Learn Melodic Style 5 String Banjo With G Scales

by David Bandrowski

When I was learning how to play 5 string banjo, there were 3 main styles of 3 finger playing - Scruggs Style, Reno Style, and Melodic or Keith style. Today one might argue that there is a more modern style called Fleck style - but that is for another conversation. 

The Melodic or Keith style is the one that attracted me the most when I was first learning because it gave you the ability to play fiddle tune melodies note for note in a very fluid way - hence the name, Melodic style. Some called it the Keith style in reference to the late great banjoist Bill Keith who predominately used this style.

When learning how to play the Melodic style, I found it to be fairly easy to follow when using tab to play a melody. Even when transcribing a melody, if I had time, I could work out how to play it on the 5 string banjo in the melodic style. The hard part was when I had to do it on the fly. Either when I was in a jam session and a new melody was brought to me or when I was trying to improvise using this style.

How I Learned To Improvise Using Melodic Style Banjo

  1. Learning lots and lot of melodies in the melodic style. Even if I didn't remember them, I would start to see patterns.
  2. Learning all of my scales in the melodic styles. Some of them with multiple fingerings.
  3. Practicing scale sequences.
  4. Transcribing licks from other instruments that are melodic focused such as a fiddle, saxophone, trumpet, clarinet, etc. and putting them into the melodic style on the banjo.

Today we are going to focus on point #2. We are going to learn our different types of G scales in the melodic style. The main thing about playing the melodic style is you almost never play the same string twice in a row unless you are using a hammer on.

You will notice that some of our minor scales have two different sets of fingerings. One set of fingerings will make you do a very quick position shift. The other set will make you use a hammer on to play two consecutive notes on the same string.

Major Scale

Major Scale 5 String Banjo Melodic Style

 Minor Scale - with position shift

minor scale with position shift melodic style 5 string banjo

Minor Scale - with hammer on

minor scale with hammer on melodic style 5 string banjo

Dorian Scale - with position shift

dorian scale with position shift melodic banjo

Dorian Scale - with hammer on

dorian scale melodic banjo with hammer on

Mixolydian Scale

mixolydian scale 5 string banjo melodic style

Minor Pentatonic Scale

minor pentatonic scale melodic style banjo

Major Pentatonic Scale

major pentatonic scale 5 string banjo melodic style

Blues Scale

blues scale 5 string banjo melodic style

Altered Scale

altered scale 5 string banjo melodic style

Harmonic Minor - with hammer on

harmonic minor melodic style 5 string banjo

In a future post we will learn how to do two octave scales so we can begin playing up the neck of the banjo. We will also cover the other 3 points more in depth that helped me learn how to improvise and layout melodies on the fly using the melodic style.

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