I know it has been a long time since I last posted, but I am ready to get back at it. A lot of things have changed in my life and I have more time to devote to Banjoblogger.com.
In the last few years I have made a lot of progress on the banjo and I want to share what I have learned. Real improvements come with a true understanding of the instrument and how it can be used to make music. Of course the banjo can’t make music by itself, you have to give it a helping hand.
The most important thing to remember about playing the banjo is the simple fact that you are not the only instrument out there. At first you spend time perfecting simple songs like Boil them Cabbage Down and Cripple Creek, painstakingly perfecting every slide and nuance of the song. Soon enough you may want to try your hand at playing with another musician or stepping up at a jam. This is when push comes to shove and you have to be part of a musical group. There is nothing more satisfying than playing in a group, all of your knowledge is put to the test. I’m going to continue where I left off, helping banjo players or banjoists, if you like, learn the skills they need to actually play the banjo – not just memorize TABs and play them by memory.
I recently had the opportunity to see Earl Scruggs perform – Wow, he can still play like his fingers are on fire. Even at the age of eighty-four, he still picks with authority. The tasteful, articulate and of course, powerful style of Earl Scruggs has inspired more than a few pickers and this night was no exception.
The song selection was fantastic – from Lonesome Rueben to The Ballad of Jed Clampett, a lot of classic Bluegrass was enjoyed. Foggy Mountain Breakdown always gets me going and I wasn’t alone this evening – the audience ate it up too. FMB was written way back in 1949, and has been drawing new fans to Bluegrass and the banjo ever since. Thank you Earl Scruggs.
Before I leave you, I have to mention Jerry Douglas - Jerry and his band pushed the limits of Bluegrass, but at the same felt at home doing traditional tunes. Not to take anything away from Jerry, but Earl`s dobro player, Jennifer Meredith, has a few moves that will make your head spin too. Hats off to Earl, Jerry and their great bands – keep it up, you are our inspiration.
I have recently gone to a 3 day bluegrass workshop and it was fantastic. My instructor was Janet Beazley and I have nothing but positive words to say about the weekend. From the great instructors to the non-stop jamming, a fun weekend was had by all.
Janet plays banjo in the group – Chris Stuart & Backcountry and also has a fantastic solo album called 5 South. Give a listen to the song Run away, Sally Ann (5 South)- this song caught my attention the moment I heard it on Sirius 65 (Bluegrass 24 hours a day!!). Janet teaches at the University of Southern California and has a doctorate in early music, but what impressed me is her teaching style; supportive and easy going with a solid basis in the fundamentals. Our class had ten people in it and Janet had encouraging words for everyone, she helped each student with a trouble spot and really tried to help us be better players.
The forward roll – simple right? The forward roll is the fundamental building block in most banjo playing, especially bluegrass. Almost every instructor stresses this roll and surprisingly, many of us have just glossed over it and moved on to the next thing. Janet stressed the importance of playing this roll strongly and demonstrated it very clearly with some Ron Block tracks. Using the original Pro Tools tracks, Janet highlighted the banjo and it showed how much a gifted player like Ron uses the simple forward roll. The moral of this story: Strong fundamentals will lead to great banjo playing.
Take some time and look through banjoblogger.com, and bring the basics back to your practice schedule.
In my quest to improve this site, I have updated the list of categories to make it easier to access the growing banjo resources.
To make it easy to navigate this site just click on the category that you are interested in and start reading, listening and learning. For example , click on Banjo Tips and Tricks and you will be greeted with a post on Noodling, followed by an article on banjo straps, and so on.
If you would like to buy banjo strings click on Buy Banjos and Banjo stuff – the information about strings and links to purchase directly from Amazon.com are right there (The Best Banjo Strings). Don’t forget to search for the information you want – search banjo strings and you’ll get there as well.
There is a post that lists some great banjo books: go to Buy Banjos and Banjo stuff and the third post down is an article with a great list of top notch books: Ten Great Books to Learn to Play the Banjo.
Looking for the Earl Scruggs Book that everyone is talking about, click on the picture and BUY IT RIGHT NOW:
Spend some time looking around, there’s a lot of information on this site – something might catch your attention and take you to a higher level with your banjo. I appreciate your support and tell your friends about http://banjoblogger.com .
