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Nov 29, 2022 - 4:10:13 AM
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4 posts since 11/29/2022

Ok, I need some therapy. I'm sure I'm not the first person gearing themselves up to take the leap into banjo and feeling scared. I'm 35. I dabbled in about 4 instruments in middle/high school, but never long enough to get good in any. That is one of my biggest life regrets is not sticking with music. That's part of my psychological hang up I guess. I'm worried I'll reach that difficult point and not push through. But back then I was an immature child. I hope I'm more mature/patient now!

In addition, every thing I read about banjo online makes it seem really intimidating! I'm so drawn to the sound. I'm really motivated by the idea of accompanying my kids on their instruments and singing together as a family. But can I really get decent at age 35 without sounding pathetic? Can I do this with 5 kids?

I've played a little guitar...what is nice about guitar is that with a few chords and just a little picking or strumming you can sing a millions songs. My impression with banjo is that you need to put in 2 years before you even get to the point where you could pluck out a good sounding song. Am I way off?

I guess it doesn't help when I good things and I come up with posts like: a.) 10 things I wish I'd knew before starting banjo and b.) Three months in and still can't master bum ditty or c.) 5 mistakes new banjo players make

This is giving me cold feet! Someone tell me I can attack this mysterious beast!

One thing I am prepared for is settling in for the long haul. I'm not looking for instant results, but I do want to avoid discouragement. I guess my over-arching goal would be to be "good" at age 40...in 4.5 years with consistent practice.

Possible?

One last detail: I think I'm leaning towards clawhammer!

Nov 29, 2022 - 4:45:44 AM
Players Union Member

Texasbanjo (Moderator)

USA

28235 posts since 8/3/2003

If you have the desire to learn banjo, you can! The best and quickest way to learn is to find a good teacher and take lessons. A good teacher can show you how to hold the banjo correctly, how to pick and fret correctly, how to count and keep in time. A good teacher will show you how to recognize/play the melody and backup to songs.

If you can't afford a live teacher, maybe online lessons? There are several teachers here who teach clawhammer. Go here: banjohangout.org/teachers/ and use the advanced search to narrow your choices.

If you can't afford online lessons, then instruction books/CD/DVDs are another avenue. If you go that route, take it from page 1, don't skip around. Learn one basic before going on to the next. Listen to the CD/DVD, get familiar with the song/technique and then work on it slowly.... again slowly..... until you have it down and can play it at a slow to medium pace.

Don't get disappointed if you can't immediately play like you want to. It's like learning to walk when you're an infant: you have to crawl first, then balance and slowly walk and eventually be able to run.

Last of all: enjoy!! it's a fun trip.

Nov 29, 2022 - 4:53:43 AM

58 posts since 4/19/2014

When I was 35, I picked up the banjo with zero musical experience. My reasoning for picking up the banjo at the time was completely asinine and that probably lead me to put down the instrument for extended periods of time over the past eight years. I feel like when I started banjo, I did a lot of things wrong I wouldn't do again if I could give myself some advice.

One thing I absolutely did right was I took in person lessons. Getting the "basic stroke" down is essential, and it's not easy. There is no replacement for someone sitting with, correcting your movements and playing with. A book or video can't do this. It can't play with you to make sure you're in time or make sure you're getting your power from your arm and not your wrist.

The second thing that took me seven years to figure out was how to practice with a metronome. Everyone always says "play with a metronome" and I would turn on that stupid clicking demon but I had no idea what I was doing. Someone finally sat me down and showed me how to use it properly. That was probably the one thing that got my playing moving faster than anything else.

Learning an instrument is hard, and as a beginner it's especially difficult. I think you need to accept the fact that you're going to sound bad for a while and push through. Play really simple songs so you get the satisfaction of being able to play something. Eventually things start to snowball and before you know it, you'll start to sound pretty good.

