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4 Tips For Using A Banjo In Rock Music

BanjoThe sound of a Banjo is so unique that it immediately grabs a listener's attention--the high, quick-decaying tone of the instrument has been used for a century in Americana music, and its roots go back much farther.

Lest you think that the Banjo is just a country music instrument, it's been used in a ton of rock recordings, too, by artists like the Kinks and the Rolling Stones. Here are a few tips for incorporating a Banjo into your own band's rock songs without sounding too "country."

1. Know the tonal range of the banjo. The first thing you should consider is that the banjo isn't a guitar, even if you've got one of those six stringed banjos and it's tuned the same. The higher tonal range of the guitar gives it a specific place in a song, at a different tonal area than the guitar, so playing it like a guitar will make your song sound pretty disjointed and odd. Banjos are also typically played very percussively, so realize that your banjo is serving this function--a light but percussive touch sounds best with rock music.

2. Plan the other instruments around the banjo. It often works best in rock music to plan out guitar, drum, and bass parts around a pre-written banjo parts, as most bands are more familiar with those other instruments and are therefore more flexible with them. Don't simply play what the banjo player is playing, either--write a part the complements but doesn't copy the banjo in order to really highlight the role of the banjo in the song.

3. Use classic country banjo rolls. You don't need to get too fancy; usually, the guitars are already making a piece pretty busy, so keep rhythm in mind and use as many classic forward and reverse rolls on the banjo part as possible. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, now would be a good time to look up a few banjo rolls on google; they're classic patterns that you can use to improve the style and sound of your banjo playing and to get that classic, fast, jangle-y sound.

4. Mixing tips. Whether you're playing live or you're just putting the banjo into a recording of your band's music, be sure to EQ the instrument away from the guitars. Typically, you'll boost the low-to-mid mids, while dipping those same areas in the guitar EQ. This will lead to a more balanced overall sound in the rock song, and the banjo will lay flat with the rest of the recording or live instruments.

Do you have any tips for using a banjo in rock or alternative music? Post in our comments section below.


By Phil Dotree - Phil Dotree has written copy for numerous websites and news sites for five years. His articles have appeared on the Howard Stern Show, Fark, Digg.com, and more. Phil is currently working on a book about fr...  

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