How to Play the Irish Tenor Banjo

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The tenor banjo is tuned in straight fifths. Find out how to play the Irish tenor banjo with help from an experienced music professional in this free video clip.

Part of the Video Series: Banjo Basics
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Video Transcript

Hey, this is Peter at Retro Fret in Brooklyn, New York. And here's the two minute tenor banjo course. Now you've had the five minute tenor banjo course, here's the two minute version. Essentially the tenor banjo is tuned in straight fifths. Basically like a violin or a mandolin. If you're a mandolin player you already know how to play the tenor banjo. All you have to do is take everything in your head and mutate it down from G to C. However if you've never played one before the trick is to get one basic chord form and you can move it all around the neck and modify it pretty quickly. So, bar across the two lower strings with your first finger. Your third finger comes down on the second string, two frets higher. Then your fourth finger comes down on the first string, three frets higher. You can modify this chord by making it a seventh, making it a minor, by doing some very quick alterations of these finger. And because the tenor banjo's a fully chromatic instrument you can move it up and down the neck to a one, four, five, one. Essentially if you use this one chord form here, here's the other one you need to know. This will be your four chord. So you're moving this down like this, you get the four chord in that key, which in this case is a B flat. So what you want to do is take that third finger, drop it on your third string here, and take the little finger, and it's a lot of work for an untrained little finger, bar across two strings here and that allows you to do this. That gives you a basic start. Now if you slide that whole chord up two frets that gives you a five chord and you can now play "Louie, Louie," or something like that. Essentially tenor banjo is an easy instrument to get started on because unlike the guitar there's no altered tuning string, everything is straight fifths. So if you want to play a scale, every note is where you expect it to be. So basic major scale in C looks like this. Play in the right key and hopefully nobody will notice that you don't know what you're doing yet. Thanks for watching. Get your tenor banjo now.


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