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PostPosted: Sat Oct 15, 2005 11:03 am 
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I've read the www.irish-banjo.com page, but I'm still not sure why 5 strings banjos aren't used more in ITM. I was at a session this week with an irish fellow who lives in St. Louis. He played a 5 string finger picking the melody with the first two fingers and his thumb. He played phenomanlly well, and he played faster than the tempo I often play reels and jigs at. It sounded great.

Yet reading several internet pages, it talks about the scale not being right for 5 string to easily play ITM and you have to shift hand position. What does that mean? I've played mandolin and guitar in the past, and on guitar you did when playing pure melody have to move up the neck of the guitar from time to time, but the notes are in a scale and that didn't seem difficult.

Also, isn't it possible to tune the strings and capo to attain the irish tenor banjo tuning? The irish-banjo page says you can, but mentions it's harder to keep in tune. Is that different on a banjo than a guitar? I didn't notice such problem when I capo'd my guitar.

I'm just thinking of exploring the world of banjos, but I'd like something to be able to play ITM and american folk on...and I'm not sure which would be more versatile. I know you can play chords on a tenor banjo, but several sites say it's much louder than a 5 string...which I don't want to drown out my wife and her guitar playing and singing on folk tunes. Yet, having most recently played a mandolin, a tenor's tuning would lead to s shorter learning curve.

Help!

Thanks,

Eric


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PostPosted: Sat Oct 15, 2005 11:34 am 
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Jayhawk wrote:
I was at a session this week with an irish fellow who lives in St. Louis. He played a 5 string finger picking the melody with the first two fingers and his thumb. He played phenomanlly well, and he played faster than the tempo I often play reels and jigs at. It sounded great.


Was it Chris Grotewohl? I think he lives in that area somewhere. He's been playing the banjo for a long time. I think he started with bluegrass and worked his way into Irish music from that. Playing that style isn't very easy and the 5th string isn't really necessary since it's very much like using a flat pick.

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"Yet reading several internet pages, it talks about the scale not being right for 5 string to easily play ITM and you have to shift hand position. What does that mean?


The 5-string Irish players that I've seen who use the single-string style keep their banjos tuned DGBD. This puts the high B on the 9th fret which is quite a stretch and it's impossible to reach it if you don't shift your whole hand up there. On a tenor banjo the stretch isn't so great, although it's still considerable on a 19 fret instrument.


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Also, isn't it possible to tune the strings and capo to attain the irish tenor banjo tuning? The irish-banjo page says you can, but mentions it's harder to keep in tune. Is that different on a banjo than a guitar? I didn't notice such problem when I capo'd my guitar.


Yes, it's possible. I don't know about keeping it in tune but tenor banjo tuning is not very compatible with folk playing-at least not the way it's traditionally done.

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I'm just thinking of exploring the world of banjos, but I'd like something to be able to play ITM and american folk on...and I'm not sure which would be more versatile. I know you can play chords on a tenor banjo, but several sites say it's much louder than a 5 string...which I don't want to drown out my wife and her guitar playing and singing on folk tunes. Yet, having most recently played a mandolin, a tenor's tuning would lead to s shorter learning curve.


It generally is louder than a 5-string. A tenor without a resonator would probably not be as loud as one with a resonator. Also if there is no resonator you can stuff a rag inside which will quieten it a bit. You would doubtless learn tenor more quickly than single-string 5-string playing. If you don't want to drown out your wife and yet want a lower picth instrument to accompany her, an octave mandolin would work. But it won't cut through in an ITM session.

There's a guy who comes to a session here who has a 5-string and just shifts to playing it with a flat pick when he wants to play a tune. He keeps it in standard G tuning. You still have the problem of shifting your hand but if you are used to doing it on the guitar it might not be a big problem.

Good luck on whatever you choose.


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PostPosted: Sat Oct 15, 2005 11:56 am 
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Steve - thanks for the quick reply! It wasn't Chris (he lives in KC, but I've not played with him before). This fellow was named Jerry and started off as a guitar player in Ireland but shifted to bluegrass banjo here...then after not playing ITM for quite some time just started using the 5 string because "if Bela Fleck could, why couldn't I?"

While I haven't done it in some years, I was quite used to shifting the hand up the neck to reach the upper notes on guitar. I'd think the biggest problem would be octave jumps like in Gravel Walks.

I may end up with the 5 string just because it sounds like it might be a bit quieter and more versatile - especially for accompany type playing. I think using a flat pick or finger picking would be the only way I'd imagine trying to play ITM.

I've never understood why tenor banjo wasn't more used in american folk music. Granted, bluegrass style playing wouldn't be possible, but it's the same scale as a mandolin or fiddle so it seems like it could simply be played as a melody instrument...but maybe it'd be like a piano accordion in ITM - simply viewed as different.

Any other opinions on this?

Eric


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PostPosted: Sat Oct 15, 2005 12:28 pm 
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Eric --

Ken Perlman has done some work using 5-string for Canadian maritime tunes, so this might be of some help:

http://www.kenperlman.com/northernbanjo.htm

My pretty much uninformed opinion is that you'd find the 5-string more useful for Irish trad than the tenor for old-time.


