What banjo do I need for Irish traditional music?
You will need a 4 string tenor banjo for Irish traditional music. For Irish music we use the tuning GDAE from low to high.
Do I need a 19 fret or 17 fret tenor banjo?
Either is fine. Some players may find a 17 fret banjo beneficial because of the shorter scale length which makes easier work of reaching fourth finger notes such as the “high B”.
How much does a banjo cost?
An entry-level tenor banjo will cost in the region of €200-€400.
An intermediate instrument will range from €700-€1200.
You can get a high quality professional grade instrument from €1500 and upwards.
Should I go for a vintage banjo or a contemporary banjo?
This is down to personal preference. Go for the instrument that feels best to play.
What string gauges do I need?
Strings that will work on a 19 fret tenor banjo are gauges .36 wound, .26 wound , .17 wound or plain steel and.12 plain steel. For a 17 fret banjo be prepared to generally use slightly thicker gauges ie. .40 wound, .30 wound, .20 wound and .13 plain steel.
What pick/plectrum should I use?
Choice of pick comes down to personal preference. If you are unsure of what pick to start with I would recommend a 0.73mm nylon plectrum as a starting point. As you become comfortable with it you may decide you prefer the feel or tone of a thinner or thicker pick. Thicker picks tend to give more of a rounder tone with more bass and a stronger lower sonic presence. Thinner picks generally give a tone with more highs in the treble frequency range.
How should I hold the pick?
You should hold the pick loosely between your index finger and thumb with the playing point of the pick pointing towards the banjo head. Take care to not use excessive force to grip the pick so as to prevent strain in your fingers, hand or arm.
Should I use the 3 finger or 4 finger method for my fretting hand?
Either is fine. If you use the 4 finger method just make sure you have a strategy for hitting notes on the 6th and 7th frets.
Should I anchor my picking hand/finger(s)?
Anchoring is fine as long as you are not hindering your picking movement or excessively dampening the tone by leaning heavily on the banjo head.
What are triplets?
Triplets are what we call the main ornamentation we use on Irish style tenor banjo. A triplet is three short notes played quickly in succession. A triplet usually starts with downstroke of the plectrum. The picking hand and arm should remain relaxed when executing a triplet.
Can you play chords on banjo for Irish traditional music?
Tenor banjo is mostly used for single line melody playing in the Irish tradition. It is possible to play chordal accompaniment on tenor banjo but the volume of chordal playing is very loud and would drown out the other acoustic instruments common to Irish music. It’s best to leave the chordal accompaniment to the guitar, bouzouki and the piano.
Is the fretting hand on the tenor banjo similar to the mandolin and fiddle?
Because of the GDAE tuning the fingering of the fretting hand is very similar to both the mandolin and the fiddle. The banjo involves more of a stretch because of its longer string length.