Paul Hawthorne's Web Site

I'm going to offer some parts of Gestalt Banjo Vol. 2 - (tentatively subtitled Fretting Hand Liberty and Internalizing the Mind/ Banjo Connection) here as the muse speaks and I get the draft together. I will put pretty looking tabs as generated in MusEdit in place of these text ones as I get to it. The published document will of course have MusEdit tabs, and also notation. Why... because the more you see notation, the dots and stuff, the less weird, fear inducing, arcane it will be.

There is also the possibility which appeals to me of Gestalt Banjo Vol. ZERO, (Recognizing and Dealing with the Traps to Actually Learning to Play). It won't be pretty or politically correct. Everything in it would be counterproductive to actually learning to play with depth and ease. This would include ingrained and legacy bad instruction methods, incomplete commercial methods, brainwashed social expectations and family pressures and all would be worth serious assessment and subsequent action in order to get the most effective value from existing learning paradigms.

Section ?? - Music Theory Isn't

Music theory is not theory at all, it is about patterns.

Theory is scary word, and is about speculated things like the Big Bang and Black Holes and unidentified subatomic particles. This stuff is actually easy as you get to be friendly with it. It is not speculation either. Here is an intro, hopefully written to be grokkable (grok, to deeply understand, from Stranger in a Strange Land by Heinlein).


Using the numbers eliminates the messiness of letters and sharps an flats naming the notes that are a product of our regular keyboard layout. This all started with an organ built in 1215 in a church in Germany. Your banjo does not know anything about the old German organ. Sometime in the far future, after you are cozy with the system, you may want to add fluency in letter names.


Diatonic is the regular *do re mi* scale. If you grew up in the US or most of the rest of western world you know it. Do re mi is the same as 1 2 3. There is no reason why it could not be sung Horse, car, bell, moon, taco........

b3 means flatted 3rd note of the regular do re me ( or 1, 2, 3) scale, one fret below the 3 (mi), and #5 means sharped 5th note, one fret above 5 (sol). If the 3 note is 4 frets up, the flattted 3 note is one less, 3 notes from today's beginning. Any note can be sharped or flatted, including twice (or I suppose, more times, but why get that messy?). For instance, if you took the 2 note double sharped it, you have the same sound as the 4 note..... Double sharping of flatting is very rare, it happens, and you know about it.

Back to the mainstream:

do re mi fa sol la ti (do) is exactly the same as
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1
horse car bell moon taco Siamese cat (horse)

Chromatic as an adjective refers to 1. a scale refers to using all the notes in our 12 tone system (i.e. all the musical colors) 2. using some of these notes in a tune, 3. the sound of some of these less expected notes, esp b2. b3 #4 #5 (b7 is pretty common to our ears and I wouldn't include it as an unexpected note). 4.. playing in the across the strings fashion, classically called arpa (Italian for harp), in our group also called melodic or Keith style. It refers to using open string whenever possible.

Pentatonic refers to 5 tones selected from the 12 of the chromatic scale. (Penta = relating to 5, tonic, refers to tones) The adjective can be applied to tunes, playing, etc.. The commonest pentatonic scale for us are the major (1, 2, 3, 5, 6.) and the note pattern started from the last note of this (major) string. If you do that and rename them in the number system, you get 1, b3, 4, 5, b7. These two scales will be a very familiar sound to you ear, thousands of tunes are made from them.

In practical terms, this means (G Major Pentatonic, starts on a G note)

1 2 3 5 6 1

If you start this on the last note before the whole thing starts over at the 12 (g), you have to drop back to the second fret on the bass string. This pattern is what is known as the minor pentatonic scale.

6 1 2 3 5 6

Moving this PATTERN up so it starts on good ol' G gives the G Minor Pentatonic. It has the same sort of sound as the last one that started down on the bass string. Because we want to call it a g minor pentatonic, we number the notes from g.

(Minor Pentatonic, starts with G)


or moving it to the center string again

1 b3 4 5 b7 1

So what good are these? Pat Cloud has a good analogy.. The pentatonic notes are the important ones that get used a lot. If you move to a new town, you learn the major streets, and where the stoplight is. It is not until later that you learn the back alleys. The pentatonic scale notes are the main streets in our music.

If you play pentatonic notes and it is in time, you'll get away with it. It will be low tension improvisation. It is a premise in his excellent book/CD, *The Key to the 5 String Banjo.* It IS a key.

An aside: our regular scale is septatonic (7 tones), the chromatic one is dodecatonic (12 tones). All the others than pentatonic exist, we just don't happen to use the words much. In all of this, look for PATTERNS. Memorize the patterns, visually, aurally and by feel.

One other thing. It keeps it tidy to name note as Arabic (regular) numbers, and chords of the same name as Roman numerals. To be really on top of it, minor chords are lower case, major chords are upper.... ii chord minor, II chord major named the same as the second note of whatever string or notes you are using to create them. More on that later, it's easy too.

With that as a preface, look at David Boots' explanation of the regular do re mi scale and how the chords fall out of it, and starting to use the messy names a bit. After all, they do exist.

This may seem to be a lot of stuff, but you only have to learn it once. Wallow in it over and over if it overwhelms you, and it will come. Pencil and paper, drawing this stuff as sketches may help. Grok the system, and you can build anything you need, and you don't have to memorize thousands of chords, etc. I was stupendously lucky, someone took me through this on the second day when I started to play the guitar. No fear. The book with the title "5288 Guitar Chords" (true title) was not a threat, because I knew I could build them if I needed them.

There is more about fancy chords, but they will tell you what is in them from the name.

This is the foundation. And you only get to learn it once. And never forget tortant than quantizing the patterns that are popular in this or other time periods.

Finally, I'll offer a comment from a spectacular classical guitarist on why music theory is so helpful.

"Even if you were a great swimmer and could easily swim the English Channel, a boat would still get you there far more quickly, dry, and not exhausted.

"Music theory is a boat." - Andre Segovia

~Gestalt Banjo Vol. 2~

Section ??? - Some Don Reno Motifs


Last Updated 15 Jul 2006 by PJH

Edited 09 Apr 2007 by WF