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Level 1: Beginner
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Old Time Fingerpicking
Classic Style Banjo
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Banjo Lessons: Tone

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I wanna focus in a little more on tone
I've, I've mentioned these things
throughout already, but
I wanna just kind of focus it in one place
right now.
Tone is a hugely important thing.
And it's a very subjective thing.
Some people like to hear this really edgy
kinda sound.
Some people like a mellower sound.
A little rounder sound.
Some people like kind of somewhere between
the two.
And as I mentioned before,
a lot of this has to do with right hand
Some of it has to do with setup, how tight
your head is, and
I'll talk a little more about this later
Your tailpiece position, this is your
tailpiece back here.
How thick or thin your bridge is.
There are a lot of things that determine
But let's just talk about right hand right
And again, the, I've mentioned most of
these things before but just, to ha,
kind of really focus in on it right now.
Obviously in a, we, we were just talking
about this right now,
the distance from the bridge.
Just find out where you like it and
again, like I say, if you're playing
Bluegrass you wanna be, I think,
pretty close to the bridge without
touching it.
And again, do not touch the, the bridge
itself, but be close.
Close to it.
Sometimes when I'm playing fiddle tunes in
the melodic style, which is something I'll
talk about later on.
I move them maybe an inch away from the
I just like that to be, have a sweeter
That, that's my feeling about it.
Someone else might wanna play it close to
the bridge.
But I like that slightly sweeter sound for
a fiddle tune.
Cuz they don't have the drive of
Bluegrass, it's a different kind, kind of
a thing.
I mean, they can, but I just like to
sweeten it a little bit.
So, and also, they have,
the number of fingers you have on the head
will determine tone also.
Having two down gives you one sound.
Having just one down.
It gives you a little more of
an open sound.
It's a subtle thing.
And you may not be able to hear it through
this hugely expensive microphone, but.
But just try it yourself and see.
It doesn't mean you should
because it sounds a little richer to have
one finger off that you should do that.
If you're used to having two fingers down,
just do that.
But just be aware, it is another
determiner of tone.
I had a chance to play Snuffy Jenkins'
banjo one time.
He had an old Gibson prewar Mastertone,
and he had a pickguard on his banjo.
Snuffy Jenkins was a precursor to Earl
Scruggs and a,
just a wonderful country comedian and
wonderful banjo player preceding Earl.
And like I said, I had a chance to meet
him and play his banjo,
and he had a pickguard, as I say.
And he would rest his fingers on the
So there was no finger, there were no
fingers touching the head and
when you do that.
gives you a much more open sound than,
say, having two fingers down.
But it's a lot harder to play that way
without the pickguard.
And not too many people have pickguards on
their banjos these days.
Your wrist angle can also contribute to
different kind of tones.
You get one kind of sound if your wrist
is, or
if you're coming at it like this and your
wrist is this way.
As opposed to coming more
perpendicularly to the strings.
You get a slightly more
muted sound this way.
And a little more high-end sound this way.
And again,
this might send you to the chiropractor
doing it like this.
just be aware of those differentiations
between the sound.
And another really thing important thing
is the arch in the right hand I was
suggesting a little bit of that, too.
Again, rolling up my sleeve a little bit.
opposed to being con, con concave this
way, be a little more convex,
having the wrist up a little, at least a
little bit, I think, is nice.
But again, if you have difficulty doing
that, don't worry about it.
[SOUND] And another really important thing
is just listening.
Listen, when you listen to your favorite
banjo players, be it Earl Scruggs or
Bill Keith or Alan Munde or Bela Fleck or,
or Noam Pikelny or whoever it
is that you're listening to, if you really
like their tone, just like get into it.
This is almost like a Zen thing.
I used to really be into Bill Keith's
banjo tone.
And he had a completely different kind of
banjo than what I've got, or
what I had back when I was learning.
But I loved his tone, and I just listened
to it and sort of gobbled it up
with my ears, and I found, listening back
to some old recordings of myself,
that I was starting to get some of his
So and just in general, listen a lot.
You know, downloads or CDs or if you have
old records, whatever it is you have.
I can't say enough about that, getting
that, getting the sound in your,
in your ears, or if you have Sirius XM and
listen to the Bluegrass Channel.
Whatever it is, just listen as much as you
cuz it'll really move your playing
So, tone.