I am 63 years old. Began playing banjo almost 3 years ago with almost no music experience ( except a year of Irish tin whistle ) I am curious as to how other beginners began their banjo journey. How it differs from mine & how far along you are now and where you were at 3 years in?
I began with Geoff hohwald's banjo primer DVD for about a week or two. Then found a live Skype teacher in Gina Furtado. Gina was touring quite a bit back then so she fit me in whenever she was back from tours. I learned Cripple Creek, Banjo in the hollow, Boil them Cabbage Down, & Cumberland Gap from Gina, whom I felt very comfortable with btw. She is a great teacher. But then I met Casey Henry ( Murphy's daughter ) & began taking Skype lessons from her weekly using the Murphy Method DVD curriculum and a lot of Casey"s lessons from her site. I would make the drive down to Casey's house every 3rd or 4th week for live lessons. The advantage to the live lessons was I was able to jam with Casey. I still try to take a lesson from Gina every now and then to learn some different styles of playing, but Casey has pretty much been my primary teacher.
After three years I am now at a point where I can play songs like Fireball Mail, Old Joe Clark, Salt Creek at a fairly good fluent speed and getting in and out of vamping while playing with Casey or my wife as she plays her Irish whistle. I have bad days where I totally loose it, then good days when it all comes together.
So, I'm curious. How did your banjo journey begin & where were you after 3 years in?
Edited by - Bill Rogers on 08/31/2020 13:29:07
My journey began way back in the mid 70s. I took lessons from a local teacher. This was before tab was popular and he had a weird way of writing out what you were supposed to play. After 6 months, he left town and there were no other banjo teachers, so I put the banjo away for nearly 20 years and raised my kids and worked on my career.
When I came back in the mid 90s, I started off with Jack Hatfield's Beginning Bluegrass Banjo Method Book 1 and got back to where I was 20 years ago fairly quickly. Then I went to his book 2. Did pretty good with that one. But I was still stuck on tab and still a beginner. Went to Camp Bluegrass and found out how little I really knew. It was a wake up call. Ended up taking a year of lessons at South Plains College. That's a 150 mile one way trip twice a month for a 3 hour lesson. That taught me about playing by ear, chords, backup, making my own arrangements and playing with others.
After 3 years of that, I was ready for a band so started one with some fairly decent players. Just a local group, played around the area for several years and was in a few pickup bands at festivals. Found jamming with others helped me improve my picking.
Started teaching beginning lessons and taught for several years.
Now I'm pretty much retired from teaching and there's no one around to pick with, so I pick and sing all alone. Not near as much fun. But I still practice the banjo, guitar and mandolin and sing daily.
I was hooked the first time I heard Earl do FMB in 1966 when I was in dental school...started hunting for a prewar Mastertone...traded a camera for a nice 1928, TB 40 hole, made a H&F neck for it...turned a pattern for a flathead tone ring...bought some copper and brass and had a foundry cast it...used a lathe at our Voc-Tech school to turn it...made for a wonderful banjo.
I made banjo hunting, using the local classifieds, my hobby and bought and sold a couple a dozen F-4s, early 1900s vintage, like new, $100 each, one flathead virgin for $300 (sold it to George Gruhn the same day for $900, I needed $ for dental school expenses)...and a couple of dozen other Mastertones and Whyte Ladies.
Ever since, I've practiced for 10 to 15 minutes/day for a couple of weeks every three or four years and I'm still trying to get my speed up on Bile Dem Cabbage Down.
I'm always waiting for that next flathead to fall into my hands while I fool around with a couple of good parts banjos and try to force myself to actually learn a new song using the excuse that to pick bluegrass you really need to find other players to jam with...it'll never happen for me...the best I have is Youtube.
i played bluegrass on guitar and sang lead before i got into playing banjo, which really gave me an edge as far as timing and familiarity with the genre. i started banjo in my 30s so i had a lot of catching up to do,so i was obsessed with practicing for the first 5 years,practically all my spare time .I wanted to play just like ralph stanley so i dissected his playing(i have a lot of his tunes tabbed out in my media/photos section of my bho homepage. being a sort of late starter i didnt think id progress much beyond Stanley style, but to my surprise i found myself learning melodics and enough single string to tackle some of the other tunes that appealed to me. But i am of the opinion that starting out with the straight up bluegrass playing is the foundation one needs to move on to more difficult playing.i love to slow stuff down and tab cool breaks out note for note,and then i can put my own stamp on it if i choose to do so.Still on the journey and loving it!
