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Sep 24, 2022 - 7:53:51 AM
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3 posts since 10/28/2019

Hi all, I have been playing the banjo for about one year. It being my first string instrument I ever played. I am 77 years old and not in the best of health. I play the two finger, thumb lead style which seems to be the best for me. My problem is this. My memory and my finger dexterity are not what they used to be. I have trouble memorizing songs, so I depend on reading the tab. I also have issues with my fretting hand not hitting the correct strings or frets. If I look at my fretting hand while playing, I can do ok. The problem is trying to read the tab and watch my left hand at the same time causes me to play extremely slow. I only play by myself for my own enjoyment, so it is not a big deal. I had hoped that after one year of playing, I would be doing better than I am. Any thoughts or suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

Sep 24, 2022 - 8:08:34 AM
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DWFII

USA

512 posts since 1/9/2022

You're never too old.

I am in a very very similar situation--I am 76, and have been playing for about 9-10 months. Never played a stringed instrument before. I am playing 2F index but toy with the idea of moving on to 2Fthumb--it's a natural sequence if you're following Schroeder.

My left hand is never quite as accurate as i would like and sometimes i get a buzz from the fifth string when I fret the fourth. The index finger of my right hand just sometimes decides to stop moving and I cannot seem to strike the third string reliably (hitting the fourth string instead).

Like you I play for my own enjoyment and the challenge and never expect to be able to play for an audience, even of family.

But, when I think about it, that's not why I started playing. If I am honest with myself, I play to keep the dark at bay. So it doesn't matter if I make mistakes or never get any better than I am right now. It makes me happy and gives me a reason to not be annoyed with the earwigs that are constantly running through my head.

To borrow an old quip..."you don't stop playing because you get old, you get old because you stop playing." xD

I don't know if that helps but you're not alone. Don't give up.

Sep 24, 2022 - 8:10:19 AM
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85 posts since 7/24/2021

The Lord is blessing you with longevity. Enjoy that banjo. And don’t give up, don’t ever give up!

Sep 24, 2022 - 8:10:47 AM
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133 posts since 2/15/2011

Play for you, play for your enjoyment. There will always be some 8 year old who somehow masters the instrument in a week haha. Most of us don't learn that quick, takes awhile to polish. :) I played banjo off and on for 11 or 12 years now. Only know a few songs. Spent many years off the banjo as my fingers got arthritis so doing rolls n such just werent do-able anymore so I switched to clawhammer recently and now I gotta re-learn lots. Makes it feel like the banjo is a completely different instrument now. Take your time, keep going :)

Also tab is not for everyone, it can slow you down and make you reliant on it. Because your eyes gotta follow along, then your brain has to interpret that and then you gotta convert all that info into both sets of fingers and muscle memory etc. Learning by ear is best for myself, there are many ways of learning though! I can't follow tab to save my life, I can sorta get the jist of it but then I find myself using different notes and fingerings to what the tab does, and then I just make my own version of whatever it is in a more comfortable key. I've never been great at following instructions though! haha

Have a go at doing scales on your banjo, in whatever key you want. Keep doing scales few minutes a day before you practice a piece and after and it should help your mind build a mental map of all the notes available nearest your fingers.

Sep 24, 2022 - 8:12:31 AM
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10152 posts since 8/28/2013

Keep playing. It can take a while to develop the muscle memory to fret without looking, sometimes more than a year. As a fairly recent player, you should worry more about playing correctly than about speed. Speed will come naturally after your hand begins hitting the right notes easily.

Sep 24, 2022 - 8:16:05 AM
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3 posts since 10/28/2019

Hey Bootmaker, I am glad that I am not the only one with these problems and thanks for the words of encouragement!

Sep 24, 2022 - 8:17:41 AM
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3 posts since 10/28/2019

Thanks everyone for the encouraging words, I really appreciate it

Sep 24, 2022 - 9:05 AM
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373 posts since 11/17/2015

Don't give up, just play for you. At the least will help keep you sharp and fingers moving. I started 3 finger a few years ago, just turned 71.

Sep 24, 2022 - 9:37:23 AM
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2936 posts since 5/2/2012

Are you having fun? Are you making music? If the answer is yes to both, then I wouldn't overthink this banjo playing thing.

