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May 22, 2024 - 5:55:38 PM
619 posts since 1/8/2005

Of the two. what is more popular, Chicago (guitar related) tuning, or Drop C (a tuning used on five string banjos also, but here without the 5th string)? Secondly, if Chicago tuning is used, can the plectrum banjo be played finger style or strummed as a guitar?

May 22, 2024 - 6:49:36 PM
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3359 posts since 3/30/2008

I tune my plectrum banjos guitar style. It is so much more easy & efficient to use my guitar background to switch & compose between the two. I play finger picking  folk style & some strumming.  The plectrum banjo can be very soulful played slowly, fingerpicked, Chicago tuning. 

Edited by - tdennis on 05/22/2024 18:54:51

May 22, 2024 - 6:49:37 PM

619 posts since 1/8/2005

I also understand that some people, like Don Flemons, play open G. DGBD

May 22, 2024 - 7:30:20 PM
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69 posts since 9/12/2023

Plectrum, tenor, and 5 string banjoist here.

The only accepted tuning for true plectrum banjo is CGBD.

Guitar tuning and 5 string open G tuning are good for introductory playing but you’ll never achieve the actual sounds and voicings with any of these.

Lee Floyd and I have discussed this in great detail for years, and let me tell you, just play the proper tuning.

It’s more more appealing to the ears and actually much easier to play once you get used to it.

I play guitar professionally as well, and the guitar tuning is much more limited than the proper plectrum tuning.

May 22, 2024 - 8:02:41 PM
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3359 posts since 3/30/2008

The plectrum banjo sounds great, w/ actual sounds & voicings regardless of the tuning. It's in the nature of the instrument to sound beautiful. There is no one "accepted " tuning. I feel the plectrum banjo is appealing to the ears at any tuning.  Chicago tuning works well w/ the plectrum, & some sophisticated music can be made , not just  "introductory"  playing.

Edited by - tdennis on 05/22/2024 20:12:01

May 23, 2024 - 4:09:13 AM
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csacwp

USA

3366 posts since 1/15/2014

CGBD, derived from the 5-string's standard tuning of gCGBD, is the most popular plectrum banjo tuning. It's also the standard tuning.

May 23, 2024 - 4:15:55 AM
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sethb

USA

723 posts since 2/16/2005

The traditional plectrum tuning is CGBD.  In my opinion, it works very well for either harmony chords or melody chords.  And as far as I know, the plectrum is the true successor to the 5-string banjo, which is also traditionally tuned gCGBD.  In fact, the first banjo I owned was a 5-string; when I discovered that you can't strum a 5-string because of the fifth drone string, I just took it off and went on from there.  I suspect that the same thing probably happened around the turn of the 20th century when ragtime came into vogue. 

As far as other tunings are concerned, I say do whatever "floats your boat."  As others have already noted, there are plenty of guitarists using guitar tuning (Chicago tuning) on a plectrum banjo, so they can double on banjo.  I use plectrum tuning on a six-string electric archtop guitar, running the four strings down the center of the fretboard, so I can double on guitar and play swing numbers without having to learn an entirely new set of fingerings.   What's good for the goose is good for the gander! 

In the end, it's not so important how an instrument is tuned, but what comes out of it when it's played.  SETH

Edited by - sethb on 05/23/2024 04:20:24

May 23, 2024 - 4:47:23 AM
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Players Union Member

Emiel

Austria

10444 posts since 1/22/2003

CGBD is the standard tuning for the plectrum banjo. Sean Moyses, a professional plectrum banjoist, however, uses DGBD…

May 23, 2024 - 5:29:39 AM
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csacwp

USA

3366 posts since 1/15/2014

quote:
Originally posted by sethb

The traditional plectrum tuning is CGBD.  In my opinion, it works very well for either harmony chords or melody chords.  And as far as I know, the plectrum is the true successor to the 5-string banjo, which is also traditionally tuned gCGBD.  In fact, the first banjo I owned was a 5-string; when I discovered that you can't strum a 5-string because of the fifth drone string, I just took it off and went on from there.  I suspect that the same thing probably happened around the turn of the 20th century when ragtime came into vogue. 

As far as other tunings are concerned, I say do whatever "floats your boat."  As others have already noted, there are plenty of guitarists using guitar tuning (Chicago tuning) on a plectrum banjo, so they can double on banjo.  I use plectrum tuning on a six-string electric archtop guitar, running the four strings down the center of the fretboard, so I can double on guitar and play swing numbers without having to learn an entirely new set of fingerings.   What's good for the goose is good for the gander! 

