Banjos play note soup!

Hi B2Ber’s (wow looks almost like Bieber’s…oops sorry I have more respect for you than that) I have been trying to write a bass line for a track that is almost solely banjo. I’m doing it by ear but I’m finding it very difficult. I know I’m in the right key, I hit lots of correct root notes at times but banjo just seems to be “note soup” within the key and I’m worried that I might be changing the chord at times as the banjo gives very little reference. Has anyone else encountered this problem with banjo music and is there a way to overcome it?

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Now I’m curious how many people have created baselines from banjo music.:thinking:

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I’m pretty sure you get to call “first” on this one. At least as far as the forum goes.

This a good one for @JoshFossgreen or @Gio.

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I can understand your dilemma @russki98… I have played banjo over the years - not so much anymore due to arthritis, but can relate.

Most pure banjo music is written in the key of G and typically only uses (for the most part) three chords - G, D, C. Sounds easy enough to put a bass line to however, throw in the two variables that make banjo music so unique (timing & finger style) and you’ve got “Banjo Soup”, and of those two variables, the only one you can solidly work with in most banjo music is the timing. Most banjo songs are played in a 2/4 time scale. We all typically play bass and guitar in 4/4 timing.

The other variable “Finger Style” or “Picking Style” is something way different in that most every banjo player will develop a certain “Rhythm or Roll” that constitutes which notes of a banjo chord are played at what time - Forward Roll, Backward Roll, Alternating Thumb.

Bottom line is that you can develop a bass line for a banjo song played by one banjo player and then try to use that same bass line with a different banjo player playing the same song using a different style of plucking and it doesn’t work…

I would suggest a couple things that might help you understand how to address the situation. First, you might want to invest in a banjo book that explains how the banjo is used - Earl Scruggs has one called “Earl Scruggs and the Five String Banjo” that goes into everything from the beginning of time and explains how the banjo is played and used in music. Once you understand that, it should be easier to figure things out. Second, (if you’re not already) get real familiar with the Nashville Number System… Keep track of the number system for each banjo song you learn to play bass to. Hope this helps, and GOOD LUCK!

Keep on Thumpin’!
Lanny

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Oh easy, just do this:

:stuck_out_tongue:

But seriously, if you could post a little audio clip of what you’re working with, I could try to help with some ideas beyond @Griff’s excellent general advice.

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Wow @Griff! That was pretty thorough. I didn’t know you had played banjo also.

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Yes @eric, I’ve spent a bit of time pickin’ around on a couple… The one I have now was totally made from scratch and still plays pretty good… One of these days I might decide to use it in a cover…

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Or this:

I know it doesn’t really help but I think it’s still more or less on topic.

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Yes. Everyone that has encountered banjo music has encountered this!
I toured for 10 years with a string band and jammed many a bluegrass festival.
I second what both @Griff and @JoshFossgreen had to say.

The one, four, and five chords are the best starting place, but without the audio, I can’t help much more!

The one other piece of advice I’d offer - if the banjo player is playing something traditional, look up other versions. I’d imagine you’ll find one with a guitarist or a bassist and you could maybe get a better frame of reference for the harmony.

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Thanks everyone for your informative and enternaining replies. The original song I chose had a banjo, singer, a guitar that comes in half way through (and whom is using a capo) and no other instruments. I found this a real challenge at my level (Module 5 but a couple of years of previous playing). It took quite a few hours of constant listening, trying something, saying bad words then repeating that sequence but I think I have finally created something nice that ‘fits’ with the original. As I said before, there was no bass line on the original… so it was a very interesting and emotionally satisfying experience. I would recommend to other students to find a song that has no bass line and try to develop one. In doing so, try to make something that not only is true to the songs’ harmonic and rythmic composition but that is true to the texture and character of the original.

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I’ve now dropped a small part of the song on “Post your covers!” if you’d like to see if I got close.
Thanks.

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Sorry guy’s, it was removed by sound cloud, even though it was only 1 minute of the original… bummer.

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Bummer! I think someone around here might have a private server you can use, I forget who, someone help me out?

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Never mind @JoshFossgreen, it was really all about the challenge I set for myself anyway. I know guy’s like you would have breezed through it but it was a milestone for me and I think I did ok. It would have been nice to share but the real satisfaction is in knowing that if I dedicate my time to a project and use all resources at my disposal including B2B and the incredible help and enthusiasm of the forum members, I can achieve something I could not have done before. Thanks to all.

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