Snark SN-2 All Instrument Tuner

If you are looking for an inexpensive tuner that works well – this is an excellent choice. I first saw one of these little guys used on a friend’s mandolin. Since then I have been bringing them in and selling them to my students, and they love them.

What makes this tuner different? The display uses a few different colors. If you are flat the display shows red, when you are right on, it is a narrow blue strip and if you are sharp it is yellow. This makes it really easy to see when you are tuned perfectly. Another really nice feature is that the display rotates 360 degrees. Now you don’t have to clip it just right to see the display. It has an extended range and tunes my banjo, guitar, bass or mandolin. It is chromatic, so if you use alternate tunings, it works well too. The clip holds really well and the tuner is light, no added weight on the headstock. It works using a vibration sensor or a microphone and even has a metronome built in. But, best of all it is inexpensive.


The Key of E for the 5-String Banjo – Part Two.

Banjo-snowman The key of E is a tough one, but you can use the knowledge you already have to play in this key. By using a capo and retuning the fifth string you can play in familiar keys and not have to struggle with new chords and positions. This is especially helpful if you are jamming and the key of E comes up.

The first method is to capo at the 4th fret and tune the fifth string up to B (hook or capo at 9th fret). Now you just play as if you are in the key of C, using all the classic C and G licks you have already learned. Now when you are are playing your first position C chord, it is actually E, the F chord becomes A and the G chord is now B.

The next way to play in E is to capo at the 2nd fret and tune the fifth string up to A (hook or capo at the 7th fret). This time you play as if you were playing in the key of D. The D chord becomes E, the G becomes A and the A is now B. Well that covers the basics, but of course the more music you can play in the keys of C and D, the better this is going to work. Keep checking back, I will continue to post as often as I can.


Banjoblogger is Back

I know it has been a long time since I last posted, but I am ready to get back at it. A lot of things have changed in my life and I have more time to devote to

In the last few years I have made a lot of progress on the banjo and I want to share what I have learned. Real improvements come with a true understanding of the instrument and how it can be used to make music. Of course the banjo can’t make music by itself, you have to give it a helping hand.

The most important thing to remember about playing the banjo is the simple fact that you are not the only instrument out there. At first you spend time perfecting simple songs like Boil them Cabbage Down and Cripple Creek, painstakingly perfecting every slide and nuance of the song. Soon enough you may want to try your hand at playing with another musician or stepping up at a jam. This is when push comes to shove and you have to be part of a musical group. There is nothing more satisfying than playing in a group, all of your knowledge is put to the test. I’m going to continue where I left off, helping banjo players or banjoists, if you like, learn the skills they need to actually play the banjo – not just memorize TABs and play them by memory.


Earl Scruggs – Eighty four and still pickin’

Earl Scruggs - The Master
Earl Scruggs – The Master

I recently had the opportunity to see Earl Scruggs perform – Wow, he can still play like his fingers are on fire.  Even at the age of eighty-four, he still picks with authority. The tasteful, articulate and of course, powerful style of Earl Scruggs has inspired more than a few pickers and this night was no exception.

The song selection was fantastic – from Lonesome Rueben to The Ballad of Jed Clampett, a lot of classic Bluegrass was enjoyed. Foggy Mountain Breakdown always gets me going and I wasn’t alone this evening – the audience ate it up too. FMB was written way back in 1949, and has been drawing new fans to Bluegrass and the banjo ever since.  Thank you Earl Scruggs.

Before I leave you, I have to mention Jerry Douglas –  Jerry and his band pushed the limits of Bluegrass, but at the same felt at home doing traditional tunes.  Not to take anything away from Jerry, but Earl`s dobro player, Jennifer Meredith, has a few moves that will make your head spin too. Hats off to Earl, Jerry and their great bands – keep it up, you are our inspiration.

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Janet Beazley

I have recently gone to a 3 day bluegrass workshop and it was fantastic. My instructor was Janet Beazley and I have nothing but positive words to say about the weekend. From the great instructors to the non-stop jamming, a fun weekend was had by all.

Janet plays banjo in the group – Chris Stuart & Backcountry and also has a fantastic solo album called 5 South. Give a listen to the song Run away, Sally Ann (5 South)– this song caught my attention the moment I heard it on Sirius 65 (Bluegrass 24 hours a day!!). Janet teaches at the University of Southern California and has a doctorate in early music, but what impressed me is her teaching style; supportive and easy going with a solid basis in the fundamentals. Our class had ten people in it and Janet had encouraging words for everyone, she helped each student with a trouble spot and really tried to help us be better players.

The forward roll – simple right? The forward roll is the fundamental building block in most banjo playing, especially bluegrass. Almost every instructor stresses this roll and surprisingly, many of us have just glossed over it and moved on to the next thing. Janet stressed the importance of playing this roll strongly and demonstrated it very clearly with some Ron Block tracks. Using the original Pro Tools tracks, Janet highlighted the banjo and it showed how much a gifted player like Ron uses the simple forward roll. The moral of this story: Strong fundamentals will lead to great banjo playing.

Take some time and look through, and bring the basics back to your practice schedule.

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The Key of E for the 5-String Banjo – Part One.

When you first start to learn the banjo, you end up playing in the key of G or the key of C. As you learn new material you run across the keys of D and A, but what about the key of E? The key of E can be a little tricky to figure out, but I’m going to enlighten you a bit in this post.

Of course you can just locate the I, IV and V chords of the key of E and start experimenting with the different chord shapes. The I chord is E, the IV chord is A and the V chord is B. These three chords show up all over the fretboard as you can see. Here are three different E chords.

E-D Shape Chord

E-F shape chord

E - Barre Chord

To add to the confusion, here are three A chords you can use.

A-D Shape Chord for Banjo

A-F shape chord

A - Barre Chord for Banjo

Finally, we have three different B chords.

B-D Shape Chord for Banjo

B-F shape chord

B - Barre Chord for Banjo

One of the problems with the key of E is the fifth string, G doesn’t fit well in this key, so you have to avoid the fifth string or re-tune it. The most common 5th string tunings are B – capo or hooked at 9th fret and G# – capo or hook at 6th fret. I like the sound of the B, it fits well with the B and E chords and gives the banjo a bluesy sound.

This post has covered playing in the key of E with only your fifth string re-tuned. In the next post I’ll show you two more ways to handle the key of E.


The Key of A for Banjo

The Key of D for Banjo

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Gibson Banjos

The Gibson name has been associated with Bluegrass from the beginning, with names like Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs and J.D. Crowe to name a few, it’s not hard to understand why. A lot of the top pickers use Gibsons, and they use them for a reason – great sound.

Here are a few Gibson Banjos to look at and admire – or buy if you so desire.

Gibson RB

Gibson RB-250

Gibson Earl Scruggs Standard Banjo

Gibson Granada Hearts and Flowers Banjo

If you want a small taste of the Gibson sound try the Earl Scruggs signature strings – they are very good strings and seem to hold up better than most.


Changing your Banjo Strings
Washburn B-9 Review

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