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May 20, 2024 - 7:02:29 PM
69 posts since 4/14/2024

Something Ive been curious about...I hear all the time that "I am a beginner.. or intermediate etc". How does one define what that means? What separates a beginner from an intermediate from an advanced or professional player? I know I personally am a beginner right now so what would constitute me eventually being an intermediate player? or (hopefully) one day an advanced player?
Also...same question in regards to the banjos themselves.. what constitutes a "nice beginner banjo" from an intermediate or professional banjo? And yes, I do understand that these are somewhat subjective questions.. but would just like to see if there might be somewhat of a general consensus.

May 20, 2024 - 7:38:23 PM
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37 posts since 3/4/2023

On instruments, I think a beginner instrument is one that is easy to play because it limits variables - i.e. you can do things well, but it's not as multidimensional/lacks a bit of dynamic range (not talking volume alone, but tone, etc.). It's less sensitive or finnicky, so you can learn the fundamentals. Then, as your fundamentals improve, you might benefit from an instrument that allows you to do more - more sensitivity, more variables to your sound. Perhaps more importantly, an instrument that keeps you challenged when you have reached a plateau on your beginner instrument.

I think the Goodtime for example is an ideal "beginner" banjo, because it is very easy to play but has room to grow as well, further than some of the cheaper instruments out there that could very well teach you bad habits. That's why people tend to call them beginner/intermediate. Most wouldn't say advanced or "pro" because it doesn't have the dynamic qualities some high end (read, expensive) banjos have, and isn't built the same as other (more expensive) banjos.

I haven't played the Twanger but I hear somewhat similar things - though it is more traditional in build and looks great, it has a stigma as an import banjo and doesn't compete tonally with many of the expensive banjos being made today (subjective of course).

I can't answer the question of how to qualify a player, but interested in thoughts there as well. I think it depends on what you play and what your goals are to an extent.

May 20, 2024 - 7:56:41 PM

153 posts since 12/26/2019

Not an expert, but I love this question - in part because it's so subjective.

In my (humble) opinion, as a three finger player, I would suggest a beginner is working mostly on right hand rolls, basic chord changes and simple songs. As such a beginner banjo doesn't need a great tone or even a great neck. I would hope to spend ~$500. (This is when you decide if your fingers will ever do that motion)

An intermediate would be adding speed, left hand techniques, chord progressions, and learning standard songs. At this level the playability of the neck is really important. An inexpensive used banjo or new, high quality Asian import should work well as long as the neck is well made and comfortable to hold and fret. I would hope to spend ~$1500.

After that, the advanced level opens the decision to the three T's of banjo: tone, Tone, and TONE and the sky's the limit :)

May 20, 2024 - 7:57:05 PM
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Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

28043 posts since 6/25/2005

This one is going to take input from many, and consensus is unlikely. I’ll start with my thoughts on an “expert” bluegrass player. There will be additions and disagreements. Note that you need not play melodic style.
—Be comfortable and able to play in G tuning; C tuning (gCGBD), D tuning.
—Be able to play in all keys without capoing above the 4th fret.
—Know and be able to play standard bluegrass licks.
—Be able to sit in with a band and play relatively simple songs you’re unfamiliar with.
—Be able to take breaks on songs (and tunes you know) both up and down the neck.
—Be able to play (for technical reasons) Foggy Mountain Special and Pike County Breakdown.
—Be able to learn a new instrumental in a few days.

That’s the easy one to define, though I’m sure I missed some points. Deciding where the lesser levels are will be tricky.

May 20, 2024 - 8:11:06 PM

69 posts since 4/14/2024

Thanks Bill..I should have been a little more specific...Scruggs/Bluegrass style

May 20, 2024 - 9:25:39 PM
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244 posts since 8/31/2015

My 2 cents regarding instruments:

I think players at any level should strive to buy the best banjo they can afford. The whole "starter/beginner" banjo thing is a misnomer and kind of nonsense. An instrument that is well made, sounds great, and most importantly, easy to play, will be an inspiration to pickers of any level. In fact, many "starter" banjos have had the opposite effect and have deterred many would-be budding banjo players due to poor playability (any number of setup problems), intonation/tuning issues, lousy tone, and a whole host of other issues.

