Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

What Keys Are generally Best for Which Instruments?

My question, as a guitar player, is what keys are best suited to the fiddle, mandolin, and banjo? If I’m looking to be able to play with other bluegrass instrument players in a jam type of setting, are there some keys that those instrumentalists are typically going to want to play in because of the way their instruments are tuned or how they work?

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Hi Rich, I play banjo which is tuned to open G (gDGBD)so that’s it’s preferred key. When I’m at a jam, however, I’m always putting my capo on the second fret (making it open A) for those tunes typically played in that key which are “fiddle tunes”. Mandolins and fiddles are tuned in 5ths, ie GDAE. Theoretically all these instruments can play in any key, but G (for banjos) and A (for fiddles and mandolins) allows more open strings in the common scales.

Apparently trumpets prefer B flat!

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Hi Rich

Great question. In bluegrass tunes are typically played in the keys of G C D A Bb E F Dm Am and Em for the most part the vocals in the band determine the key. Fiddle tunes are traditionally played in A D & G but I am sure someone with more knowledge than I will jump in and add more. Particularly on the Minor Keys and other arrangements that I am not familiar with.

As a banjo player I focused a lot on learning to play in the key of G and C when I was a beginner I could then place a capo on and play in other keys. There is some limitation to this so as my knowledge grew I try to focus on playing in D and other Keys without the capo as I work on developing my playing skills.

I love to retune the banjo and play in E D and Drop C & D this adds much more colour to the musical palette than Standard G and D tunings.

@BanjoBen 's lessons cover all you will need to play great rhythm guitar in a bluegrass band. Just work your way through the lessons and you’ll soon find yourself being welcomed at any jam session.

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Great info, thanks!

B flat… :thinking: now that’s interesting! If I see a trumpet case in the room then I’ll just make a quiet exit out the back, LOL!

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Thanks Archie, and a good reminder to go back to the rhythm lessons. So many tracks to go down on BanjoBen website, which is awesome!

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I like to play out of G position on guitar and banjo, and often like to capo to A, Bb or B- something about capoed positions that just sound better to my ear, and that’s also my favorite singing range for most songs. On mandolin, though, the keys I find easiest to play in are A and D.

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On a side note, here’s a video with Chris Thile and Michael Daves playing “Crocodile Hornpipe” (second tune) out of open C# minor!

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That was incredible. Ok, two questions:

  1. who are those guys?!

  2. how do you fit grown up hands on that little instrument?!

:grinning:

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Thile is so funny and weird too. Awesome mando technique of course. Guitar player is pretty good too. Thile just amazes me with his talent!!

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ok, just googled Thile. “Thile has performed as a duo with guitarist and vocalist Michael Daves since 2005. They released their debut album, ‘Sleep With One Eye Open’, on May 10, 2011.” But I still don’t know the answer to my question #2, LOL!

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Guess you’ll have to ask Ben or Jake about that one, haha! :upside_down_face: Honestly, I’m still working on it, and I don’t even have large hands…

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These are simply goofy versions of old familiar tunes.

The first (Fisher’s Hornpipe) is out of D and Ben teaches it.

The second tune is the B part of Blackberry Blossom done out of E (of which C sharp minor is the 6 chord)

third - sailor’s hornpipe out of A

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Hey Archie Nice to see you back! Hope all is well. Just a friendly note to say you’ve been missed. ( I’m sure you’ve heard :wink: ) :sunglasses:

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Hi Rich

I should add. Guitar players get the best bang for their bucks here since every banjo and mandolin tune that @BanjoBen teaches has accompanying guitar rhythm TABs And you can also play along with the mp3 files at varying speeds

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Yes, capoing on second fret would make a lot of sense from a guitar standpoint, cause it’s easy to do a 1, 4, 5 from the key of A. Then again, it’s easy to do it from G as well.

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yes, I need to learn how to use that tef thing…

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It will definitely improve your learning & playing skills