I think when it comes to music, or any other skill that takes practice, it doesn't take long to get as good as 95% of the people who ever pick up the instrument. At that level you can play a lot of songs and sound pretty decent. Covering that last 5% can be a life long journey though.

Nov 29, 2022 - 4:53:53 AM
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jacot23

USA

297 posts since 12/13/2012

I started learning Clawhammer at age 45. Find a teacher you can connect with and put in the work and yes you can.

Nov 29, 2022 - 5:13:57 AM
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carlb

USA

2459 posts since 12/16/2007

First, and foremost, is to get that right hand doing a relaxed clawhammer strum. Play without using any drop thumb until you get the right hand motion. My 3 cents.

Nov 29, 2022 - 5:18:28 AM

Slogo

USA

45 posts since 7/28/2022

Hilary, don't feel discouraged. If you break your progress into smaller steps you will enjoy learning the banjo. I felt as you did when I started. I'm 68 and just started this Jan. The most frustrating for me was memory. So what I did was spend half my time learning new songs, then practicing partial chords, scales, and licks up the neck trying to make it sound musical. If that makes any sense? The point is you can make it work. I need to follow everyone's advise and find a teacher also. I used youtube's many beginning banjo lessons, but a teacher will help you avoid mistakes.

Nov 29, 2022 - 5:44:37 AM
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Players Union Member

Mike76

USA

49 posts since 9/2/2021

You can do it, Hilary! I’m 68 and started two years ago. At the very least you can learn the same chords you know on guitar and strum along with your kids. There are different styles of fingerpicking to explore, take your time and enjoy the process!

Nov 29, 2022 - 5:45:29 AM
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60020 posts since 12/14/2005

My standard spiel, when I'm showing off my home-made banjos, is this:

"The people on TV play banjo the HARD WAY, specifically to impress the audience.
But when you're sitting around the campfire with your friends and family, they don't care if you can play like Earl Scruggs, Steve Martin, Bela fleck.
What they care about is
Do You Know THREE CHORDS??
Because if you know three chords, you know 10,000 songs."

Here's a guy who shows you how to play three chords with one finger.



My only criticism is that he does NOT explain, right off the bat, what the RIGHT hand is doing.
It seems to me that he's strumming ALL the strings with his thumb, picking up on the first string with a finger, and then sounding the 5th string with his thumb.

Also, I remind the people that I play banjo, and I am definitely NOT a hard worker.
I tell people that if you want a HARD job, just go down to the Courthouse, fill out the form, pay the fee, and get your name legally changed to

"Mom??? MOM! MOM!!!"

Nov 29, 2022 - 6:17:37 AM
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Players Union Member

jduke

USA

1177 posts since 1/15/2009

I started playing clawhamer banjo (never played anything before) sometime in my thirties. Mostly I taught myself from books (with thin black plastic records), and did have a few lessons with a well-known clawhammer player. Even though I've been playing for forty some years now, I still consider myself stuck at an intermediate level.

About fifteen years I finally started jamming with others, That's when my learning really started. For that reason, I would say start jamming with your kids as soon as you can frail a few basic cords.

I'll never grow beyond an intermediate player, but I can hold my own in a jam and I play in a band. I may not be the best, but I'm having fun and enjoy contributing to the music-- isn't that what music for?

Nov 29, 2022 - 6:55:58 AM
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6 posts since 9/7/2022

Tom Collins (whose videos you should check out on YouTube) has a saying, “put a penny in the jar.” Play some every single day, even if it’s only 5 minutes. Over time this will add up and you’ll get better and better. And if you miss a day, no big deal, just get that penny in the jar the next day.