-TD

May 21, 2024 - 3:01:18 AM
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719 posts since 5/21/2020

I don't know but I do know this kid ain't no beginner https://youtube.com/shorts/7fyTCC_OHJs?feature=shared
 

May 21, 2024 - 4:34:40 AM
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Players Union Member

Texasbanjo (Moderator)

USA

30200 posts since 8/3/2003

To me, a beginner is one who has never played a banjo before and is learning the basics: how to hold the banjo correctly, how to fret correctly, how to tune the banjo, how to fret, fingering, rolls, chords; i.e., 3 and 4 finger major chords and a few minor chords frills i.e., slides, hammer ons, slides, chokes, and correct timing of rolls and melodies and so forth.

Intermediate is being able to perform all of the above at a moderate speed, learning about chord sequences, beginning to hear chord changes. beginning to arrange your own breaks, starting to jam with other people and so on.

Advanced is knowing all the above and being able to play at a normal speed with few mistakes, being able to jam with others and take a break on songs you've never played before, possibly joining a band and playing on stage.

As far as banjos go, a beginner banjo is probably one that doesn't have a tone ring and is inexpensive where a beginner can learn without spending a fortune.  I started off with an imported banjo, no tone ring, sounded tinny, but I learned.

An intermediate banjo is one that has a tone ring, good tone and well made.

An advanced or professional type banjo is one like the intermediate but with all the extras like excellent wood and hardware and possibly bling.

Just my 2 cents for what it's worth.

Edited by - Texasbanjo on 05/21/2024 04:38:17

May 21, 2024 - 5:02:15 AM

43 posts since 1/13/2005

I agree with everything said above....??

May 21, 2024 - 6:02:06 AM
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dfstd

USA

68 posts since 2/5/2023

Just my 2¢: It's difficult to agree on a list of skills and competence to label a beginner, intermediate, or advanced player. It's easier to think about it in terms of meeting the needs of a group of players.

If you have a group of beginners learning to jam, then the music, tempo, and level of instruction should meet their needs. A more experienced, skilled player might want to play more difficult music at faster tempos and might feel less satisfied sitting in with the beginner circle. If s/he tries to play at her/his level in the beginner group, then the true beginners might be frustrated because they can't do that.

I think a player can self-identify his/her level by deciding on which circle to join: beginner, intermediate, or advanced. You'll know you've moved from beginner to intermediate, maybe not in all respects, but for the most part, when you want to move from a beginner group to the intermediate group and can handle it.

If you're playing at home, then identifying your level isn't as important, I think. Just keep playing and learning!

May 21, 2024 - 6:20:16 AM
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KCJones

USA

3060 posts since 8/30/2012

Beginner: Minimal knowledge. Learning banjo components. Basic knowledge of chords, scales, progressions, and rhythmic patterns. Lots of wasted motion and varying tempos (aka sloppy). Little-to-no theory knowledge, cannot pick up chords by ear, difficulty playing with others.

Intermediate: understanding of most chord inversions and scale parterns, major/minor/7th/dim/aug. Ability to play by ear without the use of visual aids. Understanding of dynamics, backup and lead, and ability to play in an ensemble. Solid tempo, more efficient motions. Practical understanding of theory as needed to collaborate with others.

Advanced: Deeper knowledge of theory, scales, and modes. Ability to compose your own melodies, rhythms, and licks. Can play multiple styles seamlessly. Ability to play 'call and response' and in unison with other musicians. No wasted motion, no wavering tempo.

May 21, 2024 - 6:24:01 AM
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794 posts since 11/9/2021

Aren't we all intermediate players? Meaning that there is always more to learn, improve or otherwise grow in ability and understanding. On fiddle I consider myself an advanced player after 40+ years of playing and I can generally do anything I can think of while playing. BUT have I mastered all the techniques and styles the instrument is capable of (think classical)? Heck no, but I would never use most of them, so I consider myself in the advanced category. On banjo - still a beginner or at best a low level intermediate. A lot to learn and implement.

As far as instruments, I hold with the 'get the best instrument you can afford' philosophy. Better instruments are just that - better, in almost every way. A cheaply made, indifferently constructed and just badly designed instrument does no player any service. Yes, it is a banjo shaped object but trying to actually learn and play on it only hampers development. It can frustrate the newbie, teach bad technique to overcome its shortcomings and certainly not inspire the player.

May 21, 2024 - 6:25:06 AM
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KCJones

USA

3060 posts since 8/30/2012

For instruments, it's much simpler.

There are no "beginner" instruments and there are no "professional" instruments. There are good instruments and bad instruments.

Bad instruments are marketed as beginner instruments. It's a marketing trick used to sell bad products to neophytes.

