Wednesday, July 26, 2017

5 String BANJO Setup - Making Your Bluegrass Banjo Sound Better

I've been picking 5 string bluegrass banjo for 26+ years, and I've been teaching for many of those years. I've seen many banjos come and go, and I know that the average student needs a couple of pointers for making their banjo sound as good as it can.

IMG_0847
5 String Banjo - Photo   by      deovolenti
If I were to have 10 new students start today, I know that 6 or 7 of those students would say to me: "I've had this old banjo in the closet for 20 years and I thought it was time to learn how to play it." What most don't know is that even just sitting in a closet, the banjo gets out of adjustment. Some tender loving care is needed!

*Important*: 
There is no substitution for a nice instrument. It's a fact that a low-end instrument is just harder to learn on. It's tougher to play, tougher to manipulate. If you play a low-end banjo for some time, then switch to a higher quality instrument, you'll be amazed at how much easier it is to play. Most students start out on the cheap instrument to learn with, then switch into the "Cadillac" a few years in. This is backwards. You should give yourself the benefit of learning on something that's easy to play, right from the get-go. Having said that, many people don't have the budget for an expensive banjo, plus they might have an old banjo already in hand, ready to be learned on. This article will help those people. Just don't fool yourself into thinking that we're going to make your cheap, $100 Japanese made banjo sound like a Gibson Mastertone. We'll make it sound better, but we aren't going to turn a Ford Escort into a Cadillac by any means.

Item #1: new strings
Perhaps one of the most dramatic changes you can make to the overall sound of your banjo is to change the strings. This is not tough, and you can do this at home. One big consideration is to watch your string gauge. Most of the string manufacturers label their string sets with words like light gauge, medim light, medium, etc. My recommendation is to go with medium light; you'll find mediums way too tough on your fingers. If you have slight fingers or are young, you might even prefer light gauge strings. You'll have to try different sets to develop a preference.

A good recommended string changing interval is to change the strings after each 8 hours of playing time. And if you are pulling the banjo out of the closet for the first time in many weeks, months, or years, definitely get them changed. Strings corrode, wear out, rust, become dull, etc., even if the banjo is just sitting in the closet. Consult the author's information to contact me with questions.

Item #2: set the bridge
The bridge is that little wooden piece that the strings pass over, just before they reach the end of the banjo. If the bridge is out of place, your banjo won't make the proper notes. The bridge is not fastened down; it's held in place by the pressure of the strings, and it can be moved around. To set the bridge, you'll need an electronic tuner.

Measure the distance from the nut to the 12th fret. Then, make the distance from the 12th fret to the bridge the same. Once this is done, tune your banjo. Once in tune, fret the 1st string (the higher of the two D strings) at the 17th fret, and see what your tuner is telling you. When the bridge is set right, this will be an in tune G note. If the tuner says the note is too sharp, then scoot the bridge back towards the tail piece just a little. Retune, then check again. If the tuner says the note is flat, scoot the bridge towards the neck just a little. Retune, then check again. Keep checking, moving, and retuning until the 1st string, when fretted at the 17th fret, is showing an in tune G note.

*Handy tip*: Once the bridge is set, then each time you do a string change in the future, just do one string at a time so that the bridge doesn't move on you.

Item #3: the head
This is an adjustment that tends to make quite a difference on the overall sound of the banjo. Most beginners are afraid of this one, but there's no need to be. All you need are some nut drivers or sockets, and maybe a screwdriver. It's fairly straight-forward. Coincidentally, the head is the white "skin" that you can play like a drum; the big white circle that makes up the face of the banjo. When the brackets that hold the head tightly work themselves loose, then the head becomes "mooshy" and "tubby" sounding. A crisp, tight head gives you that classic banjo zing!

The first step is to remove the back of the banjo (this is called the resonator.) Most banjos have 4 thumb screws holding the resonator on. Usually no tools are needed to remove these screws. Sometimes, you'll need a screwdriver to remove the screws holding the back on.
Turn the banjo upside down, and notice the "fingers", or brackets, ringing the banjo. At the bottom end of these brackets are bracket nuts. These brackets and nuts are just fancy nuts and bolts; nothing to 'em. Grab your sockets or nut drivers, and figure out which size will fit over your bracket nuts. 
Once you have the correct tool, start with one nut and tighten it. 