With one exception, the path PJ took was pretty standard. The difference was the fact he found an instructor he liked. Hohwald' "Banjo Primer" is a very good introduction, and that seems to its goal. It helps the person learn the basic right hand techniques, and that is the foundation for playing well.
The instructional that "opened my eyes" to banjo playing was Bill Knopf's "Banjo Workshop 2". This book and 2 cds did more than tell me where to use my fingers. It mentioned some things that were interesting, and resulted in my trying to understand what I was doing when I was playing the banjo.
I've loved playing every day from day one to the present (60 yrs).
I hated playing on stage. I’m way to ugly to be presented in public. I’d rather sit in the porch, with Keebler playing guitar, and singing. Just picking along with him. Singing off key.
I've been on three journeys by car with my banjo, once from Florida to San Fran and many places in between Then from Fla to Niagara Falls and many places in between, and the third banjo journey was from Fla to Ontario and many places in between. They were all about a month long and were great times with friends I met while studying abroad. We had fun picking banjo and guitars along the way. I love showing the US (and Canada) to people from other cultures, especially the natural sites like Yosemite, Sequoia, Grand Canyon, Zion, Sedona, Niagara Falls, Skyline drive and Shenandoah, Washington/Jefferson Natl Park, the Everglades....and much more.
Not too different experience than Appalachian. I’m 65 now. Four years ago I could not carry a tune in a bucket but bought a banjo anyway; took local lessons for about 1 1/2 years then decided I wasn’t advancing so I stopped with lessons. So now I’m a closet player...play for my own enjoyment everyday. I did attend a jam camp last fall. Unfortunately I have been unsuccessful finding local small low key jams so jamming is on hold. Also high speed internet is not available where I live (and I am not going to sit outside Starbucks to skype) so on line learning is not in the mix..and with covid I’m not jacked about in person lessons. So I have some logistical challenges..no complaints.
I challenge myself (now messing with melodic) and I think I am advancing although at a glacial pace. As I said, I play for my own enjoyment...even if the dog runs when I pull out the banjo.
I always found great fascination and pleasure playing no matter where I was in my development.
I remember being this far, from John McEuen, and watching him play turkey in the straw with just his fretting hand. The look on his face.... his fingers flawlessly hitting every note. I told myself.... someday, I’ll never be able to do that , but I can try! Today, I can finally do that. Almost.
I feel so lucky to have had parents and relatives that were such fine musicians.
Originally posted by conniel
I hated playing on stage. I’m way to ugly to be presented in public. I’d rather sit in the porch, with Keebler playing guitar, and singing. Just picking along with him. Singing off key.
After I got over my stage fright, I found that I really enjoyed entertaining people, watching them smile and clap. I'd much rather be on stage than home alone picking by myself. Different strokes, huh?
I lost my stage-fright at the age of 6 singing with my brother and sister in front of the congregation at our dear Advent Christian Church.
Mom on piano.
Pretty close experiences as Steve a Washburn b-12 in Va, however am 73 been playing since 1990, started with a harmony banjo, wanted to play like Ralph Stanley, wife bought me a Washburn b12 at pawn shop we playin g that one for 30 yrs,closet picker, enjoying picking and singing in my bedroom daily 1 hr. Wife says I can open the door to room so I’m improving,lately playing for family at gatherings,took lessons from mountain man in Grover n.c. For a year 20 bucks an hour ,half hour drive.
My band "The Country Choir" is one of Maine's oldest bands still with the original members since 1977.
I guess so sherry. At first it was kind of cool. Then we started to play a little larger venues, besides the normal bars. And it wasn’t for me. I was able to quietly leave the band because we had kids. That was my out ! I still like jamming with those guys however. 1 actually went on and made a name for himself, playing keyboards.
My first attempt was almost ten years ago with an old bottlecap banjo, but grad school got in the way.