In the end, it's not so important how an instrument is tuned, but what comes out of it when it's played.  SETH


It wasn't ragtime, which was played fingerstyle, but the ballroom dance craze (foxtrot, tango, etc) that really led 5-string fingerstyle players to take up the plectrum.

Edited by - csacwp on 05/23/2024 05:29:57

May 23, 2024 - 6:07:16 AM
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sethb

USA

723 posts since 2/16/2005

John, now that I think about it, you're probably right about the foxtrot and other similar dances.  Thanks for the correction!  SETH

Edited by - sethb on 05/23/2024 06:08:38

May 23, 2024 - 6:53:05 AM
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sethb

USA

723 posts since 2/16/2005

If I remember correctly, gDGBD is an alternate 5-string tuning.  I believe the big advantage there is that it's an "open tuning," meaning that you can get more chords with open (unfretted) strings.  The DGBD plectrum tuning might also be an advantage if you're doing a lot of single-string work, which Sean Moyses certainly does. 

At least for myself, I like CGBD tuning because it's mostly "closed" chords (no open strings), so it's very easy to move a particular chord fingering up or down the fretboard.  That makes  it easier to transpose into different keys when necessary.  It also helped me to learn and remember chord inversions down the fretboard, which can simplify melody chord work, too. 

It's true that some of the CGBD fingerings can be a stretch, especially close to the nut on a fretboard with a 26" scale.  But I just don't use the two or three fingerings that aren't workable for me.  SETH

May 23, 2024 - 7:31:01 AM
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479 posts since 9/23/2009

Here is my (free) book on open-string chords in CGBD tuning.

May 23, 2024 - 7:39:54 AM

8301 posts since 9/21/2007

quote:
Originally posted by sethb

If I remember correctly, gDGBD is an alternate 5-string tuning.  I believe the big advantage there is that it's an "open tuning," meaning that you can get more chords with open (unfretted) strings.  The DGBD plectrum tuning might also be an advantage if you're doing a lot of single-string work, which Sean Moyses certainly does. 

At least for myself, I like CGBD tuning because it's mostly "closed" chords (no open strings), so it's very easy to move a particular chord fingering up or down the fretboard.  That makes  it easier to transpose into different keys when necessary.  It also helped me to learn and remember chord inversions down the fretboard, which can simplify melody chord work, too. 

It's true that some of the CGBD fingerings can be a stretch, especially close to the nut on a fretboard with a 26" scale.  But I just don't use the two or three fingerings that aren't workable for me.  SETH

 


With the original old time finger-style, aka "classic banjo", raising the 4th one step was an auxiliary "tuning" or scordatura to facilitate easier fingering that would be awkward when playing certain pieces in certain keys.  

Generally, and in most cases, one my forego the raising of the 4th string with some very minor rearranging, dropping roots in certain passages, or just practice in left hand fingering.  There is usually a workaround for someone like me who can't be bothered to reach up and turn the peg. 

May 23, 2024 - 7:44:32 AM

69 posts since 9/12/2023

quote:
Originally posted by tdennis

The plectrum banjo sounds great, w/ actual sounds & voicings regardless of the tuning. It's in the nature of the instrument to sound beautiful. There is no one "accepted " tuning. I feel the plectrum banjo is appealing to the ears at any tuning.  Chicago tuning works well w/ the plectrum, & some sophisticated music can be made , not just  "introductory"  playing.


Playing guitar tuning is not playing plectrum banjo. It's a tuning for beginners and the lazy. I'm sorry, but that's just the way it is. 

May 23, 2024 - 7:48:16 AM

69 posts since 9/12/2023

quote:
Originally posted by csacwp

CGBD, derived from the 5-string's standard tuning of gCGBD, is the most popular plectrum banjo tuning. It's also the standard tuning.


Something we very much agree on, John. 
 

by the way, this 5 string No6 Ne Plus Ultra I bought from the Vail family is setup with the gCGBD tuning now and that's the only tuning it'll ever use. 

May 23, 2024 - 12:35:47 PM
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Omeboy

USA

3456 posts since 6/27/2013

When you listen to Buddy Wachter, Perry Bechtel, Eddie Peabody, Ken Aoki and Lee Floyd: you are listening to the standard CGBD plectrum tuning. There are a few who have used the Chicago tuning (guitar top four strings) to great effect too. Paul Scavarda is a great example. But if you want that authentic plectrum sound, stick with the standard tuning.

May 24, 2024 - 1:08:40 PM
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345 posts since 1/1/2016

quote:
Originally posted by Juggernaut NPU
quote:
Originally posted by tdennis

The plectrum banjo sounds great, w/ actual sounds & voicings regardless of the tuning. It's in the nature of the instrument to sound beautiful. There is no one "accepted " tuning. I feel the plectrum banjo is appealing to the ears at any tuning.  Chicago tuning works well w/ the plectrum, & some sophisticated music can be made , not just  "introductory"  playing.


