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May 26, 2022 - 5:56:24 AM

alteregotist

Ireland

4 posts since 5/26/2022

Hey all,

I made the decision and I'm finally getting a 5 string banjo (with built in pu) . It will be my first time using one. My kids will also use it but it's mainly for me. We have a uke, guitar etc. in the house already but they belong to them, I've never played any instrument before.

Can anyone tell me what else I will need as a beginner. I have searched the internet and many many items have been suggested but I'd prefer to hear from actual banjo players. Do I need a normal plectrum (we already have), finger pics or should I just use my fingers. Do I need a special capo (we already have uke and guitar ones)? Should I buy a finger slide? Is it advisable to get a strap? Or can anyone suggest anything I've missed?

Sorry if my questions seem unresearched. They genuinely aren't. If search engines had their way I'd have 20 or 30 items instead of what I actually need. I am also a self confessed gimmick whore so this is my attempt at curtailing that.

Hope to her back from ye soon,

Al.

May 26, 2022 - 6:01:45 AM

BobbyE

USA

3120 posts since 11/29/2007

We need to know the type of music you want to play on the banjo?

Bobby

May 26, 2022 - 6:03:19 AM

KCJones

USA

1718 posts since 8/30/2012

What's your total budget?

May 26, 2022 - 6:10:59 AM

alteregotist

Ireland

4 posts since 5/26/2022

quote:
Originally posted by BobbyE

We need to know the type of music you want to play on the banjo?

Bobby


Anything and everything I suppose.

May 26, 2022 - 6:12:18 AM

alteregotist

Ireland

4 posts since 5/26/2022

quote:
Originally posted by KCJones

What's your total budget?


No budget but I don't want to just buy stuff for the sake of it. I presume a tuner on my phone will do instead of buying some fancy electronic equivalent etc.

May 26, 2022 - 6:44:44 AM
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2934 posts since 12/31/2005

Because picks are so cheap and we can't know what you want to play, you should experiment. In terms of fingerpicks, you'll need two fingerpicks and a thumb pick if you want to play three finger style, like in bluegrass. They take some getting used to, and make sure you put them on the right way. But they provide the punch and volume most people find necessary to cut through in an ensemble situation.

Typically, a five string is not played with a plectrum, but suit yourself. Traditionally, five strings are played either with fingerpicks in an upstroke manner, or in a "clawhammer" or "frailing" style in which the back side of the fingers are used.

Capos are made specifically for banjo, but there are some guitar ones that work. You will need a way to capo the fifth string. Many banjos come with mini model railroad spikes installed under which you slip the string. But there is a variety of fifth string capos on the market that are inexpensive.

You probably have everything else you need to get started. Youtube is full of free banjo tutorials. Our own Jim Pankey has great videos up, as does Ben Clark (Banjo Ben Clark) as promotion for his instruction series.

If you are interested in traditional Irish music on the five string, which is a pretty advanced concept, check out Tom Hanway. He has books as well, but they are not really for beginners.  For a good example of clawhammer Irish tunes, look for Noah Cline's Shamrock Clawhammer CD.  If you're into music like the Pogues, I can't help you there.

Have fun with it. Great to see that it is a family effort.

May 26, 2022 - 6:49:26 AM
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31 posts since 4/19/2014

Here is my advice:

If you’re going to play three finger, practice with picks from day one. At first they’ll feel uncomfortable but you’ll get used to them.

Buy used. Especially as a beginner. Plenty of good value instruments out there that people have upgraded from or moved on from.

Invest in a set up - bring your banjo to someone who knows banjos and pay them to set it up so it sounds good. A well set up beginner banjo sounds better than a fancy banjo that is set up poorly.

Personally, I don’t like phone tuners. I never got along with them. A clip on tuner is about $15. I think they’re worth it. But, compared to my other points, this is the one I feel least strongly about.

May 26, 2022 - 7:37:16 AM
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KCJones

USA

1718 posts since 8/30/2012

If you don't want to buy any unnecessary stuff, just get a banjo, a tuner, and a strap. If playing 3-finger, get picks as well, keep in mind fingerpicks need to be adjusted to fit your fingers and usually bent a bit to get the right angle of attack on the strings.

I think mindfulness and focus is important when learning an instrument, so I would recommend buying a clip-on tuner and keeping the phone put away while you practice. I've had great luck with a Snark tuner with a banjo bracket mount so it can be clipped to the banjo pot rather than the peghead.

The strap is important for balance and freedom of left-hand movement. Get one.

