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Feb 29, 2020 - 8:51:23 AM
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11543 posts since 7/1/2006

Fingerboard Studies for the 5-String Banjo

~ FREE Version for BHO Members ~

I shut down my personal website earlier this year, so I have decided to prepare a special version of my book Fingerboard Studies for the 5-String Banjo to give away for free to BHO members.

This is included here as a 20-page pdf file you can download immediately for free. I have also added the audio file examples which accompany these studies.

I wrote and composed this book back in 2012 using the method of how I taught myself to find any inversion of any chord on the fingerboard, and how to then find your most common variants -- Dominant 7th, Major 7th and Minor 7th -- from any of the three chord shapes found on a banjo tuned to open G.

What you will soon see, is that there are waaaaay more ways to play these chords then you have ever been taught. Some of the shape variants may not be fully formed chords in the strictest meaning, and some shapes I demonstrate should be viewed as "voicings" which will work just fine in any setting and give a different flavor of the same chord. Just don't let yourself get bogged down in believing that there are only specific rules for chord shapes. This approach gives you a much larger pallet of musical colors to work with then just the three you probably already know. This series of studies helps unlock that for you.

When I was learning banjo back in the late 1970s and early 80s, there never were any good materials that explained why stuff was the way it was on the fingerboard, so having already been a student of classical violin, and having been exposed to scales and chord construction already, I applied that knowledge to the banjo.

My approach is simple: it follows established theory on how chord shapes progress up the neck. Essentially, each higher iteration of a chord moves from the bass note, which "anchors" the note stack forming that iteration, or shape, or inversion, depending on your preferred terminology.

For any of this to make sense to you, you must first have a basic understanding of major and minor scales as well as how chords are constructed from scales (chords flow from scales, and not the other way around).  Without that basic knowledge, this may be difficult to understand. For that basic understanding I will refer you to my other booklet, The Banjo Book which I wrote in 1979 at age 19, and it explains scales and chord construction. That booklet, perfect for a beginner, can be found here.

Folks learn differently, so this may or may not work for you, but to those who have an analytical mind, you may find this helps quite a few lightbulbs go off for you.

Since 2012, I have shipped about 100 print copies of this worldwide to a small but very dedicated groups of pickers. It is always encouraging to hear that my work really helped someone with their understanding of how the fingerboard works and is laid out.

I charged $12.95 for the bound printed version, but on my website it was given for free, just for onscreen viewing only (downloads were prohibited) and the online digital versions garnered tens of thousands views, over 30,000 views if I remember right, so I'd like to think someone got something from that.

I welcome any feedback from anyone who downloads this and finds it beneficial.

So, to all BHO members who may be interested, here ya go.

--Frank Eastes      
Spartanburg, SC      
February 29, 2020      

All I ask is that this work not be further distributed or shared without attribution. I retain copyright to this material. Some BHO members, one in particular, is notorious for downloading and sharing other people's copyrighted work without credit (you know who you are) so please give credit where credit is due. Fair enough? Thanks.

The audio files included here correspond to these pages in my book:

Dominant 7th audio examples -- Page 10
Major 7th audio examples -- Page 14
Minor 7th audio examples -- Page 18

Edited by - banjoy on 02/29/2020 15:41:02

Feb 29, 2020 - 9:05:50 AM



211 posts since 8/14/2009

Thank you!!

Feb 29, 2020 - 9:24:36 AM



56 posts since 7/19/2010

Thank you Frank.

Feb 29, 2020 - 9:35:15 AM



1495 posts since 5/27/2006

Thank you

Feb 29, 2020 - 12:32:09 PM

3518 posts since 12/31/2005

Very generous!

Feb 29, 2020 - 12:56:58 PM

2195 posts since 1/21/2003

Very kind of you Frank!

Feb 29, 2020 - 1:55:16 PM
Players Union Member



270 posts since 3/11/2018

Thanks for your generosity. I find visuals help in understanding and in remembering. I try to review fretboard geometry often. I get enjoyment out of studying and analyzing music.

Feb 29, 2020 - 2:37:25 PM

1078 posts since 3/23/2006

Thanks. It is very helpful.

Feb 29, 2020 - 3:38:55 PM
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36 posts since 8/5/2016

Providing an inspiration and education for others is a wonderful thing to do. Great stuff Frank.

Feb 29, 2020 - 6:04:10 PM
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11543 posts since 7/1/2006

I want to point out that the concepts presented are transferrable to other tunings outside of open G.

