- Jim Bottorff's
- TIPS ON LEARNING
TO PLAY THE BANJO
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- I recommend
the following to beginning banjo players:
- Go to a local music store and browse
through the books on banjo playing. Generally, there are
three types of books for playing the banjo: 5-String, Plectrum,
- The 5-String and Plectrum
banjos have long necks (22 frets). Tenor banjos have short necks
(19 frets or less). The 5-String banjo can be tuned and played
like a Plectrum banjo (remove the 5th string), but a Plectrum
banjo can not be played like a 5-String (no 5th string). Also,
a Tenor banjo can be tuned like a Plectrum but it is difficult
to tune a Plectrum like a Tenor (the first string will probably
break). Any of the three types of banjos can be tuned like a
Guitar (first 4 strings) and played similar to a Plectrum or
Tenor banjo. If this sounds confusing just remember, the music
notes are all the same, they are just in different locations
on different instruments.
- Try to select a book for your particular
banjo that shows tuning methods, basics of music, chord exercises,
and a few songs. The Mel-Bay company has a large number
of beginning and advanced publications. Harry Reser and
Roy Smeck are names to look for in the older books. Although
they were well known as tenor banjo players, they wrote books
for all types of banjos. Instruction books with cassette or CD
recordings are good if you can find them.
- If you like folk and bluegrass music,
Pete Seeger's "How to play the 5-string Banjo" book
has a lot of variety with examples of various styles of strumming
and finger-picking. Some banjo books focus on only one
style of playing, such as frailing, 3-finger picking, single-string
melody, or chord-melody. These are good if you know what
playing style you want to learn. If you are not sure what style
you are interested in, stay with the books that show music basics
and simple songs with chord diagrams.
Local city and county libraries sometimes have books and recordings
that are no longer available in the music stores. You can
also access the Internet from most libraries, and they provide
assistance in searching for information such as banjo web sites.
Used book stores sometimes have some banjo instruction
books as well. Two internet sources for books, records,
videos, and CD's are the "ebay.com" and "amazon.com"
auction web sites.
Learn to tune the banjo by various methods such as, electronic
tuner, piano, pitch pipe, tuning fork, other instruments, and
relative-tuning. The relative-tuning is explained in most
beginning books and this should be one of the first things you
learn on the banjo. Always check the tuning before playing
or practicing. Being able to stay in tune is very important.
Learn the left hand chord positions for C, F, G7 and then G,
C, D7, playing them in the order shown. Use a flat guitar
type pick, your fingers, or the back of your finger nails, to
strum/pick the strings. Don't be concerned with rhythm
or anything else until you can make each chord sound clear and
loud without buzzing or sounding muted. Practice, practice,
practice. As you hold the chord, strike each string separately
to make sure you are getting clean, clear sounds. Getting
a clear sound from each string is very important.
Once you have learned to tune the banjo easily and make clear
sounding chords, then it's time to continue on with the
various right hand techniques such as flat-picking, frailing,
finger-picking, etc. Rhythm, timing, and speed of changing
chords will come with practice. Keep the right and left hand
techniques separate at first, then combine them together as they
get easier. Skip To My Lou, Down In The Valley, Camptown
Races, and Buffalo Gals are typical of the types of songs to
Listen and watch as many banjo players as possible. Choose
a style(s) of playing that you like. Find a local banjo
teacher that can teach you music basics, rhythm, timing, and
Have your banjo checked-out and adjusted by someone with banjo
knowledge. Watch while they do it and have them explain
the function of the different parts. Learn about string
gauges and how to change strings. Learn how to properly
adjust the bridge and tighten the head of your banjo. Almost
every part on the banjo has a relationship to the way it sounds.
- When you are using visual materials
such as music notation, tablature or chord diagrams, remember
this: "Use the music to learn the song.....Use your
ears to play the song".
Practice every day, this is very important.
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