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Roll the drums....

Posted by hobogal on Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Roll the drums… I have just updated my experience level from 'novice' to 'intermediate' and it dawned on me that, actually, I have been playing the banjo for almost ten years.  Blimey!

I came to banjo knowing nothing about music theory - the banjo was my first musical instrument - or, actually, anything about bluegrass and old-time music.  What happened was that classic experience of watching some folk musicians playing in a pub on St Paddy’s Day and being completely captivated by the sound of the banjo.  You just didn’t hear this exotic instrument in daily life so I was like: what is that??.  I now know he was frailing on a 5-string banjo.  So I was given a 4 string tenor banjo as a birthday present and bought a book and  struggled through Molly Molone for a few months (quickly reaching a ‘plateau’ in my playing of Irish style).  I then took the plunge and splashed out on an Ozark 5 string banjo for £125.00, thinking I was being very lavish as, what if I abandoned it after a few month?!.  This makes me laugh considering what I think is reasonable to spend on a banjo now!   Anyway, I began to make some progress when I found a tutor – he helpfully pointed out I had my picks on the wrong way and got me started on some basic rolls and Cripple Creek.  I would turn up for my lesson and he would present me with a tab which I would go away and dutifully learn.  But, I had no idea what chords I was playing or how to vary what I was playing so, not surprisingly, I reached another plateau.  Luckily, a year or so later I found another banjo tutor, Howard Burton here on the Hangout, who helped me get to grips with back-up and encouraged me to play with other people. 

Interestingly, I wasn’t listening to much banjo music when I started out – bluegrass was pretty alien to my ears and I remember having to switch off ‘Don’t Get Above Your Raisin’ pretty sharpish - but, I think once I started getting into the music, that was what kept me driven. You know what is like, you hear a tune like Squirrel Hunters and then it won’t leave you alone – you have to learn how to play it.   I actually think that has given me the biggest joy – discovering this world of music that I had no idea existed.  In fact, more recently I have discovered the earlier era of classic fingerstyle playing through Rob MacKillop and I’m off down another interesting path. 

So, my words of advice to anyone starting on this journey is: listen to lots of music, find out what you like to hear and this will help you focus on what you want to play; get a tutor who will help you with the basics – but make sure you are learning back-up from the start; try to work out tunes yourself by ear and try experimenting with little variations (get the Janet Davis ‘Splitting the Licks’ book); play with other people.  Who knows, maybe one day you will be that banjo player down the pub who will inspire another newbie to pick up the instrument.


2 comments on “Roll the drums....”

Compass56 Says:
Sunday, April 2, 2017 @6:17:28 AM

That's an excellent blog entry, and it is very inspiring to me. I love the energy with which you seem to attack your playing and learning. Now I've got to go. Your blog entry has me in a mood to play some music.

hobogal Says:
Sunday, April 2, 2017 @7:40:08 AM

Hey, thanks Tony. More recently I have found my way to the 4string jazz/blues forum and have found your videos (and David Cava and The Great Eddy Davis) very inspiring. In fact, my banjo journey has come full circle as I am taking up the tenor banjo! Again, this is driven by the music I want to play inspired by players like yourself. Long live the BHO.

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