Fast forward to 2019, and I left a doctoral program in music thanks to burnout. I won't get my bassoon out of its case and don't want to deal with classical music nonsense, but I still wanted to make music.
In a bit less than a year, I can play a handful of Scruggs breaks at tempo and am now focusing on backup. I just upgraded to a Richelieu, which makes playing much easier. And it's also an "oddball" banjo, which I like!
I'm 62 and have only had my first banjo a month come this Friday.
So not much of a story yet, but besides basic beginner instruction material and practice routines, I've had a few encouraging steps forward.
-Found that the 5th string I wasn't fond of initially is actually indispensable
- lowered the action at the nut a tad and rolled the fretboard edges, as well as knocking a micron or two of the finish off the back of the neck for a feel I'm used to on my guitars necks, and did so without visible results.
( none of which was necessary for playability.. it was fine out of the box )
- today I finally tried some Fred Kelly Speed Picks and his Bumble Bee model. I immediately found either easy to control and comfortable. The Bumble Bee is brilliant.. So cool to adjust the length and angle the pick itself while letting the thumb clamp section sit wear it wants. So, that hunt is over.
- My excitement of learning a new instrument has also revived my songwriting desire..the banjo is part of the Appalachian music I love.
So the first month of my journey has been a fruitful one. I'm starting it as a way to enjoy my retirement and joining the Hangout was a big part of that. So thanks to all for the advice, answers, and encouragement.
2011 bought my first banjo, a Johnson JB100. Took Lessons for about a year, 3 finger style. Put it down until spring this year. Switched to trying Clawhammer and have more banjos than I care to think about, lol.
I'm 25, I started out playing guitar at 23. Sometime around December I heard a song that introduced me to banjo playing that I hadn't heard before. I liked it so much I bought a clawhammer. I learned from a few videos to get the hang of it, now I'm exploring by myself. Though when I feel like someone on this forum has a better understanding of a matter, I'll ask questions. I'm still not very good at playing the guitar but I'm learning the banjo quite well. I'm finally learning covers and singing, I refused to do so before I found my instrument. I wasn't ever really introduced as a guitar player, now friends of mine don't forget to mention that I can play a banjo. Truefully... I don't think they've heard an expert yet! Lol
I am 57. I picked up the banjo in 2002 and practiced until 2003, but life got in the way and I ended up divorced and had to sell my Oscar Schmidt OB-5 to meet the bills. I have since been married for the second (last) time and I ended up divorced without a banjo :)
Since the pandemic, I picked up a ukulele and I am still working on that. But, a deal came up and I was able to get an Oscar Schmidt OB-5 in good condition at a good price. I fixed a number of things on this banjo and decided to have some fun with it
I switched out the broken head for a REMO clear head, changed out the broken j-hooks, added D'Addario medium strings, cleaned out the cast aluminum mold punch on the pot, added a red mahogany repair (duct tape) tape and punched in a nice stuffed skunk under the clear REMO head (I call him Pepe' and my banjo's name is "Mon Cherie"). That was all in the last two weeks (picture of Mon Cherie attached)
I started out with some searches on the Internet and found BHO, so I created an account. Then, I found Jim Pankey's "Beginner Banjo Lessons", which got me started again (Thanks to Jim Pankey for getting me back on the right track! You got me started back up in great shape!). Next, I found John Moore's beginning banjo lessons on YouTube, which helped me immensely! And, I am looking at Bill Evans YouTube free lessons as well. That was all this week
I am in IT (well, maybe if this pandemic ends, or I can find a job) and have had a hosted website account, but never done anything with it (except email). So, I did a few name searches for potential banjo website "names" available and for $15 (3 years), I own the website "hillbillybanjo.com". I haven't done anything with it, so it still points to the hosting site, but I was thinking of creating a website out of it and starting with a weekly blog of my "lack" of progress on the banjo as well as linking to some of the instruction that I am using... Just to start
My practice sessions always start with some roll patterns and a couple of easy licks (Usually the Scruggs Foggy Mountain roll, forward rolls, backwards rolls, and I have never had a problem with mixed rolls. For some reason that came back to me immediately, just VERY slow... then, the usual G-Lick, 31531341 with a pull off on the second 3 and you know the rest). Then, I move into Banjo in the Hollow and Cripple Creek to loosen up...
