK and Union Station. Whatever situation I play in, I try to play whatever the music requires - that's how I've helped distinguish the Union Station sound from other bands. Bending strings on the banjo works well in that context. It doesn't work as much with Chris Jones, or other people I've sometimes played with. If a context I'm in is "traditional," I play accordingly. I even adjust my timing. When I play with Dan, I play straighter eighths, because he does. When I played with Tim Stafford, I used more swing - because he does. As does Clay Hess and others.

That's my basic musical philosophy. "Play what is appropriate." I've never played to try to impress other players or other musicians, or keep their attention on me by putting in fancy backup licks. My job with AKUS is to keep a rolling bed of timing that supports whatever else is going on - to keep the audience's attention on the singer, or the dobro solo, or the guitar solo - not to play fancy backup that other banjo players will notice. Then I step out and do my bit when it's my turn.

I believe in banjoists learning the basis of the founding players - Scruggs, Reno, Rudy Lyle, Sonny Osborne, Crowe, Emerson - whoever trips your trigger. That was and still is my basis for playing banjo, and then I add other things to the mix. I think a good, solid five-year or more study of the roots of bluegrass is incredibly important.

But there are a lot of people who will tell you there is a "right" way, a "right" kind of banjo, a "right" kind of pick, the "right" kind of this or that. And quite often, surprise, this "right" way is the same way they're doing it. So - they're "right" and they play "bluegrass the right way."

Bill Monroe, et al, didn't do it the "right" way. They did it a new way - their way. Mind you, this was after years and years of feasting on the music of tradition, digesting it, learning it, and playing it. But I guarantee there were people complaining about Bill Monroe's new music.

Feb 25, 2020 - 1:44:25 PM
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6476 posts since 8/30/2004

Hi Ron,
It's great to see you on here. I love how you play Bluegrass with your own sound...So good....Jack Baker

Edited by - Jack Baker on 02/25/2020 13:44:54

Feb 25, 2020 - 1:49:07 PM
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401 posts since 10/19/2007

Thanks, Jack.

A continuation of my last post:

......But I guarantee there were people complaining about Bill Monroe's new music ("It's too fast. And where's Stringbean? I miss the jokes. And I don't like that banjo rolling around the whole time like that").

Monroe's music began to fuel a whole genre, and through time, most new artists with their innovations have been complained about. Flatt & Scruggs ("bluegrass doesn't have dobro or snare drum"). The Osborne Brothers (drums, et cetera). The Country Gentlemen ("those chords don't belong in bluegrass"). JD Crowe and the New South ("steel and drums and electric bass don't belong in bluegrass"). Tony Rice ("There isn't even a banjo. That's not bluegrass").

The list goes on and on. But all these artists had something in common - they learned from tradition, avidly, and then went on to create their own sounds. Looking back through the lens of Time, most of these bands are now considered "traditional bluegrass." But there were "traditional" fans who were mad at the innovations and wanted them to "play it the right way."

There is no "right way." There is only loving tradition and then innovating with it to create new music. We can be straight-up imitators, but as Crowe once said, "You can't beat a man at his own game." Or we can get a six string ganjo and flail away at it like a guitar - but it's never going to have the rooted power of someone who studied what bluegrass really is.

Bluegrass is the spirit of loving both tradition and creativity. It is earthy rootedness and branches reaching for the sun. It is a holding to the good of what has been and reaching up for the good that to be created.

A few different approaches I use:
STRAIGHT CROWE RIPOFF - "You Don't Know My Mind" with Clay Hess: youtube.com/watch?v=AcyIzPbAu0I

ME TEACHING CROWE - "You Don't Know My Mind": youtube.com/watch?v=GDFrbvAOits

MY ROLLING APPROACH with Damien O'Kane (Irish tenor banjoist): youtube.com/watch?v=BCrrvlnxP6Y

SINGLE-STRING AND MELODIC with Damien O'Kane on a tune I wrote: youtube.com/watch?v=cbUkvPScK8Q

SLOW BANJO APPROACH with Damien O'Kane on a beautiful tune of his: youtube.com/watch?v=53UVd88DCFg

IDEAS BASED IN VERY EARLY, SIMPLER JAZZ GUITARISTS + EARL SCRUGGS + CROWE + MANDO IDEAS AND A BLUES LICK OR TWO: "Honky Tonk Swing" with the Soggy Bottom Boys - youtube.com/watch?v=H7_701GOT7E

AKUS-STYLE - Wild Bill Jones: youtube.com/watch?v=ze3me_nIqlA

JIMMY MARTINESQUE STYLE. I wrote this Keith-tuner tune in honor of "Red River Valley", from Big and Country Instrumentals. youtube.com/watch?v=EKLs-OsF0lQ

Edited by - RonBlock on 02/25/2020 13:50:18

Feb 26, 2020 - 6:49:43 AM
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shmoss

USA

48 posts since 1/29/2011

Thanks Ron! This is very inspiring to read.

Feb 26, 2020 - 8:50:55 AM

kjcole

USA

1228 posts since 4/21/2003

Amen

Feb 26, 2020 - 9:45:41 AM

Dniman

UK

7 posts since 1/6/2020

I have played guitar for around 30 yes
Started banjo in January
If I played it like a guitar I guess I should be s*** hot.
Enjoying banjo!

Feb 26, 2020 - 7:37:15 PM

bobbyk

USA

203 posts since 1/17/2006

Well on the flip side of your kind of fun question -- I started playing guitar about a year ago for fun - I tune it in an open drop G tuning DGDGBD and play with a banjo thumb pick and naked index and middle finger- usually with my ring finger anchored -- i am sure if anyone knows anything about playing the banjo those are pretty big "tells" that i am really not a guitar player (and of course by the quality of my playing you can tell i am not too)-- but its fun

Feb 27, 2020 - 11:39:57 AM

jwold

USA

1176 posts since 7/21/2004

Didn't John Fahey tune his guitar like that?

Feb 29, 2020 - 4:12:29 AM

bobbyk

USA

203 posts since 1/17/2006

I dont know about Foggarty, but i got intto it after seeing George thorogood from the second row and seeing how he played, he often used what looked like 3 finger picking. Then i looked up and read some articlez about it. Apparently kieth richards often uses g tuning and even has removed the 6th string sometimes and the black crows do it too. There is a more popular open E tuning i guess used a lot by slide guitarists.

Feb 29, 2020 - 4:15:25 AM

bobbyk

USA

203 posts since 1/17/2006

Oh sorry you said Fahey,  not foggarty, dont know about what tuning he played either, but certainly was an impressive finger picking style player. 

Edited by - bobbyk on 02/29/2020 04:19:10

Feb 29, 2020 - 5:16:41 AM

187 posts since 2/15/2015
Online Now

Attempts banjo after life changing shattered wrist due to an unfortunate ladder accident. Doesn't realize that banjo is difficult as well, and is not a musical cure all for a messed up hand.

Switches to Lap Top Steel.

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