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For the 5-string banjo player, playing in different keys can present a bit of a challenge.
The 5th string drone, while providing the banjo with one of its most defining and cherished sounds, also presents some limitations. It can be tempting to spend all of your time within the comfort of standard G tuning.
Now, the capo does offer some options. For the keys that are close by and higher in pitch – G#, A, A#, B, and even C – we can capo all 5 strings up.
But if you’re ever going to be playing songs, either backing someone else, or playing and singing yourself, then being able to venture even further outside the land of G is essential, as the chosen key is often dictated by the singer’s vocal range.
Case in point, “Feast Here Tonight” sounds much better when I sing it in D than it would in G or A.
And that G on the 5th string just doesn’t sound so hot as a drone note in the key of D.
So how do we handle this situation?
One way would be to avoid the 5th string altogether. But that’s no fun, is it? If we wanted a drone-less banjo, we’d have bought one with 4 strings!
Another is to leave strings 1-4 at the same pitch, DGBD, and tune the 5th string to an A (the 5th note in the D scale, which is a much better sounding drone note for this situation), leaving us with aDGBD.
One advantage of this particular tuning for this key is that it allows you to make ample use of the lowest string, which is now tuned to the root note in the key (D). I like having those deeper tones to sing against.
For this reason, I tend to choose this particular tuning, aDGBD, for songs in the key of D (and if we make use of the capo, we now have access to the keys of D#, E, F, F#, G)
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Alternatively, we could also tune to an “open D” tuning and play it there, the most common one of those being aDF#AD.
For an entirely different take on this classic, here’s a version, using 2 finger style on the gourd banjo. Once again, I’m playing in the key of D, but the tuning here is dADF#A. This is just standard G tuning with all the strings tuned down 5 half steps to take advantage of the lower tones of the gourd banjo.
You’ll find the tab for this version presented below as well.
“Feast Here Tonight” – 2 finger version on gourd banjo
“Feast Here Tonight”
aDGBD tuning, 3 finger banjo (Brainjo level 3)
“Feast Here Tonight”
gDGBD tuning (dADF#A on the gourd), 2 finger banjo
Notes on the Tab
For more on how to read the tab, click here for the How To Read Banjo Tabs article.
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