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Author Topic: Calling banjo players  (Read 16026 times)

Tom

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Calling banjo players
« on: November 28, 2012, 12:04:31 PM »
I enjoy the sound from my banjo uke, and it's spawned an itch to play a 'regular' banjo. Of course, there's no such thing, but my limited research suggests I should be looking for a tenor banjo, plectrum banjo, or possibly an Irish tenor, all 4-string instruments.

Any banjo players here with words of wisdom?

TIA?
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SeilerBird

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Re: Calling banjo players
« Reply #1 on: November 28, 2012, 12:23:16 PM »
I can't help you with this one Tom, a banjo is probably the only string instrument I have never played. Looks like fun though.
I would like to apologize to anyone I have not yet offended. Please be patient and I will get to you shortly.
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gwcowgill

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Re: Calling banjo players
« Reply #2 on: November 28, 2012, 01:09:23 PM »
I have a tenor banjo and love the sound. I have been trying for 30 years to learn to play it. It kinda gathers dust now. Good luck on finding the one you like.  Shop around till you hear the one you like.
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Tom

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Re: Calling banjo players
« Reply #3 on: November 28, 2012, 02:33:59 PM »
Quote
... a banjo is probably the only string instrument I have never played.

Hi Tom,

There are 6-string banjos which, apparently, are relatively easy for guitar players to play. However, I haven't graduated beyond 4 strings, so I'll be sticking with a 4-string banjo.
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Tom

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Re: Calling banjo players
« Reply #4 on: November 28, 2012, 02:56:15 PM »
Quote
Shop around till you hear the one you like.

Aye, good advice; I'm still in the research mode, and probably won't be buying a banjo for a while. I may even buy a "heavy" banjo ukulele first. My banjo uke, a Firefly from Flea market Music, is a featherweight - no metal and an open back (no resonator). This YouTube video gives some idea of what it sounds like; You can tell that it lacks metal in its construction.

By comparison, here's a demo of a modestly priced banjo uke by Eddie Finn that readily demonstrates the difference in sound (skip to 09:00 to bypass the guy's chatter).
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gwcowgill

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Re: Calling banjo players
« Reply #5 on: November 28, 2012, 03:09:17 PM »
I have a 5 string Banjo which honestly I still can't play well. Trouble is I read music and at one time I could play all the brass instruments. Haven't played in years even though I still have the desire at times.
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SeilerBird

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Re: Calling banjo players
« Reply #6 on: November 28, 2012, 03:51:20 PM »
There are 6-string banjos which, apparently, are relatively easy for guitar players to play. However, I haven't graduated beyond 4 strings, so I'll be sticking with a 4-string banjo.
My problem is that I am maxed out for the number of instruments I can own. I just don't have any room for any more instruments.
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Jammer

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Re: Calling banjo players
« Reply #7 on: November 28, 2012, 04:00:24 PM »
I enjoy the sound from my banjo uke, and it's spawned an itch to play a 'regular' banjo. Of course, there's no such thing, but my limited research suggests I should be looking for a tenor banjo, plectrum banjo, or possibly an Irish tenor, all 4-string instruments.

Any banjo players here with words of wisdom?

TIA?

Much depends on what you intend to play.  Bluegrass really requires a 5-string banjo with (g)-C-G-B-D tuning, which lends itself well to the use of finger picks.  Dixieland and some traditional folk styles use the 4-string instruments you describe, and are more typically played with a flat pick.

The original intent behind the design of the banjo was to make it loud, an objective which was indeed accomplished.  That's a blessing or a curse depending on the situation, but you'll drown out other acoustic instruments except the accordion and maybe the brass section.

I played banjo when I was much younger, and though I remember the notes and the chords, have moved on to other musical pursuits. 
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Tom

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Re: Calling banjo players
« Reply #8 on: November 28, 2012, 04:15:12 PM »
Thanks Jammer. That's pretty much what my limited research has turned up. I don't plan to play bluegrass, which was why I was looking at 4-string banjos. I really need to pick up an instrument and (try to) play it. I received several offers to "come try" today from a friend and from my favorite music store.

FWIW the 'friend' is the founder of our uke group. Some years ago he founded a bankjo banjo band which eventually grew to 100 players. I suspect they made a lot of noise!
« Last Edit: April 09, 2013, 10:12:58 AM by Tom »
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Jammer

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Re: Calling banjo players
« Reply #9 on: November 28, 2012, 04:24:10 PM »
Thanks Jammer. That's pretty much what my limited research has turned up. I don't plan to play bluegrass, which was why I was looking at 4-string banjos. I really need to pick up an instrument and (try to) play it. I received several offers to "come try" today from a friend and from my favorite music store.

