Why You Should Tune Your Banjo at a Jam Session - dummies

By Bill Evans

Relative tuning for your banjo is great when you’re playing by yourself or for quickly touching up a string or two in the middle of a practice session. However, when playing with others (or with audio or video tracks), you need to get accustomed to tuning your banjo using one or more outside reference notes as provided by an electronic tuner or another instrument.

If you’re practicing on your own, the source of your reference pitches doesn’t matter; the important thing is to have the banjo in tune with itself. If you’re playing with others, everyone should use the same reference pitch, whether it comes from an electronic tuner or an instrument.

When musicians come together to make music, they first take some time to make sure that their instruments are in tune with one another before they start to play. Just before a jam session begins, you may see musicians off in different corners or with their backs turned momentarily from the main group, as they get in tune by using electronic clip-on tuners (see the preceding section for the how-to).

In this case, the participants use the reference notes provided by their tuners to get as closely in tune with each other as they can. (If the participants have their backs turned because they’re talking to their agents, you might have found an advanced jam session!)

Don’t hesitate to borrow another musician’s tuner whenever you need one in a group session. Believe me — everyone wants you to be in tune just as much as you do!

If your jam session is taking place outside, as often happens at a music festival, chances are good that all the instruments will gradually drift out of absolute tuning in reaction to the sun, the humidity, and warm temperatures.

If you’re joining a jam session that’s already in progress, the musicians may be in tune with each other but not with your tuner. In these situations, get a reference pitch from another instrumentalist and tune your banjo to that instrument using the guidelines in the next section.