Playing guitar tuning is not playing plectrum banjo. It's a tuning for beginners and the lazy. I'm sorry, but that's just the way it is. 


While I agree that "guitar tuning is not playing plectrum banjo", I don't agree with the opinion it's solely for "beginners and the lazy".

In this day and age, we can't afford to lose ANY new "banjo recruit". I don't care if they play a banjo that is guitar (Chicago) tuned plectrum, OR, a ukulele tuned tenor, they are still a banjo playing musician.

I will admit that I am still a bit of a purist and would prefer that someone use CGBD or CGDA tuning respectively, but I also don't care how we get them started and/or converted from another instrument.

I have been sitting in with my local ukulele group to see how many people I can get interested in playing uke tuned tenor banjos. After teaching them to use a pick, with enough of them in a group, you really can't tell the difference. They all strum in unison, have good chord form, and know how to property tune their instruments.

Do I want there to be more Brad Roth's, Steve Peterson's, Bill Lowrey's, Perry Bechtel's and Eddie Peabody's in world, or course. But in the mean time, I'll take what I can get.

Chris

May 24, 2024 - 1:18:16 PM

69 posts since 9/12/2023

quote:
Originally posted by cebracher
quote:
Originally posted by Juggernaut NPU
quote:
Originally posted by tdennis

The plectrum banjo sounds great, w/ actual sounds & voicings regardless of the tuning. It's in the nature of the instrument to sound beautiful. There is no one "accepted " tuning. I feel the plectrum banjo is appealing to the ears at any tuning.  Chicago tuning works well w/ the plectrum, & some sophisticated music can be made , not just  "introductory"  playing.


Playing guitar tuning is not playing plectrum banjo. It's a tuning for beginners and the lazy. I'm sorry, but that's just the way it is. 


While I agree that "guitar tuning is not playing plectrum banjo", I don't agree with the opinion it's solely for "beginners and the lazy".

In this day and age, we can't afford to lose ANY new "banjo recruit". I don't care if they play a banjo that is guitar (Chicago) tuned plectrum, OR, a ukulele tuned tenor, they are still a banjo playing musician.

I will admit that I am still a bit of a purist and would prefer that someone use CGBD or CGDA tuning respectively, but I also don't care how we get them started and/or converted from another instrument.

I have been sitting in with my local ukulele group to see how many people I can get interested in playing uke tuned tenor banjos. After teaching them to use a pick, with enough of them in a group, you really can't tell the difference. They all strum in unison, have good chord form, and know how to property tune their instruments.

Do I want there to be more Brad Roth's, Steve Peterson's, Bill Lowrey's, Perry Bechtel's and Eddie Peabody's in world, or course. But in the mean time, I'll take what I can get.

Chris


Oh, I agree that it is a great introductory tuning.  But it really is only that. 
 

We need as many players as possible, but eventually we need them to fully commit to the instrument and its proper tunings. 
 

You know how passionate I am, Chris.

 

Jack 

May 24, 2024 - 1:57:02 PM
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sethb

USA

723 posts since 2/16/2005

I don't know how other players feel about this, but for me, it's hard enough to learn and become familiar with all the basic fingerings, variations and inversions up the neck for one particular tuning, let alone trying to then learn one or more other tunings.  At least for me, there's too many years of brain cells and muscle memory built into my CGBD tuning, and I don't want to lose or confuse that with some other tuning.

So I think potential new banjo players, especially those who aren't coming to the banjo from another instrument like a uke or guitar, ought to carefully consider what tuning they want to use.  I'm not sure I like the idea of starting off with a "starter" tuning and then going on later to some other tuning, for the reasons I've given.  SETH

Edited by - sethb on 05/24/2024 13:57:57

May 24, 2024 - 5:44:43 PM

69 posts since 9/12/2023

quote:
Originally posted by sethb

I don't know how other players feel about this, but for me, it's hard enough to learn and become familiar with all the basic fingerings, variations and inversions up the neck for one particular tuning, let alone trying to then learn one or more other tunings.  At least for me, there's too many years of brain cells and muscle memory built into my CGBD tuning, and I don't want to lose or confuse that with some other tuning.

So I think potential new banjo players, especially those who aren't coming to the banjo from another instrument like a uke or guitar, ought to carefully consider what tuning they want to use.  I'm not sure I like the idea of starting off with a "starter" tuning and then going on later to some other tuning, for the reasons I've given.  SETH

 


I learned that way. I play over 50 instruments including woodwind and brass. Upright bass was first and then mandolin and then guitar, and then from guitar I learned 5 string, plectrum, and tenor banjo using tunings I knew first, but of course went on to play the proper tunings and am a huge proponent for proper tunings. 
 

