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Jan 30, 2023 - 12:42:34 PM
298 posts since 4/27/2020

Preface: I'm coming at this from a two finger perspective, with a minor in clawhammer, as a relative beginner.

Sokolow's Fretboard Roadmap and Cloud's Key to Five String Banjo both seem to be highly regarded. And I notice that our very own Frank Eastes put up a free PDF as well. Texasbanjo put up a guide but it's more oriented to bluegrass.

I know how my brain works, and I need "one guide to rule them all". I can move onto another one later if desired, or if the first doesn't resonate with me for some reason, but I need to start with one.



Jan 30, 2023 - 12:58:34 PM
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11205 posts since 4/23/2004

Not sure what you really want. There are dozens (if not more) tutors out there that claim to teach you the fingerboard. I think we need a little more perspective into your needs.

Are you wanting to learn the fingerboard from a chordal perspective? Notational? Tab? Pat Cloud's is more pentatonic jazz (as I recall). Bill Keith's is a good music theory book (I liked it). The Mel Bay "Bradbury" book is completely comprehensive but is in notation and daunting for somebody who is more traditionally based.

I have to say that Frank Eastes' pdf file is extremely useful and because it is based in music theory, it is applicable to any sort of music, not just bluegrass. IOW, you can take his format and adjust it to any tuning. Knowing and understanding basic harmony (root, third, fifth, seventh) is key.

There's a couple of books out there with scales and arpeggios for 5-string (both Tab and Notation)...and then there's dozens of historical tutors...a very deep dive (and probably not what you're interested in)...but free from the internet archive courtesy of Mr. Joel Hooks. Also, the classic-banjo.ning site has a whole section of free download tutors.

Edited by - trapdoor2 on 01/30/2023 13:12:00

Jan 30, 2023 - 3:35:25 PM
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13959 posts since 6/2/2008

Pat Cloud's "Key to Five String Banjo" is NOT for beginners. Note the subtitle: "Home Improvisation Workshop." Someone just learning tunes in three-finger style doesn't need a pentatonics-based guide to improvisation in a mixed melodic+Scruggs arpeggiated approach to improvisation.

If you were an advanced two-finger or clawhammer player needing mostly to learn the mechanics of three-finger and wanting a mind-expanding guide to the fretboard, I'd say sure. But you haven't described yourself this way.

I have to admit I don't know what you're after or what you think you need. If you can't play three-finger at all, then more than any guide to theory, I'd think you need a good beginner's instruction book, or DVD/book combo, or online banjo insruction. A one-time book is probably the most economical option. Excellent choices include Pete Wernick's classic "Bluegrass Banjo," and the books or methods by Jack Hatfield, Janet Davis, and Ned Luberecki. I believe each of these addresses the amount of theory the authors believe is necessary or valuable at appropriate points.

Good luck.

Feb 1, 2023 - 1:31:08 AM

58 posts since 11/21/2021

If you want to learn the fingerboard, in terms of what notes are where, one simple solution is to get pen and paper and work it out alphabetically. Draw a copy of the fretboard (including your position markers), and write in the note on each fret working alphabetically up to the 12th fret, starting on the note the string is tuned to, eg. for a D string the sequence would be d, d#, e, f, f#, g, g#, a, a#, b, c, c#, d. For the B string, you would start on b but follow the same sequence until reaching b again at the 12th fret.

It might sound laborious, but you actually learn what notes are where far more quickly than relying on other people’s tablature of numbers. If you then circle important notes like g, b, d, e, f#, etc, you can then see where important chord shapes appear on the fretboard, and simultaneously learn what three notes make up the main chords that you are already using. The only difficulty is having to understand which notes have sharps/flats in a twelve fret/note sequence - watch out for the gaps between e and f and b and c.

Feb 1, 2023 - 6:39:24 AM

10373 posts since 8/28/2013

I don't quite understand your first paragraph. Are you a a decent two finger player or are you a "relative beginner in that, as well as clawhammer.

A banjo fingerboard doesn't change from one to the other. It's the RIGHT hand that changes, although more than likely, you'll be adding some notes using 3 right hand fingers than only 2.

My advice is to learn as much about where different notes are on the fretboard, and how each functions in a given chord. Sorry I can't help with book suggestions, because I worked these things out without books. I did, however, have a few music theory classes, which could easily be applied to banjo, guitar, or piano. That aided in understanding chords, keys, etc.

One still needs to know where those things lie on your particular (banjo) instrument.

Feb 1, 2023 - 6:44:11 AM

4498 posts since 3/28/2008

One way to get started learning all the notes on the fingerboard is to learn the chords you use frequently, but learn all the shapes. (For example, for G, you have open G, then "F shape" at frets 3-5, then "D shape" at frets 7-9, then barre at fret 12, etc.) Then, make sure you know which string contains the root note (1st and 4th strings for "F shape", 2nd string for "D shape", 3rd string for barre).

Putting those bits of knowledge together, if (for example) you want to know the name of the note on the second string at the 7th fret, you can say, "A note on the second string will be the root of a D shape chord. So what is the D shape chord where I fret the 2nd string at the 7th fret?" It turns out that that's one fret higher than a D shape F chord and one fret lower than a D shape G chord, so the note in question is F#=Gb.

The advantage to this way of figuring out notes is that it doesn't rely purely on rote memorization, but is based on things (chord shapes, finding the root of a chord) that you actually use when playing. So the knowledge gained by this method may stick in your brain better than if you'd acquired it in the abstract.

At least, it seems that way to me.

Feb 1, 2023 - 7:42:12 PM
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Lew H


2830 posts since 3/10/2008

Just to clarify: Most instruction books and videos in old time banjo (2-finger and clawhammer) do not teach chords. They teach notes. I play clawhammer mostly, but have learned intuitively where chords are up the neck, etc., for I tend to strum on the dit part of the bum-ditty. So... most of the books covering chords, inversions, etc, are for bluegrass 3-finger.

Feb 4, 2023 - 10:49:48 AM

298 posts since 4/27/2020

Thanks for the replies, and I'm sorry it's taken me a while to return to my own thread. Life gets busy sometimes.

I understand the fact that some styles use more chords while others use less.

At this point I'm mostly motivated by curiosity, so I think I'll look through Frank's PDF when time allows.

Thanks again.

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