You mention you don't have a budget. If that's true, I would spend at least $800-$1000 on a used banjo. Banjos are more expensive than guitars/ukuleles, and the low end budget models are just terrible to play.

May 26, 2022 - 10:54:41 AM
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14764 posts since 10/30/2008

I started out as a kid in 1964 with JUST a 5 string banjo and a plastic thumb pick and metal finger picks.

First thing you MUST get is a back up set of strings! I recommend light gauge for a beginner. While you learn to tune, you most likely will break a string or two. NOT the end of the world if you have a spare set. (This means finding out WHERE to get banjo strings; from a local music shop or from all kinds of places on line.)

Metal finger picks can be adjusted (bent) to fit your index and middle finger.

Plastic thumb picks typically come in sizes. My thumb is an inch across so I use Large size plastic picks from Golden Gate. You don't need anything fancy to get started.

A cheap electronic tuner will be very helpful in reducing frustations with tuning up.

Most beginners sit down to practice, so anything other than cheapest cloth strap is not top priority.

A decision you will want to confront soon is "how am I going to learn?" In-person lessons? On line in person lessons? DVD instruction? An instruction book?

Finally, I advise you to focus a bit on what kind of SONGS you want to learn first. Your teacher will want to know this. Old time or bluegrass "starter" songs can be quite different from Celtic, Americana, Old Crow Medicine Show, Avett Brothers, etc.

I started with bluegrass. Starter songs included "Cripple Creek".

Good luck!!

May 26, 2022 - 11:17:59 AM
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13304 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by alteregotist
quote:
Originally posted by BobbyE

We need to know the type of music you want to play on the banjo?

Bobby


Anything and everything I suppose.


Bobby asked because there really is a connection between type or style of banjo music and the accessories you'll need or not need to play it.

Do you want to play in the style of most Irish/Celtic players (who are actually using 4-string banjos)? Then play with a plectrum (flat pick) and ignore or remove the 5th string. Or do as I do and play Celtic fiddle tunes in your own style using three fingers and picks.

Do you want to play what's called "old time" (American) music? In that case, you'll want to learn "clawhammer" style that's played bare fingered.

Do you want to play bluegrass banjo as pioneered by Earl Scruggs or as expanded by modern, progressive, artists such as Bela Fleck? Then you'll need finger picks.

Capo is handy on banjo as it is on guitar.  A guitar capo probably won't work if it's designed for a radiused fretboard. Banjos typically have flat fretboards, though modern players are tending toward radiused boards.  A uke capo might work if it's wide enough.

Banjo capo would not be a splurge. You'll have your choice of models that work only up to the 4th fret and those that work up to and beyond 5th fret.

You'll need a strap to play standing.

Hardly anyone plays banjo with a slide. Strings are kind of low and banjo doesn't sustain like even an acoustic guitar. But since you have some type of pickup and could play through an amp, you might want to experiment. Don't let the rarity of slide banjo stop you.

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May 26, 2022 - 1:21:41 PM

alteregotist

Ireland

4 posts since 5/26/2022

quote:
Originally posted by The Old Timer

I started out as a kid in 1964 with JUST a 5 string banjo and a plastic thumb pick and metal finger picks.

First thing you MUST get is a back up set of strings! I recommend light gauge for a beginner. While you learn to tune, you most likely will break a string or two. NOT the end of the world if you have a spare set. (This means finding out WHERE to get banjo strings; from a local music shop or from all kinds of places on line.)

Metal finger picks can be adjusted (bent) to fit your index and middle finger.

Plastic thumb picks typically come in sizes. My thumb is an inch across so I use Large size plastic picks from Golden Gate. You don't need anything fancy to get started.

A cheap electronic tuner will be very helpful in reducing frustations with tuning up.

Most beginners sit down to practice, so anything other than cheapest cloth strap is not top priority.

A decision you will want to confront soon is "how am I going to learn?" In-person lessons? On line in person lessons? DVD instruction? An instruction book?

Finally, I advise you to focus a bit on what kind of SONGS you want to learn first. Your teacher will want to know this. Old time or bluegrass "starter" songs can be quite different from Celtic, Americana, Old Crow Medicine Show, Avett Brothers, etc.

I started with bluegrass. Starter songs included "Cripple Creek".

Good luck!!


Thanks everyone for the replies. 

 

I guess I'd probably prefer to start with country / bluegrass instead of scotish/Irish banjo. I was under the impression that you could play a certain amount of rock/pop on the banjo aswell? Maybe I'm mistaken. 

