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flat picking a five string banjo

Charcloth 10 Apr 02 - 12:57 AM
Charcloth 10 Apr 02 - 09:34 AM
GUEST,Russ 10 Apr 02 - 09:54 AM
Steve Latimer 10 Apr 02 - 10:09 AM
GUEST,DonMeixner 10 Apr 02 - 12:01 PM
Mark Ross 10 Apr 02 - 01:07 PM
Rick Fielding 10 Apr 02 - 01:08 PM
Charcloth 10 Apr 02 - 11:16 PM
Anahootz 10 Apr 02 - 11:34 PM
Orpheum 11 Apr 02 - 12:07 AM
DonMeixner 11 Apr 02 - 12:14 AM
Steve Latimer 11 Apr 02 - 10:17 AM
greg stephens 11 Apr 02 - 10:27 AM
GUEST,Russ 11 Apr 02 - 03:01 PM
GUEST,Les B. 11 Apr 02 - 03:18 PM
Jerry Rasmussen 11 Apr 02 - 05:50 PM
Uncle Jaque 11 Apr 02 - 09:06 PM
Charcloth 11 Apr 02 - 10:12 PM
Bluebeard 11 Apr 02 - 11:12 PM
Rolfyboy6 12 Apr 02 - 12:09 AM
Jerry Rasmussen 12 Apr 02 - 08:09 AM
GUEST,Russ 12 Apr 02 - 09:24 AM
Geoff the Duck 12 Apr 02 - 09:27 AM
GUEST,Russ 12 Apr 02 - 09:34 AM
GUEST 17 Oct 12 - 09:42 AM
PHJim 17 Oct 12 - 11:32 AM
dick greenhaus 17 Oct 12 - 01:10 PM
GUEST,Farmdown 13 May 13 - 05:11 PM
kendall 13 May 13 - 07:37 PM
Bee-dubya-ell 13 May 13 - 08:41 PM
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Subject: flat picking a five string banjo
From: Charcloth
Date: 10 Apr 02 - 12:57 AM

I'm just curious, I have seen folks flat pick the heck out of 4 string & but I don't know anyone who flat picks a five string banjo. I've even seen folks trying to imitate the flat pick sound of a four string using the scruggs style on their five string so... why is it no one flat picks a five string or, are there folks out there who do & I'm just ignorant about it.


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Subject: RE: flat picking a five string banjo
From: Charcloth
Date: 10 Apr 02 - 09:34 AM

refresh


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Subject: RE: flat picking a five string banjo
From: GUEST,Russ
Date: 10 Apr 02 - 09:54 AM

Charcloth,
I apologize if I am stating the obvious.
I am a fairly knowledgeable banjo player and I have never seen or heard a living person seriously flat pick a five string. A six string banjo strung and tuned like a guitar, yes. But never a five string.
I am not surprised.
Although four and five string banjos are both banjos, the people who play them are truly from two different worlds. Two different repertoires. Two different aesthetics.
Basically there are two styles for playing a five string: bluegrass and clawhammer/frailing. People who learn to play five string will do so because they have heard one or both of these styles and wish to emulate the sounds they have heard. The key word here is emulate. You don't learn five string if you want to blaze your own musical paths. You learn to play five string because you want to sound like Tommy Jarrell or Earl Scruggs (or whoever).


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Subject: RE: flat picking a five string banjo
From: Steve Latimer
Date: 10 Apr 02 - 10:09 AM

I would think that the fifth string being the high string would make serious flat picking difficult. I think that the thumb is the only way you could play the fifth effectively.


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Subject: RE: flat picking a five string banjo
From: GUEST,DonMeixner
Date: 10 Apr 02 - 12:01 PM

Charcloth,

Search out The Flyin' Column CD thread and go to our web site. Listen to the sound samples. Most of the banjo work is flat picked 5 string. Except what is obviously frailed.

