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Oct 12, 2018 - 7:16:05 AM



368 posts since 10/6/2017

Good morning,

I've been playing banjo for about a year and a half now. I wouldn't at all say that I've plateaued, but I do feel as though I'm lacking direction, which is why I'm turning to you guys for advice.

Perhaps your opinion will differ, but personaly, I feel as though I'm an ok player at this point (you can watch my videos posted here on the hangout for examples), but there are things that I find difficult. Ie : Hardcore melodic tunes with lots of alternate string pull-offs (I can handle them but only to a certain extent)..

I don't know where to go from here. Jamming is not really an option. I'm sure I could find one a few hours away and travel, but there is no old-time scene to speak of in my area.

What i've been trying to do lately is listening to different records and picking up tunes by ear.. My success rate has been pretty low.. Sometimes, I can get the gist of the basic melody and I come up with something else, but I still didn't attain my initial objective which was to pick up the tune by ear.

My long term objective is to be able to record a solo clawhammer banjo album at home.

I expect to sell 0 copies and be downloaded 0 times, its just something that I want to be able to say that I've done in my life.

I guess that my question is,, what would you suggest that an intermediate player who feels a bit lost do from now on?

Oct 12, 2018 - 8:42:09 AM
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162 posts since 2/27/2009

Maybe consider getting a teacher - online, if there aren't any in your area. Skype works pretty well (except you can't play together because of small transmission delays).

A good teacher can evaluate your strengths and weaknesses and talk with you to decide what might come next. If learning tunes by ear from recordings is one goal, for example, a good teacher could give you hints and guidance on how to go about it. Maybe even a graded set of exercises.

I can recommend Adam Hurt - I've had lessons with him for a couple of years, and he is very good at coming up with sessions and lessons that keep me learning. I am very slow and he matches my pace patiently and effectively. He is also one of the best clawhammer and fiddler players around. Google him. I have his email if you can't find it.

I am sure there are many other good teachers. Try one; if that doesn't work, try another. I'll bet you can find one that will suit your purposes. One or two lessons a month (with homework, probably) could help a lot.

Good luck!

Oct 12, 2018 - 9:56:02 AM
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1386 posts since 3/27/2010

Most of the old time tunes have lyrics. If you dont already...try singing along with your playing.

John Browns Dream has pretty straight forward lyrics or more then likely you know cripple creek..that has lots.

Edited by - Chadbanjo on 10/12/2018 09:58:02

Oct 12, 2018 - 2:42:46 PM

Bill H


1169 posts since 11/7/2010

You're on the right track, working out songs by ear. This is really a great way to develop your own style of play. Along with that, listen to lots of music. Listening is the best path to learning by ear.

One thing I find helpful when learning a new tune by ear is to find a fiddle or mandolin version on YouTube . It helps me stay focused on melody. It is really hard to play note for note melody up to speed (for me at least) so finding that balance of melodic and chordal licks that you can play at dance speed is something to bear in mind.

The other thing that has helped me is to know chord positions and inversions up and down the neck. The melody can always be found within the chord structure. If you listen to groups playing with banjo, you notice that the banjo is a percussive element in the blend, so solo and group play may each take a different approach.

Oct 12, 2018 - 3:37:26 PM

5776 posts since 3/11/2006

Hopefully you've done enough listening at this point to have heard the variety within the CH genre. At this point, you may work on a particular style of CH that you like best. This doesn't mean to slavishly copy, but to begin to develop a personal style based on a a particular CH approach.

I think that a mastery of all CH technique is desirable, but deciding which offshoot of CH you want to pursue will, by default, give you direction and may put things in perspective when it comes to spending time on techniques that may not fall into the approach you want to take.

Oct 13, 2018 - 3:43:26 AM



368 posts since 10/6/2017

Thanks. These are all great ideas and tips.

Oct 13, 2018 - 7:01:04 AM
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Players Union Member



13478 posts since 3/27/2004

If you haven't tried out Josh Turknett's modern technology that solves the "no one to play with" problem then you owe it to yourself to check it out.  Josh's Oldtime Jam Machine is free and uses the "music minus one" concept where you select the tune, speed, and which accompaniment you wish to use and then play along.

It's great fun, entertaining, inspirational, great to practice your timing, and you'll learn new tunes by ear by simply listening carefully and copying the melody.

Also spend some time going through Josh's 8 part free clawhammer course.

When you get done with that go through Tom Collin's Free Youtube lessons:

Tom's "Banjo Blitz" series:

And more advanced "Banjo Quest":

Don't overlook the "Tune Of The Week" submittals over in the "Clawhammer and other old time styles" section of the forum.  You've only got about 10 years of tunes to catch up on if you want to delve into TOTW.

If you feel comfortable enough with your playing it's also a great way of participating in clawhammer culture.  I'm going to be posting a Tune Of The Week next week and have done so previously a few times.  It's a great way to learn about the tunes we play and get an opportunity to experiance the same tune from different perspectives.

All that should keep you busy for a while...  wink

Since your ultimate goal is to record a solo project then you should start gearing up for that by researching what you'll need to do that.  There's a lot of home recording advice available on the net.  You might begin by checking out the various postings of Fran Guidry's "Homebrewed Music" website.