*Important*: don't crank down with all your might! Simply "snug" this bracket. It's possible to spit or crack the head if you crank on these nuts. Snug the nut with very little force, then move to the next one.

Most banjo repairmen say that you should do one nut, then move to the one directly across from it, on the other side of the banjo, and tighten it. Work your way around the banjo, tightening each pair this way. Remember to just barely snug up the nut.

Once you return to the one you started with, you'll likely find it loose again. It's very common to have to make 3 or 4 passes around the banjo before you get everything snugged down. When you have everything crisp and tight, put the resonator back on and enjoy!

In closing
With a little tender loving care, you can squeak some more life out of your old, low-end banjo. I always recommend buying the most banjo you can afford, but reality proves that we'll have to work with what we have available to us. Get your old banjo set up using these simple pointers, and you'll be happier with the overall sound and playability.

"Wunse, I coodn't even spel bango pikker...now I are one!"

My name is Banjo Paul. I'm a banjo teacher, a member of two bluegrass bands, a web designer, and a professional blogger. I have a banjo themed website and blog with lot's of good information about banjos, banjo humor, banjo lessons, banjo kulture...errr...culture...and lot's more. I'd love for you to stop by and say howdy sometime, and as I always say: pick 'em if ya got 'em!



Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Beginning TRUMPET Players Beware!

In the world of a beginning brass student (trumpet, trombone, euphonium, baritone,tuba), things look very overwhelming and the teacher seems to be the all knowing, so what the brass teacher says, usually seems as though it's the only way for things to be done.

Trumpet with sunlight streaming into Knox Chap...
Trumpet with sunlight streaming into Knox Chapel, taken during Christmas concert
(Photo credit: 
Wikipedia)

Brass teachers can tend to leave holes in the instructions to a young student as to the proper way for them to produce sound.  Most trumpet students end up with a pinched sound or extremely airy sound due to the lips not properly forming a relaxed embouchure.  This eventually leads to extreme frustration for the student and seems absolutely insurmountable because they can't find the answer to correct their problems.

Basically, by relaxing the upper lip, lower lip, and using the mouth corners to create the aperture the student can instantly create a relaxed open sound without having to over blow.

If the student is under the impression that it takes "talent" or a "natural ability" to play their instrument, this can also create a defeated feeling.  So it's VITAL that the trumpet instructor / brass instructor relay the message to each student that it is habit that is being created when practicing.  So if the student is careless in the beginning, they will have habits that they must fix or break in months and years to come.  I've found that sound problems usually indicate far more than just tonality issues.  A trumpeter's tone can indicate pinching, an overly open aperture, a lack of air usage, or a strained embouchure.  This will inhibit flexibility, range, endurance, and control of various volumes!

    Keith Fiala / Anna Romano
    Article Directory: EzineArticles        


Monday, July 24, 2017

The Pucky Sounds of the Classical HARPSICHORD

The harpsichord is related to the organ and the piano, to mention a couple that has been created with the same idea of the harpsichord. The harpsichord was developed around the same time that the clavichord came around, which was sometime during the 16th century. It is a stringed instrument that is played by pressing the keys. When each key is pressed, it strikes the string and this is what causes the string to vibrate in order to make a sound.

Harpsichord, angle view
Harpsichord- Photo   by     Princess Ruto
For a while, the harpsichord was a popular instrument that was often used during the baroque music period. Its popularity may have been maintained had it not been for the creation of the piano. Once the piano was created, popularity fell from the harpsichord as the piano became the preferred instrument.
The harpsichords design is not too different from that of the piano, probably because the basic design of the piano originated from the harpsichord. The sounds produced from the strings of the harpsichord alone are not very loud. In order to enhance the sound, each string is set over a bridge that allowed the string to vibrate freely. The harpsichord also resembles the piano in appearance when one takes the time to compare the two.

With such similarities, one might wonder why most would abandon the harpsichord for the piano when the piano was invented. It could have been that the piano was more efficient and more versatile than the harpsichord, though the harpsichord is still played today in modern music. While it may never again be anywhere near as popular as it once was, the harpsichord appears to still have a place in music and it might never be obsolete. While it shares similarities with the piano, it is still its own unique instrument that offers its own unique sound.

