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.
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.
To add to the confusion, here are three A chords you can use.
Finally, we have three different B chords.
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.
Minor chords are characterized by a sad or sorrowful sound, and they add a lot to a chord progression. I am going to dig into a bit of music theory to help you better understand minor chords, and how to use them.
Let’s take a major chord and turn it into a minor chord – We’ll start with a G chord. The G chord is made up of three notes – G, B and D; these notes are also the first, third and fifth notes of a G scale. A minor chord is formed by flatting the third, or lowering the third by a half step. So a Gm or G minor chord consists of G, Bb and D.
When you play in the key of G, the most commonly used major chords are G, C and D – but what is the most common minor chord in the key of G? That chord is E minor (Em) – of course there is a reason why Em is the most common. The sixth note of the G major scale is E – it’s minor chord is called the relative minor. Em is the relative minor because the Em scale has the same notes as the G scale.
As with the major chords – there are different ways to form minor chords. Let’s take a look at Em first; it is composed of three notes: E, G and B. In this case you only need to fret two strings, the 1st and 4th at the second fret. these two notes are both E and the open strings are G and B.
Way back in October, I talked about backward rolls in this post: http://banjoblogger.com/banjo-rolls-the-backward-roll/ . This time we are going to bring out a melody on the first string, and build on the techniques introduced in the first post.
This first exercise has us picking the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th strings using a backward roll. The thing that makes this exercise trickier than the previous examples, is the fact that the thumb plays the 3rd and 5th strings. Practice this exercise until you can play it without looking at the TAB or the frets. Once you can play it smoothly take some time and listen to what you are playing. Are all the notes equal in volume? Is the first string as loud as the 2nd and 3rd strings? Are the notes evenly spaced? Before moving to the next exercise, take the time to practice the first exercise and get it down really good.
Have a listen here: [audio:Backward Roll 2-1.mp3]
The next exercise gets your left hand moving around a bit and has the melody on the first string – so pick clearly and cleanly. To save moving around the fretboard too much, use your left hand index finger for the 2nd fret, your ring finger on the 4th fret and your pinky for the 5th fret. This will help to develop more speed and create more finger independence at the same time.
Press play to hear this one: [audio:Backward Roll 2-2.mp3]
Practicing the backward roll is a good way to improve your hand strength, plus backward rolls can be used to great effect in some situations. You can play some neat runs using backward rolls so experiment and always play you best – good enough IS NOT good enough.
What is a banjo bass run? Well thats simple – a bass run is a series of notes that connect two chords. Bass runs are used when playing backup, leading into a song and in banjo breaks.
Now that you know what a bass run is: a series of notes that connect two chords, what notes do you use to connect these chords? Well let’s start with something simple – If you are playing a backup that switches from a G chord to a D chord your bass run will end on a D. The first note of the run is F#, the second is an E and the third is of course D; there you have it, a simple bass run -F#, E, D. Now if you want to go from a D chord to a G chord, you can use E, F# and G. Here is an example of a bass run, practice this until you can smoothly make the transition from G to D and back.
Listen to it here: [audio:Bass Run 1.mp3]
The next example just adds a few filler notes to the previous example. This just keeps the roll going while you add the bass run.
Press Play: [audio:Bass Run 2.mp3]
The next example stretches out the bass run at the beginning of the phrase. This run can add some variety to your playing and stands out in the usual flurry of eighth notes.
Press Play: [audio:Bass Run 3.mp3]
Try to work some bass runs into songs you already play, it will make an old song interesting again and it will also force you to figure out a run without TAB. Stay tuned for more Bass Run posts in the future.
As a regular feature I will be demonstrating some banjo licks that can be used to make your playing more interesting. This post demonstrates a couple of popular licks that can replace any measure of G chords, or replace another lick. Be careful not to overuse licks, as they can make you sound over-rehearsed and they can become a crutch. Use licks to learn and then modify them to suit your needs.
The first lick is one you have heard many times before and is very useful to know.
Listen here:[audio:G Lick More1.mp3]
This second lick is another common one to add to your repertoire.
Have a listen here: [audio:G Lick More2.mp3]
Practice these two licks until you can play them comfortably and then introduce them into some of the songs you already know.
As you get better at playing the banjo, you need to change up your song arrangements, and one way to do that is to use some different chord formations. In this exercise I’m going to show you a few different spots on the neck that you can play a C chord.
The first C chord is the one closest to the nut, it is a D shape chord. The root note or in this case, the C is fretted on the 2nd string. When you use any D shape chord this applies, the root note is on the 2nd string. The C chord is made up of three notes- C. E and G: the 1st and 4th strings are both E, the 2nd string is C and the 3rd is G.
Listen to the C chord (D Shape): [audio:C - D Shape.mp3]
The F shape C chord is next, the root note ( C ) is on the 1st and 4th strings, G is the 2nd string and finally E is the 3rd string.
Listen to the C chord (F Shape)[audio:C - F Shape.mp3]
This last C chord is a barre chord, and is played by simply laying your index finger across the frets at the fifth fret. The root note ( C ) is the on the 3rd string, 1st and 4th strings are G and the 2nd string is an E.
Listen to the C chord (Barre Shape)
[audio:C - Barre Shape.mp3]
Knowing these three C chords is essential, you will use them a lot. A good way to practice is by playing a song you know well, but use different chord formations. In an upcoming post I will show you a some new G chords.