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Mar 8, 2020 - 9:28:37 PM
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115 posts since 2/16/2020

I just picked up a beginner tenor banjo with the intention of learning Irish music and perhaps other traditional fiddle tunes. I have no formal musical training. I am interested in learning to read standard music in the process of learning this instrument. I know a lot of folk musicians don't read music and have never attempted to with my 5-string banjo, but it seems that the tenor banjo is a good instrument for me to learn with.

I've seen some posts on mandolin forums about reading standard notation, but google hasn't led me to any info on standard notation for tenor banjo. Do you have any suggestions of how I might find resources to help with my education?

Robert

Mar 9, 2020 - 3:37:43 AM

104 posts since 4/8/2019

Congratulations on your interest in taking the leap to learn to read for your instrument. It can be very helpful in many respects but I suggest you still try to memorize your music even after you learn to read standard notation.

Most Irish banjo players retune their banjos to the same tuning as the mandolin but an octave lower. With this in mind, you can do no better than get your hands on the Irish Fiddle Book by Matt Cranich. The book takes you through the basics of reading standard notation, and also presents a graded collection of some very nice tunes.

RA

Mar 9, 2020 - 5:26:53 AM

Tweelo

USA

172 posts since 4/14/2014

Honest to goodness, if you are patient and consistent with your practice, then learning to read standard notation is not that hard. I'd recommend staying in one key for a while as you will learn to associate places on the staff with physical locations on the fretboard.

I've never understood the sort of person who looks down on being able to read notation. There's just too much benefit.

Mar 9, 2020 - 5:34:32 AM

171 posts since 4/5/2016

If you want to get really good at sight reading "the dotes" (meaning being able to play right from the notes without having played the piece before) then having some tuition would be good, but if you want to do what most of us folk music playing dotes readers do, which is to mostly have a grasp of which note is which to help us remember how the tune goes, or help us learn a tune we are also using ear learning to learn, then you don't need instruction, just a bit of practice with it.

The open D string is the dot right below the bottom line. That's all you need to know to get started. ;)

Edited by - Nate Banton on 03/09/2020 05:35:15

Mar 9, 2020 - 5:36:30 AM

171 posts since 4/5/2016

Also, the strings are tuned the same, so info on notation for playing mandolin, or fiddle for that matter, would be of use to you.

Mar 9, 2020 - 9:16:41 AM

2076 posts since 2/10/2013

You have to learn to recognize the notes when you see the notation, AND when the notes are played. Here is what I did on the fiddle, and it worked fine.

I paid a professional fiddler/violinist to record the commonly played major scales (i.e. C,G,D,A,F,Bb) on the fiddle. Then, I practiced slowly playing and learning scales along with the recording. The recording served as a metronome, and also taught my "ear" to recognize each note. You could have a pianist or banjo player record these major scales for you. Practicing these scales are an effective way of become familiar with the fingerboard. And as I said, learn to recognize each note that is being played.

BTW, if you are going to learn to read and understand music, start out becoming familiar with the chromatic scale. That will make it easier to understand some of things you will be studying. If you don't "fight" it, learning the chromatic scale will not be that difficult.

I use the software "The Amazing Slow" downer to practice and learn. It lets me change keys, loop all or parts of tunes/exercises, and more. There are other applications that also for this purpose.

IMHO, standard fiddle/mandolin tuning is great for playing tunes. That scale, GDAE, has the same musical interval for each pair of strings. That makes playing music using notation easier.

Mar 9, 2020 - 6:07:09 PM

115 posts since 2/16/2020

Thanks for suggestions and support. I requested Matt Cranitch's book at the local library and will start there. Robert

Mar 9, 2020 - 7:02:52 PM

DSmoke

USA

868 posts since 11/30/2015

I am a big advocate of learning by ear. I only play Irish music. After 7 years of doing this, I am able to pick up tunes very quickly. At some point, I will be able to play a tune after hearing it played once as the more tunes you learn and play the more phrases are from other tunes and it all kinda connects in the brain. Or, if it's a tune you can hum, then (in theory) you can play it.

As for the books, that's just so those people can make money. I doubt if you sat with them they would give you sheet music to learn from.

But to each their own. I don't want to be negative or discouraging, but Irish trad is one best learned by ear. If you do want to play from the dots I would recommend listening to a few different versions of the tune first to get a feel for it.

Mar 10, 2020 - 5:21:25 AM

2993 posts since 10/17/2009

quote:
Originally posted by rkdjones

I am interested in learning to read standard music in the process of learning this instrument.