If anyone has any suggestions for online tutorials to get me started I'd appreciate it. It could also point me towards the music style that's available.

I have always been facinated by the sound of American country and blue grass but have a bit of a dislike for Irish and Scottish "trad" as it's always trucked out to impress tourist locally and it wears thin ??

Thanks again for the replies everyone. 

 

Al.

May 26, 2022 - 1:38:32 PM
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Players Union Member

Emiel

Austria

10140 posts since 1/22/2003

Yes, the typical "bluegrass banjo" (5-string resonator, flathead tonering) is also used for other music styles: pop/rock (think of The Eagles, Mumford & Sons, many more), Irish (Tom Hanway, e.g.), in jazz (Pat Cloud, Ryan Cavanaugh, Allison Brown and others). Some use it to play classical music like Bach… It's also used in old-time (Charlie Poole, Dock Boggs, Lee Sexton,…).

Edited by - Emiel on 05/26/2022 13:49:51

May 26, 2022 - 1:39:21 PM
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mjt0229

USA

405 posts since 4/20/2015

quote:
Originally posted by paulhealey

Here is my advice:

Personally, I don’t like phone tuners. I never got along with them. A clip on tuner is about $15. I think they’re worth it. But, compared to my other points, this is the one I feel least strongly about.


Just to show that different folks have different preferences, my experience with tuners is this: my very favorite tuner is a Korg CA-20. It's a little electronic device that fits in my hand but doesn't clip on to anything. My next 3 favorite tuners are iPhone apps. Next is a Korg clip on (the AW-2) which is not made anymore. I loathe virtually every other clip-on tuner I have ever tried.

In particular, I can't stand the Snarks that everyone else seems to love. They're fragile, not very accurate, and sort of awkwardly shaped. Maybe doesn't matter as much to other folks, but I also found Snarks don't pick up my double bass at all.

May 26, 2022 - 1:47:57 PM
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31 posts since 4/19/2014

quote:
Originally posted by mjt0229
quote:
Originally posted by paulhealey

Here is my advice:

Personally, I don’t like phone tuners. I never got along with them. A clip on tuner is about $15. I think they’re worth it. But, compared to my other points, this is the one I feel least strongly about.


Just to show that different folks have different preferences, my experience with tuners is this: my very favorite tuner is a Korg CA-20. It's a little electronic device that fits in my hand but doesn't clip on to anything. My next 3 favorite tuners are iPhone apps. Next is a Korg clip on (the AW-2) which is not made anymore. I loathe virtually every other clip-on tuner I have ever tried.

In particular, I can't stand the Snarks that everyone else seems to love. They're fragile, not very accurate, and sort of awkwardly shaped. Maybe doesn't matter as much to other folks, but I also found Snarks don't pick up my double bass at all.


I just looked at my clip on tuner to see what it was and it's a Korg AW-2. I had a red snark a long time ago but it broke. I also remember it didn't pick up my 5th string well, and someone recommended the Korg and I've been happy ever since. 

May 26, 2022 - 1:57 PM
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kd8tzc

USA

309 posts since 4/11/2022

I'm not a huge fan of the phone tuners except one. It is the one specifically for the Banjo (aptly names the Banjo Tuner). The only reason I like it is I am still too new to know when a string is in the correct octave, so this app will actually play the note (g, D, G, D, B) and then allow you to tune it. I've actually thought about getting one of those old pitch pipe's that play the notes, but have not made the effort as I always have my phone with me and I really only need this when I restring the Banjo.

Now, I don't think the actually tuning is all that accurate with this app, but then I will use one of my clip on tuners to get it there. I have the Fender FCT2 and also a Petterson that I really like. The Fender I prefer as the Petterson is a little touchy but is really accurate.

I'm a fairly new player myself, and one of the things I would suggest you get right off the bat is a strap. It really helped me to hold the banjo in the proper position and not have to worry about supporting it as much.

One of the mistakes that I made when I started was I bought an open back banjo. It really wasn't a mistake, but I wasn't sure what kind of banjo music I wanted to play. I really like Bluegrass, so an open back, while there is no rule that says you can't play it with bluegrass music, it's just not traditionally used for it. The reason I bought the open back was because I could get a less expensive banjo, but then what I found is I really wanted a resonator, so in a short period of time, I found myself buying a used resonator banjo. So... in a way, I spent more than I needed to, but my open back banjo is nice and lightweight and I find that fun to play... but the resonator weighs a lot more, but has a killer sound and is also much louder.