Well, wish me luck this time around. I promise NOT to get married again, or give up the banjo (by the way, I chose the banjo because my 1st wife wanted to learn guitar as I wanted to as well. But, she always thought I turned everything into a competition so to keep everyone happy, I bought a banjo instead)
Okay! Lets get into some Licks!
Ok... you asked for it....
I'll give you the whole journey...
Early 60s I signed up for rudimental drumming because I wanted to be a member of the Drumline in the very small and local marching corps complete with dozens of baton twirlers and majorettes hired from local colleges to do cartwheels and pick up their dropped batons with their teeth.
When was 10 and in 4th grade in 1965 we got to select a band instrument if so desired. And although I wanted to play trumpet my dad couldn't find one within his price range, but he did find a trombone for 25 bucks which he purchased and I began trombone participation in the elementary school band and a couple of Summer band camps thereafter. During the period I talked my dad into me learning guitar like he did, so I signed up for some weekly lessons, but one day he came home with a tenor banjo he picked up at a second hand store and fixed it up for me and I started playing out of this book called Businessmans Banjo.
Along the way I became proficient on guitar and electric bass dropped the trombone altogether, kept up with the drums (but I digress)... in the early 70s a friend of mine sold me a really nice Kay banjo 5-string package deal which included a Schwinn Varsity 10 speed. That banjo, the 10 speed and a couple of other sundry items cost me $50 which was easy money for me because I had part-time jobs.
In '73 I attended college and met a fella down in North Carolina at the college whose name was Kent and he played five string banjo and was pretty darn good. He didn't really show me how to play but I was very observant and I was plucking around playing kind of a Pete Seeger folk style along with a few Bluegrass and fiddle backup parts that John Hartford was playing when him and Vassar Clements were blowing everybody's minds he early 70s, they were real simple jigs and reels and sounded great with this fiddler who was also at the college. Heck we had a whole bluegrass band at that school and because of my tenor banjo background I was able to pick up the mandolin and sort of chunk some chords out in the band.
So, through the years I have been able to sort of keep up with the 5-string. I was playing the guitar for a long time and the electric bass but I had a pretty serious wrist break (plates, screws and pins) ending up with me not being able to play extended chords too well because of persistent stiffness and limited flexibility.
Re-enter the five string banjo. And of course the tenor banjo, and I can still sort of play the mandolin but to be honest the wrist fracture and subsequent surgery really took a lot of flexibility out of my hand. I can still play and I know where all the notes are so I'm not as artsy-fartsy as I once was and I don't slide around and dance on the fretboard as in my days of old, but I'm doing okay with it and it's very enjoyable and very relaxing to sit down and figure out different genre from all over this big blue marble we call home.
That's my journey.
I guess it really started way back in the days of B&W TV, the Ed Sullivan show, & the Harmon-i-Cats. I was maybe ten years old when I bought a cheap plastic "dime store" harmonica that came with a very basic lesson book & maybe half a dozen pop songs. The kind everyone knew. Easy two or three chord songs. By the time I got thru that little song book, I was able to work out another half dozen songs by ear. Actually played on stage at school. No big deal, I was just one of three or four other kids my age that were learning to play various instruments. Too ignorant to know about stage fright. lol Mother took that as a clue there was a talent to be developed & the first thing I knew, I was signed up for lessons with the family violin. Aaaagh (try to Imagine Charlie Brown carrying a violin to school) That didn't take, so Mother signed me up for piano lessons. That didn't take either. As the years rolled on, other pursuits took priority & I forgot about the harmonica. I had also quit listening to music, as it had evolved from what I knew in high school into something unrecognizable.