Don


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Subject: RE: flat picking a five string banjo
From: Mark Ross
Date: 10 Apr 02 - 01:07 PM

There is an old miner in Butte, Montana named Onder Mayes who came there from the hills of Tennessee. He is the only fellow I'ever seen seriously flatpick the 5-string. He also used a highly individual G tuning. I believe it was;

gGDBD but I don't remember exactly, offhand. He sang the old mountain music in a high thin tenor, THE HILLS OF ROANE COUNTY and such, and would sit there in Harringtons'Bar,drinking beer with ice and singing for the drunks, young and old. He also was known to play the fiddle on occassion, but that's another story.

Mark Ross


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Subject: RE: flat picking a five string banjo
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 10 Apr 02 - 01:08 PM

Not a bad question Charcloth. I've been playing five string banjo professionally since 1967, and HAVE had situations where I had to flatpick it. As Russ says, it isn't the way the instrument is played.....BUT....on a number of occasions when doing commercial and recording sessions, I've worked with producers who didn't have a clue about the differences between Five string, Tenor, and Plectrum banjos.....they simply hear a "sound" in their head and they expect you to replicate it. As a hired studio player, my options are to tell the producer he's hired the wrong kind of banjo player, ask him to re-book the session later, and I'll come back with a plectrum...or improvise a bit and give him the sound he's after.(and get paid)

In the world of studio work, if you wanna get called, you'd better not say "can't be done", even if the producer hasn't done his homework.....so I usually removed the fifth string and played it AS a plectrum.

On one session, the producer asked for a "Duelling Banjos" sound.....but neglected to tell me that the song was in Eb(!!) and had a "tango" beat!! I shit bricks during that one but came up with a weird roll in D tuning (capoed up one)....

Generally I think most arrangers and producers listen to a lot more Henry Mancini than Earl Scruggs!

Cheers

Rick


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Subject: RE: flat picking a five string banjo
From: Charcloth
Date: 10 Apr 02 - 11:16 PM

I've been frailing the banjo some 16 or so years now & sometimes when I start working up a tune that I usually play on the guitar I'll flat pick it to get the flow of it & figure it out. I don't find the fith string a problem cause I simply ignore it. Any way it got me to thinking why not give it a go once in a while. The flat picked banjo on "King of the Faires" sounds cool & I figure, why do I need a 4 string to capture that sound when I can get it with my five string. If you just listen you'd be hard pressed to know any different. But I guess there are probably folks who say I'm messing with tradition, but frankly I ain't trying to impress them any way
Charcloth


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Subject: RE: flat picking a five string banjo
From: Anahootz
Date: 10 Apr 02 - 11:34 PM

Frank Solivan Sr. flatpicks a 5-string...


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Subject: RE: flat picking a five string banjo
From: Orpheum
Date: 11 Apr 02 - 12:07 AM

I play both Irish tenor banjo and clawhammer. I've never tried flatpicking the 5-string. I tend to have a heavy touch with a flatpick and I don't think I could make the adjustment to the fairly light strings. I think, if I saw the pictures correctly, that the banjo player for the Squirrel Nut Zippers played chords on a five-string. At the turn of the century (last one that is) playing chords with a plectrum was fairly common, until makers dropped the fifth string and had 4-string, plectrum banjos with the 5-string scale. Recently I looked at an Orpeum 5-string that had been converted to a plectrum, with the 5th string bump shaved off, but then reconverted to a 5-string (decided on a Gibson longneck instead). I have a couple 17 fret tenors that I think are a lot of fun. The short scale makes them very easy to move with. In short, it should be possible and even work well. I'd use a fairly soft nylon pick to start and play with what you like after that.

Enjoy,

David


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Subject: RE: flat picking a five string banjo
From: DonMeixner
Date: 11 Apr 02 - 12:14 AM

I flat pick my long neck ODE all the time, when I'm not frailing. Hand and finger injuries won't allow me to do more but it gives me the most I am capable of. When you could buy long scale VEGA strings with slightly heavier guages they lasted awhile. (Now the GHS strings I am forced to use may just aswell come pre-broke and already dead) I use the heaviest Tortex pointed flat pick I can find. Very fast on the strings and with the added bite they have a good sound.