I picked up banjo after I retired and will turn 76 at the end of the month. My main focus is Tony Ellis tunes, many of which have an old time flavor, but I also play some tunes bluegrass style. When I learn a tune, I tend to look at a measure, then alternate between looking at my fretting and picking hands. VERY slow process in the beginning, but the more I practice I find I can glance at the tab, fretting hand and picking hand...becoming quicker and quicker the more times I play. After I've played a tune maybe 200 - 300 times I glance at the tab (or not) and I don't need to look at my hands very often. So, for me, it's a matter of repetition, slowly and first and then speeding up as time goes by. And, as time goes by, relying less on the tab and watching my fingers.

Bluegrass tunes are, to me, a bit easier to learn, as there are patterns and a "language" to learn that help with that. With old time music, patterns are a bit harder to pick out, but if you look, they can be found. That makes learning tunes easier.

I now longer obsess about memorizing tunes. Or remembering a whole lot of tunes. But as I play them over and over, I internalize the music and I eventually commit the tune to memory (or not, that's OK). And my fingers go where they are supposed to go, at the right time.  Do I have fun? Yes! Am I making music? Yes! And that is what is most important to me.

Edited by - thisoldman on 09/24/2022 09:39:09

Sep 24, 2022 - 9:45:38 AM
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8429 posts since 3/17/2005

Weaning yourself from tab can be hard. Work on memorizing a few measures at a time, rather than the whole tune all at once. Or if you know (have memorized) the actual melody and can hum it, then just play the melody alone without the tab. Work to get that rhythmically correct, no matter how slowly. When you're really comfortable with that, try the tab again. Notice where and how the tab fills in some of the spaces between melody notes or even eliminates a melody note here and there. (This is what Old Woodchuck called the connective tissue). You can follow the tab or you can come up with your own filler, or a combination of both. Just remember that the bare melody, timing and rhythm are what's important. Get the melody in your head first, then get it on the fretboard, then worry about the bum-ditties, etc. last.

Sep 24, 2022 - 10:20:50 AM
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thor363

USA

88 posts since 12/12/2021

Give yourself some time. It'll come to you. Haskel McCormick now mid 80's lost one of his fretting fingers and at 85 years old he adjusted and still plays excellent. If you love it, take your time and don't quit. If it makes you feel good and brings you joy, do not quit. In my late 50's here and I'm only 9 months in (baby banjo player!). I can take tab now (finally) and listen to the tune, and generally get though it and make it musical. It takes time. I have to use 2 verses at a time, MAX, and then repeat until it's smooth and clean. Once I've done that, I can progress. One of the things I do (to keep my inner voice from being critical) is warm up with a Mikes Mute for the first half hour, and then take the mute off, and it becomes much more accurate and enjoyable. Shutting off that inner voice (we all have one unfortunately) and being positive about the progress is what gets me through it. When I find myself not smiling when I'm playing, is when I find I'm too tense, and have to relax and bring my left elbow down, right arm relaxed, fingers keeping as close as possible to the strings, and then good things start to happen. Humming the melody definitely helps if you can. DON'T GIVE UP!

Sep 24, 2022 - 11:25:30 AM
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Lew H

USA

2767 posts since 3/10/2008

I've played for 60 years as of this past spring, but I've never been good at tab reading. I have to get the tune into my head (which is a bit dense too--haha!). What I do is find the tune online or in a recording, put it on a cd and let it play over and over (if I'm in my car with the repeat CD player), or put it on the disc a half dozen times. Either way, it gets drilled into my head. If I have a CD that has lots of tunes on it, this doesn't work for me. I need just the one tune playing.

Sep 24, 2022 - 11:50:04 AM
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Players Union Member

TN Time

USA

409 posts since 12/6/2021

I am 71 and have been playing off and on since I was in my late 20's and I still don't have it down. I did get good enough to play in some clubs and coffee houses in the Tampa Bay area and now in Tennessee I play at jams and open mic's. I play 3 finger Scruggs style and thumb lead 2 finger style. I still take many short cuts and I don't play up the neck very much. I also don't play with tab. If I get it by ear and it sounds good enough, then that becomes my "arrangement" of the song. Though I am not all that good, a few people think I am and most of all, I have fun with it and that's what is important.
Robert

Sep 24, 2022 - 12:00:56 PM
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1006 posts since 3/23/2006

All of us in our 70s encourage you to just keep on playing. Chip's advice about committing a tab arrangement to memory a few phrases at a time is what many of us do with tab. Your left hand will get better with practice -- it may come slowly but it should come. I remember when I could only play a handful of tunes, but I enjoyed playing them. That enjoyment is the main reason to keep learning to play better. You will.