The real difference, compared to guitar-like instruments (like the uke), is that banjos don't have any sustain to speak of.  That is a consequence of their loudness, which results in a more rapid removal of energy from the plucked string than occurs in a guitar.  Playing wise it means that the repeated notes and rapid arpeggiated passages that are so closely associated with the banjo are just as much a practical necessity as a stylistic affectation.  Given that necessity it is difficult indeed to cultivate subtlety or a diverse tonal palette, which IMO is why some people dislike the instrument.

Quote
FWIW the 'friend' is the founder of our uke group. Some years ago he founded a bankjo band which eventually grew to 100 players. I suspect they made a lot of noise!

Well, like the accordion, the banjo is a powerful instrument.  With great power comes great responsibility.
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Tom

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Re: Calling banjo players
« Reply #10 on: December 01, 2012, 05:58:20 PM »
Quote
.... probably won't be buying a banjo for a while. I may even buy a "heavy" banjo ukulele first.

One of our newcomers to the band caught me in my favorite uke store and snapped this picture of me trying out my new banjo uke. The longer neck and better spaced frets make this concert size easier for me to play than my soprano size Firefly. It also produces a lot more sound than the Firefly. I hadn't thought about how I'd dispose of the Firefly but, when the store owner offered to take it in trade for close to what I paid for it a year ago (at this store), it was a done deal.
« Last Edit: December 01, 2012, 06:01:48 PM by Tom »
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PancakeBill

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Re: Calling banjo players
« Reply #11 on: December 01, 2012, 08:20:50 PM »
Banjos have even better jokes than ukes, drums and accordians. 

Hear about the guy that left his banjo in the car and forgot to lock it?  He came back and there were 2 banjos!

Banjo player with no girlfriend?  Homeless.

The 5 string is tuned to open G, same as my Dobro.  I can pick up a banjo and pick a little.  We don't press strings to frets though, so a little tricker for my fingers.

Bluegrass is life.
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Tom

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Re: Calling banjo players
« Reply #12 on: December 01, 2012, 09:18:12 PM »
I saw an interesting dobro in the store today Bill; Not like anything I've seen before, and I wish I'd taken a picture of it.
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PancakeBill

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Re: Calling banjo players
« Reply #13 on: December 02, 2012, 09:47:30 AM »
Might have been a Weissenborn. Has a hollow neck, sleeker looking more of a bass fiddle shaped body?
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garyb1st

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Re: Calling banjo players
« Reply #14 on: December 02, 2012, 10:04:56 AM »
Give us a heads up on your next concert.  We're only a 10 hour drive South.   
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Tom

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Re: Calling banjo players
« Reply #15 on: December 02, 2012, 10:52:31 AM »
Bill, it wasn't a hand-held instrument, which was what caught my attention. I was probably using the wrong term, and it could be a dulcimer. OTOH it didn't look quite like  THIS. The instrument was more vertical, and the strings were vertical. I'm curious, and Ill research a little more to see if I can find a picture.
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Tom

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Re: Calling banjo players
« Reply #16 on: December 02, 2012, 10:59:25 AM »
Quote from: garyb1st
Give us a heads up on your next concert..

Will do Gary. We're currently planning/negotiating concerts for 2013. Remaining performances for 2012 are for residents of assisted-living facilities and a vision-impaired facility.
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PancakeBill

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Re: Calling banjo players
« Reply #17 on: December 02, 2012, 11:29:22 AM »
That is called a hammered dulcimer, how about mountain dulcimer? 
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Tom

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Re: Calling banjo players
« Reply #18 on: December 02, 2012, 12:03:29 PM »
IIRC a mountain dulcimer was played by one of our forum members (Dave?) at a Moab rally - something like this:
http://www.smokeymountaindulcimer.com/dulcimers.htm
Played on his lap, and nothing like what I'm doing a lousy job of describing.
« Last Edit: December 02, 2012, 12:11:17 PM by Tom »
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PancakeBill

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Re: Calling banjo players
« Reply #19 on: December 02, 2012, 06:59:56 PM »
Did it have a guitar type body and a neck?

Do you know what a dobro looks like?
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Tom

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Re: Calling banjo players
« Reply #20 on: December 02, 2012, 07:28:27 PM »
Quote
Did it have a guitar type body and a neck?