I like the sound of reels and hornpipes (Off to California is a fave) flat picked on the ODE.

This ain't all that rare a thing.

Don


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Subject: RE: flat picking a five string banjo
From: Steve Latimer
Date: 11 Apr 02 - 10:17 AM

I was listening to Taj Mahal doing "Light Rain" last night. I think he is using some comination of a flatpick and frailing. Neat sound.


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Subject: RE: flat picking a five string banjo
From: greg stephens
Date: 11 Apr 02 - 10:27 AM

This is not at all a rare thing. A fine example would be the Cheshire (UK)band Steamhead, which have a very eclectic repertoire and lineup(melodeons,horns,whistles,banjo,assorted percussion).The banjo player Malcolm Webster freely moves between finger picking and flatpicking depending on the tune. Perfectly possible,perfectly successful, perfectly normal.You can do it the other way round as well...on the last recording I did I fingerpicked my tenor banjo as often as I used the flatpick. When youre touring, you tend not to lug around more instruments than you need, and a rough approximation to the sound youre looking for is generally considerably better than nothing!


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Subject: RE: flat picking a five string banjo
From: GUEST,Russ
Date: 11 Apr 02 - 03:01 PM

My remarks obviously said more about me than banjo flatpicking.

My musical obsession is American old time music. In the venues I am most familiar with (Clifftop, Mt. Airy, etc.) flat picking a true five string (not a banjo uke, not a banjo guitar, not a banjo mandolin, whatever) is extremely rare. I cannot recall having experienced the pleasure at any such event. My guess is that if your band featured a flat picking banjo player you'd be placed in the non-trad band contest at Clifftop as opposed to the trad band contest.

This should not be viewed as a comment on the aesthetics of flat picking a five string. I assume it can be quite delightful. It's just the way life is in my world.

I am occasionally found at the odd bluegrass festival. The rules of appropriate banjo style are definitely much stricter than at old time events. Never heard a banjo flat picker there. Never expect to.

Come to think of it, I haven't run into such a style at the Maryland Banjo Academy either.


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Subject: RE: flat picking a five string banjo
From: GUEST,Les B.
Date: 11 Apr 02 - 03:18 PM

Russ - I find what you say to be generally true - rarely see anyone here in Montana flatpick a 5-string. (Although I'm going to go home tonight and mess with it a bit!)

I have wondered, and wished to attend, for years about the festivals in the South, like Clifftop, etc. My question is, if they wouldn't allow a flatpicker, or even Scruggs style banjo player in the trad band contest, would they allow a flat picked guitar?

It seems that most of the old time guitar pickers from the 1920's and before - Sam McKee, Riley Puckett, Roy Harvey, Grayson & Whitter, Rutherford & Burnett, etc. - used a fingerpicked, or thumb pick style. So would the newer, flatpicked guitar style be considered too modern ? Just curious. :)


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Subject: RE: flat picking a five string banjo
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 11 Apr 02 - 05:50 PM

Russ: Tell Charlie Poole and the string band banjo players that there are basically two ways to play a five string... bluegrass and clawhammer. I've been playing banjo for forty years, and I don't play bluegrass and only do a few songs in clawhammer style. If by "bluegrass" you mean finger-picked, then you're right. I think of bluegrass banjo as a very particular style of fingerpicking. The old southern mountain bnajo players were much more idioscyncratic.
Jerry


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Subject: RE: flat picking a five string banjo
From: Uncle Jaque
Date: 11 Apr 02 - 09:06 PM

Gosh; this is interesting!

Although about as much of a "Traditionalist" as you are apt to find around this here People's Republic of Maine, I do now and again break out of the box and push the envelope - even with my music!

Now the 5-pinger banjo, in my humble opinion, is not only one of the noblest instruments to have graced this World of late, but perhaps one of the least appreciated and most underestimated one at that. It don't get near the credit nor respect it so abundantly deserves!
I have heard people do the darndest things with banjos and it's a hoot, yet I still love to hear one played well (something I've been working on for over 35 years now and still ain't quite got the hang of it)in the good old-fashioned way.