Sep 24, 2022 - 12:11:41 PM
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593 posts since 12/15/2003

I'm 73 and I played for lots of years, then gave it up for 3 years. It's TOUGH and frustrating to start playing again, but I'm playing again because it's FUN. That's enough for me.

Sep 24, 2022 - 2:20:14 PM
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856 posts since 12/19/2010

Wally, here are some ideas that apply regardless of age.

1 - Bravo to you for following your heart and taking up the banjo in your 70s!

2- Not all tabs are created equal. Don't put it all this on yourself. There are tabs out there that aren't the best, or more specifically, not the best for you (even if they are in published books). To my ear many simple versions of a song/tune, are better than then the more embellished versions. Given that you are still learning the banjo, I think it would best to look for simpler versions of tunes.

2 - As part of the learning process, minimize the number of independent variables (ie., reduce complexity). If you are trying to make your thumb and finger pick the right strings, fret notes/makes chords with your other hand, read tab, look at you fingerboard, and learn an unfamiliar melody all at the same time, you are challenging yourself to master a lot of things all at once. Reduce the complexity!

3 - To my previous point, incorporate songs that you learned in childhood--melodies that are burned into your memory. Many of these were simple melodies that sound wonderful on the banjo, especially in 2F style. Think back to the Kingston Trio, Sing Along with Mitch, your American songbook in grade school--Worried Man Blues, Swing Low Sweet Chariot, Red River Valley, Old Dan Tucker, Clementine, This Land is Your Land, etc. Sure try new stuff, but don't ignore the music that is already internalized. You still may need tab to get started, but you fingers will begin to connect to your brain more quickly because you are not struggling to memorize a new piece of music along with navigating the banjo itself.

4 - Even at a year and given your frustrations, don't try to learn too many tunings all at once. If all you know is the standard G tuning, or Double C, then fine. Stick with that for a while, get familiar with it, and the basic chord forms in that tuning (or a couple tunings). Again, trying to master 3-4 tunings all at once can become a form of information overload.

5 - If you are self-taught, a year in on your first stringed instrument, and have a repertoire of six or so songs that you can play to some level of satisfaction, you're really doing just fine.

I'm hitting 70 soon, and have been playing banjo since my teens. Who knows how much more time I will have, but I am happy for every day that I can still pick up my banjo and play it, frustrations and all. Usually before going to bed, I strum a few chords, just to hear those sweet sounds before closing my eyes and drifting off. Few things bring me as much joy. Good enough for me to call it a good day.

Sep 24, 2022 - 2:49:02 PM
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278 posts since 1/26/2003

I really like what jack beuthin had to say in the post above.

For me, I recognize I will never be a good banjo player but I get a lot of joy by playing at the banjo everyday for my own pleasure. The banjo helps my 73 year old brain be a better brain than it would be without the banjo.

Sep 24, 2022 - 3:56:04 PM
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RV6

USA

1471 posts since 2/3/2012

Jack summed up things nicely along with several other members.

My first instrument was the banjo and I started 10 years ago at age 65.   I play old time music, clawhammer style.  The first few years, I relied on tab and learned most of the tunes from them.  One day while playing with a group of great bunch of old time players, I realized that I could play along with many of the tunes they played that I didn't know because my fingers just went where they were supposed to go.   A mind blowing event for me.    I only refer to tab now if I can't figure things out by ear.

I bought a fiddle three years ago and learned several tunes with tab but, as others have pointed out, that just adds more complexity to playing.   After doing lots of scale work on the fiddle, I can now pick up most tunes by ear.  (I never did scales when learning the banjo.  Perhaps a mistake but things worked out OK.   My playing (on banjo or fiddle) doesn't include all of the notes displayed on tab but, I can hit most of the melody notes and can play along, up to speed now on the fiddle, tunes that I know on the banjo.

