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Glossary of Banjo Terminology
Here are the definitions of some of the terms used in this course. They are written to describe how they relate to bluegrass banjo playing.


A part / B part - The first half of a two part song. Many old-time fiddle or banjo tunes are written in two parts--A and B--and each part is played twice to make up the entire song.


barre - A barre is a chord formed by placing a single finger across all of the strings thereby fretting every string at the same fret.


beat - A single count. If the music is in 4/4 time each measure contains 4 beats and is counted 1-2-3-4. A quarter note lasts for 1 beat. Beat is also something people will want to do to you if you practice past midnight.


bluegrass - A style of music originated by Bill Monroe in the early 1940's which mixes old-time mountain music, blues, gospel, and old-time country in an ensemble using a mandolin, a three-finger picked banjo, an acoustic guitar, a fiddle, and a bass.


bridge This is the little wooden "stand" that rests on the head and transmits the vibrations of the string to the head. It also spaces the strings out so that you can more easily pick the individual strings.


chord - A chord is three or more notes played together at the same time.


chord progression - The order of chords in a song. A simple tune might have the chords G C D G. This order is called the chord progression.


chromatic scale - This is the progression of notes up or down the neck moving one fret at a time. A chromatic scale on a piano consists of playing every note, including the white and black keys, in order--either up or down. The chromatic scale from A to high A is: A A# B C C# D D# E F F# G G# A


closed position - A chord which frets all four strings allowing it to be moved all over the neck without worrying about open strings.


double bar - This is a double vertical line in the music notation which indicates the end of a song or the end of a section of music.


drone - The 5th string on the banjo. It sounds a continuous G note no matter what other notes you are playing. Bagpipes have similar drone notes.


eighth note - A note that is half the length of a quarter note and gets 1/2 a beat. A series of eighth notes is counted "1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &"

endings - Endings are alternate measures of music that are marked "1." and "2." and each ending is played as the song is repeated. i.e. Play the 1st ending on the first pass through, and the 2nd ending on the second time.


ending - An "ending" also refers to a fancy lick played at the end of a song. This is when the banjo player really shows off.


fret - A fret is a little bar of metal that is embedded in the neck under the strings. When the string is pressed down, so that it bears on the fret, the sounding length of the string is shortened and a higher note is produced.


fretting - Fretting is the act of pressing a left hand finger down on a string so that it contacts the fret. It is also what one does when worrying about how one is going to play fast enough to keep up with that fiddle player!


hammer-on - A technique in which a left hand finger is brought forcefully down on a string behind a fret to create an extra sound.


lick - A lick is a fancy group of notes that you will play often in different songs. For example, you may have some "licks" for a C chord that you throw in at different times. Licks can be overdone and then they become boring. All banjo players build up a mental library of licks to choose from. Stringing appropriate licks together while playing a melody forms the basis of most bluegrass banjo playing.


measure - A division of the written music that is of equal time length. In 4/4 time every measure has 4 beats. Measures are indicated by vertical lines.


melody note - The melody notes forms the basic musical tune of a song. Often the melody is buried beneath a flurry of "fill in" notes on the banjo. But, emphasizing those melody notes is what makes a tune recognizable.


major chord - A "happy sounding" chord which uses the 1st, 3rd, and 5th note of the major scale.


minor chord - A "sad sounding" chord which drops the 3rd note of the scale down 1 fret.


open string - A string played without fretting a note.


peg head - The flat block of wood at the upper end of the neck which is home to the tuning pegs and the maker's logo.


pitch - A frequency of a string's vibration which creates a specific musical tone. Also something you may consider doing to your banjo when passing a dumpster.


pull-off - A technique in which a fretting finger is plucked off the string to create an additional sound.


repeat sign - A double bar with 2 dots beside it which indicates that you are to play a section twice. The repeated section will be enclosed by a pair of repeat signs with the dots on the inside.


roll - A pattern of picking done by the right hand. A specific order in which the strings are picked. Usually it is 8 eighth notes.


slide - A technique in which a fretting finger slides up to a higher fret creating a second note.


standard pitch - Standard pitch is defined as an A note vibrating at 440 cycles per second. Electronic tuners and tuning forks are standardized at that pitch.


strings - These are the steel "hairs" that are stretched across the banjo which vibrate and create those wonderful melodic tones of the banjo. The 4th string on a banjo is wound with a tiny wire wrap to increase its mass. You will break strings from time to time and should always keep spares on hand. In days gone by stretched sheep intestines were used for musical instrument strings. Don't you just miss those good old days!


Thanks for using this instruction course to get you started playing the banjo. By now you should have a good grip on the basic techniques for playing bluegrass style. I hope you have enjoyed working through the lessons and that you continue playing and enjoying the banjo. See you at a
bluegrass festival soon!
Happy Picking!
Bradley Laird

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