Banjo Picking On a Ukulele

Wiggy

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This I would like to do, using the 4th string like a banjo's 5th to add a few pretty notes to set the pace in the background while others strum along. None of that "ants on a Tennessee anthill" stuff, just icing inside the cake. Note: it does not have to be a banjo uke, but certainly could be :)

Arron Keim has a "two finger style" video the way I like, but here's another example (in this particular case, waltz) of what I'm wanting to be able to do. No picks required:

 
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I agree about Arron’s style. Here’s my old banjo picker’s take on a 3/4 time tune you may recognize. I much prefer to use Yowling Tom’s high G as a drone but as you probably know instinctively but as I’ve learned solely by trial & error, lacking some extra finger work, it only works in the Key of G.
[EDIT: This arrangement is Key of F, thus I never plucked the 4th string except for the necessary A note in 1st position F.]
 
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I, of course, defer to your banjo experience. I ran across this same problem a few years ago when I was going through a clawhammer phase and lamenting that I could only play in G. However I talked to a few people, including Aaron Keim who said that the drone doesn't necessarily have to be the tonic. They suggested using other keys where G is prominent although not the root of the key. In my mind I thought they suggested, for example, A minor but that doesn't make much sense as in the key G is the 7th interval. I don't see where the subtonic of a key is so prominent. But maybe it is. Anyway, I am just offering the possibility of using the G string as long as G is in the key you're playing. It might work.
 
I, of course, defer to your banjo experience. I ran across this same problem a few years ago when I was going through a clawhammer phase and lamenting that I could only play in G. However I talked to a few people, including Aaron Keim who said that the drone doesn't necessarily have to be the tonic. They suggested using other keys where G is prominent although not the root of the key. In my mind I thought they suggested, for example, A minor but that doesn't make much sense as in the key G is the 7th interval. I don't see where the subtonic of a key is so prominent. But maybe it is. Anyway, I am just offering the possibility of using the G string as long as G is in the key you're playing. It might work.
Though I concur with your thought process, I’m aware of no key for which that open G string harmonizes other than G. As such, a properly set-up 5-string banjo has model railroad spikes installed at frets 7, 9 and 10 to enable playing in the keys of A, B and C. When playing in the key of D (down tuned), the G string is typically tuned up to A and as I recall, the same is true of C tuning.

Scruggs played several songs in “G modal” which I never tried but may do so in the near future.
 
If you want that banjo sound, try a Strum Hollow 5th string capo. I'm not positive, but it looks like it will fit on a uke high g string.
Strum Hollow Capo
 
Though I concur with your thought process, I’m aware of no key for which that open G string harmonizes other than G. As such, a properly set-up 5-string banjo has model railroad spikes installed at frets 7, 9 and 10 to enable playing in the keys of A, B and C. When playing in the key of D (down tuned), the G string is typically tuned up to A and as I recall, the same is true of C tuning.

Scruggs played several songs in “G modal” which I never tried but may do so in the near future.
yeah, I should recant because I forgot about playing contexts. When I practiced clawhammer, it was for use in making my own music. Therefore I could use G at any interval and people would just have to accept it for good, bad, or otherwise. But 99% of people play banjo music because they want to re-create an existing banjo song and an eccentric G wouldn't fit the bill
 
Re: OldScruggsFan's "spiking" of the drone string.

I did a deep dive into this on a (5-string) Banjola. This is an example with the drone string tuned to a D. Play chords as normally using just the first 3 strings, then add the drone.

Drone Chords
D D/G/As
D Root/G and Asus -good

D G/C9/D
C9 -good

D As/D/E7
Asus and E7 -good

D Bb/C9/D
Bb to C9 to D -Really cool!

I successfully mapped this out with keys C, D, F, and G (I'm working on A...).
If you want I'll post those results, also.

(These are things you could only do on a banjo, or so I thought. It's not just the picking.)
 
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This I would like to do, using the 4th string like a banjo's 5th to add a few pretty notes to set the pace in the background while others strum along

I play Earl Scruggs style on banjolele, using standard 3 finger technique. 1 finger won't do, 2 seems minimal, and 3 is what I've always used on banjo. I'm tuned in open C for this demo of Cripple Creek. Just drop your A string down to G, and you're good to go.

I'd like to point out that the drone string (a high g, here) gives the banjolele a bell ring that sounds like the ring produced from a banjo's brass tone ring. This banjolele has a plastic pot and resonator, and has no tone ring whatsoever. Still, it's capable of producing a convincing bluegrass banjo sound. (And, it's still a hefty instrument too)

As an aside, this is the first time I ever played a banjolele on UU in my 15 years here, although it's my 3rd banjolele. I've owned a Goldtone Deluxe Resonator and a Goldtone Open Back model. This one's the OEM version of a Goldtone Little Gem.



Edit: I added some pictures of this banjolele, in case anyone was curious about it.

IMG_20231031_100823.jpg

IMG_20231031_100856~2.jpg
 
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I play Earl Scruggs style on banjolele, using standard 3 finger technique. 1 finger won't due, 2 seems minimal, and 3 is what I've always used on banjo. I'm tuned in open C for this demo of Cripple Creek (and I'm also out of practice with this, so be gentle, gentleman). Just raise your A string up to C, and you're good to go.

I'd like to point out that I find playing this way avoids the dreaded banjolele sound. Also, the drone string (a high g, here) gives the tune a bell ring that sounds like the ring produced from a brass tone ring. This banjolele has an ABS pot and resonator, and has no tone ring whatsoever. Still, it's capable of producing a convincing bluegrass banjo sound.

