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PostPosted: Tue Nov 20, 2007 11:51 pm 
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Location: Roanoke, Va. usa
Hello, All.

I'm brand new here. What a great forum. I've been nosing around and this seems a fun place full of friendly souls.

If I could do a bit of background before I ask my question(s)...

I have played music for over 30 years. Punk rock guitar and bass and drums, then discovered a huge love for Old Time (pre- World War 2) music about 15 years ago. 1880s-1940 or so-- ragtime, Vaudeville, rural blues, hot jazz, early stringband country, Hawaiian music, etc.

I gave up electric instruments and went to acoustic guitar, dabbled in 5-string banjo, mandolin and fiddle.

These days I play guitar and ukulele.

For a few years, I yearned for a tenor guitar and tenor banjo. My hands are bothering me when I play my 6-string, so I was hoping for something a little easier and different/not as common as your typical 6 string acoustic guitar.

I recently acquired both a tenor guitar and a tenor banjo. I was intent on learning how to play them in the original CGDA tuning. But it is giving me fits.

Even more recently, I have become increasingly enamored of ITM and older folk musics of the British Isles. My wife is of Scottish descent, but has a real fondness for Irish traditional music.

So, I admit I don't have a great deal of knowledge regarding ITM. I like what I have heard and am very interested in hearing more, especially that material recorded prior to WW2. I will have to start another thread to get help finding my way to recordings of that type.

Okay, to the question:

the CGDA tuning is killing me. Nothing sounds "right" somehow-- the chords sound off. I realize the tenor guitar and banjo are fifths-tuned, unlike the guitar and ukulele, and I am familiar enough with stringed instruments to know it's not a tuning or intonation problem. It just doesn't seem right somehow. Plus, I can't use it to accompany myself singing. It seems to hit in a different range or something...I find it hard to explain.

At any rate, I would love to hear some thoughts/advice/suggestions from any banjo players out there regarding the relative merits of the CGDA vs. the GDAE tuning for the tenor banjo. I know DGBE (a fourths tuning) is also common with tenor players (guitar and banjo) but I somehow feel I would be admitting defeat if I went that way.

I also understand most people tune GDAE (as a mandloin or fiddle) to play ITM but I wondered if there were any banjo players who used either CGDA or DGBE for ITM.

Thanks for listening. I appreciate any enlightenment anyone might be able to offer.


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PostPosted: Wed Nov 21, 2007 5:01 am 
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Welcome, Griffis :)

Tenor banjo for ITM is commonly tuned GDAE. That tuning is good for tunes in G and D (which covers most ITM), and for fiddle tunes in A. Quite a few sessions will include the odd American tune in A. The tuning was probably mostly popularised by Barney McKenna of The Dubliners, an absolutely brilliant banjo player. Personally, I also prefer the GDAE tuning over CGDA for ITM.

I think Gerry O'Connor plays quite a bit in CGDA, but all the tenor banjo players I know personally use GDAE.

The problem with chords is largely down to the physical characteristics of the instrument. That tuning is at the limit of how low a tenor banjo can really be usefully played - especially the short-scale version. The low G can get really slack and hard to tune and intonate accurately. What's more, the scale length is short, but the bridge doesn't allow compensation in the same way that a mandolin bridge does.

To be blunt, chords on a GDAE tenor are usually going to sound a bit carp. It is really a melody instrument.

You'll find that chord/harmony playing in ITM is a recent development and one not universally embraced. The tradition - especially the dance tunes (jigs, reels etc) - is mostly one of melody instruments playing in unison.

As for using 4ths or "Chicago" tuning, I agree that is admitting defeat. Part of the experience and character of various instruments is learning the tunings and their strengths.

I have a friend (primarily a guitarist) who also plays both tenor banjo and mandolin in guitar DGBE tuning. I don't really consider him a banjo or mandolin player.

Good luck with the banjo.

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PostPosted: Wed Nov 21, 2007 7:20 am 
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Welcome Griffis!

The chords in open fifths tuning don't quite meet expectations for ITM. It has to do with the physical properties of the banjo in fifths tuning (it is playing at its lowest possible range), but also has to do with the 'sound' of certain chord inversions. Even in C tuning where you're up in the instruments proper range, there's something not quite right for ITM. In Dixieland and Tin Pan Alley stuff, these chord inversions sound more appropriate because our ears have an expectation for that sound in those styles, but for ITM they're lacking. ITM is predominantly melodic and the tenor banjo seldom if ever plays chords there.

