It is not an open secret that tuning a 5-string banjo is a difficult thing. In fact, keeping this instrument in constant tune is quite a challenge, especially to amateur players. The kind of sound that an out-of-tune banjo produces is more awry than conventional stringed instrument like the guitar. Therefore, if you want to learn the appropriate method for 5 string banjo tuning, read this tutorial religiously.
There are different types of banjos that exist today. The 5-string banjo is just a speck of the total number of banjo varieties that you can see on the market right now. Such of these are the long neck banjos, parlor banjos, 17-fret banjos, 4-string banjos, and plectrum banjos. Of course, each of these banjos has different tuning approaches. You cannot apply the same tuning method that you did on your 5-string banjo to these variants.
On the other hand, a 5-string banjo is undeniably the most popular type of banjo nowadays. Specifically, the standard model comes with 22 frets and has a scale length of 26.25 inches. Its popularity is due to its versatility. It can play various genres such as gospel, jazz, classical, rock, and country. Typically, you begin tuning a 5-string banjo at its open G chord.
Always remember that the tuning of a 5-string banjo should be the G-tuning. There are other ways in which you can tune the banjo, but this one is the easiest and most time-saving.
When you are applying the G-tuning, you can observe that the notes being tuned are on the left portion of the first tablature line. Specifically, here are they:
With this kind of setup, it is pretty obvious that there are only three notes involved in the open G-tuning. These are the D, B, and G. Of course, if you are already familiar with the banjo chords, you already realized that these notes make up the G chord. Specifically, the first D string and fifth G string have pitches that are one octave higher than their 3rd and 4th-string counterparts.
You can hear that the two G and D notes have the same pitch. However, it is inarguable that the first and fifth strings have the highest pitch here.
It was in the past when old masters designated the same letter to the notes that have the same pitches. But of course, they are pretty aware that these notes are not really the same at all. For those that have untrained ears, the difference that a single octave can make is quite inconspicuous. But for those have tried playing other stringed instruments like the guitar, this particular nuance is noticeable.
With the concept of the G-tuning has given us, you can fix and adjust the pitch of the banjo by increasing or lowering its pitch. Here is the specific guide:
Tuning the banjo correctly is a kind of skill that you have to practice constantly. You are not just training your hands here; you are also honing your listening prowess. You should be able to determine if a certain pitch is right or not. Of course, the best way you can master this skill is through constant and continued playing. The more you are familiar with the sounds of the chords and notes, the easier you can identify your mistakes.
When tuning, it is also essential that you have to listen to the note that you want to tune. Next, pluck the next string so that you can match their sounds. The key here is to go with the strings one by one. Do not rush in this process, as it will make your banjo susceptible in making ill-sounds.
Also, don't forget that plucking and turning the peg happens simultaneously. By doing this, you can clearly hear the change of sounds as you are adjusting the peg. Pluck as many times needed so that you can get the right pitch. Moreover, this will prevent you from over-tuning the peg, which can cause the breakage of the strings.
If you cannot determine whether the pitch is too low or high, you have to detune the string first. Make sure that the sound is lower than the appropriate pitch. After this, you just have to tune the string back until it has the right pitch.
If you find this process too difficult, you might want to invest in a digital tuner. But first, you need to get the right tuner for it. Specifically, we are talking about chromatic guitar tuners. They are quite expensive than standard guitar tuners. This is due to their capability to adapt to any instruments by detecting all the readable notes in the musical scale.
Banjo players frequently apply the open tuning for adjusting and fixing the sound of their instruments. Moreover, open tuning allows you play different open strings. However, there are still some other approaches for tuning the banjo. At this point, it would be great if you have a chromatic tuner with you. It can make these following techniques less difficult.
In the past, the "G modal tuning" is a popular technique. Iconic tunes like Little Sadie and Shady Grove applied this approach. Specifically, this method has quite the semblance to G tuning. The only difference they have is that it is only the second string that will be re-tuned.
This method is commonly used by players who are using clawhammer banjos. In fact, we can consider that it is more used in fiddle tunes than the G-tuning. Most of the fiddle tunes that you can hear today are being played in the D note. If you transition from G Modal Tuning to Double C tuning, you will notice that there is only one string that is being re-tuned.
Unlike guitars, tuning the banjo comes with various complexities. There are different tuning techniques that you can apply per particular banjo type and playing style. For 5-string banjo, the most recommended method is the open G tuning. It is easy to learn and familiarize. It also doesn't require the use of chromatic tuners, which is a winning point already.
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