Friday, July 24, 2015

Cello Hand Shapes and Fingering Techniques for the Tenor Banjo?

The cello is tuned in fifths like a tenor banjo and has an even longer string length, so any reaches or stretches that a tenor banjo player has to deal with must certainly be more extreme on the cello, right?  For this reason I figured it wouldn’t hurt to research how cello players navigate the fingerboard of their instrument.

Based on what I found out, it seems as though cello players view the major scale in three note increments.  Unlike a mandolin, where you can reach 4 scalar notes on the same string without having to move your hand, on a cello you can only reach 3 scale notes in a row.  After playing those 3 notes you then have to decide if you’re going to shift and play the next three notes of the scale on the same string or on an adjacent string.

There are three different hand shapes or 3-note scalar patterns on the cello.  I've put it in my own words below, but this information is best explained in cellist Dave Haughey’s  Never-Ending Scale Exercise

Firstly, there’s X (whole + whole).  This is like playing notes 1-2-3, notes 4-5-6 or notes 5-6-7 of the major scale.  To play it you use the index finger, middle finger and pinkie with a fret spaced between each.  It’s a bit of an eXtension but is doable. 

Secondly, there’s 2 (half + whole).  This is like playing notes 3-4-5 and notes 7-1-2 of the major scale.  For this pattern you also use the index finger, middle finger (finger 2) and the pinkie, but there is no open fret between the middle finger and the index finger.

Thirdly and finally, there’s 3 (whole + half).  This is like playing notes 2-3-4 and notes 6-7-1 of the major scale.  For this pattern you use the index finger, ring finger (finger 3) and the pinkie without an open fret between the the pinkie and the ring finger.
Cello's Three Basic Hand Shapes - by Dave Haughey
On a GDAE tuned tenor banjo there’s a D-note on the 7th fret of the 4th string (G-string).  Using these cello fingering concepts, you might play a two-octave D-major scale by using Pattern X on the 4th string (frets 7-9-11 / notes D-E-F#), followed by Pattern X on the 3rd string (frets 5-7-9 / notes G-A-B), followed by Pattern 2 on the 2nd string (frets 4-5-7 / notes C#-D-E), followed by Pattern 2 on the 1st string (frets 2-3-5 / notes F#-G-A), then shift up and play Pattern 3 on the 1st string (frets 7-9-10 / notes B-C#-D).

There's so much more you can do with this and so many ways to think about it.  I encourage you to check out Dave Haughey's Never-Ending Scale Exercise that I linked to above because it does a good job of explaining some of the possibilities.

Two Octave Scales in Each of the Seven Modes:
Ionian = X-X-2-2-3
Dorian = 3-X-X-X-2
Phrygian = 2-3-3-X- X
Lydian = X-2-2-3-3
Mixolydian = X-X-X-2-2
Aeolian = 3-3-X-X-X
Locrian = 2-2-3-3-X

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