When it comes to flat-picking, I have indeed done that with my "modern" banjo - a Vega "Folkmaster" open - back. It would not do at all with the ol' gut - strung "Minstrel" job, as nothing save a chain - saw will tear up a good (and expensive) set of guts faster than a pick will. What I generally do is run the capo up about 4 frets, hook the 5th string up under the head of the teenie little HO-guage railroad spike driven in just slightly South and a little bit inwards from the 10th fret, or another one looking the other way down by the 12th (don't use that one much), and just chord and scrub away on it so as t' beat a Mississippi River Steamboat up t' Chatanooga! Even then I don't use a pick much; I like to keep my thumb available for a quick up-stroke or even hit a lick with the 5th string now and again just to liven things up a bit. I've developed enough of a callouse on the inside of my right thumb which I use to "flatpick" a lot with, although I rather doubt that it is what you would call a legitimate or conventional style.

As far as I'm concerned, the more someone wants to get innovative and experiment with a banjo's potential, the better; More power to 'em. If I don't happen to like it, I just won't buy their albums or tickets to thier concerts, that's all. But jump up an' criticize 'em? NO way... Unless of course they are at a Civil War Reenactment in Uniform, playing a steel-strung banjo with a chrome-plated resonator with a Flatt-&-Scruggs style, which I have seen all too frequently, and that does tweak my whiskers jest a tad!
A banjo is just way too much fun to go welding into any particular style, technique, or genre for that matter, if you want my take on the issue. And it won't cost you a lot, either!


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Subject: RE: flat picking a five string banjo
From: Charcloth
Date: 11 Apr 02 - 10:12 PM

I'm a liking your responses folks. Me thinks I'm gonna tinker with this some more


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Subject: RE: flat picking a five string banjo
From: Bluebeard
Date: 11 Apr 02 - 11:12 PM

Well...at the age of 14 I bought an old zither banjo for 2 quid.(about $15.00) in 1963. There were no Banjo players that I or my (musical) family knew, so I went to music lessons where the (piano) teacher taught me how to read music in conjunction with my Pete Seeger " How to play the 5-string Banjo" book.

This was Manchester,England. Flat-picking/ using the plectrum was HOW I learned the Banjo.

I played in my Dad's Irish Ceile Band, we had button accordion, fiddle,percussion and me playing rhythm on the banjo. No problem. The 5th string is a bonus,not something to avoid.

Nowadays in North America, I play Ceile and also finger style (not a series of syncopated patterns..as is Bluegrass) and have recently took on the challenge of clawhammer. The 5 string banjo is a beautiful instrument that can be played in SO many ways. It annoys me when the 5 string Banjo is thought of as either just bluegrass or clawhammer. It is a Universal instrument. Ollie


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Subject: RE: flat picking a five string banjo
From: Rolfyboy6
Date: 12 Apr 02 - 12:09 AM

I'm no expert in this area but I should mention the PLECTRUM banjo. It descends from the five string banjo being basically a five string without the fifth string. It differs from the tenor banjo in having a longer neck (same as the five string) and being tuned usually in old time 'C" tuning: c-g-b-d. It seems to have its origins in some type of minstrel tradition. It's virtuoso was Eddie Peabody who was a very old man in the late fifties. He played old chestnuts. I've seen plectrum banjos hanging in music stores. I know where there's a Lyon and Healy (pre-war) right now. That's about all I know of these.


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Subject: RE: flat picking a five string banjo
From: Jerry Rasmussen
Date: 12 Apr 02 - 08:09 AM

You got it, Bluebeard. I like to bend strings and get a funky, bluesy rhythm out of banjo. All that you have to do to realize the endless possibilities of finger-picking a banjo is to listen to the old southern mountain pickers. Their styles are completely different.

Jerry


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Subject: RE: flat picking a five string banjo
From: GUEST,Russ
Date: 12 Apr 02 - 09:24 AM

Jerry,

Mea culpa. I was aware when I made it that my dichotomy was a serious oversimplification. Why did I think I could get away with it on Mudcat? Will Keys and Marvin Gaster are two of my very favorite banjo players.

