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Where to put the capo?

The DGdg tuning of tenor banjo enables to play easily the tunes in the key of G. Open strings fit into the tonic chord G, so the left hand fingers can play the melody and all the slides, hammer-ons, and pull-offs. Also other basic chords in the key of G (C = 2020 and D = 0202) do not occupy the left hand fingers so much.

For other keys there is used the capo. E.g. for playing in key of A the capo has to be on the second fret. But what to do if the tune is e.g. in the key of E? The capo on ninth fret is not the best solution.

There is other option: if you can play the tune in the key of D (while still being tuned to DGdg), you can play in the key of E after putting the capo to the second fret only. Big part of the fretboard is then still available for your left hand.

The table summarises the keys and the capos positions:

The key of the tune G G# A Bb B C C# D Eb E F F#
You play in the key G G G G G G G D D D D D
The capo is on the fret - 1 2 3 4 5 6 - 1 2 3 4

How to play in the key of D (in DGdg tuning)

Main three chords in the key of D major are D, G and A. Here are their voicings in the DGdg tuning (all of them are described from bass to treble):

D = 0202
G = 0000
A = 2222 or 2020 (incomplete A7)

If you play Scruggs style where the melody is picked by right thumb mainly on the deep D and G strings and the harmony is defined by the notes picked by right index and middle fingers mainly at the treble d and g strings, you need NOT to hold all the time the whole chord. You need to hold only the frets on the treble pair of strings, because the fingering on the deep pair of strings depends on the melody, which is played in that moment. In that case the voicing of the basic chords can be simplified to:

D = xx02 hold by left middle finger
G = xx00
A = xx22 hold by barre or tip of left middle finger
A7= xx20 hold by left middle finger

Example - melody of Jesse James in the key of G and D

Here are the very simple versions of Jesse James just to demonstrate the way of playing melody in the normal key of G and new key of D. Note the tuning of the tenor banjo remains DGdg all the time. In case of the key of D the melody is little modified as there is no sufficient deep range.

Tabs are in the TablEdit and gif formats. For more info about TablEdit go to my archive of TablEdit tabs. If you use TablEdit DEMO, do NOT resave downloaded tabs - saving cuts everything behind 16 bars.

Jesse James in the key of G Tabledit file Tab (gif image)
Jesse James in the key of D Tabledit file Tab (gif image)