Fran specializes in solo audio and video recording in a home environment.

Edited by - rudy on 10/13/2018 07:11:48

Oct 13, 2018 - 12:33:13 PM

569 posts since 8/7/2017

I use Audacity program (freeware, donation accepted), on my computer to record myself. I spent the money to get a good microphone, and that makes a big difference, to my ear anyway. There a lots of nice mikes, some research will help you find one at the right price/performance point for you. The one I got, after listening to Tony Polecastro's demo recordings of banjos and guitars on Youtube, is the Neumann KM 184 mt (sort of expensive). When I am too lazy  to setup the mike, I can use the mike built into the laptop for recording - it's good enough for musical "note-taking" to help me remember my arrangements in progress, for instance. The laptop mike puts some buzz in the recording, but Audacity can remove that if you wish.

I echo Rudy's recommendation of Josh Turknett's writings and videos. Audacity will slow down the Youtube vids (Josh has nice arrangements), and change key too, if you want. That's how I taught myself to learn by ear. After 3 years practice, I can learn, or create, a version of a song in about 15 minutes, most of the time.  My first song, by ear, took me 2 weeks to learn *smiles*. It's a really great feeling to hear a song, and be able to play it, even simplified, in a few minutes now. I don't play as fast as the pros, but I have fun anyway. I made a couple recordings this week, and really enjoy listening to them; your goals to record yourself, and learn by ear, are eminently attainable, and will bring you joy.

Hope this helps, email me thu BHO if you have questions.

Edited by - BrooksMT on 10/13/2018 12:45:37

Oct 14, 2018 - 8:49:32 AM



368 posts since 10/6/2017

Thanks everybody. I've always loved this online space, because people here are just so generous.

A thought about the Brainjo material... Josh Turnkett's website has been a goldmine to me at some points... In other words, quite helpful.

On the other hand, a part of me feels as though I should try and pay as little attention to him (other than the videos of him playing) as possible.

When people talk about developping your own "voice" and being too dependant on tab... I feel as the Brainjo website is holding me back to a certain extent.

In terms of playing style, I definitely hope to play for Team Diller and Team Z Cox one day.

Oct 14, 2018 - 2:36:08 PM

5776 posts since 3/11/2006

Originally posted by hoodoo

In terms of playing style, I definitely hope to play for Team Diller and Team Z Cox one day.

A laudable goal, but two quite different styles.

Oct 14, 2018 - 11:04:46 PM

2274 posts since 4/19/2008

The ear trumps all skills, especially in a "folk" genre where written manuscripts are almost non-existent. With that in mind I would recommend my archived banjo specific post here.

BTW ear-training  can be studied on any instrument and that skill can be applied to whatever instrument you wish.

Oct 15, 2018 - 8:53:17 AM



368 posts since 10/6/2017

Originally posted by R.D. Lunceford
Originally posted by hoodoo

In terms of playing style, I definitely hope to play for Team Diller and Team Z Cox one day.

A laudable goal, but two quite different styles.

Very true and yet to me, they are similar in many ways, in their own ways. Rythmically, two very different styles, but what I appreciate is that both aren't "round peaky", if that makes sense. For the most part, I can get away with standard down picking with a bit of drop thumb thrown in etc. I may be explaining this all wrong, but its clear in my mind.

Oct 15, 2018 - 6:12:54 PM
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5776 posts since 3/11/2006

Well they're both branches on the clawhammer tree.
Get started on Dwight's method and you'll see the difference 
in his approach right off. If you want to learn DD's style, stop right now and get
his basic materials. You may want to touch base with Old Pappy here on
the BHO. He's our resident authority on Dwight's music. You may also want
to get Lew Stern's outstanding biography of Dwight. Lew can be contacted here
as well.

Standard down-picking as you describe it is a perfectly viable approach.
Just a handful of banjo tabs, but Harry Bolick's "Mississippi Fiddle Tunes"
contains clawhammering from some bona fide older Mississippi CHers.
Standard tunes in standard style. An Item of interest if you have the $$$ to
spare... just trying to think of other non-RP players.

Edited by - R.D. Lunceford on 10/15/2018 18:14:29

Oct 18, 2018 - 1:43:37 AM

69 posts since 10/30/2017

I'm in the same boat. I've been working out some songs on the old 5-string that aren't "banjo songs" and am enjoying that.

I'm working on a version of Dirty Old Town and have started doing other songs that I know well. I don't always claw it, mind. I just try out different right-hand techniques to suit the song. I do claw Black Velvet Band in waltz rhythm and that seems to work.

Oct 18, 2018 - 6:13:58 AM

975 posts since 2/10/2013

If there are no advanced clawhammer players available, I would find someone who teaches via SKYPE, and ask that person to watch me play. Then, that person would let me know which techniques I should learn or improve on, and send me recordings of the tunes being played. I would work on the tunes and learn the new techniques/improve my playing ability.

Constructive criticism helps. Have unbiased eyes/ears evaluate your playing also contributes to the evaluation of your playing.

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