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The banjo reviews database is here to help educate people before they purchase an instrument. Of course, this is not meant to be a substitute for playing the instrument yourself!

6980 reviews in the archive.

Janet Davis: You Can Teach Yourself Banjo

Submitted by capo matt on 10/24/2014

Where Purchased: Gift

Overall Comments

After about a year of working at it, I've now more or less completed Janet Davis's YCTYB book.  There are a handful of songs I'm still working on, but I just attempted Reuben last night, which is the final tune in this awesome book.  And I mean it, this is a pretty awesome book.

When I started this book I had already been playing about one year.  I was trying to teach myself from whatever I could get my hands on.  I tried a few books from my library that were either too easy or too hard.  I tried learning from tabs and videos online, but such content lacks structure and continuity.  After a year of this, I was getting frustrated and didn't have much to show for all my efforts... what I needed was a build-you-from-the-ground-up lesson plan.  Janet's book was just right for me.  

Started out with some basic rolls, simple songs.  Then added some licks and more interesting tunes.  Started to explore more difficult tunes and alternative licks.  Added tag endings.  Harmonics.  She touches on chords briefly.  And gives you some up-the-neck breaks for several songs.  Songs using a capo.  Songs in 3/4 time.  Melodic tunes and finally alternate tuning - C tuning and D tuning.  

What I love about this book is how each lesson builds on the last.  Rolls and licks from previous lessons repeat throughout the book.  Some tunes are repeated later, or given a few alternative versions which allow you to expand your depth of understanding of bluegrass music.  For example, you'll learn how to play both down the neck and up the neck breaks; you'll understand the difference between Scruggs-style and melodic and be able to combine them in a single break; you'll learn how to use a capo to play in different keys.  Another thing I love about this book is the song selection.  Janet has some really nice arrangements of tunes played in my local jam.  I've tried out many of these songs in a jam setting and all of them worked out just fine.

The only deficiency with this book is on chords and backup.  Janet sort of breezes through chords and doesn't mention backup banjo at all.  Playing backup is pretty important for jamming situations and knowing your chords up and down the neck is probably the first best step.  I would recommend finding or inventing some exercises for just practicing chord changes and vamping.  Practice this along with Janet's book and you'll be on your way to playing with others.  Janet offers a separate backup banjo book too.  

Good luck!

Overall Rating: 10

Eddie Collins: Fiddle Tunes Made Easy for Bluegrass Banjo

Submitted by capo matt on 10/12/2014

Where Purchased:

Overall Comments

This book contains tablature and chords for 18 common fiddle tunes.  Each tune has both a basic version (on the left page) and intermediate version (on the right page).  This layout makes it easy to work from the basic version to the intermediate version without flipping pages.  The book comes with a cd that contains four versions of each song (basic slow, basic fast, intermediate slow, intermediate fast).  The banjo track is only on a single speaker, so you can use your balance function on your stereo to effectively create a backing track for each tune.  

At the bottom of each page, Eddie provides some hints for playing each song -- for example, how to position your fingers for more difficult licks, etc..  The tabs are very clear and use a larger font than you might see in other books, which I greatly appreciate.  So far, I've been happy with Eddie's arrangements of these classic fiddle tunes.  The solos are easy enough to learn quickly, but still sound good when played to speed in a jam setting.  

When shopping for a fiddle tunes book for banjo, I compared this book to Tony Trischka's "Master Collection of Fiddle Tunes".  Eddie's book is designed for novice banjo players or perhaps an intermediate banjo player that wants to quickly add several fiddle tunes to his/her repertoire.  Whereas Tony's book is more of a note-for-note translation of each fiddle tune.  Both books looked excellent, so I put them to the test.  Over the course of a few weeks I worked with each book.  While working with Eddie's book, I was able to learn three intermediate arrangements (Red Haired Boy, Whiskey Before Breakfast, and Liberty) and play them to speed with backing tracks.  While working with Tony's book I was able to learn a single tune (Cold Frosty Morning) but can't quite play it to speed with the backing track and I had to abandon the second tune I attempted as it was too difficult for me (Big Sciota).  I concluded that both are great books, but Eddie's is definitely easier for a fairly new (2 years in) self-taught picker like me.

Overall, I have no hesitation to recommend Eddie's book.  I only wish it were longer!  

The tunes include: 

Arkansas Traveler
Back Up And Push
Bill Cheatham
Blackberry Blossom
Buffalo Gals
Devil's Dream
Eighth Of January
Golden Slippers
Good-bye Liza Jane
Hamilton County Breakdown
Home Sweet Home
Old Joe Clark
Red Haired Boy
Red Wing
Salt Creek
Soldier's Joy
Whiskey Before Breakfast


Overall Rating: 9

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