There are a lot of great websites that have to do with the five string banjo, so many that it is almost overwhelming. I thought I would help to simplify and create a top ten list of banjo sites. I wanted to make sure I had a good list, so I posted a call for input on the banjo hangout website forums. If you don’t already know, The Banjo Hangout is an excellent website and is highly recommended. The Banjo Hangout has TABS, lessons, forums, reviews, links and pretty well anything that relates to banjos; making the Hangout number one on the list. If you have any sites you think are worth listing let me know and I will check them out. Here it is the 2008 Top Ten Banjo Sites, by the Banjoblogger.
- The Banjo Hangout – The best banjo resource on the net.
- drbanjo.com – Pete Wernick’s site.
- Banjo Newsletter – A great source of banjo information.
- Janet Davis Music – A huge selection of banjo stuff
- The Music Moose – Forums, lessons, video and more.
- Bluegrassbanjo.com – This site will keep you busy.
- Dr. Horsehair – History of the banjo – very cool.
- Banjo Hollow – A well designed site.
- Uncle Ben’s Banjo Homepage – Learn to play clawhammer – great audio and diagrams.
- ezFolk – Another fantastic resource to learn the banjo.
- I know – this list goes to eleven – but I have to include this one – Paul Hawthorne’s Web Site – You’ll go back time and time again, he was an amazing person.
You will probably disagree with some of these choices, but you’ll have to admit that these sites have a lot to offer.
iPod – what a strange word. Should I have capitalized iPod? – or is that just bad form. Well, I have just joined the ranks of the headphoned masses – a sleek little iPod is at my fingertips.
Last year I entered the world of listening to music on my computer – I transfered some music onto my notebook and used it to learn a couple of songs. Soon I was hooked on the ease of use, wow, I can find a song without a major ordeal. I have come to the realization that Compact Discs are on the way out and the new media is digital. It seeems unreal to me that my CD collection can be loaded onto a hard drive the size of a pack of cigarettes with room to spare. Time to put some music on my new machine…
I only have one song on my iPod so far – Janet Beazley’s – Run Away, Sally Ann. Janet Beazley is a fantastic banjo player and this song is a great showcase for her vocals as well. I discovered this song on my favorite bluegrass station and mentioned it to a fellow bluegrass fan. To my surprise, he had a copy of the CD already, and it was signed by Janet herself. So much for my discovery, but I still really like this song and will give it some company on my iPod soon.
Surfing the internet for a little more information, I found some sites of interest:
Have a listen to this song and explore some of Janet`s music – you won`t be disappointed.
I’m sure that almost every banjo player has learned a song from tablature or TAB as it is commonly known. Although tablature gives you all the notes in a song, it doesn’t give you the feel. The biggest difference between a great banjo player and a good banjo player is that hard to describe aspect, known as feel. In this post I will give you some tips to help you avoid some of the pitfalls of TAB.
The first thing you have to know when you are learning a song is a big one – you have to know the song, inside and out. I know what you are thinking, of course I know the song, but do you REALLY know the song. Listen to your new song over and over, until you are extremely familiar with it, so familiar that you can’t get this song out of your mind. You’d be surprised to know how many people try to learn a song by guesswork – because if you don’t REALLY know your song, that is what you are doing.
Now that you know what you are trying to learn, let’s get started with the banjo. I will assume that you have an accurate TAB, as not all TABs are created equal. Be careful, some TABs are wrong and you don’t want to waste time learning a song the wrong way. Take a good look at your TAB and try playing the first measure, work through it one note at a time. You don’t have to learn the song in one day, so take your time and advance at a comfortable speed.
Once you have a few measures worked out and can play them from memory, it’s time to play along with the music. Strap on your banjo, slip on your picks and crank up the stereo and you’re ready to show your stuff. This is the moment of truth, if what you are playing fits in – great, you are on the right track. If you aren’t fitting in, don’t worry, you’ll just have to go back and find out what isn’t working and make some corrections. The first step is to be certain that your first note is correct – just play the first note and listen carefully to the recording. If the first note is right move onto the next, being careful that your timing is accurate too.
It’s that simple – just keep adding one note at a time, check your timing and play along with a recording to be sure you have it down. Keep in mind that practice is the time to make mistakes, you are learning and making mistakes is part of the process. Don’t be too hard on yourself and feel good about the things you are doing right, too many people just focus on mistakes and forget about the positives. TABs can be an important tool to help you learn, but don’t rely on TABs alone – use all the resources available to help you be a better banjo player.