I've seen some posts on mandolin forums about reading standard notation, but google hasn't led me to any info on standard notation for tenor banjo. Do you have any suggestions of how I might find resources to help with my education?

Robert


Learning to read notation and learning an instrument are two separate skills.

Standard notation is not tab... and basic C treble clef notation is pretty universal, not really any special notation for tenor banjo. This makes it transferable from one instrument to another; allows one to use all those fiddle tune collections.  So about any basic C notation book or video will probably work well. It's not really that hard.

additional: notation isn't a substitute  for learning by ear, nor is it an either/or.  For me, I learned and mostly play by ear;  learning to read is just an additional useful tool.

Edited by - banjoak on 03/10/2020 05:25:39

Mar 10, 2020 - 7:53:59 AM

171 posts since 4/5/2016

To clarify my not well worded post from before, and second the thoughts of others.... Go ahead and learn to read music, but ear learning is obviously what you really need to learn. Written music can be a tool or a crutch depending on how you use it.

We're making sounds with an instrument, so learn to make sounds by listening to sounds. ;)

Mar 10, 2020 - 8:58:54 AM

115 posts since 2/16/2020

I do understand that playing by ear is optimal for this instrument for this genre. I've messed around with a 5-string (clawhammer) for many years, reading and trying to memorize tabs and trying to pick out tunes by listening. Frankly, I'm just not that good at it; when I hear a note played I don't know where it is on the neck. I'm not tone deaf, but my ability to interpret a tone and transfer it to my fingers is poor.

So I will ask the question, is that ability something that one is born with or can it be learned. And if it can be learned, how does one learn it.

Robert

Mar 10, 2020 - 10:20:53 AM

171 posts since 4/5/2016

Definitely not something you need to be born with! And you don't need to have perfect pitch to learn to play by ear either. How most of us learn a tune by ear is not so much hearing a note and knowing exactly where that note is on the fretboard that is . It's more about being able to hear intervals.

If I hear a tune, I probably don't know what key it's being played in. (In fact, I've learned tunes in the wrong key before). But if I find out what key it's in then I can figure out what the first note is, and then go from there. Perfect pitch is a bit like having perfect typing technique and being able to type at speed without looking at the keyboard. Most of us can't do that. But even if you start out with hunt and peck with two fingers, you can get there in the end. And you'll improve with practice.

Mar 10, 2020 - 10:43:42 AM

768 posts since 2/19/2012

Something else you might try is a looping software like "Transcribe!" There is a fee to download it, but I've used it for years and would not be without it. It allows you to slow down a tune while keeping the original pitch, and you can select sections of the tune to loop repeatedly. The repetition of looping and then trying to find the note on the neck will help you develop a sense of pitch while also learning the tune by ear. After doing this for several years, it still takes me a few hours to learn a new tune if I'm going after all the details. It just does, and I've gotten comfortable with that. My ability to pick up a new tune while hearing it for the first time in a session is still limited, but it's getting better.

Another popular software is Amazing Slow Downer, but I'm partial to Transcribe. I also have Audacity, which I think can be used this way.  I mostly use it for editing.

Edited by - Parker135 on 03/10/2020 10:44:42

Mar 10, 2020 - 3:51:42 PM

2658 posts since 4/19/2008

If you want to apply ear-training to the banjo I would recommend my old post: https://www.banjohangout.org/archive/310544

Mar 10, 2020 - 4:39:34 PM
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DSmoke

USA

868 posts since 11/30/2015

It is absolutely something that can be learned!!! I will expand on my post above. 7 years ago I picked up the banjo. This is my first ever instrument, I had zero knowledge of anything music related. I learned a tune by tab and all I heard in my head were numbers, that made no sense to me. So, after learning a tune by ear, which took a week and was really frustrating, I realized I was not telling myself what note to play, I was playing the note I heard. That did not mean really knew what note it was. I do believe it is helpful to have music theory background as that makes learning by ear easier as you will understand much more than I do. I learn this from my music friends who hear a passage and say ....some music type thing like arpeggio. But, this stuff will come as you continue with the music too. I recently took up the concertina. I can pick out tunes on that that I play on banjo because the tune is in my head. I can also learn a tune by ear on the concertina easier than when I started banjo because my ear is getting better. I also learned a tune on the concertina and then easily played it on the banjo. I really believe this is a skill worth having. And I would much rather have the skill of having someone play a tune and me repeat it back than being able to play from paper.

This is just my experience. There are some great trad players who learn the tunes via paper. So again, to each there own, do what works for you.

Mar 10, 2020 - 8:28:31 PM

429 posts since 2/15/2015

Neck knack. Scales intervals, inversions... but don't depend on them, learn them to get around the neck. And to find your way back.

