Banjo Ben

Playing in a Key

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Re: Playing in a Key

Postby fiddlewood » Fri Mar 14, 2014 11:41 am

I think it is important to mention to beginners that there are many choices made while playing leads that can make a song sound more happy or more bluesy depending on the feel/mood one is trying to get.

If you stick to the major scale notes you will get a more "happy" sound.
If you flat the 3rd and/or 7th notes in the scale you can get a more bluesy sound. These flatted notes a VERY prevalent in bluegrass, blues, Rock, and old fiddle tunes,

This is done quite often with chords also in rock, bluegrass, and other genres.

Scale example: G Major - g,a,b,c,d,e,f#,G
G with dropped notes = G,A, Bb, C, D, E, F, G

Also: chords are chosen for mood quite often.
The II, III, and VI chords are played either as a major or minor to create a specefic mood/feeling to the experience.


For beginners: I suggest reading some of this and maybe experimenting a bit with things that come to mind, but don't get too hung up or frustrated with it all. It all takes time and much of it comes to one naturally eventually with just spending time on your instrument and listening to music. :D Take it a step at a time and enjoy the journey.
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Re: Playing in a Key

Postby 5stringpreacher » Thu Apr 03, 2014 3:03 pm

Sorry I haven't replied to all of yall's answers lately. Life has been pretty hectic. In the past couple of days I've finally been able to really sit down with my banjo and play with some of the things yall mentioned.

About a year ago I picked up the banjo for the first time, and by extension I was also picking up my first instrument. Therefore, at 27 I'm trying to learn what most 3rd graders learn in music class (all I cared about was getting to P.E. and recess so I could play football).

The general direction I was looking for was the responses about the use of the capo, and the Nashville Number System really helped organize things in my brain.

I do appreciate all the responses and the time yall took to post them, and they did help tremendously. I'll be posting follow up questions as I continue learning.
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Re: Playing in a Key

Postby 5stringpreacher » Sat Apr 12, 2014 11:01 pm

I think I'm having some more key confusion.

This is the link to the tab I'm referring to: http://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0150/5 ... ab.pdf?277

As mentioned in the top left, he capos the banjo at the 2nd fret and tunes the 5th string up to A, which tunes the banjo to the key of A.

Why then are the chords still G, D, Em, C ? Wouldn't it bump all the chords down a whole step to A, E, (not sure what Em bumped a whole step is), and D?

Or am I just flat out reading his tab sheet wrong?
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Re: Playing in a Key

Postby fiddlewood » Mon Apr 14, 2014 11:48 am

the chords as well as the tab is written as if it was in G. When the chord says G above the tab you are playing as if you were in G tuning aka Kay of G.

Because your actually tuned (capoed ) up to the key of A, your actual (real) chord there is an A even though you are playing out of a G position relative to pretending the fret you are capoed to is the "Nut".

If you put your banjo back in G tuning, w/no capo, you could play this tab as written and be in the key of G.

If you capo to the 4th fret and tune 5th string to a B you could play tab as written and actually be in the key of B.

The "key" is the actual pitch of the notes your playing.

Try a couple measures of the tab with no capo, capo on 2nd fret (5th to A), and again w/ capo at 4th fret (5th string to B)
You will notice you can play the same fingering of notes but it ends up at a higher or lower actual pitch.

All tab are not written this way...some are written with the actual/real chords, but most are written to refer to the finger position you are using rather than the actual pitch.


Help at all?
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Re: Playing in a Key

Postby fiddlewood » Mon Apr 14, 2014 12:01 pm

As a sid note:

the chords shown in the title area are how you would finger those actual chords.

when you capo up to A they become A, E, F#minor, D.

but your still using finger positions demonstrated in the chord charts. :D
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Re: Playing in a Key

Postby 5stringpreacher » Mon Apr 14, 2014 4:55 pm

fiddlewood wrote:Help at all?


Makes total sense! Thank you.
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Re: Playing in a Key

Postby Oldhat » Mon Apr 21, 2014 7:59 am

Take a moment and go to youtube and learn about the "CAGED SYSTEM", this will help you understand how chords are "movable" in music and will help you understand "key" along the way.

Since banjo is open tuned sing the first part of a song you know that starts in G, then bar the 2nd fret and sing the song there (now you are starting the song in A vs G)...notice the difference in the pitch of your voice? It's the same song but in a different key. To an untrained ear (in the audience) it will sound like the same song but as musicians we know it's not exactly the same song as we changed the key.

All of our vocal ranges are different, so in music one is taught to sing in a "key" where they can sing comfortably through 3 octaves and not strain their voice. Your voice may fit perfectly say in "G" where as maybe I can't hit the low G because my vocal range is better suited for the key of A....that is why we capo.

Ever notice that the Key of C is very rarely used by men? Most men hate singing out of C but the females fit in there perfectly.

Take your time and start working on grasping the concept of keys and scales and movable chord shapes and it will all come together over time. Even if you can't carry a tune, try to at least hum along to everything you play, even while doing scale practice try and hum or sing the notes in pitch.

We all started at some point just like you, so being the realist that I am I will say that you are not special...we all had to fight grasping it all and stuck our nose to the grindstone and figured it out SLOWLY OVER YEARS OF TIME. Most of the guys I play with think I am pretty good, however I still think I suck at music. But I do realize that if I went back to 20 years ago and got to see my older self play I'd think "Damn he is good" and I want to be like him when I grow up...but in reality I am decent at best.

Good luck, we all started just like you at some point in time.
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Re: Playing in a Key

Postby 5stringpreacher » Sun Apr 27, 2014 3:36 pm

Regarding the Nashville Number System:

Ben has Old Joe Clark in the key of G. The chords and corresponding numbers would be:
G - I
D - V
F - ?? (F# would be the VII chord, yes?)

So how do you number an F chord when in the key of G?
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Re: Playing in a Key

Postby fiddlewood » Tue Apr 29, 2014 3:31 pm

F in G is flatted 7th.

many times when jamming & such it is just referred to as the 7 because in the music of the Western hemisphere the 7 tends to be flatted more often than not.

In key of G I would usually call the F a 7 or flatted 7 and the F# a natural 7

Also, in G the Bb chord would normally be a flatted 3rd just for some extra info in case you don't have enough things to keep track of... :lol:
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A little NNS lesson

Postby fiddlewood » Tue Apr 29, 2014 4:10 pm

The V chord is known to many as a/the turn-around chord - it turns the progression back toward the I in a natural way to the ear. This is why it is most often the last chord before you start back on the One.

Songs like somehow Tonight, and Sally Goodin use only the I and V

There are many turn-around type progressions also that you will find repeating in many songs.

II is Most usually Added in front of the V and we have a II,V "turn".

add a VI in front and we get a IV,II, V. (Salty dog Blues/ don't let your deal go Down)

Add a III and now we have III, VI, II, V. (B, E, A, D IN KEY OF g)


If you get used to the sound of these changes you will find your hearing them in many songs (regardless of what key it is in).

There are many small progressions like this, I just picked the most easily usable for starters.

With some experimentation this idea of progressions of chord patterns that lead into another chord can be used to create improvisation.
for example: If you are playing along and know you have to get to a II chord but don't want to use the standard "guitar run" moves you might try throwing a quick III, VI in front of it and see if you get some ideas on other ways to get there.

just some thoughts to add to the confusion. ;)
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