What is noodling – HINT – it has nothing to do with the picture to the right. Noodling is just playing around on the banjo and playing what ever comes to your mind, no structure. This is important to develop new ways to approach old songs and also to develop new ideas.
To learn the banjo you have to persevere – work hard, and in time you will be a good banjo player. But all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, or in banjo terms – don’t just practice technique, experiment and have fun. If you are not enjoying yourself you won’t get better, learning shouldn’t be painful.
Most banjo players want to play songs, they don’t want to practice rolls and all that boring stuff. Unfortunately all of the banjo songs I know contain a lot of rolls and licks, so learn the basics, you need them.
Take time to improve your technique and learn new tricks, but also take time to drift away and play what ever you feel like playing. This noodling can lead to some important discoveries, remember a fellow by the name of Earl Scruggs, he developed his own style and changed the way we think about banjo.
At some point you will need to learn how to play a seventh chord and these first two are easy to learn; D7 and G7. There are a few different ways to play seventh chords but don’t worry they are similar to the shapes you already know for major chords.
The first chord is D7, a D7 chord is just a D major chord with an extra note, that note is a flatted seventh (7b). The notes that make up the D7 chord are D, F#, A and C. I’ll demonstrate three different ways to play a D7 chord and include an audio sample for each.
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.
When you practice your banjo, do you wear a strap? I think that a strap should be worn whenever you play the banjo, whether it is at home or on the stage. A strap keeps the banjo in the same position – standing or sitting. If your banjo is in the same position it will be easier to keep your hands in the right spot, making it easier to play consistently.
Banjos are heavy and a good strap can really make a big difference – no more aching back. If you have your strap set up properly you shouldn’t have to support the neck with your left hand and the neck will be at about a 45 degree angle. Adjust the banjo until it feels comfortable for you, everybody is different, so experiment and find what works best. Earl Scruggs said to setup your strap so you are comfortable when you are standing, and he knows a thing or two about playing the banjo.
There are a lot of different straps out there, some have metal hooks, some have plastic hooks, some cradle the banjo and some straps are held on by something called a Chicago screw. A Chicago screw sounds much more interesting than it is; it’s basically a rivet that screws together. The main thing is to find a strap that you like, that is comfortable, and use it. Well, I gotta go, I think if I adjust my strap just right I’ll play like J.D. Crowe….
One middle finger exercise you might be familiar with is commonly used to indicate displeasure with a person. Giving somebody the finger is easy to master – make a fist, stick up your middle finger, done. The middle finger exercises I am talking about are more to do with the five string banjo and are also more difficult to master. The middle finger is usually played after your index finger, but when you have to play your middle finger in different places it gets a little tricky. The goal of a good banjo player should be to have complete control over his picking hand and be able to pick almost any pattern with ease. Although this is a pretty lofty goal, you can at least try to be a better banjo player and use your middle finger to create some new rolls.
The first exercise will put your middle finger right to work. The middle finger plays half of the notes in each measure and has to be strong to make this roll sound good, so take it slow.
Have a listen to this roll: [audio:Middle1.mp3]
Our next exercise takes the same pattern and puts it to use with an F shape chord. Just form a G chord and start picking, being careful to keep your tempo nice and steady.
Press play to hear the example above: [audio:Middle2.mp3]
Practice this roll until it is sounding smooth and you can play it without too much effort. This roll can be used when you are playing backup – try to replace a measure of backup rolls with this new one. But, as always when you are playing backup – don’t compete with the lead instrument.
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.