It is too bad there is not a banjo book such as Carl Culpeper wrote for guitar called 101 Terrifying Techniques For Guitar (with tab and cd) but I guess you could get by adapting it if you played guitar.

Edited by - geoB on 03/10/2020 20:28:53

Mar 18, 2020 - 6:43:08 AM
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2422 posts since 10/9/2011

The ability to read notes and to play by ear are complementary skills. The notes are just the bare bones skeleton of a tune. Being able to put flesh on those bones comes only with a lot of listening, which for me is the ear part.
If I hear a tune at a session that I like I go home and look up the sheet music and use that to get the basic tune in my head. After that, I rely on what I have learned over the years to add ornaments and emphasis,combined with listening to recordings of other players. I don't think it's an either/or situation.

Apr 2, 2020 - 7:06:30 AM

111 posts since 9/30/2016

I use the iPad and apps for so much listening/looking/learning tunes by ear. I think that, while I’ve always avoided learning to read music (lazy? Short attention span?) the extra “free” time currently available offers a golden opportunity.

So, in the spirit of the original post, isn’t there a “magic” app that lets people learn the dots with a techno-gadget to speed the process? I’ll start to look; I know I’ve seen some in passing.

Recommendations?

Thanks, and regards,

David

Apr 2, 2020 - 4:48:18 PM

432 posts since 5/29/2006

quote:
Originally posted by rkdjones

I just picked up a beginner tenor banjo with the intention of learning Irish music and perhaps other traditional fiddle tunes. I have no formal musical training. I am interested in learning to read standard music in the process of learning this instrument. I know a lot of folk musicians don't read music and have never attempted to with my 5-string banjo, but it seems that the tenor banjo is a good instrument for me to learn with.

I've seen some posts on mandolin forums about reading standard notation, but google hasn't led me to any info on standard notation for tenor banjo. Do you have any suggestions of how I might find resources to help with my education?

Robert


https://www.amazon.com/Absolute-Beginners-Irish-Complete-Playing/dp/184938276X

Apr 3, 2020 - 11:10:55 PM

115 posts since 2/16/2020

Thanks for the tip. I am mostly working from violin instruction books. I have questions that are specific to IT banjo that are elusive.

Apr 4, 2020 - 8:26:21 PM

rcc56

USA

3100 posts since 2/20/2016

Learning to read standard notation, at least at an elementary level, never hurt any of my students one bit.
And it made me a lot more employable.

Contrary to the opinions of some, notes on a staff are not the work of the devil, nor do they suppress creativity. They are simply a method of communication, and one of the best ones we've got, despite all its flaws.

Most of the best musicians I have known can read at least a little. And yes, that includes folk musicians, and even some bluegrass and rock musicians.

Robert, the fiddle books are written with a tuning of G-D-A-E in mind. If you are tuning your banjo the same way, most of your problems are likely to come from the longer scale length of the tenor banjo, which can usually be negotiated by being clever about your fingering.   One problem we have to confront is that we extend the fingers to cover the first seven frets in the way that a mandolin player would, we are extending them more than is comfortable or for that matter, healthy for us.  It is generally better to cover five frets with the fingers and shift when necessary, more like a 'cello player or guitar player than like a violinist or mandolinist.

Also, remember that "Irish tenor" tuning sounds an octave below the violin. As a result, generally it is best to play the music so it sounds an octave below where it would when played on violin or mandolin.

If you are tuning C-G-D-A, the music will often be considerably more complicated to play.

Edited by - rcc56 on 04/04/2020 20:33:14

Apr 4, 2020 - 8:51:09 PM

rcc56

USA

3100 posts since 2/20/2016

quote:
Originally posted by rcc56



Correction:

Robert, the fiddle books are written with a tuning of G-D-A-E in mind. If you are tuning your banjo the same way, most of your problems are likely to come from the longer scale length of the tenor banjo, which can usually be negotiated by being clever about your fingering.   One problem we have to confront is that if we extend the fingers to cover the first seven frets in the way that a mandolin player would, we are extending them more than is comfortable or for that matter, healthy for us. 

 


Apr 4, 2020 - 9:44:48 PM

115 posts since 2/16/2020

My next question is about software. I have an arrangement for Red Haired Boy in the key G for my 5-string (I capo to A), and I wrote it out as tabulature. I would like to create the sheet music for it, then (maybe if the fingering works out) I could play that arrangement on the tenor banjo and at the same time practice reading standard notation. Google led me to Crescendo Music Notation software, which looks promising. I was wondering if anyone has suggestions for other software packages for writing music. Robert

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