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Banjonly connect

Apologies (moderately sincere) for the blatant misquoting of E M Forster’s famous phrase but it came to mind when I was thinking about my latest banjo revelation, namely that it isn’t too dissimilar from a guitar.

In general terms, it is guitar-ish (or a guitar is banjo-y) but I was thinking more about tuning and even more specifically about chords. A challenge when I’m learning a new instrument is developing a vocabulary of chords. On a ukulele it turned out to be easy – I just had to think about the top four strings of a guitar and imagine I was playing with a capo at the fifth fret. Yesterday, while doing some more banjo practise, I made a similar connection.

In this case, the banjo I’m playing is a five-string one, tuned in the fairly standard gDGBD pattern. Ignoring the short, high g, that gives DGBD, which is not as far away as I’d assumed from DGBE on the guitar. That means I can play the same chords and partial chords I would on guitar as long as I remember that the note on the high D has to be moved two frets up from where it would be on the high E of a regular guitar.

It is still going to take some practise to get over the time lag caused by thinking ‘guitar’ before translating to ‘banjo’ but it is a big step up compared to starting from scratch and lets me also bring a lot of my knowledge of partial chords further up the neck (and bits of scales) into play as well.

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