No matter what tuning your are using, when forming full chords across all 4 fretted strings, try to figure out and understand for yourself where in any chord shape the Root, 3rd, and 5th notes of a major chord are under the fingers of your left hand.

Once you know which note is where, you can then apply the ideas I present to figure out for yourself how to modify every shape to achieve what you want. But, you will have to do the work yourself to figure that out for each tuning you use. The concepts are the same, the shapes will be different, that's all. A little knowledge can go a long way, and you will find your own epiphanies which will serve you well...

I hope that makes sense.

Mar 1, 2020 - 1:41:52 AM

106 posts since 3/13/2011

Thanks Thanks . It is very helpful.

Mar 1, 2020 - 7:00:36 AM



11543 posts since 7/1/2006

Context is Everything

As you work through these studies you'll notice something interesting that may pop out at you and hit you on the head: That chord shapes you are already familiar with are now appearing and being called in use within a different context.

You will see minor, major and other familiar shapes in a context that would or should place them in a different key, or the chord be given a different name, than what you are playing, or your fingerings, or out-of-context information, would suggest.

For example, if you are looking at a banjo chord chart  that simply shows chord fingerings with no context of key, then the chord made by fretting 4-4-3-4 or 9-7-7-9 or 12-11-12-12 could correctly be named a Bm chord (refer to pages 12-13). Yet in my studies, these shapes pop up during my discussion of a Gmaj7 chord. Why is that?

Another example: Looking at a chord chart with no context, you would correctly be calling a chord at 5-4-3-2 as a G6 chord, which is a G major triad with the added 6th on top. Yet, this shape pops out during the demonstration of a Em7 chord (see page 16, image included below). Why is that?

The answer is: the context, or key, where the shape is found.

In the example of a G6 chord actually working as a Em7 hybrid, this grouping of notes can be used as an Em7 while not actually being named as such. The correct notes are there for it to work.I show why in the examples, and you can hear for yourself in the audio example. So instead of thinking "I'm playing a G6 when this Em7 comes around" it is better to think in terms of "I am playing a modified (altered) 1st Inversion of an E chord."

It becomes incumbent upon you, then, to already know where the Root, 3rd and 5th notes are found in any shape you are making, and which comprise the chord you are altering, and always thinking in that context. The key, and how you are changing the shape, are your guides. Once you can get past the idea that chord shapes can have more than one identity, it begins to make more sense and become less mysterious.

I hope I have not added to anyone's confusion. But as mentioned, for any of this make sense you must first have a solid grasp of basic major scales and how chord shapes are derived from scales. That opens the door for you to then make changes knowing full well why it is and why it works.

I hope this makes sense.

Edited by - banjoy on 03/01/2020 07:05:36

Mar 1, 2020 - 12:57:33 PM
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270 posts since 3/11/2018

On a technical note I was wondering what software you use to draw your chord patterns with. I like to do the same and make notes of my own to help me learn and remember. My current method doesn't look anywhere near as good as yours. Once mine look better I will share them.

Mar 1, 2020 - 1:16:08 PM



11543 posts since 7/1/2006

Originally posted by lanemb

On a technical note I was wondering what software you use to draw your chord patterns with. I like to do the same and make notes of my own to help me learn and remember. My current method doesn't look anywhere near as good as yours. Once mine look better I will share them.

Hey there Michael. For decades I was a professional freelance graphic designer. I did this stuff entirely with Adobe InDesign for Mac. I created the shapes as I needed them and grouped them as single blocks, for example, for my color coded method, once those were created then it's just cut, paste etc. onto another grouped block representing the fingerboard, etc.

I don't do this work anymore and all my software is at least a decade old now. I believe you'd be fine doing this type stuff with InDesign, Illustrator, perhaps even Quark Express or any similar application.

Mar 1, 2020 - 1:33:08 PM
Players Union Member



270 posts since 3/11/2018

Thanks Frank. I was a mechanical designer and technical procedure publisher. I am now trying to use software on my MAC. I have actually done some with Excel. Just getting back into looking into this so I will see what is at hand first. Pages has a few drawing tools as does WORD. We used FrameMaker and Word for technical publishing and Microstation for CAD work before I retired. The only thing I miss from work is the software and computers.

Mar 16, 2020 - 7:17:56 AM

693 posts since 1/22/2004

Frank, this is VERY generous of you to share this work with us! Your work shows great understanding, attention to detail and you obviously worked very hard putting it all together is a clear, easy to understand manner. I will greatly enjoy this gift from you, I will treasure this gift from you and will honor your requests to protect it and always give you proper credit for this outstanding work. Bill Breen, Tucson, AZ

Mar 26, 2020 - 9:47:31 PM

40 posts since 2/4/2017

I came to this Music Theory forum ready to ask if someone had some good banjo fretboard charts that I could use to aid my teaching of diatonic harmony and chords. I think this fits the bill and then some! Thank you for your hard work and good design.

