Traditional Tenor Banjo

Still to be edited…

Raising The Standard

Introducing Standard C2

The most popular tuning used in Irish Traditional banjo playing today is without question Octave Violin tuning: (bass to treble) GDAE, which is so ubiquitous it is usually referred to as Irish Tuning, although jazz musicians in the USA were using it in the early 20th Century. It’s a great tuning, allowing banjo players to replicate the fingering of the fiddle player, and is also useful for any mandolin player (same tuning as the violin) to play the banjo, or vice versa.

However, many players are unhappy with the low G, which never sounds quite as good as the other strings. To get around this problem some players avoid using it as much as possible, while others tune it up a tone to A. Gerry O’Connor, widely regarded as the greatest-living Irish traditional banjo player, has another solution: he (mostly) uses what is known as Standard Tuning, as used by jazz and Dixieland tenor players: CGDA. This tuning becomes even more useful when a capo is used at the second fret – i.e. Raising the Standard (tuning).
I refer to this raised Standard tuning as Standard C2 – the C2 indicating a capo at the second fret.

So, to clarify: tune your banjo to Standard Tuning: CGDA (you will need to purchase a set of Standard Tuning strings – easily available) then place the capo at fret 2.

Now, there are pros and cons to using Standard C2…

Cons – The lowest five notes of Irish tuning are missing, from G to B. These notes are found in some fiddle pieces, naturally, as Irish tuning is the same as fiddle tuning, an octave lower.

Pros – Most of the repertoire does not utilise those missing notes. Plus, the high B, usually a ‘difficult’ note in Irish tuning, is now simply the open first string. The capo eliminates awkward left-hand stretches for almost the entire repertoire. The whole instrument sounds both brighter and sweeter – OK, a subjective opinion!

I’m not saying Standard C2 should replace Irish tuning – little chance of that happening – but it might suit many players who struggle with Irish tuning.
To encourage its use, here are FREE tabs and mp3 sound files of my arrangements of many pieces, with more to follow when I get the time. The recordings are at a medium pace, mainly for the sake of those learning these pieces, but also because I think most traditional music is played too fast these days – but I’m getting old!

The first PDF/TAB file is for the three principal scales used in traditional music – D, A and G Majors. It is a good idea to memorise these three scales as soon as possible, and practise them every day. Most of the tunes you play will use these notes. Try improvising with them and make up tunes – it’s not hard.

Enjoy, and send me your feedback.

Technical Information

Banjo: Vega Pro tenor (c.1910s), Clifford Essex Medium Standard Tuning Strings, Shubb Capo – cushion stuffed inside resonator! Gibson Extra Heavy Pick.

Recording: Rose NT4 Stereo Mic, Fostex FR2LE Recorder, WaveLab 6 Essential editing software – no eq or reverb added.

Scales – D, A and G Majors SC2SCALES

Tab and MP3 files…

ThePoorScholar  PoorScholar Tenor Banjo C2

MydarlingAsleepRobMacKillop

MyDarlingAsleep Tenor Banjo C2

PDF

TAB

MP3
Back In The Garden

PDF

TAB

MP3
Farewell To Erin

PDF

TAB

MP3
Johnny Will You Marry Me

PDF

TAB

MP3
My Love Is In America

PDF

TAB

MP3
Trip To Durrow

PDF

TAB

MP3
The Wind That Shakes The Barley

PDF

TAB

MP3
The Star of Munster

PDF

TAB

MP3
The Ship In Full sale

PDF

TAB

MP3
The Ebb Tide

PDF

TAB

MP3
The Kesh

PDF

TAB

MP3
The Shaskeen

PDF

TAB

MP3
The Pinch Of Snuff

PDF

TAB

MP3
The High Reel

PDF

TAB

MP3
The Connaught Man’s Rambles

PDF

TAB

MP3
The Congress Reel

PDF

TAB

MP3
Saint Annes Reel

PDF

TAB

MP3
The Concertina Reel

PDF

TAB

MP3
The Ballydesmond Polka

PDF

TAB

MP3
Teir Abhaile

PDF

TAB

MP3
Sally Gardens

PDF

TAB

MP3

2 responses to “Traditional Tenor Banjo

  1. Rob, Many thanks for posting all your knowledge and much appreciated print out for tenor banjo, I love the jazz type tuning, i,e, CGDA. I’ve only recently started to play the Tenor Banjo, and, I must say, I’m really enjoying it.
    Do you have any books on the Tenor Banjo that are for sale? I would be interested to know if you have.
    Thanks again for your postings.

    Regards,
    Denver Smith.

  2. Hi Denver,

    Thanks. I have a Mel Bay publication which might be of interest to you: http://www.melbay.com/Products/22173BCD/early-irishamerican-banjo.aspx

    That’s all. Good luck!

    Rob

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s