Neither. The best way I could describe it is it looked like a book standing upright and opened almost flat. Reminded me of the music open in front of a church organist, but it wasn't made of paper or card. The "strings" were vertical. I wasn't really paying attention, otherwise I'd have snapped a picture. I looked through the various pics I took in the store, and it doesn't show up.

Quote
Do you know what a dobro looks like?

Only from the photos I've seen online. As I said, I mis-labeled it as a dobro.
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SeilerBird

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Re: Calling banjo players
« Reply #21 on: December 02, 2012, 07:34:15 PM »
...a banjo is probably the only string instrument I have never played.
I was watching a Marx Brothers movie today and realized I was wrong. There are two stringed instruments I have not played, the banjo and the harp.
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Tom

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Re: Calling banjo players
« Reply #22 on: December 02, 2012, 07:41:46 PM »
I can't imagine playing a harp, although it was an integral part of musical culture in the old country. More correctly, it was the triple harp.
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SeilerBird

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Re: Calling banjo players
« Reply #23 on: December 02, 2012, 08:27:17 PM »
Actually I think the harp would be easy to play. Basic harps are tuned chromatically so every note is in harmony with every other note. The ones with three registers and a bunch of pedals would obviously be a lot harder. It is kind of like a harmonica that is tuned chromatically, they are easy to play. Next time I am in a music store I will try one out and see how easy or hard it is.
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Re: Calling banjo players
« Reply #24 on: December 02, 2012, 08:44:30 PM »
Way beyond my mental or physical capability.

Talking of physical stuff, I've repeatedly tried and failed to play that Bb (guitar F) chord. I've researched alternatives numerous times, and always came up blank (except for even more challenging fingering). I was recently at the home of our guitar player and we both came to conclusion that this was anatomically not possible for me. We discussed the possibility of using a capo, and I started to write out all the alternate fingering for various chords.

Shortly sfterwards, I called our music director to discuss what I was planning (I've seen him use a capo with a guitar numerous times). He thought about it, called me back, and told me not to use a capo; He had a "better alternative". Sure enough, as I pulled into a non-musical event last Saturday, he pulled in next to me, jumped out, and proceeded to show me what to play instead.
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PancakeBill

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Re: Calling banjo players
« Reply #25 on: December 02, 2012, 09:08:42 PM »
Did you leave the flat third out?
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Tom

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Re: Calling banjo players
« Reply #26 on: December 02, 2012, 09:43:02 PM »
Bill, the first (easiest) cheater chord is to finger just the bottom two strings on the first fret. Then "progress" to a slightly better option - drop the ring finger onto the third string, second fret. All three chords sound close enough to the same, and the cheater chords just blend in when everyone else is playing the correct chord. A big relief for me, because I've been beating myself up for almost 18 months over this.
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SeilerBird

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Re: Calling banjo players
« Reply #27 on: December 02, 2012, 10:00:22 PM »
The guitar chord you are talking about, Bb (F guitar), has many different ways of fingering it successfully. If you cannot achieve one fingering then try out other fingerings.

The Bb is composed of 3 notes. Bb, D and F. If you just finger the first two stings of the uke at the first fret you are playing Bb and F, the first and fifth notes of the Bb scale. It is perfectly acceptable to play just those two notes instead of the entire chord. That isn't cheating. If you play the D on the third string second fret then you are playing all three notes of the chord and that is great. Adding the low Bb is a nice touch but not necessary for the chord to be complete.

BTW - Are you keeping your left arm out away your body or is it close to your body? If it is too close to your body the F (guitar) chord becomes impossible to play. The uke or guitar should not be parallel to your body, it should be at a 45 degree angle to your body.
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99WinAdventurer37G

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Re: Calling banjo players
« Reply #28 on: December 02, 2012, 10:05:16 PM »
When I was a kid, my folks took us to see Eddie Peabody play.  The things he could do with that banjo just amazed me.  I've enjoyed listening to the music ever since.  Now, with Steve Martin playing, I've been listening to a lot more of it.  I tried playing back then, but as with all the other instruments, sports were more of a passion, so I never learned how to play.  I play many kinds of stereos real well though.   
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Tom

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Re: Calling banjo players
« Reply #29 on: December 02, 2012, 10:28:53 PM »
Quote
If you cannot achieve one fingering then try out other fingerings.

I've tried several different ones, and the alternatives are even harder (for me).

Quote
Are you keeping your left arm out away your body or is it close to your body?

Pretty much per your previous suggestions, although it does take some conscious effort on my part, as does moving my thumb behind the neck to increase pressure and keep the forefinger down, whether it's pressing two strings or barre'ing four (same thing for Bb in ukese).
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