Jun 1, 2020 - 4:58:42 AM
Players Union Member



25557 posts since 6/30/2015

This is awesome, thank you

Jun 1, 2020 - 5:06:29 AM
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11543 posts since 7/1/2006

Thanks for that, and for bumping this thread.

I have heard from plenty of folks since I created these materials some years ago, that this is exactly what they were needing.

I have emailed Eric and the moderators asking if they would consider making this a sticky topic, as the information here is not dated and will always be relevant. And, I see, the moderator Sherry has her own sticky topic about theory (a very wordy approach, but hey, it works) so why not?

There are many ways to understand the fingerboard, and this is a very analytical approach. Folks learn differently, so this may not be for everyone. But, it's free, and no banjo pickers were harmed (yet) in the making of this method or this thread...


Edited by - banjoy on 06/01/2020 05:15:04

Jun 1, 2020 - 6:29:39 PM



4 posts since 6/1/2020

Great, thank you!

Jun 3, 2020 - 2:11:30 PM

3 posts since 1/27/2009

Wow! What a great surprise! Thanks Frank. Really can't wait to dig through.

Jun 3, 2020 - 2:55:36 PM

373 posts since 3/27/2011

Thanks, much appreciated!

Jun 3, 2020 - 7:43:51 PM
Players Union Member

Mark D


19 posts since 7/8/2006

Thank you Frank for the PDF books, audio files, and your explanations here in the comments section.
Looks like I have some studying of scales to do !

Very generous of you to share what has obviously been a subject of passion for a long time.

Jun 4, 2020 - 6:49:33 AM

1 posts since 10/9/2018

Many thanks from these two beginners. One of us is a technical guy, and I'm more of a liberal arts type, and both of us are learning. It's obvious that you've put a lot of effort into this and we appreciate it!

Jun 4, 2020 - 7:24:27 AM

376 posts since 11/17/2015

Thanks Frank, exactly what I've been trying to learn.

Jun 5, 2020 - 8:44:39 AM
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11543 posts since 7/1/2006

Fingerboard Studies: Brain Engaged

I appreciate the kind replies and comments about these materials. It's humbling to know that folks actually get something from them.

My entire purpose of these materials and approach was to answer one quest: how to find the modified notes in any chord in relation to the three known chord shapes. For those who do dive into these materials, I think you should do so with the understanding that this analytical approach taps into and relies on that analytical part of your mind, requiring you to actually think and understand to make those connections. Once you "get it" you'll find you don't need to think about it so much anymore, if at all, because the answers are already under your fingers.

But I wish to stress that it's important to know that this is the process you're doing: using your mind as the tool to unlock some things.

Fingerboard Studies: Brain Dis-engaged

Here, is where I admit that I reach the limits of my understandings. Throughout my life banjo was not just on the back burner, but most of the time, in the back rumble seat in the back of a 1960s Rambler station wagon LOL :)

For those who benefit from these materials, and this type of approach, I would strongly urge you to acquire and take a deep long dive into Pat Cloud's Key to the 5-String Banjo. In all my years of novice banjo picking, I've acquired, as many of you have, most of the banjo books of the day while I was learning. In recent years, I came across Pat's book and I have to say, it is probably the best example of banjo studies at the highest level of excellence I have come across. If anything, I view my materials as a very humble and modest introduction to materials on the level of Pat's work.

I wish I had benefit of Pat's book 40 years ago. Beyond Pat's mastery of the fingerboard and music theory in general, it's clear that his approach is to coax you to a higher level of musicianship, laying new hard wiring from your ears directly to your hands. His goal is to remove your mind from the equation. It's a remarkable approach wrapped in excellent ear and hand-position training exercises, and that is his intent. Basically, he's showing you how to dis-engage your mind from the process, which in my opinion, is the highest level of musicianship you can attain.

Pat is on BHO (banjola1) and you need to grab his book and work with it. Especially for you young up and coming banjo whippersnappers and sharpshooters who are up front in the passenger seat ... soon to be in the driver's seat ... Pat's teachings will help you move beyond mind and flashy technique, to playing with some of yourself shining through.

Just sayin'

Edited by - banjoy on 06/05/2020 08:47:40

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