I now at 35 years old score films and television for a living, playing said instruments. 
 

I think relating is fine to learn, but you must eventually man up and use the correct tuning otherwise you're never really a plectrum banjo player, you're just a frustrated guitar player or frustrated 5 string player. 

May 24, 2024 - 6:37:27 PM
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3359 posts since 3/30/2008

Jughead NPU, You sound like a very accomplished musician, with a very narrow view. Banjo playing is not a religion, & there is no need to enforce any orthodoxy. There is standard tuning, & there are alternative tunings. I see no need to downgrade, insult & pontificate about the one correct voicing of an instrument. Using alternative tunings is not easy or cheating or false artistry.

May 24, 2024 - 7:57:02 PM
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69 posts since 9/12/2023

quote:
Originally posted by tdennis

Jughead NPU, You sound like a very accomplished musician, with a very narrow view. Banjo playing is not a religion, & there is no need to enforce any orthodoxy. There is standard tuning, & there are alternative tunings. I see no need to downgrade, insult & pontificate about the one correct voicing of an instrument. Using alternative tunings is not easy or cheating or false artistry.


I don't have a narrow view, but I believe that anything worth doing is worth doing right. 
 

Being a music educator in a past life, I taught my students not to take short cuts just because they were easier.
 

Guitar tuning is limiting on a plectrum banjo, the range isn't there. The overtones don't ring out because the plectrum banjo tuning of CGBD follows the overtone series and it's very important to the instrument to be able to play like a piano in regards to inversions and chord melody. 
 

im sure you get a great sound out of the banjo in guitar tuning, but I know that you'd get a better sound out of plectrum banjo tuning. 

May 24, 2024 - 7:58:05 PM
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69 posts since 9/12/2023

quote:
Originally posted by tdennis

Jughead NPU, You sound like a very accomplished musician, with a very narrow view. Banjo playing is not a religion, & there is no need to enforce any orthodoxy. There is standard tuning, & there are alternative tunings. I see no need to downgrade, insult & pontificate about the one correct voicing of an instrument. Using alternative tunings is not easy or cheating or false artistry.


If you're a guitar player and you tune your banjo like a guitar, yes, it is easy. You're learning nothing new. Sure, you're fooling some people, but you're cheating yourself. 

May 25, 2024 - 5:19:19 PM
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6 posts since 1/15/2024

quote:
Originally posted by Juggernaut NPU
Guitar tuning is limiting on a plectrum banjo, the range isn't there. The overtones don't ring out because the plectrum banjo tuning of CGBD follows the overtone series and it's very important to the instrument to be able to play like a piano in regards to inversions and chord melody. 

Could you give me some examples? Genuinely curious. I understand how plectrum vs tenor tuning makes a difference, given the fifths intervals, but CGBD, DGBD, and DGBE all seem very similar in terms of range, intervals, and the chord shapes available. I do think the low C sounds quite nice on the banjo.

May 29, 2024 - 10:14:49 AM

1 posts since 5/29/2024

CGBD here, since I started playing in 1987 at the age of 13, to be in the rhythm section of my school's 7-piece jazz band (mostly New Orleans and Chicago style).

I started on a cheap 5-string (drop C) with the 5th string removed, then as I got more proficient and needed more volume, I saved my holiday job earnings bought a half-decent Aria tenor for more punchy acoustic strumming. I kept that tuning, as whilst I knew CGDA was "correct" for tenor and I had a go at it, it didn't have the versatility of CGBD that I needed for variously strumming/plucking/fingerstyle.

After improving my techniques for better solos and more harmonic interaction with other band members (so not just rhythm anymore), I later (finally!) bought a plectrum banjo, where the CGBD tuning is perfect for my needs, and it's a huge amount of fun.

Now 50, I'm still learning new methods and experimenting with tunings in different scenarios. I do play guitar, but Chicago to me doesn't quite cut the mustard, for similar reasons outlined by other posters above.

I agree that to get started it doesn't matter which tuning you use, but the purist in me likes to think that as skills and experience develop, you realise there's a reason for the sound that you're producing, so it's worth making the effort to use a tuning that is intended for the instrument and material. But try to be competent in a few tunings then play whichever your ears enjoy most.

May 29, 2024 - 1:30:15 PM

3514 posts since 4/19/2008

I've posted this before, the local Musicians Union would not accept anyone as a plectrum banjo player if they did not use plectrum tuning. They said they didn't want anybody that was just a guitar player, using the top four strings and holding a plectrum, they wanted somebody playing the plectrum and could read plectrum music.

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