Les B.,

My speculation about Clifftop was just that, mere speculation. I made it for dramatic effect. Never having entered either contest I don't know what the rules are precisely. My best guess from watching the contests for years is that the trad, nontrad distinction has more to do with instrumentation and repertoire than playing styles. If you have a classic string band and want to play "Is that all there is?" you'll be in the nontrad contest. If your classic string band also features one of those Chinese one-string bowed thingies (cannot recal what it is called) and you want to play "Old Joe Clark" you'll also be in the nontrad contest. (Both examples from actual contests.)

In my experience the default guitar backup style for revivalist old time music is flat picked guitar.

Cannot recommend Clifftop too highly even though it's getting too damn big.


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Subject: RE: flat picking a five string banjo
From: Geoff the Duck
Date: 12 Apr 02 - 09:27 AM

Like Bluebeard, I learned to play on an old zither banjo with the Pete Seeger book to get me started. The banjo had belonged to my Great Grandad Gilday who was of Irish descent but lived in Glasgow (Scotland) but he had passes away a long time before I found the banjo in an attic. In the banjo case was a plectrum, so I assume that is how he played it. I have no idea what sort of repertoire he played.
The 5-string banjo was certainly used in the UK during the Victorian and Edwardian eras for parlour music where different styles of Classical Banjo were played. Some were fingerstyle and others used a plectrum, but neither bore ANY relation to clawhammer or bluegrass. Try tracking down recordings of American classical banjoists Fred Van Epps or Vess L. Ossman. to get another slant on what music a banjo can produce.
I play Whistling Rufus with a plectrum. There are other occasions when joining in with Irish sessions, or as a slow tremolo effect behind a ballad, where instead of playing clawhammer, I will hold my index finger and thumb as though I had a plectrum, and play the strings with the nail of the finger as if it were the plectrum. It can be a very useful technique and, of course, it means that you are not actually holding anything, so can convert back to standard picking/frailing instantly.
Quack!
Geoff the Duck!


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Subject: RE: flat picking a five string banjo
From: GUEST,Russ
Date: 12 Apr 02 - 09:34 AM

To you legions (apparently) of five string flat pickers, keep up the good work. Let a hundred flowers bloom. Honest.


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Subject: RE: flat picking a five string banjo
From: GUEST
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 09:42 AM

flat picking a five string banjo is good . It is not restricted to finger picking , a banjo is an instrument that is universal , not just bluegrass and clawhammer, as with all instruments , it all boils down to what works for you , there are no secrets , no rules , have fun .


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Subject: RE: flat picking a five string banjo
From: PHJim
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 11:32 AM

Jim Kweskin had two 5 string players, both of whom were excellent 3 finger style players and both of whom played their 5 strings with a flat-pick most of the time with the jug band. I love to play clawhammer, but in the Maple Leaf Champions Jug Band, I often flat pick the banjo.

Even when he played with Muleskinner, you would often see a flat pick tucked under the strings by Bill Kieth's tailpiece. There are no rules to the banjer (except "Tune it or die") you just play.


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Subject: RE: flat picking a five string banjo
From: dick greenhaus
Date: 17 Oct 12 - 01:10 PM

Didn't anyone ever hear of a plectrum banjo?


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Subject: RE: flat picking a five string banjo
From: GUEST,Farmdown
Date: 13 May 13 - 05:11 PM

Check out trampled by turtles- wait so long their banjo player flat picks everything


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Subject: RE: flat picking a five string banjo
From: kendall
Date: 13 May 13 - 07:37 PM

I took up the banjo because I wanted to play, nor like Earl Skruggs, but like Granpa Jones, Always been a bit of an odd ball


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Subject: RE: flat picking a five string banjo
From: Bee-dubya-ell
Date: 13 May 13 - 08:41 PM

I find it a bit difficult to play some hornpipes (ie "Boys of Blue Hill") on 5-string banjo using fingerpicks, so I play 'em with a flatpick. Never heard any audience members complain, but since said audience usually consists of my wife and the dog, they know better.


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