[Dixielandjazz] More on banjo's

John Mumford john at jazzbanjo.com
Sat Mar 5 13:57:21 PST 2005


A 5-string is similar to a plectrum. They both have 22 frets and three of 
the strings are tuned the same (if you are using the standard tuning for the 
instrument). The 5-string has a low 4th string that is a "D" and the 
plectrum has a low string that is a "C".

There is more to playing a solo than just picking a single string melody. 
The 5-string was a very popular instrument in the late 1800s and early 
1900s. It was played finger style that gave it a different style than the 
bluegrass you hear today. Chord melody can be played on any type of banjo 
whether it be a 4-string, 6-string, mandolin banjo, uke banjo. Everybody 
thinks the 4-string banjo should be played like Eddie Peabody, who really 
perfected the chord melody style, and that is not the only way to play it. 
Using finger picks to pick strings simultaneously, as opposed to a flat pick 
strumming multiple strings creates a different sound. I play songs like 
Satin Doll, Slipped Disc and Ain't Misbehaving on the 5-string because it 
gives more of a swing feel than playing it on the plectrum (which I could 
easily play chord melody if I wanted to). There are also songs I play on the 
plectrum that I don't like on the 5-string as well.

Now if banjo players only want to copy the banjoists of the past then you 
should include in this discussion some of the players that played a 6-string 
banjo tuned to guitar tuning. They would emphasize the base line notes on 
the lower strings. This style is completely different than that of a 
4-string or 5-string banjo. Listen to Johnny St. Cyr, Clancy Hayes, Danny 
Barker and "Papa" Charlie Jackson.

The tenor and plectrum are usually the banjo of choice for a "trad" jazz 
band because strumming provides percussion, rhythm and chords for the front 
line. This is a whole new topic for discussion. How should the rhythm be 
played - straight fours or something else. I hear a lot of banjo players 
adding up-strokes between the beats. To me this is stealing space that the 
soloist wants for their solo.

John Mumford

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Craig I. Johnson" <civanj at adelphia.net>

> Why would I have to go to a five string to get a single note picking solo?
> I've heard a number of 4-string banjo players do it. And wouldn't a 
> plectrum
> (4 string) be the same thing as picking a 5 ignoring the drone string?
> (Not putting down 5-string, I love 'em, but the comment just didn't sound
> right)
> Craig 

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