July 15, 2001

#4: Tonal Evenness

Scott D. from California writes:

I've noticed that with many players I listen to on CD their 5th-string notes (and sometimes 1st string notes) are not as prominent (loud) as mine sound to me when I play. (FWIW, I recall that your playing features more-or-less even-handed volume and timing for all strings).

Is it because:

- it's a finesse/choice thing, and these people have so much control that they are proactively playing the 5th string softer (or the other notes harder)?

- Or, maybe they use lighter gauge on these strings or some other set-up trick to make the 5th string quieter?

It's just a matter of aesthetics. It might even vary from song to song. As you will see in the intermediate/ advanced camp, interpretation of songs gives you a chance to play choppier, smoother, more or less accents, etc. You tailor it to the feel that would work best for each song, with the lyrics and rhythmic feel of the song showing you the way. I preach being *able* to play any string loud and clear, and then do what sounds best to your ear. As opposed to not having the control to accent the 1st and even the 5th when it seems called for.

Less volume on the 1st and 5th means more space for accenting the melody notes, which is certainly a good thing in many situations.

It's good you are listening close enough to be aware and concerned about such things. But your own sound getting really good will be the result not so much of analysis, but of many hours with your banjo, trying to get a "love" relationship going, where you know just how to make it sound the way you love it to sound. And it's all to the good if your favorite way of sounding has its own stamp of some kind, rather than just cloning someone else's (though it's great to learn how to imitate the sound of players you like).

Re string gage choices: These are made with an idea to how easy they make it to get the sound you like best.

One of my slogans at the Week 2 camp: "Good tone is based on caring." Think about that one.

Wow - so it's something these players are controlling. And at outrageous speed sometimes, too! A little humbling, but great to know.

It's not that special, really. Consider how you speak English, your personal inflections that are not pre-meditated, but are just a habit pattern that you came up with, are satisfied with. The little directions to your lips, tongue, and jaw are not conscious, just based on what you want to hear. Yes, you are controlling it, but in only a barely conscious way. That is how musicians come up with the variations in their sounds that make them, hopefully, attractive and distinctive.

Best of luck!

"Dr. Banjo", Pete Wernick

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