Nov 29, 2022 - 7:08 AM
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2624 posts since 2/4/2013

While I agree with the advice given the one thing I would say is that there isn't just clawhammer and Scruggs style picking. There is old time picking which uses two fingers and a thumb (three finger picking) and Seeger style up picking. I came from the guitar and the clawhammer thumb remains largely a mystery to me. So I just pick tunes in some amalgam of three and four finger picking. I just do what I'm comfortable with so I can play some tunes. But it is a banjo and not a guitar so rhythmical droning is required (and something I did a lot of with the guitar) and lots of hammer ons, some pull offs and some slides. Certainly not standard guitar picking. Chords are often mixed in and plucked - three fingers up and the thumb down on the fourth or fifth string or sometimes raked down with the back of the finger nails for emphasis.

So what am I trying to say? Sure keep working on clawhammer but don't think it's the only way. Other ways may work better for you and perhaps look at that as well. I still try to clawhammer but usually just hammer without using the thumb. But the first thing I realised is not to obsess about styles and play some tunes instead.

Nov 29, 2022 - 7:14:40 AM

378 posts since 11/10/2022

If you already have a guitar, you can play it like a banjo to see if you like it. I dont do clawhammer but was fingerpicking chet atkins style on an acoustic for 20 years. When I added banjo to my practise days, it wasnt hard to get my brain to learn the rolls.

3 strings on your guitar are already tuned like a banjo D G B! The first string can be tuned from E to D, and bam....you have 4 strings to learn banjo chords!

Just for kicks, I used to plug into my amp, set the effects to "banjo" and walla, my guitar sounded like a banjo!

Since you already own a guitar, theres a free way to move towards banjo. good luck!

Nov 29, 2022 - 7:37:28 AM

2990 posts since 5/2/2012

Assuming you are interested in playing clawhammer style, since you are in this forum. With your guitar playing, I was wondering if with your "a little picking and strumming experience" you had come across Travis picking on guitar. If so, do a google search for "Ken Perlman Travis picking".

There are also some resources here on the HO about playing backup clawhammer style, as well as sources on utube.  Here is a link to a search here on the HO using the term "clawhammer backup"  

There are 3 basic chord "shapes" to learn on the banjo fretboard to play the major chords, with the "barre" being the simplest.

I think it takes a couple years to become a really competent banjo player. But you could probably learn enough banjo in, lets say, probably less than six months, to be able to play some simple solos and accompany yourself or family members playing and singing.  Your guitar playing has put you a step up on those starting banjo without any stringed instrument experience.  

You can do this!

Nov 29, 2022 - 7:42:37 AM
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RG

USA

3200 posts since 8/7/2008

My advice? Listen, listen, and listen to the music or style that speaks most to you, then find a favorite player who's playing you really like, and then pick a song/tune they do and try to emulate it, especially the timing... and then continue listening some more.  It's a long haul... I've been playing close to 50 years and still hear new things in older tunes/songs to incorporate into my playing. Relax and enjoy the learning process, it's not a race.  

Nov 29, 2022 - 8:22:05 AM
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90 posts since 4/4/2021

I'm 56, started playing banjo about 2 years ago, and now consider myself in that broad category of "intermediate" playing. My only regret is not starting about two decades ago, when I was 35 like you! Just do it -- you'll get so much joy out of it, and have many, many years of that ahead of you. Start now.

Edited by - mandobanjolibrarian on 11/29/2022 08:22:46

Nov 29, 2022 - 10:35:20 AM
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doryman

USA

1321 posts since 11/26/2012

35 is pretty young to start playing the banjo, but you wanted encouragement, so...GO FOR IT! You'll grow into eventually and, who knows, you might even turn out to be a prodigy.

Nov 29, 2022 - 11:50:14 AM

Wyrd

USA

4 posts since 3/23/2022

I started at 31 having never played a fretted instrument before (classical harp was the only other instrument I seriously studied…Which I started in college!), and have been having a blast. The banjo is pretty forgiving all things considered, and there’s lots of people who pick it up as an adult and have fun with it.

Nov 29, 2022 - 3:03:30 PM
Players Union Member

Kookaburra

Australia

42 posts since 10/26/2020

Get a banjo. Get a teacher (Skype is fine). Play everyday. I am tone not quite deaf but close. One of the reasons I play is to stretch the brain and tone is a long way improved from when I started.