I'd suggest that you choose a simple tune that you like in the key of "D" .  The 1,4 and 5 chords are one and two finger chords and capoing up to double D would probably be more comfortable for you as far as "reach" goes.   I'd get a recording of a tune you like to play along with.  I use an app on my android phone, "Music Speed Changer",  that allows me to slow the tune down and to mark out short sections of the tune to repeat and play along with.   "Sugar Hill" is a simple, old time tune that I would suggest as a possible first tune.   When you get that tune "in your head" and can play along with it, I'd pick another tune in D and stay with that tuning until your ready to move on.  There are lots and lots of good D tunes.

Good luck and have a blast!

Sep 24, 2022 - 4:08:29 PM

DWFII

USA

512 posts since 1/9/2022

I keep seeing people saying "play the scale." How do you do that on a banjo? ...it's not like playing the scale on a clarinet.

I have a chart and I can see where the notes are but I suspect it's not just running a string from one fret to the next. Or is it?

Is there an exercise, in tab, that effectively plays the scale? 

Sep 24, 2022 - 5:46:13 PM
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8230 posts since 8/30/2004

DW,
Can you hum: do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti, do? If you can then that is a major scale. Just hunt on your 4 strings up to the 5th fret for those notes you just hummed. To find the starting note, just play the 3rd string and then start do re mi etc. Trying humming this scale rather than reading a tab of it...Jack  p.s. I have the major scaled tabbed out but try singing the notes first...pps. can you hum the note of the 3rd string of your banjo? If you can then you're on your way. That is important to know...

Edited by - Jack Baker on 09/24/2022 17:54:29

Sep 24, 2022 - 5:47:39 PM

74 posts since 4/4/2021

quote:
Originally posted by DWFIIIs there an exercise, in tab, that effectively plays the scale? 

Try Googling "banjo scales" and you'll get more than you could ever want.  Here's one to get you started:

http://www.traditionalmusic.co.uk/scales/musical-scales.htm

Edited by - mandobanjolibrarian on 09/24/2022 17:53:34

Sep 24, 2022 - 6:17:25 PM

DWFII

USA

512 posts since 1/9/2022

quote:
Originally posted by mandobanjolibrarian
quote:
Originally posted by DWFIIIs there an exercise, in tab, that effectively plays the scale? 

Try Googling "banjo scales" and you'll get more than you could ever want.  Here's one to get you started:

https://banjotabs.org/scales/major/


Thank you for that. I see how that works now, I will work on it.

The same website offers scales for other tunings and I was looking for a scale in sawmill tuning which is, if I'm not mistaken, G minor. The website offers minor tunings for harmonic minor, melodic minor and natural minor. There does seem to be a difference. Which one do I want?

Sep 24, 2022 - 6:22:10 PM
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639 posts since 10/23/2003

quote:Look, just do the best you can, be happy you can try instead of wasting away.  I am 75, and I wanted to play the banjo starting when I was about 13 or 14 a couple years after the guitar.   I did not get a banjo until I was 53.   I taught English at night at the community college.  I had a young women student who wrote an essay about how she had played piano before marriage but had married and had kids out of high school and now that her kids were old enough to go to school, was she too old at 26  to go back to playing piano,
LOL I sat there grading her paper, thinking about banjos and the banjo I put 5 bucks down on once in 1963, and the next night I took my first Good Time home,
A banjo will make a nice tone and sound even if you play it simple and slow,  
Try learning to sing the songs or the tune to play.  Try to learn  not by tab but by having someone show you how to play.  Practice playing the scale in the keys you play.  Google Pentatonic scale and get on the banjo,
Have another friend also passed away (so you know I am not no teenager unfamiliar with age) who was a medical science writer and editor who explained to me that the part of your brain the remembers how to get your body to do something lasts longer and better than the part of your brain that remembers the words for it.   Learn to play by ear, because that lasts longer.  Here in God's waiting room, Palm Beach County, where we oldsters are the ones that come out whether it is bluegrass or old time, folks will be playing a heck of a tune at a jam, and then someone will ask at the end of the tune "what as the name of that" before they tell you the name of the song is some song you learned we all learned in 1962.
THave simple goals./  The joy of the banjo is it can make a nice sound even the day you take it home for the first time.
 
