Mike Hatfield asks:
I have a question, for anyone who would like to respond, regarding scales
for the Banjo. I have seen the major scales tabbed out in several
documents, and they are different (different strings/fret positions). I
know that notes can be found in many places on the fretboard, but why the
differences between authors? Is one way of playing/learning the scales
better for bluegrass as opposed to jazz or other music?
Pat Cloud answers:
I wouldn't make that distinction. It's not the music style, but
rather the player. I believe the best method for learning scales is with
the cycle of fourths (or fifths) and that it would benefit one to learn as
many ways as possible to play scales.
In 1983-4, I met with Pete Pardee. He had just finished his
monumental manuscript, "Scales and Arpeggios for Five String Banjo." It is
the most exhaustive work on the possible fingerings that I had ever seen
and still represents a milestone in banjo literature. Because it was years
ahead of it's time, it was thereby mercilessly panned by Bluegrass
Unlimited. It's was as if an expansion of knowledge was taboo.
When I met with Pete, he questioned why I had chosen certain
fingerings. I found that I had adopted only a small portion of the total
possibilities simply because of what I was working on at the time, which
was the integration of the upper register and practicing cycles through the
range of the instrument.
Because the instrument is going through its growing pains,
technique for 5 string banjo is referred to by personality, ie. melodic =
Keith Style & single string = Reno Style. And these personality/techniques
are evoked to distinguish them from the great gift of Earl Scruggs who
single-handedly put the 5 string banjo back into this century. It is Earl
Scruggs who foreshadowed 5 string banjo as a unique musical invention. It's
no wonder Pete's book was panned. Generic technique has no personality
attached. The reviewer at BU walked over a treasure.
In the future, all technique will be utilized and that will
necessarily include the fifth string. As more composition for banjo
arrives, the fifth string will distinguish the banjo's full range of
technique. Else, it might as well be played like a four string guitar.
Musicianship is an ever ongoing process and when you adopt a
fingering for a scale, it tells as much about you as your note choices when
you solo. Many of the different fingering choices for major scales can be
built around sliding in and out of the half steps (4-5, 7-8). Other choices
utilize open strings to allow you to get to different registers of the
Another consideration is how you view the fingerboard - what you
see when you play. The visualization of chord shapes from which you play
scales can also be a consideration. A string players visual perception
comes into play because most string players play through their left hand
with their right hand following. That's why you see string players giving
attention primarily to their left hand. I've never met anybody who thinks
music through their right hand. Your left hand has ears.
Thanks to Pat Cloud