Why do you want to invest several thousand hours of your life in this?

Enjoy what you do. If not, don’t do it. The banjo will wait for you. They are good like that.

Nov 29, 2022 - 5:03:12 PM
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6197 posts since 3/11/2006

This music is part of an older more patient culture.  

Learn  to enjoy your playing at every level.  The simplest clawhammer playing can sound wonderful. Elegant simplicity is a hallmark of the style.  As RG says; listen, listen, listen.  Saturate your mind with the music and how it should sound.  The music has been here forever.  You're now part of the continuum.

Nov 29, 2022 - 6:32:13 PM

4 posts since 11/29/2022

Wow, thank you everyone for the encouragement! I feel like I have a whole team of people rooting for me I've never even met. :-)

I was surprised at the general insistance on a private instructor. I would prefer this 100%, but our budget won't allow for personal lessons for a few months at least. To start on some of the basics and ensure I won't develop any bad habits, are there any tried and true online resources, beginner videos, that you would recommend? Something you've had a personal great experience with as a beginner? They don't have to be free -- just less expensive that private lessons!

Thanks again everyone!
Hilary

Nov 29, 2022 - 6:50:16 PM
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2990 posts since 5/2/2012

Here is one free resource to start with clawhammer style. Here are some of the  Tom Collins Youtube videos mentioned above. 

Nov 29, 2022 - 6:54:14 PM

706 posts since 10/23/2003

quote:LOL
 
that is the other Tony Thomas, I think he is down Knoxville way,  He has some good basic lessons online and if you are nearby  a wonderful teacher.  I know because people mistake him for me by our same name for years, both those looking for teachers, or thanking him for what  they learned from him.  I go by his YouTubes now and then. He has a lot of sense and folks who study with him keep telling me how good he has been to them!
Find a teacher.  Go to an old time or bluegrass jam or concert and talk about it.  People will ask you if you pick just because you are there.  Other banjo players want you to learn, will want to help you, will see them starting out in you.  So do not be shy to ask people where you can get a teacher or some advice.  It just helps to be around people who will be positive about your banjoing
  I did not start playing banjo until I was 53, but had played guitar since I was 13.  In the 22 years since I continue to be shocked at how friendly, generous and outgoing other banjo players are from top level players down toa coworker who had not played banjo for years  but invited me to hi shouse when he saw me bring in the banjo when it was too hot to leave it in the car.
There are lists of banjoists somewhere around. Or go to a local bluegrass or old time performance..  People are friendly and will help you out.
Whatever style you play, you will find even more than other instruments banjos = playing and repair and buying.  All that is something you wont get just out of a book or an internet.  Other banjo players, especially if you can find someone in your area will be your friend, no matter how far ahead of you they are.
Keep us posted!
We're happy you want to become a banjo player.   
Originally posted by mike gregory

My standard spiel, when I'm showing off my home-made banjos, is this:

"The people on TV play banjo the HARD WAY, specifically to impress the audience.
But when you're sitting around the campfire with your friends and family, they don't care if you can play like Earl Scruggs, Steve Martin, Bela fleck.
What they care about is
Do You Know THREE CHORDS??
Because if you know three chords, you know 10,000 songs."

Here's a guy who shows you how to play three chords with one finger.



My only criticism is that he does NOT explain, right off the bat, what the RIGHT hand is doing.
It seems to me that he's strumming ALL the strings with his thumb, picking up on the first string with a finger, and then sounding the 5th string with his thumb.

Also, I remind the people that I play banjo, and I am definitely NOT a hard worker.
I tell people that if you want a HARD job, just go down to the Courthouse, fill out the form, pay the fee, and get your name legally changed to

"Mom??? MOM! MOM!!!"