Fast forward about a decade. My brother had been learning to play Dixieland banjo & had given me an LP called Banjo Banjo Banjos, featuring old standards played on tenor, plectrum & 5 string banjos. Someone on Hee Haw did a song on the harmonica. Grampa Jones & Stringbean did a couple banjo numbers & sang while they played, impossible for a harmonica player. Another show featured the Stoneman family & Roni playing the banjo, Scruggs style. On the Smother Brothers Summer show, John Hartford stood up from two rows back in the audience, playing his banjo while Glen Campbell introduced the world to Gentle on My Mind. I was hooked. When I spotted a long neck 5 string banjo hanging on the wall of a pawn shop w/a $20 price tag, I bought it. Now all I had to do was find someone to teach me how to play it.
Late 60's, Los Angeles. The only one I could find that might know anything about a 5 string banjo was an old guy playing tenor banjo @ a Shakey's Pizza Parlor. I studied under Walt Beeman for two years, learning to read music, for the third time, experimenting w/different picking styles, with bits of music theory thrown in now & then. I upgraded that old Regal long neck to an SS Stewart, which really wasn't suited for BG but at the time, I didn't know which style I would end up playing, much less that it was called Bluegrass!
I kept tinkering with that SS Stewart & one day wandered into Art Gariepy's shop to find a guy playing Lonesome Road Blues & Green Corn, real slow. When I asked if he could teach me to play like that his reply was "just buy the Scruggs book" Walt had mentioned the Scruggs book but it cost about three or four times what other books cost. I did have the Mel Bay Sonny Osborne book & had learned to read tab, play OJC & Redwing fairly well. As soon as I got home with Earl's book, I opened it to Cripple Creek, the Ballad of JC & FMB. After learning those three tunes, I thought I had achieved my goal. I was off to the banjo contest @ the Norco BG festival.
That first Norco BG festival blew me away, as well as knocked me clean off that pedestal I had built. What were all these long hair hippies doing here, wearing bib overalls, & playing bluegrass? And where were they finding all these fancy Mastertone banjos? And they were all playing so fast! One thing lead to another & I exchanged phone numbers with another beginning BG banjo picker. Roger & I would get together now & then to pick & he put me onto Roy who would come over more often. Now keep in mind, I'm a 30+ year old city kid living in L.A. trying to support a family. I had never heard 95% of the traditional OT/BG songs. Earl's book was the last banjo instruction book I would buy. Everything else has been picked up here & there from other pickers, or off those old LP albums. From the time dinner was over till after dark was spent wood shedding. My wife said I was obsessed with that **** banjo. The goal posts kept moving.
Earl's book was a good plug for every album F&S had put out. Eventually I had them all. Along the way I also discovered Ralph Stanley, JD Crowe, Doug Dillard, Allen Shelton & a host of others. Those old Rural Rhythm Raymond Fairchild albums had a lot more the songs on them, the stuff that never got written down, the stuff you heard @ BG festival jam sessions. Keep on making pickin' buddies. It doesn't matter what instrument they play, just pick & share what you know. When you play in a band, you get to play whatever turns you on, most of the time. And you work at it & hone your chops to get it just the way you want it.
I was fooling around with Sis Draper (Arkansas Traveler) the other day when I noticed my old harmonica sitting on the shelf & wondered what I could do with Sis Draper on the harmonica. Not too shabby considering I had never tried playing a fiddle tune on harmonica. Those doggone goal posts are still moving.
Edited by - monstertone on 08/17/2020 16:48:17
I have to retract my statement about Earl's book being the last one I bought. I have bought others, later on down the road. More for reference than anything else. Just never picked them apart as with Earls book. The latest is Pat Cloud's Key to the 5 String Banjo.....Goal posts
Edited by - monstertone on 08/18/2020 12:26:51
I got my first banjo at age 13 (55 years ago!). At the time I lived in NJ and my friend Ben and I took a bus into New York City to a music store where his brother got a cheap electric guitar.
Got a Kay for $35. Action was too high and it really hurt to play.
Was inspired by Pete Seeger and John Hartford.
Eventually got a better banjo that was easier to play and the Scruggs book.
Being Dyslexic, it has been a strange journey but small breakthroughs have come over the years.
Now that I have some clue and some ear/hand coordination, arthritis is starting to act up.
Not going to stop now, dammit.
I have something like 12 banjos that need me playing them. And it is still fun.
'Roanoke - Butch Robins' 3 hrs
'Old Dangerfield' 4 hrs