A Book Of Five Strings - online tutorial

Strategies for mastering the art of old time banjo.

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Finding The Melody
Up to this point we have discussed chord progressions and ways to break up the frailing strum into different rhythms. Now it's time to talk about how to find a melody line in a chord progression. We have already covered how scales are constructed from the chromatic scale by following a series of whole and half steps. Now we are going to look at the relationship between scales and chord forms.
Open Position Scales
Open position scales are built from chord forms that use open strings. In G tuning we have two major open position chord forms: G and C.
The G scale is one of the easiest to find on the banjo because we are tuned to an open G chord. Our root note is the open G string and we just walk across the strings until we end up on the G note on the first string at the fifth fret.
Example One
This example shows a G scale.
The C scale is a little bit more troublesome because we don't have access to a low C note. We could tune the fourth string to C, but if we did that we would have to retune every time we wanted to go back to the key of G.
Retuning just isn't practical in a jamming or performing situation. We don't want everything to stop so we can retune every time we play in a different key so we have to find a way to make the best of what's available in open G tuning.
Our first option to find a C scale is to start on the C note on the second string at the first fret.
Example Two
This example shows a C scale starting on the second string at the first fret. That will work, but it limits us to playing the melody on the first string.
The solution to the problem is to find a compromise. We don't have a low C note but we do have a low D note. All we have to is play a C scale starting on the second note.

E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III