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Cross Tunings for Guitar, Banjo and Mandolin

Edited by Paul Race for Creek Don't Rise(tm)

Editor' Note:For several years, Chris Erswell, a UK folk musician, was active in Internet folk circles, including the "Banjo Hangout." He often shared information, including the content on this page, under the name "Tom Joad," named for the fictitious hero of The Grapes of Wrath. Unfortunately, circumstances caused him to stop updating these pages several years ago, and the site subsequently went down.

We used to link to Chris' pages from this web site, and we have heard the dismay of readers who could no longer access Chris' files. So we sought permission to restore what we could, and this is the result.

This page addresses some of the tuning variations that were (and in some cases are) common on fretted instruments such as banjo. Chris's original page had several links to other sites that have also gone down. We have kept a record of those links and will try to find the content he was referring to if possible. In fact one of the broken links originally pointed to another "down" site that we have archived for possible reconstruction, when we have appropriate permissions. But for now, I have taken the broken links off the page to avoid confusion.

If you have any of the other content that Chris generated that we are missing, please let me know.

- Paul Race

Cross Tunings for Guitar, Banjo and Mandolin

Banjo Cross Tunings

The frailing banjo uses many different string tunings sometimes known as cross tunings. The ones I use most often are:

Open G tuning: gDGBD

Double C tuning: gCGCD

G Modal tuning: gDGCD

The lower case "g" refers to the 5th string (the one furthest from the floor when playing). Double C tuning is sometimes known as Drop C tuning. There are others which I use less frequently such as G minor tuning: gDGBflatD.

There are many more cross tunings.

With this number of different tunings, it is easy to see why tablature is more practical for banjo than music notation. Using the latter would entail relearning the musical notes at every fret every time the banjo was re-tuned.

Guitar Cross Tunings

Cross tunings are also commonly used by guitarists when playing folk music. For example, when playing Celtic music, I often use D modal tuning: DADGAD (pronounced "dadgad") which makes the playing of Celtic modal harmonies much easier than the standard guitar tuning of EADGBE.

Mandolin and Musical Notation

If you already play a fretted stringed instrument like the guitar or banjo, it is relatively easy to learn the mandolin as well. And the mandolin has the same tuning as a fiddle. There are cross tunings for mandolin which make learning mandolin tablature useful. However, it is also useful to learn musical notation for the mandolin because this means you can then read and play literally thousands of fiddle folk tunes from around the world in the many anthologies that exist. Once you know the melody of a tune from the fiddle notation, it is easy to knock out the tune, or an accompaniment, on the guitar or banjo as well. And once you are reasonably confident on the mandolin--this makes it easier to learn the fiddle because you already know the left hand technique and notation.

Home | Clawhammer Tabs | African Origins of Clawhammer | Cross Tunings |

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