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View Full Version : Uke to Banjo - Easy or Hard?



PTOEguy
10-13-2014, 06:32 AM
I've been playing with a church group and we did some music with a bluegrass influence (I played banjolele) and got a great response. So my question for the forum is:

How hard is it to learn banjo after playing uke? And how much do I gain in terms of sound over a banjolele?

It took me about two years with no prior stringed instrument experience to get good enough to play with my group. So I learn relatively quickly, but am not a pick anything up and play it type.

river_driver
10-13-2014, 06:44 AM
If you go to four string tenor banjo in Chicago tuning (linear DGBE, like a baritone uke) there's not much of a learning curve (or larnin' curve, since we're talking about banjars).

Banjo is LOUD compared to banjolele. Steel strings give it some brash brightness too.

PhilUSAFRet
10-13-2014, 09:40 AM
For most of us, proficiency with one stringed instrument facilitates a smaller learning curve when learning a new one. The more "similar" they are re: strings, tuning, etc., the easier it generally is. I am a uker learning to play bass and I anticipate that that experience helps my uke playing.........at least that's what many others have reported.

That being said, I have a Rally concert sized banjo uke with a full resonator. I'm not sure you would need a louder banjo. Can't say the same for my open back soprano. Goldtone will put a tenor banjo uke neck on a full size 11" banjo body if you want so you can have the best of both worlds.

kypfer
10-13-2014, 01:41 PM
PTOEguy asked:
How hard is it to learn banjo after playing uke?
Really not difficult, once you get over the significantly larger fret spacings. The choice(s) you need to make are 4-string or 5-string and which tuning. You can play a 5-string like a 4-string, just ignore the 5th string, or even remove it, but most 5-string banjos are "full length", 26+ inches scale length (nut to bridge), 22 frets. 4-string banjos are available in shorter scale lengths, eg. 17 and 19 frets ... I don't have a specific measurement to hand, but they'll be proportionally shorter.

However, if you want that "authentic bluegrass sound" you'll need a 5-string instrument 'cos you'll need the 5th drone string under your thumb for a lot of the picking.

As for tunings, the "standard" tuning for a "bluegrass" banjo is gDGBD, which is somewhat like the tuning often used on a baritone ukulele, but with the first string tuned down two semi-tones. It's quite acceptable to play a 5-string banjo tuned gDGBE, the same as a baritone ukulele or the top four strings on a guitar (I'm ignoring the 5th string for these comparasions), this is often termed "Chicago tuning". With this tuning all your familiar ukulele chord shapes can be used, they just have different names, however, you may have problems adapting bluegrass licks to suit this tuning ... confused yet ;)

A four-string banjo will mostly be tuned in one of three ways, depending on the style of music that's being played and what the player is already used to, eg: DGBD and DGBE (as above), also CGDA (fifths), the same as a viola, which is similar to a fiddle or mandolin.

All of these are HEAVY compared to a ukulele. Even coming from a background in playing jumbo guitars (around 2 kilos) my 5-string is noticably heavier at over 2.5 kilos, and that's an open-backed instrument, a resonator will be even more!

If you're at all serious, definitely try before you buy and try to find someone local who can impart a bit of advice.


And how much do I gain in terms of sound over a banjolele? ... lots ... and then some. A large pot banjo with steel strings and a resonator is LOUD!

SteveZ
10-13-2014, 03:11 PM
Went to tenor banjo a while ago. Kept going from GDAE to CGDA and back, finally settling on CGDA (just like the sound). The sound is stong, much stronger than a banjolele, and can really pierce a session.

jminor409
10-13-2014, 04:20 PM
i think making the switch from any string instrument to another is pretty natural

IamNoMan
10-14-2014, 10:13 AM
Moving from Uke to Banjo should prove easier than Banjo to Uke; if your fingers have the length/strength for the longer scale length. Weight is a consideration. My open back Reiter weighs 9 pounds, (4.0 Kg). Resonator banjos can easily hit 15 Lb (6.8 Kg). Plus the weight of the case. Whether open back or resonator the banjo will be louder than a similarly constructed Banjolele.

Choice of 4 or 5 string instruments is really more a matter of what types of Music you wish to play. Old Time fiddle tunes and Bluegrass are best for 5 string. Irish Fiddle tunes and Mediterranean basin music are more suited to 4 String. String Band and Folk Music it doesn't matter. I like 5 string for Cajun.

If you play an instrument using fiddle family tuned instruments 4 String will be easier to pick up. In great part 5 string banjo is an instrument of different tunings. Open G, (gDGBD), Double C, (gCGCD), and "Standard", (gCGBD) Tunings are most common but there are a plethora of other tunings. Two basic variations of 5 string are also encountered: Plectrum, (CGBD) - the reentrant g string is not used, and long neck, with three extra frets added to scale length, gC(or D)FG#B. normally capo'd at therd fret. This last wasa Pete Seeger innovation. The Chicago tuning cited below is a guitar players innovation. I've never seen it used but can see its utility.

PTOEguy
02-01-2015, 06:36 PM
Update - I've been playing around with banjo for a couple of months now - working on 5-string bluegrass style. Some skills are definitely transferable - in particular if you play fingerstyle uke using thumb and two fingers. That really helped me on doing the bluegrass style playing.

SteveZ
02-02-2015, 03:41 AM
Update - I've been playing around with banjo for a couple of months now - working on 5-string bluegrass style. Some skills are definitely transferable - in particular if you play fingerstyle uke using thumb and two fingers. That really helped me on doing the bluegrass style playing.

Curiosity - What kind of banjolele and banjo? Does the banjolele have a resonator or open-backed? A resonator adds weight, but "naturally amps" the instrument.

PTOEguy
02-02-2015, 06:03 AM
Curiosity - What kind of banjolele and banjo? Does the banjolele have a resonator or open-backed? A resonator adds weight, but "naturally amps" the instrument.

I've got a Deering Goodtime Special 5-string banjo with resonator, and I just sold my Firefly banjolele, which was openbacked. I may get a resonator banjolele in the future.

TheCraftedCow
02-02-2015, 06:08 AM
Check out a Gold Tone Plucky. There is a young woman in our Friday night group who just bought 6 full sized banjers frum me. She clawhammers rather then Scruggs pickin. When I put the little Plucky in her hands she just lit up like a Christmas tree. Her adapting to it was easier to do, because the fingerings were comfortably closer. The stretch needed for a regular 5 stringer is brutal. It can be Cgcea or regular banjo C gceg...which is also slack key ukulele.

The Plucky is steel stringed, so the volume is there. I made a reflector plate for my soprano banjo uke from 1/4 thick Plexiglas. It stands 3/16 " away from the rim. The last one I had, got a wooden reflector...and a new owner. I like the clear material so I can do an etched design on the inside surface and see it through the front without it being marred, or rubbing/snagging any kind of shirt/blouse material worn by whoever plays it.

The flat reflector does not add the weight that the ones with the metal rim do.. Resonator is really a misnomer. On any banjo, it just reflects the sound back to the front or the side. One can get some strange effects with an open back pressed against the abdomen and then moved away. The muted sounds and the back exposed sounds are a noticeable difference which can be effectively used. I have a Plucky--soprano disc back--concert disc backed-- concert reflector to the front-- full reflector (11.5" head) banjo mandolin with 4 Aquila red gCEA stringing --another one with 8 strings doubled as GG CC EE AA-- and a long neck aluminum bodied open back. (which is in the process of getting a flat reflector for the back