Banjo is an instrument that is usually associated with speed, and if you’ve ever listened to Bluegrass you have heard some ridiculously fast banjo work. How can you increase your speed you ask? Well its simple, you just practice and practice for years. Of course dedication is important, attention to detail, strength, and about a hundred other things, but I recently discovered an easy way to let you play faster.
One of the easy ways to play faster is by keeping your strings clean. The reason for this is simple – If your strings are clean your fingers will slide on them more easily. There are a few different string cleaners available: Dunlop Ultraglide 65 String Cleaner, Tone Finger Ease String Lubricant, and my favorite GHS Fast Fret.
I’ve heard a lot of people talk about string cleaners and lubricants and never really bothered to try them. I thought what difference could it make, it’s just another product to sell. But I have finally tried Fast Fret and I am impressed. Clean strings sound better and Fast Fret also allows your fingers to slide more easily on the fretboard. Give Fast Fret or one of the other string cleaners a try – it certainly won’t slow you down.
I hope this helps you out with your banjo playing, it’s one of the few things you can do to improve without hard work. If you would like to purchase Fast Fret, or one of the other products just click on the links above.
Record yourself the next time you practice – start by recording one song. Pick a song that is very familiar and of course, a song you play well. After you have recorded your song you can listen back and study your performance. What can be learned from recording a banjo performance and giving it a good, close look? That’s what I ‘ll be discussing in this post, becoming a better banjo player by recording yourself.
The first thing you’ll need to do to record yourself is to have something to record yourself with. This recording device can be as simple as a cassette recorder or as sophisticated as a digital multi-track recorder. I have been using a free, open source program called Audacity. If you want to find out more about Audacity or download it, click the link – http://audacity.sourceforge.net/
If you want something more high tech, I’ve included a link to the Recording Equipment section at zZounds – Just click on the banner below.
Now that you have some options to record yourself, that’s the next step – record yourself. Should you record yourself once and live with the mistakes or record until you are satisfied with your performance? I think you should keep going until you are happy, not perfect, but a version you can live with. My reasoning is simple, if you listen back to a recording that isn’t as good as you thought it should have been, you can be discouraged. If you have to take three or four tries to get a good clean run, then that’s the way it is.
This is part of the learning process, mistakes are the markers that tell you – this needs practice, so pay attention and LEARN from your mistakes. If you play a song and get a third through it and make a fatal mistake and stop, you try again, but this time you are focused on this sticking point and have a higher chance of getting through it. Soon you have a good version of your song and at the same time you have had to bring your playing up to a higher level by cleaning up some rough spots in a song and holding yourself to a higher standard.
Record a song and have a listen to yourself playing the banjo – What is good? What could be improved? What is wrong, yes, wrong! – sometimes a recording points out a mistake like a wrong note. Don’t forget to make note of the things you like about this recording. That last point is VERY important – be kind to yourself and take time to be aware of the good stuff that you do. Well that’s step one, I’ll give you a few more of my thoughts on recording and using it to learn in an upcoming post.
When should you change your banjo strings? I hate to tell you this, but you need to change them often. The metal finger picks are hard on the strings and it doesn’t take long for them to start sounding a bit off. If you are having trouble tuning or one or more of your strings sounds funny, then the first step is to replace your old strings.
I replace my strings often, about once every two weeks or so, and it’s not that bad, and it makes me sound a lot better (new strings ring so nice for the first few days). There are a lot of choices as far as strings go and I have recently made it easy for you to research and purchase them, by compiling a list of some of the best banjo strings: http://banjoblogger.com/the-best-banjo-strings/
Replacing the strings is easy, just take the 1 st string off and replace it, making sure to wind at least two or three wraps on the post. Do not wrap the string on top of itself or you will have problems keeping in tune. Repeat this process for each string, one at a time until you have them all replaced. Now, tune it up, stretch the strings and you’re ready to go.
If you want a good article with some great string changing tips, check out banjoexpert.com, Ryan has some essential tips to make it easier to change your strings.
What are the best banjo strings? Well, that depends on who you ask, everyone seems to have a favorite. I’ve tried a lot of strings; D’addario, Martin, Gibson, GHS and Ernie Ball, and I was sure each new set of strings would make me sound better. I don’t know if using signature J.D. Crowe or Earl Scruggs strings can make you sound like the masters themselves, but it sure can’t hurt to at least try their strings.
Strings are inexpensive to buy and can make a big difference in your sound, so you might as well experiment with them. In this article I will talk about six of the most popular brands of banjo strings; D’addario, Elixir, Ernie Ball, GHS, Gibson and Martin. If you would like to purchase strings, you can click on the links and buy them at Amazon.
One of the world’s leading string makers, and a lot of choice in gauges. With strings in phosphor bronze and nickel, and of course durability and great sound you can’t go wrong with D’addario. Here are a few of their most popular sets:
A long lasting, coated string, these are very popular strings with guitarists and are gaining in popularity on the banjo scene.
I have bought a lot of books to learn the banjo, some are good and some aren’t so good. Here is a list of some of the best and most popular banjo books. I get something out of almost every book that I buy, but some stand out of the crowd. If you want more information or would like to buy one of these books, just click on the pictures. I’m sure I’ve missed some, but here they are – The Banjoblogger’s Ten Great Banjo Books:
You Can Teach Yourself Banjo – Janet Davis. A perennial best seller and always highly praised.
Earl Scruggs and The Five String Banjo – Earl Scruggs. The one and only Earl Scruggs, a must have book.
Banjo For Dummies – Bill Evans. Loaded with all kinds of banjo information.