A good instrument is one that stays in tune, is stable when being played, has proper intonation and fretting all the way up the neck, is comfortable to hold/play, and has "good tone". A bad instrument is anything that doesn't meet these criteria.

May 21, 2024 - 6:51:18 AM
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16098 posts since 12/2/2005

Beginner: someone who as owned/played a banjo less than one month and is working on "Boil Them Cabbage."

Intermediate: someone who has owned/played banjo between one and six months and has added "Cripple Creek" to the repertoire.

Advanced: Someone who has owned/played banjo for more than six months and can still only play "Boil Them Cabbage" and "Cripple Creek," but who now feels confident to post "How to Play Banjo" video lessons on YouTube and argue on the Banjo Hangout.

wink

 

May 21, 2024 - 7:29:11 AM
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Dean T

USA

83 posts since 4/18/2024

I think it changes in different environments. In one band I played in, we had a set
Iist of about 40 songs. We played them so much, we got very very good at them. It would be easy to fake someone out, that I was a high intermediate player. In another band, we had a catalogue of over 400 songs, and we changed them every month. I struggled to keep up, and although I played decent, the difficulty level of playing, never reached the same level, as the others bands songs, which I played hundreds and hundreds of times more. What’s really interesting, is that I was already playing in a group, when we decided to add banjo, so I immediately started trying to adapt it to fit our song choices, and skipped over all the typical beginner songs. Now I’m older, the bands are in the past, I play mostly alone, sometimes with a few friends, and I’m going back to YouTube videos, and kind of starting over. Jim Pankey is my new TV friend, and in the last few months I’ve learned Cripple Creek, Boil them cabbage, and Banjo in the Hollow for the first time in my life. So I can honestly say that in that context, I’m very much a beginner.

Also kind of interesting is that I’ve done the banjo level backwards as well. I used to play professional level banjos. Now I’m very happy with my very light, very simple Goodtime. Which, with a little fretboard edge shaping and fret dressing, and fine tuning… plays just as good as any of my past banjos. So when I play a song I know well at home, I feel like I can still knock on the door of a high intermediate player. But if I took my banjo to a jam, on a song I didn’t know… I’d get slaughtered and would be very much a beginner.

May 21, 2024 - 8:38:30 AM
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3800 posts since 4/5/2006

For starters, let me say Texasbanjo aka Sherry pretty much nailed it.

IMHO, the fuzzy line between a beginner & intermediate player might be when one begins to feel the need to explore avenues beyond next week's lesson. wink

Not having been in the banjo market for decades, all I can say is play as many banjos as possible before laying money on the table.

May 21, 2024 - 9:32:11 AM
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15254 posts since 6/2/2008

Well, Earl Scruggs was an advanced player who never played anything melodic, used single-string phrases only sparingly, and seemed to do fne without scales, so I guess "intermediate" and "advanced" levels don't necessarily require any of those abilities. Of course, he pretty much created the vocabulary of bluegrass banjo that defined the fundamentals of three-finger technique.

Not sure why I start there, except to say that in the modern context, the most advanced payers are fluent in multiple techniques.

I agree with what seems to be a prevailing view of the different levels. Maybe our impressions vary around the edges.

So in my opinion, an intermediate player can play whatever they're trying to play cleanly and accurately in time at performance speed. Maybe not break-neck for the fastest bluegrass instrumentals, but at the tempos at which bands worth listening to typically record and perform. Intermediate players play with expressiveness. There's variety in their dynamics and tone -- even within individual songs. Intermediate players don't just play songs on the banjo. They make music on the banjo.

The intermediate player has learned a lot of songs -- by tab, ear, lesson -- but doesn't necessarily play them all the same way every time. If they forget how they originally learned a song, they can play it some other way and have still come out as the same song. They can improvise on songs they've never played before or may be hearing for the first time.  Their improv is more than rolling on chords and incorporates licks and phrases to fill musical space and substitute for melody. Outside of a jam, these players can work up banjo parts to songs that may not have banjo in them already. They can transcribe the recorded playing of others, though not necessarily every piece by every player.

If it's not clear from the above, I think intermediate players have all the skills needed to perform in a band or hold their own in a jam.

Beginners have achieved little or none of this. Advanced beginners are part way there. How far, I don't know.

Advanced players can do it all and more. No sense in spending more words on all the things they can do.

May 21, 2024 - 9:48:43 AM
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16636 posts since 6/30/2020

Patrick1962,

The previous posts have done a nice job of addressed the issue of beginner vs professional grade instruments.