May 26, 2022 - 1:58:59 PM
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14764 posts since 10/30/2008

To help you get started, I recommend the Murphy Method Beginning Bluegrass DVD lessons. They teach you to play by ear and eye.

If you want tablature to learn by, there are plenty of them available to all over the place.

May 26, 2022 - 1:59:58 PM
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mjt0229

USA

405 posts since 4/20/2015

quote:
Originally posted by paulhealey
quote:
Originally posted by mjt0229
quote:
Originally posted by paulhealey

Here is my advice:

Personally, I don’t like phone tuners. I never got along with them. A clip on tuner is about $15. I think they’re worth it. But, compared to my other points, this is the one I feel least strongly about.


Just to show that different folks have different preferences, my experience with tuners is this: my very favorite tuner is a Korg CA-20. It's a little electronic device that fits in my hand but doesn't clip on to anything. My next 3 favorite tuners are iPhone apps. Next is a Korg clip on (the AW-2) which is not made anymore. I loathe virtually every other clip-on tuner I have ever tried.

In particular, I can't stand the Snarks that everyone else seems to love. They're fragile, not very accurate, and sort of awkwardly shaped. Maybe doesn't matter as much to other folks, but I also found Snarks don't pick up my double bass at all.


I just looked at my clip on tuner to see what it was and it's a Korg AW-2. I had a red snark a long time ago but it broke. I also remember it didn't pick up my 5th string well, and someone recommended the Korg and I've been happy ever since. 


I tried the AW-2 at the recommendation of Adam Hurt - he swears by his but even a few years ago they were getting hard to track down.

There are 2 others that I'd be curious to try - the Polytune and the Petersen strobe tuner.

May 26, 2022 - 3:17:50 PM
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Players Union Member

Helix

USA

15584 posts since 8/30/2006

welcome this new player to this friendly forum
Capo, picks and strap    That's Chance of Chance the Banjo and the Fuzzy Bottom Boys

i suggest buying an entry level Gold Tone AC1or Recording King Dirty 30's and install your own pickup   More banjo sound from internal mikes

i insist on a clip  on tuner w built in Mike, I always break the clip


Edited by - Helix on 05/26/2022 15:27:35

May 26, 2022 - 3:28:59 PM
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434 posts since 10/3/2012

quote:
Originally posted by Helix

welcome this new player to this friendly forum
Capo, picks and strap    That's Chance of Chance the Banjo and the Fuzzy Bottom Boys

i suggest buying an entry level Gold Tone AC1or Recording King Dirty 30's and install your own pickup   More banjo sound from internal mikes

i insist on a clip  on tuner w built in Mike, I always break the clip

 


What a cute pup.

May 26, 2022 - 3:54:20 PM
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13304 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by alteregotist
Thanks everyone for the replies. 

I guess I'd probably prefer to start with country / bluegrass instead of scotish/Irish banjo. I was under the impression that you could play a certain amount of rock/pop on the banjo as well? Maybe I'm mistaken. 


Not mistaken at all.

Banjo is a musical instrument. Not a genre instrument. So it can be used to play any kind of music.

How well it fits and how good it sounds making music other than the genres with which it's usually associated depend entirely on the skill of the player.

One way to play rock, pop, or modern folk on the banjo is to play the way you do and try your best to make it fit the song. A lot of bluegrass players do that, so what they end up doing is grassifying the song they want to play. They change the song to fit their playing. Another way to play outside the banjo's typical genres (or the style of banjo you as a player may have learned) is to try to change something about your playing to make the banjo better fit.

You probably won't be doing either of these when you start out. They're goals to one day achieve.

I'm a three-finger player, so I'm biased, but I think three-finger is more versatile for playing music from multiple genres and for providing ways to adapt the sound of the instrument to other genres and styles. 

If you're looking for free online tutorials, the outright beginner's series from Jim Pankey is frequently recommended.

Eli Gilbert has a free 30 Days of Banjo: Absolute Beginner Banjo Course

Both of these can get you started. There are plenty of other players/teachers offering free video lessons at all levels and teaching simple to advanced songs. Too many to list. But I want to mention the 100+ videos posted by John Boulding in his former Lick of the Week banjo series. Way more than just licks.  The link goes to a categorized index that makes it easy to find lessons (usually short series of lessons) on specific topics.

These free resources and all the free tablature in the Hangout library could serve you for years. When you eventually want a deeper dive in certain techniques, you may have to find an in-person teacher, buy a book or DVD, or subscribe to an online program. No need to go into those now.