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PostPosted: Sat Oct 15, 2005 1:25 pm 
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For me, the main problem with the 5-string is that playing up the neck in D major and E dorian hasn't become intuitive. A fair number of tunes require a ninth-fret C#, too. You'll defintely spend a fair amount of time up the neck, and your little finger will get a good workout, too.

If I were going to specialize in 5-string for ITM, I think I could do it, but it's more trouble than it's worth in my situation. Tuning in fifths (as with the tenor banjo) makes much more sense for ITM.

Another possibility--especially if you mostly want to play melody and already play guitar--is guitar banjo. The only ones I've played, other than The Weekender's wonderful vintage open-back, are Deerings. Of those, I liked the Deluxe (D-6) a lot better than the Boston (B-6). My local guitar shop has a B-6, and I think it's a mistake to have a rough-side-out head, as I drag my little finger when I play, and it's really noisy.

Now that I've found my homemade banjolin, I'm considering switching to an old electric guitar neck that I have laying around. It looks like it will fit perfectly. The banjo shell is a cheap alumninum one, a little harsh, but maybe a Fiberskyn head would help. Also, the shell doesn't have a flange to hold the resonator, just removeable brackets, so it can be an open-back if I like. I might even consider nylon strings. I'll need a new tailpiece for it, though. Anyone know where I might get one of those?

By the way, when I was taking classes at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, back in 1961 (filling out a semester after flunking out of college), one of the students in my design class stuck a Fender guitar neck on a snare drum and put a banjo-style bridge on it. If you're not familiar with that drum, it has a set of "snares" (wire-wrapped strings, I think) stretched across the bottom head. They lay on the head and vibrate against it, causing quite a bit of white noise. There's a lever on the side of the drum that can be flipped to raise the snares off the head. In order to get more sound out of it, he had cut or punched a group of five or six half-inch holes in the top, off to one side. He fingerpicked ragtime songs, and would play breaks with the snares raised, then drop them for chording while he sang. It was very cool--sounded like a whole band with the snares goin'. (I was really jealous of this guy, Frank, because he was spending a lot of time hanging out with Lightnin' Hopkins--or so he claimed. He played some of the right stuff, so I kinda believed him.)

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PostPosted: Sat Oct 15, 2005 9:14 pm 
You can tune a 5 string into semi Tenor tuning - and play it with a pick - but you cannot likeways tune a Tenor into '5 string' tuning and play it as a 5 string.

A simple 5 string crossover tuning is C G d d capoed to fret 2, that would then be D A e e. It covers mostly all the notes on a Flute or TW and allows a novice to quickly and easily reach the high a's, b's and c's that occur in B parts of Itrad tunes.

Otherwise the most accurate style would be Clawhammer which is not a picking style.

Last is the melodic fingerpicked method which to be fair can sound very nice but against a good plectrum player sounds weak. BTW any good plectrum player can make the Tenor sound just like a Bluegrass Banjo, but the opposite cannot be done; - simply because, it is virtually impossible to combine down and up string attack, and absolutely impossible to do that in a roll or decoration. In fact, you'd have to both frail and pick in the same stroke which is not possible given todays technology.

For the record 'Melbay' MAY NOT copy any part of this posting nor include any method/s published here for sale and/or profit .


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 18, 2005 9:51 am 
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There is far too much information on banjo on the web. Let me see how well I understand the issues/problems with using a 5 string banjo for ITM:

1) It's normally played for bluegrass/Appalachian music in clawhammer or flailling style, so there is the image issue.

2) If you ignore or remove the 5th string, you have a plectrum banjo if you tune it as such. Also, it's possible to tune to GDAE with the 4 strings, right?

3) If you can retune to GDAE what would make it more difficult to play ITM on than a tenor? Is it simply the length of the neck?

4) Regardless of the tuning, you can play melody using the single string method. The main issue with this is simply having to shift the hand up and down the neck to hit certain notes, right?

Hopefully answers to the above will help me decide which way to go. Money is an issue, and where I live 5 string banjos fall out of everyone's attic whereas tenors are as rare as wooden flutes in my local antique shops (never seen one). Obviously, I'm contemplating buying a 5 string but playing as a plectrum tuned to GDAE...if that's possible.

Thanks,

Eric


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 18, 2005 10:06 am 
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"Jayhawk"

1) It's normally played for bluegrass/Appalachian music in clawhammer or flailling style, so there is the image issue.

Bluegrass style is often called Scruggs style and it's a different style from clawhammer. Since I play clawhammer, I have no problem with the image. The word frailing is customarily used, not flailing, although that's sometimes appropriate.

2) If you ignore or remove the 5th string, you have a plectrum banjo if you tune it as such. Also, it's possible to tune to GDAE with the 4 strings, right?

It's possible but you'd need a different set of strings. The bottom G is too low for normal banjo strings and the D is likely too low too.

3) If you can retune to GDAE what would make it more difficult to play ITM on than a tenor? Is it simply the length of the neck?

Yes. The length of the neck.

