7 Ultimate Practice Tips to Become a Great Banjo Player
Perhaps you have been playing banjo for a long time or maybe this is your first time dabbling into this particular instrument. No matter what, everyone wants to upgrade their skills.
The more you practice intentionally, the more skill and confidence you'll attain. You will gain control over the instrument in order to serve the intent of the music you play while delighting yourself along the way. Knowing how to practice is the key.
Why is it that some people, despite putting hours and hours into practice fail to see any real results? I think from the start they have started with wrong playing techniques that turned into bad/incorrect habits.
If you are reading this post, it’s clear you want to hone your banjo playing skills. We realize that there are no shortcuts, but we hope these practice tips will help you recognize impediments brought on by habitual mistakes and point you toward an endless progression of enjoyment through making music.
If you don’t know what your goals are and where you want to go, how would you even tell when you’ve reached there? That’s the reason goal-setting is so paramount.
Think about where you would like to see yourself in the next month, week, or 3 months mark. When you are clear about these things, your efforts have better direction. You also can gather the right material for betterment.
Make sure that your goal has the M A G I C attributes:
Below are a few examples of what typical banjo-playing goals for novice and experts may look like -
Learn to better the dynamics of the playing
Master the softness and loudness of the instrument
Learning to play in an open G chord (this is the standard tuning of a banjo).
Mastering timing of up and down strokes
Deploying combinations of basic patterns
2. Practice, Practice, Practice!
Often the greatest hurdle beginners face is getting started. Let’s be honest here! There’s no magical trick or ingredient to get you started. At some point, you have to take the plunge and get into it; no matter how scary it may sound at first.
Once you are past the entry barrier, it’s now time to practice and practice as much as you can. It’s simple! The more you practice, the better you will get at your Banjo-playing skills.
3. Staying Motivated
Feeling motivated once in a while is normal. What’s hard is to preserve and retain that motivation throughout your music journey. So, how DO you stay motivated? Here are some practices that might help you -
It’s better if you have a private, distraction-free space. If you have a dedicated room just for practice, that’s ideal. Often the biggest hurdle that comes in the way of regular practicing is the lack of comfortable space that encourages playing. You would be surprised how the right space will call you out intuitively.
You’ll never enjoy creating music unless you’re really into the kind of music you’re creating. With that said, it’s good to compile a list of your favorite songs to rock-out on. Take some time, take out your notebook and compile a list of your favorite songs and if possible save them to a playlist. Your aim here is to interact with the recorded music.
PRACTICE INTENTIONALLY! What do we mean by intentional practicing? It means to go beyond the occasional bursts of encouragement by latching on to each cool sounding combination of notes and make them your own through methodical repetition. To speed your progress, dedicate some time EVERY SINGLE DAY; even when you don’t feel like it. It could be 10 or 20 minutes. The idea is to maintain a steady pace and slowly gain momentum as you go.
4. Practice Active Listening
Pick a recorded banjo song of your choice and try to listen to it keenly. Pick up on the subtle, finer details of the song that you are listening to. Try to internalize the sounds.
Try to mix old and new listening tracks. Invest a good amount of time in actively listening to some of the original masters such as Earl Scruggs, Don Reno, and Bill Keith. It’s fun to discover the building blocks of Bluegrass are still used by succeeding generations in new combinations to form Newgrass and other original music. Careful listening to Bela Fleck, Alison Brown and Noam Pikelny will reveal this fact.
Record and listen to your own performance. You’ll hear aspects of your playing that need work, and sound especially good. Make note of all the areas that you think you’re lacking and methodically work on improving those.
5. Meet Other Banjo Players
You can only learn so much by yourself. But, if you truly want to quicken your learning pace, you must connect with other players in your area. There are a variety of ways to approach that.
For example, you could attend workshops, festivals, camps, find a teacher for music lessons, etc. The more fun you have playing the instrument, the faster you will learn it. You will also get to share your joy and enthusiasm with other players who share the same passion.
Don't make the mistake of waiting until you have developed a certain level of skills set before joining others. The quicker you can reach out to others and ask for help; the better it will be for your evolution and progress as a musician.
6. Practice Just For Fun
Banjo-playing can often become a serious business as you’re too busy correcting your technique or learning a new composition. But, a crucial part of any creative journey is to carve out some time just for fun.
Do not get sucked into the hole of achieving perfection. Create a new melody; even if it doesn’t make sense. Don’t like it? That’s okay. Keep going. Create a new one.
Having a fun session now and then will make sure you don’t give up when the going gets tough. It puts you into the beginner’s mindset where everything feels new and the learning is also quicker.
7. Acknowledge Your Successes
A big reason why most creatives give up in the middle of their journey is they don’t appreciate their successes enough. As human beings, it’s easy to focus more on our flaws and less on our strengths.
It’s a bit of a curse really! But, if you can wrap your head around this simple psychological fact of creative learning, you could do wonders with your instrument-playing.
Whenever you achieve a little something, learn a new composition or make any kind of progress, be sure to acknowledge it. Congratulate yourself. You could even treat yourself to a chocolate or something.
This kind of reward mechanism will come in handy in avoiding burnout. You also won’t be too hard on yourself. Most importantly, it will help you persevere and keep going.
Developing any new skills is highly rewarding. Especially when you talk about learning to play an instrument.
Banjo-playing may seem intimidating at first. But, if you (combine your desire with the tips that we mentioned), you should have no trouble finding the joy of making music on your own and with others sooner than you expected.
Most important thing is to practice patience. Rome wasn’t built in a day. The same goes for banjo learning.
Carve out ample time daily and find a private place to practice. The concept of “woodshedding” is a necessary part of your learning regimen. We hope you enjoy the journey.
Curtis Dean writes on behalf of Sage Music School where they base lessons on the science and research of the psychology of learning. Their effective teaching methods create confident and capable students who enjoy the happiness of making music.
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