Consider your ukulele. Its re-entrant tuning just 'sounds' right for Hawaiian music. Lots of other stuff can be played on it, but there's just something perfectly Hawaiian in its character because we expect it to be so. In a similar way there's something about the fifth string of a 5-string banjo that just makes it the Bluegrass sound. I don't know if that makes sense, but it's the only way I know to say it. :D

What little you might gain with Chicago for chording is usually lost for melody playing. The open fifths tuning used on banjo, mandolin, fiddle, and several others brings a unique fingering that is ideal for ITM. Once mastered, the tunes just seem to fall under your fingers in fifths tuning. Chicago tuning can be done melodically of course, but it's rather clumsy compared to fifths. The tunes themselves developed around the fiddle's tuning, and that fingering is naturally most efficient for the purpose.

Your instincts and experience have guided you right. The chords sound off and rather out of place because they are.

Welcome again!

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PostPosted: Wed Nov 21, 2007 1:48 pm 
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Thanks to all for the food for thought.

I will acquire some strings that might suit the GDAE tuning, just to give that a shot.

I'm still open to any other suggestions or ideas on the matter.


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PostPosted: Thu Nov 29, 2007 10:15 am 
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Entering in where I don't really belong with a suggestion.
If you plan to use the gdae for your tenor banjo, get a set of octave mando strings and you'll have a future change.

A great alternative to a tenor is a plectrum (open G chord). It's basically a five string without the fifth string. Learn the very basic fingering and capo to any key you want to play in. Very easy and intuitive.

Mack


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 03, 2007 10:24 am 
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Both the tenor banjos (one a 17 fret, one a 19) I have I currently have strung to CGDA. If playing with a whistle, pipes, flute, etc. I just capo on the second fret, DAEB, which works well.

The instrument is primarily for melody, chords will sound quite off especially if strumming. I sing with mine all the time, but when I do, I either play melody, harmony, or simple double stops, picking notes individually instread of strumming. Also, when playing, I find myself putting down other fingers on strings not being used to add some sympathetic tones, and to inhance the 'colour' of the tune by just brushing these strings with the pick when playing. One way to develop this, which I think adds a nice gloss to the playing (especailly solo) is to start on a C chord (or G if your instrument is GDAE) and run up the chords one at a time in a scale ( C D E F G A B C ). This will train your ear and fingers to recognize other notes in a chord on the fly, and is oober helpful when harmonizing. There's a lot of things you can expirament with.

I also secong the Octave Mandolin strings suggrstion. You essentially get two sets for the price of one (although OM strings are often more expensive than TB strings...)

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PostPosted: Mon Dec 03, 2007 10:26 am 
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double post

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 10, 2008 9:48 am 
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I'm not much of a banjo player anymore, (in fact I don't own one!) but is the GDAE tuning higer or lower than traditioal CGDA on the tenor banjo? It would seem like you'd practically need a different instrument either way!

That's a radical tuning difference. It's the same difference from violin tuning to viola tuning, violin being the GDAE and higher sounding than the viola's CGDA!

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 10, 2008 11:05 am 
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The GDAE tuning is lower. Indeed it is at the low limit of tuning for the tenor banjo. Hence it is normally used as a melodic instrument in that tuning. Chords tend to sound a bit off on the GDAE banjo because of this, and also because of the inversions of the chords normally used on the four-string banjo. Chicago tuning (like the four high strings of the guitar) is often used to chord on a tenor banjo, but that provides complications when going back to melodic playing.

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 30, 2008 5:23 pm 
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howdy doo Griffis, find your tuning yet ?

Well I say just pick your favoite banjo player then find out his tuning an stick with that for a while.
Well I think your right about chords not sounding so pleasant in straight 5th tuning , but your going to have simular harmonic results with the GDAE tuning , it would only be a relevance of pitch.
I listen to quite alot of old american style recordings ,ragtime,hillbilly,tin pan alley etc. and banjos tuned in straight 5ths are only heard when part of a band , you never hear them as a solo artist and very seldom in the smaller bands, even the solo fiddlers in old music use broken tunings especialy if they sing while playing .
I favor chord harmony in music so I would not agrea with your statements that resorting to DGBE tuning is being defeatist, infact this tuning has an older history on banjos than straight 5ths. Honeslty I dont see the advantage in straight 5ths besides the uniformity of scales, would anyone care to tell me more? unless i was playing classical violin or couldnt play chords then i dont see advantage here folks.
But,aye Griffis , what type uke do you play? i playin on a soprano at the moment , well then why not tune your banjo like a uke? couldnt get much more fun than that huh ....
well if your still experimenting these days then try tenor uke tuning with a D re-entrant,"ocatave higher than usual" so it would be "d"GBE, a 4th lower than soprano tuning, or a whole tone lower to CFAD then youd be at the original tuning of the anient greek lute, haha
glad to read all your comments folks
jazbo


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