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 neck.

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