Slide-out, Switch-in

As I’ve taught students the basics of chords and their positions on the banjo fret board, I’ve continued to marvel at the various symmetries and relationships that pop up.

For instance, Let’s look at the D and F chord positions and one interesting relationship they share between both major and 7th chords.

I suspect almost any banjo player could rattle these off quickly, but as a quick review here are three basic chord positions. With these, you can make any major chord:

  • The Bar chord
  • The F position
  • The D position

The D and F positions are so named from the first chord students usually make with them.

By flatting or sharping one or two strings, you can also modify any of these chord positions into a minor, 6th chord or 7th chord.

Notice, since we are dealing with four strings here (yes, we are ignoring the fifth string as we talk about chords) and since we have four available fingers to fret with, we have an ideal situation with the banjo fret board: almost every chord we make can be a closed, slidable chord. That is, we can use this particular finger position to form any chord: G, G#, A, A#, etc.

Based on these relationships, here are a few of the gems I often share concerning banjo fret board logic.

1.       Want to turn a major chord into a minor chord, and always remember how? Just remember that all you have to do is flat one note one fret. In other words, just move one of your four fingers one fret towards the peghead. But which finger? That depends on which of the three basic chord positions you are fretting.

a.       For the bar chord position, flat the 2nd, or B string.

b.      For the D position, flat the D string. Oops – but there are two D strings! So flat them both; the 1st and the 4th strings (it’s still one note being flatted).

c.       For the F position, flat the G (the middle or 3rd) string.

You’ll find very quickly that you have to rearrange all your fingers for the Bar position. The F position also takes some getting used to, and the D position is the easiest of the three to fret.

2.       Want to make 6th and 7th chords quickly? Just as we flatted one string for a minor, we sharp one note up two frets for a 6th chord, and up three frets for a 7th chord. Just like going from major to minor, this also depends on which of the three basic chord positions you have.

a.       For the bar chord position, sharp the 1st, or D string, up 2 or 3 frets. Don’t bother with the 4th string, even though it is also a D string. This one is fairly easy to fret.

b.      For the D position, flat the G (i.e., 3rd) string up 2 or 3 frets. Notice this is the string with the finger closest to the peghead.

c.       For the F position, flat the 2nd, or B string up 2 or 3 frets. Just as withthe D position, this is also the string with the finger closest to the peghead.

3.       Now, hang with me just a little longer and do this. Go back a forth between the F and D position for both the major and 7th chords. Do you notice any similarities? See how the outer two strings (1st and 4th) just slide up or down one fret when you change from major to either minor or 7th, and how the inner two strings (2nd and 3rd) just switch fingers? And this holds true for all situations: minor, 6th and 7th chords.
I call this ‘Slide-out, Switch-in’. Meaning, slide your two outer strings up or down a fret and switch fingers on the inner two strings. Once you get the hang of it, it makes it a lot easier to remember these various chord changes.

Here’s a couple of diagrams that will also help explain this concept better:

Slide Out, Switch In, 1 

Slide Out, Switch In 2
More fret board logic later.

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About Phill Gibson

I'm from Huntsville, Alabama where I work as a Systems Engineer and part-time banjo and mandolin instructor. I've been playing various instruments since my teen years. I started mandolin at about age 17 and banjo at 20. I love just about all kinds of music. In terms of banjo styles, I play Scruggs and melodic and am working on becoming more advanced with single string. I'm also working on 4-finger banjo, which is way off the beaten path. I would like to see more jazz techniques integrated into bluegrass situations; counterpoint, especially. So long-term, that's what I'm doing. I'm also very keen on astronomy, ATM (amateur telescope making), birding, christian homeschooling, martial arts, organic gardening and about 30 other distracting hobbies to a (mercifully) lesser extent.
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