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.