4) Regardless of the tuning, you can play melody using the single string method. The main issue with this is simply having to shift the hand up and down the neck to hit certain notes, right?

Yes, but you have to do that to a certain extent on a tenor-particularly an 19 fret tenor. Joseph Sobol plays a sort of single string style except that he uses three fingers plus thumb and keeps uses the tuning aDADE. This is similar to a guitar/cittern tuning DADADE (or CGCGCD). Joseph is a great cittern player and has a CD called citternalia which has some banjo on it.


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 18, 2005 11:40 am 
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Steve - thanks so much for your help (and everyone elses in this thread). By image, it wasn't meant as negative to either bluegrass or clawhammer style but rather what I meant was having to deal with folks at an Irish session saying it's the wrong instrument for ITM (similar to the piano accordion - I've heard wonderfully played ITM on PA that sounded perfect, the player stated he often had to show people it was possible because their image of ITM didn't include PA).

I found a page with suggested string gauges on irish-banjo.com for plectrum banjo tuned down to GDAE. Irish-banjo also mentions the mellow tone of such a tuning which would be a plus for practicing around the house...I think I'm going to go ramble over to our local folk music store this weekend and play around with 5 string banjos and see what I think.

Then again, after all this talk they'll end up having a used tenor or actual plectrum banjo in their inventory...

Eric


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 18, 2005 2:38 pm 
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Remember that if you restring it to make it work better for ITM, you probably won't be able to tune it to anything that works well for Old-Timey or Bluegrass. You don't want to have to restring it every time you switch to a different kind of music.

On the other hand, you might come up with something entirely new playing it as a 5-string.

As far as image goes, Margaret Barry played 5-string. Unfortunately, you can't get too much out of the sound clips on Amazon.com.

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PostPosted: Tue Oct 18, 2005 2:58 pm 
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I recently played at a session where a guy had taken a 5-string banjo with a broken neck (making for a nice short scale), made a new headstock, and strung it as a 5-string Irish tenor: G-D-A-E-B, so he didn't have to reach up the neck to hit the high B. Quite the elegant (and unique) solution.


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 18, 2005 4:42 pm 
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Darwin wrote:
Remember that if you restring it to make it work better for ITM, you probably won't be able to tune it to anything that works well for Old-Timey or Bluegrass.


Both old time and bluegrass use tunings that consist of an open chord or something close to an open chord. gDGBD and aDADE (gCGCD capo'd) are very common tunings for the keys of G and D. If you are going to play chords exclusively when you are playing folky stuff, it might not be much of a problem if you tune it like a tenor banjo. I'm wondering how that would sound, though, if you were going to play tunes using clawhammer or bluegrass style. You could, of course, experiment with other tunings which are close to GDAE such as ADAD or GDBD.


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 18, 2005 6:21 pm 
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Darwin - you're right that retuning and restringing would prohibit easy switching between styles. My current plans are to mainly play ITM session tunes and perhaps strum chords as back-up for my wife when she's singing and playing guitar...I'm thinking that would be OK with GDAE tuning.

But the advantage (apart from being cheap) of getting a 5 string is that if I decide I'd prefer to play bluegrass or old-time music I could...albeit with a little work to change the tuning and strings.

Heck, maybe I'll just try picking out the tunes with standard banjo tuning at first to see what I think of that!

Eric


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PostPosted: Sun Oct 23, 2005 5:14 pm 
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i'm going to add my own comments and then work backwards through the string:
The 5 string tuned to "adade" is a reasonable alternative for ITM. You can achieve this by tuning as mentioned by others or by tuning GCGCD, and then capo on second and tune the 5th string up. the advantage of that is less stress on the neck and a very easy tunedown to play along with flat pipes in C. however, unless the intonation of your instrument is excellent, you will be more in tune with the no-capo approach. either way this is one of the 2 tunings that stevek mentioned. it kind of rings like dadgad, so it will feel familiar.
with this tuning you have a scale identical to a D whistle (low whistle, techcnically). there are lost of tunes that don't go above A, and you are in great shape for those. yes, to go above you have to go up the neck, but this can be practiced, i am told. so you have an instument with the range a whistle, more or less, but chromatic and tunable to other situations.
it is certainly not "traditional" but it sounds great when perlmen and others do it well.
regarding right hand work, i think you can either clawhammer or scruggs. they are very different but both sound great.
btw, lots of old time tunes are not that different in range and structure from ITM. i could refer you to some examples if you want.
the fifth string is a drone, and we know about those in ITM. iyou can ignore it, or you can incorporate it- both scuggs and clawhammer teach you how to do thatl.
let me know what you decide.

meir


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PostPosted: Sun Oct 23, 2005 6:40 pm 
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Hi Meir,

when I went to my local folk music store, they had no new Irish tenors but three antique tenor banjos...I bought an anonymous 17 fret tenor and have restrung it to GDAE. Unfortunately, I haven't touched my flutes since I've had the banjo at home :oops: . My fingers are slowly starting to remember my brief romance I had with the mandolin, so I can already play some jigs and reels...very, painfully, slowly.

Eric


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