Edited by - writerrad on 11/29/2022 19:00:15

Nov 29, 2022 - 7:14:35 PM

706 posts since 10/23/2003

quote:  There are about 4000 different lessons and stuff on YouTube with all kinds of different approaches, some very hard, some slow.   Claw hammer is really different from guitar.   My own experience is that when I started out I was performing on guitar as I had been doing since I was a teenager about the age of 52 or 53, and bought a banjo and applied every error abouty how to play the clawhammer a person could make.  I was ucky a veyr good local b anjoist told me to  come to his house the next Sunday evening and bring my banjo.   He demonstrated how I was doing the basic stroke wrong.
He told me not to try to play any tunes wrong like that, but to practice the basic strokes of claw hammer the bum diddy, the drop thumb, and the  double thumb without trying to play a tune for a half an hour each night for a month.  He handed me a Bob Carlin video cassette (back int he old days this was)  and said come back when you have learned those strokes.
Focus on the strokes, but if you cannot afford a teacher, try to find someone local who will at least look at what you do.  Claw hammer is all about doing it right at the start in the strokes.  Nothing else matters.  But find local people who play and they will help you
People say find a teacher because there is just stuff that a beginner will get wrong unless someone helps them and sees what they can do.  It could be a local banjo player who might look at your picking even just on zoom and give advice.  It is really easy to spend a long time doing the wrong thing.   See if there is an old time jam in your area
Again banjo people are friendly.  They are evangelistic about bring a new sheep into the flock, about bringing you forward to the Glory of banjo playing.   So even if you cannot afford lessons you might find someone who can help you locally or on zoom
Thanks and welcome to the team!
Originally posted by hbataille

Wow, thank you everyone for the encouragement! I feel like I have a whole team of people rooting for me I've never even met. :-)

I was surprised at the general insistance on a private instructor. I would prefer this 100%, but our budget won't allow for personal lessons for a few months at least. To start on some of the basics and ensure I won't develop any bad habits, are there any tried and true online resources, beginner videos, that you would recommend? Something you've had a personal great experience with as a beginner? They don't have to be free -- just less expensive that private lessons!

Thanks again everyone!
Hilary


Nov 30, 2022 - 5:16:49 AM

544 posts since 11/9/2021

I started clawhammer banjo just about 1 year ago, at 67. BUT, I play lots of other instruments including fiddle and guitar (for a long time). The hardest part was the right hand basic bum-ditty rhythm, but that took maybe 2 weeks of 1/2 hour a day practice. If you play guitar, you already have a sense of rhythm. I did take a few (3) video lessons, which cleaned my technique up some, but at $40 a pop, that was not going to last. Adding in drop thumb technique is harder and is proving a bit frustrating to me, but with just that bim-ditty tons of tunes are open for you.

Do your 1/2 hr a day, listen to lots of music, now with a goal in mind. This is very doable. Good luck.

PS check out the few videos I have on my personal page here, you get an idea of where I was after 2 months or so.

Nov 30, 2022 - 5:20:01 AM
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carlb

USA

2459 posts since 12/16/2007

quote:
Originally posted by hbataille

Something you've had a personal great experience with as a beginner? They don't have to be free -- just less expensive that private lessons!


I had been playing guitar with an old time band before I started clawhammer, and I also had played a lot of finger picking guitar in the previous 15 years. Just after starting banjo and while at a party and old time jam, I asked two people I knew about my clawhammer style. I got three pieces of advice which proved very useful.

1. Using the index,  rather than the middle finger, gives a stronger response while playing.

2. Stop waving my thumb around like a flag in the breeze. Now I play, for years, with a bent right thumb,  but there are really good players that play with a straight thumb. (Note - beginning arthritis has caused me to use a more straight thumb in the last few years).

3. For the left hand, one finger,  one fret.

Take some suggestions from friends who already play pretty well,  worked for me.

Nov 30, 2022 - 7:29:59 AM
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84 posts since 2/8/2016

Josh Turknett has a pretty good intro course that will give you a solid foundation. clawhammerbanjo.net/8steps/

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