Good luck.

May 26, 2022 - 4:11:18 PM
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59096 posts since 12/14/2005

Welcome!
If the main purpose of music is to express yourself, express YOUR self, and "Don't bust yer buttox" trying to sound exactly like somebody else.

The MAIN rules of Banjo are
"Have fun"
and
"Share the Joy"

May 26, 2022 - 10:19:59 PM
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5291 posts since 5/9/2007

You NEED this …


 

May 26, 2022 - 10:22:58 PM
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5291 posts since 5/9/2007

… and this …
 


 

Edited by - mrphysics55 on 05/26/2022 22:23:30

May 27, 2022 - 10:51:35 AM

19 posts since 12/5/2020

First decide what style of banjo you want to play. Go to Youtube and check out three different styles.

Scruggs style banjo
Clawhammer style banjo
Melodic style banjo

If you decide to play Scruggs style or Melodic style you will need finger pics.

For a thumb pic I recommend Fred Kelly Thumb Picks D5TB-M-3 Delrin Bumblebee Teardrop Large Medium Guitar Pick (also used for banjos and available on Amazon. Without going into it, I had problems with various thumb pics for years until I got the Fred Kelly Pic). Any metal finger pics for the index and middle finger will do.

I you select Clawhammer you need np pics.

You need a banjo capo. You don’t need a finger slide. Get a strap.

After deciding which style you want to play get ONE book (or two In the case of Ken Pearlman) and stick with it.

Scruggs style banjo: Earl Scruggs and the 5-String Banjo: Revised and Enhanced Edition

Clawhammer style banjo: Either Clawhammer Style Banjo by Ken Perlman or Melodic Clawhammer banjo by Ken Perlman (or better yet, get both).

For a tuner get TuneTech Guitar Tuner (TT-5) available on Amazon

Melodic style banjo: Melodic Style Banjo by Tony Trischka
Lastly, have fun!

May 27, 2022 - 11:00:23 AM

19 posts since 12/5/2020

First decide what style of banjo you want to play. Go to Youtube and check out three different styles.

Scruggs style banjo
Clawhammer style banjo
Melodic style banjo

If you decide to play Scruggs style or Melodic style you will need finger pics.

For a thumb pic I recommend Fred Kelly Thumb Picks D5TB-M-3 Delrin Bumblebee Teardrop Large Medium Guitar Pick (also used for banjos and available on Amazon.) Without going into it, I had problems with various thumb pics for years until I got the Fred Kelly Pic). Any metal finger pics for the index and middle finger will do.

If you select Clawhammer you need np pics.

You need a banjo capo. (You will also need a 5th string banjo capo if your fingerboard does not have spikes in it). You don’t need a finger slide. Get a strap.

After deciding which style you want to play get ONE book (or two In the case of Ken Pearlman) and stick with it.

Scruggs style banjo: Earl Scruggs and the 5-String Banjo: Revised and Enhanced Edition

Clawhammer style banjo: Either Clawhammer Style Banjo by Ken Perlman or Melodic Clawhammer banjo by Ken Perlman (or better yet, get both).

Melodic style banjo: Melodic Style Banjo by Tony Trischka

For a tuner get TuneTech Guitar Tuner (TT-5) available on Amazon

Lastly, when you get frustrated practicing, remember what Mark Twain said about playing an instrument; "I am actually a lot better than I sound."

May 27, 2022 - 7:25:41 PM
Players Union Member

Helix

USA

15584 posts since 8/30/2006

For 4-string Celtic and DixieLand a flatpick is good to learn..

Next I suggest learning Up-picking or Seeger style = 1, rest, 3,4 = Boom rest Did He = Boom Diddy
Then learn down picking or frailing = the same Boom Diddy
Then learn Clawhammer or Tap, Tap, Hit = the same Boom Diddy, yes.
The kids learned how to play Diddy Boom which is the same darn thing.

That is enough to get you playing 4/4 time.  You will learn hammering on and pulling off during this time.  Use the Trigonometry in your wrist

Then learn some Index, Middle, Thumb like IMTMTIMT or 21215215

I use fingerpicks all the time except early morning warming up my hands to make the banjos.

I play out over the 19th fret without scratching or a scoop.

Adjust your fingerpicks with needle nose pliers and lick the tips of your fingers before putting them on,  Your body will adjust with muscle memory.  Sleep on it, let your tendons rest, come back tomorrow.

You sound very informed about different musical styles.  


 

Edited by - Helix on 05/27/2022 19:32:07

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