 
Originally posted by WallyNJ

Hi all, I have been playing the banjo for about one year. It being my first string instrument I ever played. I am 77 years old and not in the best of health. I play the two finger, thumb lead style which seems to be the best for me. My problem is this. My memory and my finger dexterity are not what they used to be. I have trouble memorizing songs, so I depend on reading the tab. I also have issues with my fretting hand not hitting the correct strings or frets. If I look at my fretting hand while playing, I can do ok. The problem is trying to read the tab and watch my left hand at the same time causes me to play extremely slow. I only play by myself for my own enjoyment, so it is not a big deal. I had hoped that after one year of playing, I would be doing better than I am. Any thoughts or suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!


Sep 24, 2022 - 6:28 PM
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639 posts since 10/23/2003

The other thing that I learned from taking some of my initial banjo lessons from folks older than me, is that as we age, we filter out the things that we do not have the patience and persistence or will to do. LOL that gives me scenes of trying to bowl with a friend the first year of high school, or my poor late father who was a tennis and golf coach trying to get me to play those sports.

To last as long as we have, you have learned to avoid the things you are crummy at, and focus on the things you can do. Learning new things is always about getting through the period where you truly suck, and doing the work.

Learn to play simple songs, think of yourself as a learner. I am sure you taught someone to do something and realized that they would get better little by little,

I had a jazz guitar teacher in Oakland about 40 years ago who said music was about working for years to make it sound like the music just magically came to your hands without effort from heaven, not that you had worked your butt off for years,

It does take a lot of work, a lot of time, it may look magical or easy or just willed, but you are often looking at someone who put in the hours and then the weeks, then the months, and then years,

Do not be so hard on yourself. Have simpler goals.

Sep 24, 2022 - 6:31:22 PM
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639 posts since 10/23/2003

quote:  Good advice from a wise fellow.   Always warm up first by doing something you can do like scales before trying to do something difficult.  The mechanics of it are quite important.,  If you are working on a tune, practice the scale in that key and tuning first for a while 10 15 minutes.  Then if it is any kind of old time, country or bluegrass tune, practice the pentatonic scale.
Warm up your brain and body before trying, and go slow, accept that starting out you will sound like crap. Embrace sounding like crap as the way to sound decent.,

Originally posted by Gears_D_Husky

Play for you, play for your enjoyment. There will always be some 8 year old who somehow masters the instrument in a week haha. Most of us don't learn that quick, takes awhile to polish. :) I played banjo off and on for 11 or 12 years now. Only know a few songs. Spent many years off the banjo as my fingers got arthritis so doing rolls n such just werent do-able anymore so I switched to clawhammer recently and now I gotta re-learn lots. Makes it feel like the banjo is a completely different instrument now. Take your time, keep going :)

Also tab is not for everyone, it can slow you down and make you reliant on it. Because your eyes gotta follow along, then your brain has to interpret that and then you gotta convert all that info into both sets of fingers and muscle memory etc. Learning by ear is best for myself, there are many ways of learning though! I can't follow tab to save my life, I can sorta get the jist of it but then I find myself using different notes and fingerings to what the tab does, and then I just make my own version of whatever it is in a more comfortable key. I've never been great at following instructions though! haha

Have a go at doing scales on your banjo, in whatever key you want. Keep doing scales few minutes a day before you practice a piece and after and it should help your mind build a mental map of all the notes available nearest your fingers.


Sep 24, 2022 - 6:35:58 PM
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639 posts since 10/23/2003

quote:I know Lew and I wish he would put out a book called how to play like Lew.  Seriously,  listening a lot as lew says.  I will make up a cd or a track that can go on a music player that will work on this computer or in my car,   I will put a tune I am learning on it, usually once up to speed, then slowed down, then slower, and back up to speed and listen to it while I do something around the house or while I drive, even if it is a tune I think i have know for 60 years.  
Spend time listening.   Work at it.
but do not expect you are going to match up with someone like Lew who has been working at it since he was 10.  Work at it like someone who is 77 and can bang around like a kid and still be happy
Originally posted by Lew H

I've played for 60 years as of this past spring, but I've never been good at tab reading. I have to get the tune into my head (which is a bit dense too--haha!). What I do is find the tune online or in a recording, put it on a cd and let it play over and over (if I'm in my car with the repeat CD player), or put it on the disc a half dozen times. Either way, it gets drilled into my head. If I have a CD that has lots of tunes on it, this doesn't work for me. I need just the one tune playing.


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