The issue of using one specific word to label one’s playing capabilities and how their acquired knowledge and skills relate to other players in general, is a sketchy proposition at best. I would suggest that a given musician can be among the best there is at playing Foggy Mountain Breakdown as written in tab or otherwise and as such might be considered an advanced player on that merit. However, that same player might not have the faintest idea how to personalize the song by adding a modified break that he/she had conceived or where to even begin to play backup to that same tune, which would then render him to beginner in those categories.
So, I’m of the school that we are all beginners of some of the aspects of playing a given instrument, intermediate in other categories, and with hard work and thousands of hours of practice and play time, we can consider ourselves advanced instrumentalists in many of the tasks that are required to create good music.
To answer your question: I do not think there is an accurate way to measure and subsequently label with one word, a subjective issue such as one’s musical progress as it applies the the whole of the issue. Quite possibly it is just better and more beneficial for us to enjoy our musical journey without regard to the destination. Keep on pickin’ & Grinnin’

Edited by - Pick-A-Lick on 05/21/2024 09:52:05

May 21, 2024 - 10:00:06 AM

Fracker

USA

43 posts since 1/12/2024

I hate labels, they are so subjective and turn out being disingenuous anyway. How many players who like to say they are beginners have you seen that turn around and blow your socks off? You are what you are. You don't have to label it.

May 21, 2024 - 10:48:08 AM

15 posts since 3/25/2024

Similar to what others have posted, Josh Turknett from Brainjo has definitions of beginner, intermediate, and advanced. He uses 5 stages that span the skill levels. My apologies that this link doesn't lay them out succinctly, but instead one must watch the videos. However, in doing so, Josh does go into a lot of detail about the stages. brainjo.academy/roadmap/

May 21, 2024 - 12:09:33 PM

15254 posts since 6/2/2008

quote:
Originally posted by Pick-A-Lick

So, I’m of the school that we are all beginners of some of the aspects of playing a given instrument, intermediate in other categories, and with hard work and thousands of hours of practice and play time, we can consider ourselves advanced instrumentalists in many of the tasks that are required to create good music.


Tremendous comment. Couldn't agree more.

After 52 years of playing, that's how I'd describe myself. I consider myself sufficiently advanced in Scruggs-style three-finger technique to improvise a straight-ahead bluegrass(y) solo to almost any song in almost any genre. I jam with non-bluegrassers a few times a year, so I'm used to putting banjo to a range of pop, rock, country and folk songs. I love doing that.

I'm sufficiently intermediate in melodic style that I can spice up my Scruggs-style playing with a variety of melodic phrases, some above the 12th fret. Improvising melodically on a fiddle tune I've never heard or worked up is a challenge and the results are not usually very good.

I'm still a beginner at single-string. I use short phrases here and there. But the rest of my single-string is scale exercises up and down the neck that I haven't managed to turn into practical application. I haven't associated the patterns and positions with sounds the way I have with the rest of my playing.

And there are some fairly fundamental things in Scruggs style I've never learned. I don't correctly form the "Sally Goodin' position" --  for playing G licks out of a shape like the up-the-neck E minor in Foggy Mountain Breakdown. Never really learned Foggy Mountain Special or the other 12-bar blues that sound like it. Or a famous up-the-neck backup lick that starts with a lot of repeated first string at 17th fret.

May 21, 2024 - 12:20:23 PM
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3508 posts since 4/19/2008

I've posted this skill levels chart that I use for my students before and as before a gifted ear trumps all.


May 21, 2024 - 5:52:49 PM
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69 posts since 4/14/2024

Thanks to everyone for your responses..gives me a lot to think about as to the direction I am currently going in

May 21, 2024 - 7:15:30 PM

244 posts since 8/31/2015

quote:
Originally posted by mmuussiiccaall

I've posted this skill levels chart that I use for my students before and as before a gifted ear trumps all.


Rick,

What is the "circle of pain"???

 sorry for the thread drift

-TD

May 21, 2024 - 8:21:02 PM
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3508 posts since 4/19/2008

quote:
Originally posted by TreyDBanjoKS
quote:
Originally posted by mmuussiiccaall

I've posted this skill levels chart that I use for my students before and as before a gifted ear trumps all.


Rick,

What is the "circle of pain"???

 sorry for the thread drift

-TD


I made this up for a worst possible scenerio test for whether a student knows their M & m chords.


May 22, 2024 - 9:50:15 AM
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15254 posts since 6/2/2008

An example of the type of concept an intermediate or advanced player can incorporate in their playing.

 

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