As an aside, this is the first time I ever played a banjolele on UU in my 15 years here, although it's my 3rd banjolele.
That's what I'm talking about!
 
I play Earl Scruggs style on banjolele, using standard 3 finger technique. 1 finger won't due, 2 seems minimal, and 3 is what I've always used on banjo. I'm tuned in open C for this demo of Cripple Creek (and I'm also out of practice with this, so be gentle, gentleman). Just raise your A string up to C, and you're good to go.

I'd like to point out that I find playing this way avoids the dreaded banjolele sound. Also, the drone string (a high g, here) gives the tune a bell ring that sounds like the ring produced from a brass tone ring. This banjolele has an ABS pot and resonator, and has no tone ring whatsoever. Still, it's capable of producing a convincing bluegrass banjo sound.

As an aside, this is the first time I ever played a banjolele on UU in my 15 years here, although it's my 3rd banjolele.


Sounding great! hadn’t considered retuning the A (bottom/ 1st) string to C in order to play banjo- style in the key of C. Thank you for posting!
 
If you want that banjo sound, try a Strum Hollow 5th string capo. I'm not positive, but it looks like it will fit on a uke high g string.
Strum Hollow Capo
Thank you for the tip! The only non-spike option I’ve seen in the past was a slide-style contraption that seemed far too cumbersome. The Strum Hollow capo makes perfect sense. Yet another innovative, elegantly simple product I now wish I’d come up with.
 
Ron & Dennis - Here’s how I learned about G string dissonance. I was inclined to delete the YT video but decided to keep it as an auditory reminder to avoid the style unless retuning the G string or picking in the key of G.
 
<Update 9-Nov> I picked up a used Yamaha GL-1. The first thing I discovered was that by removing the 5th string altogether, I could strum and pick it as a ukulele without accidentally hitting the 5th string. It simply is not there.

That spacing then allows me to deliberately pluck the drone (now the 6th string) without encumbrance to let it ring as long as I want. And found I can reach over for hammer-ons and pull-offs (or simple lift-offs) when and if I develop that skill. This is going to be fun.

(A previous owner had experimented with string spacings. I first tried standard spacing, and now this. It is better, as the string spacing is very close to a ukulele's of about 9mm and I am able to avoid the 5th when I want to)

Bone nut and saddle stock are on order... I hope to create a saddle that will "self-center." TBC
 

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Update 9-Nov: I picked up a used Yamaha GL-1. The first thing I discovered was that by removing the 5th string altogether, I could strum and pick it as a ukulele without accidentally hitting the 5th string. It simply is not there.

That spacing then allows me to deliberately pluck the drone (now the 6th string) without encumbrance to let ring as long as I let it. And found I can reach over for hammer-ons and pull-offs when and if I develop that skill. This is going to be fun.

(A previous owner had experimented with string spacings. I'm using the standard spacing.)
Very interested to hear the results, Dennis!
 
I have a Strum Hollow 5th string capo, and I did use it on that Guitalele. In my limited experience that capo works best on a steel string banjo, but it did work with nylon strings on my banjo as well as the Guitalele. The lower tension does make it easier to move it out of place.

But that is just one person with pretty limited use.

Since I kept trying to fit guitar music on the banjo I just went back to the guitar.
 
At the beginning of the week, I was contacted by another ukulele YouTuber, asking if I was interested in contributing to a collaboration of Cripple Creek. I was asked to play Cripple Creek on ukulele or banjolele against a supplied backing track, and submit my solo track for mixing with the other collaborators.

Here's my two Cripple Creek versions with the backing track


Edits/addendum:

"Thanks for noting where the backing tracks came from", said @captain-janeway.



Here's Earl Scruggs and Doc Watson pickin' some Cripple Creek

 
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At the beginning of the week, I was contacted by another ukulele YouTuber, asking if I was interested in contributing to a collaboration of Cripple Creek. I was asked to play Cripple Creek on ukulele or banjolele against a supplied backing track, and submit my solo track for mixing with the other collaborators.

Here's my two Cripple Creek versions with the backing track
Good work, my friend! I’d love to have such a backing track for Wabash Cannonball in Key of D. Tech- wise, do you know if it’s possible to simultaneously play such a backing track on a smart phone while shooting a video of me playing uke with the same smart phone, while listening through headphones with one ear?
Maybe a better question is exactly how did you do it?
 
Good work, my friend! I’d love to have such a backing track for Wabash Cannonball in Key of D. Tech- wise, do you know if it’s possible to simultaneously play such a backing track on a smart phone while shooting a video of me playing uke with the same smart phone, while listening through headphones with one ear?
Maybe a better question is exactly how did you do it?
I don't have an educated answer for your first question, but I can answer your second one though. I downloaded their backing track onto my android tablet and played it back using the Bandlab app, while playing along. Bandlab allows me to listen to a track while recording a new track.

Attention @Oldscruggsfan:
Here's a Wabash Cannonball backing track in D
 
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I don't have an educated answer for your first question, but I can answer your second one though. I downloaded their backing track onto my android tablet and played it back using the Bandlab app, while playing along. Bandlab allows me to listen to a track while recording a new track.
Thanks for noting where the backing tracks came from. I'll have to read and see how it works.
I don't know how to play a banjo but love the sound. Thanks!
 
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