While most will favor the piano over the harpsichord, there are some who play the harpsichord because they like the sound. It is not an overly complicated instrument to learn how to play. Someone who has interest in learning how to play it and finds a good teacher will have little trouble. The sheet music is also fairly basic and few will have much difficulty in gaining good control of the instrument. Someone who is familiar with playing the piano will have even less difficulty because the basics are more or less the same.


Finding a harpsichord to play might not be as easy as finding a piano, but they are still being constructed. Finding a used one might the best idea for someone who is new to playing the instrument because a new one can be quite expensive. Finding a teacher who can teach the harpsichord may also prove easier than one would think. Again, the basics of playing the harpsichord are not too different from the basics of playing the piano. They are related instruments and share many similarities that make it possible for one to have little trouble in playing both. The harpsichord is certainly an instrument that is worth the effort for anyone interested enough to give it a try.

    By Victor Epand
    Victor Epand is an expert consultant for used CDs, autographed CDs, and used musical instruments.
    Article Source: EzineArtilces


Sunday, July 23, 2017

3 Steps to Playing Comfortably for a Crowd

Most people are not comfortable performing in front people. When I say of performing, such as an instrument, or singing, or acting, I mean more than just knowing how to do well at your chosen craft, I mean doing it well and in front of people. It’s the “in front of people” part that gets us every time. How many of us sing like a bird in the shower but then when people are watching we can’t carry a note. Here are three steps to start you on the road to comfort (never complete) when called on to shine.

Bebe? Baby? I don't know. But she was a hottie...
Bebe? Baby? I don't know. But she was a hottie, could sing for miles, and had the crowd eating out of her hand. Her various crotch grabs and atypical "Bush sucks" ranting - even with her broken english - ran a little dry for me.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
1. Don’t neglect to practice. Whether you sing or play an instrument practice is the key to being relaxed. The more familiar you are with what you are performing, the less anxiety you will have about messing up.

2. Don’t back up. Piano teaches pass this on all the time. If you mess up in the middle, or any place in your piece, don’t back up and repeat the offending passage. Keep going. Chances are your audience didn’t even notice.

3. Try not to be critical of your technical skill. Focus more on your overall performance. How does it sound as a whole? If you’re a pianist and you worry during your piece about your fingering then you’re ignoring the song and how it sounds. Worry about technicalities when you practice. Which should be often.

With time playing in front of and for other people will come much easier. You'll be a natural. So use every opportunity to show your stuff!




Saturday, July 22, 2017

Everything You Need to Know About the Violin From A-Z - LUTHIER

Hello today I am carrying on with my series everything you need to know about violin from A-Z. We are now on L for luthier. A luthier is someone who builds violins and other stringed instruments such as guitars, mandolins, lutes and cellos. The art of the luthier is divided into two categories those who make instruments that are plucked and those who make instruments that are bowed this second category also contains a further specialization known as an archetier, a person who makes bows.

Varnishing a violin by Hildegard Dodel, luthie...
Varnishing a violin by Hildegard Dodel, luthier in Cremona
(Photo credit: 
Wikipedia)

The violin as we know it today was created by Andrea Amati of Cremona Italy. Amati was originally was lute maker and gave birth to an entire family of renowned luthiers, his son also becoming a master with several noted apprentices.

The most famous of all luthiers is undoubtedly the legendary Antonio Stradivari also of Cremona Italy. Stradivari started out as a student of Amati but soon eclipsed him. To this day Stradivari is still known for his violins which are now worth millions.

Violin making is an art and science. The luthier must have many skills he must be a wood sculptor delicately carving the shapes of the instrument. He must be an engineer designing and constructing the lines and surfaces of the piece. He must be an acoustician, improving the sound and design of each instrument that he makes. Using his experience and technique to refine the subtle nuances of every instrument built.

Lastly the luthier must be a musician if he cannot actually play the instruments that he produces then his skill is less than worthless. The luthier must understand the musician's needs and wants and must be able to supply them.

    Eric B. Hill is an professional violin player and teacher with over 20 years experience.
    Article Source: EzineArticles