BANJO LESSONS - by Bradley Laird
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
to increase its mass.
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
a good grip
on the basic techniques
style. I hope you have enjoyed working
through the lessons and that you continue playing
and enjoying the banjo.
See you at
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