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Jun 18, 2024 - 7:23:10 PM
111 posts since 4/14/2024

As I am still struggling with my first song I thought it might be helpful for me and other beginners to know the process/method of how some of the more experienced players and teachers approach learning a new song...(oh dear God, somebody..anybody.. please tell me this gets easier)

Jun 18, 2024 - 9:34:18 PM
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5827 posts since 5/29/2011

Start with a simple song that you already know the melody of. Don't bother to try using rolls, just pick out the melody with the thumb until you have it figured out. Do it over and over until you are comfortable playing just the notes, then you can work on adding the rolls with the other fingers. Try something without a lot of chords like Tom Dooley or Cripple Creek.

Jun 18, 2024 - 9:41:28 PM
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115 posts since 9/1/2020

Learning songs is a tough approach.
When I started, my friend showed me a forward roll and how to make a C chord. Alternating G and C with that roll, I proceeded to torture every human being within earshot for probably a couple of weeks. Then it simultaneously got better and worse when he showed me the forward-backward roll, and D7. I was then able to play Boil Them Cabbage Down from start to finish, which offered some resolution, but also fueled my obsession with the terrible noise maker.
I eventually picked up some of the standards from tab, but I really built my chops on rolls and changes, which is what really feels like the most comfortable approach to me.

Jun 19, 2024 - 4:17:48 AM
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4248 posts since 7/12/2006

Aside from any technique or excersizes, theres really no shortcut. Endless hours of repetitive practice trains the mind the ear and fingers to work together.
You must be able to hear your progress. The scariest thing i have found in a beginner is when they dont hear the mistakes they are making.
This is where a good teacher comes in. The first 6 months to a year are critical for the beginner in that they can develope bad habits that have to be unlearned down the road.

Jun 19, 2024 - 4:31:49 AM
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Texasbanjo (Moderator)

USA

30305 posts since 8/3/2003

There are several different ways people learn. You need to figure out which one is best for you.

Tab: hopefully you'll have a midi of whatever song you're learning. If so, get acquainted with the MELODY. If you can sing or hum the melody, it's easier to understand which notes in tab to emphasize to bring out the melody. Take a look at Jack Hatfield's Beginning Bluegrass Banjo #1, 2 and 3. Jack highlights the melody notes so you know where they are.

By ear: Listen, listen, listen. As said above, pick out the melody notes only and play them until it sounds like the song. Then try adding a slide to a melody note or a hammer on and a hot lick at the end of a musical phrase.

Rote: watch and listen. View what someone is playing, try to emulate the sound. Take a look at the Murphy Method and see if this might help you.

And, as Gary said: there are no shortcuts. Practice, practice, practice.

If you can find/afford a live teacher, that will help you improve faster with fewer bad habits.
Record your practice. Then play it back in a couple of weeks and see if you've improved.

Jun 19, 2024 - 4:39:37 AM
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111 posts since 4/14/2024

While I truly appreciate all of the replies what I really wanted to know is how you all, personally, approach learning a song...what your process/method is now that you've got a bunch of songs under your belt.

Jun 19, 2024 - 5:23:32 AM
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733 posts since 5/21/2020

Hi Patrick I have offered up my advice/suggestions in the past. But as you've said it's not for you. So I guess there is little point me repeating myself. Yes it does get easier if you have a good lesson plan to follow, with regular study & practice you should see marked progress within six months.

Jun 19, 2024 - 5:25:22 AM
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corcoran

Canada

564 posts since 8/3/2004

quote:
Originally posted by Patrick1962

While I truly appreciate all of the replies what I really wanted to know is how you all, personally, approach learning a song...what your process/method is now that you've got a bunch of songs under your belt.


For me, it's all about the melody. I strive to identify the melody notes and the timing. I then try to build rolls around the melody while preserving the timing so that the tune or song is recognizable. I prefer to play the melody notes with my thumb, for emphasis, although this is not cast in stone. Then I play it, play it, play it until it is comfortable and -- perhaps -- I can easily remember it. As an aid to memory, I usually tab out the tune or break, using TablEdit. The tablature is really helpful if I am not playing the tune on a regular basis.

Jun 19, 2024 - 6:32:29 AM
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3399 posts since 5/2/2012

The first song I really learned, this is when I was playing 2FTL, I got it by learning the first measure, then the second measure, putting those two measures together, learning the 3rd measure, playing the first 3 measures together, and so on. Took a month to memorize that tune and play it up to speed. And yes, it does get a lot easier once you learned those first few tunes. My second tune took less time, the one after than even less time.....

It has been said learning BG tunes is like learning a language. As you learn more tunes, you will be able to see patterns that will help you pick up new tunes faster. My process seems to be to first listen to the tune a number of times until I'm really familiar with the melody. I'm a visual learner, so I use tab, so the next thing I will do is look at the tab, and look for patterns. Like the chords, measures that have familiar picking patterns, or measures that are repeated later in the tune. I learned fairly quickly to be able to look ahead a measure (while I was playing the preceding measure) and figure out how to play it (recognize that pattern). For auditory learners (I wish I was better at that), picking up tunes seems to come easier. What may take weeks in the beginning will likely end up taking a few days after while.

If you use tab, and you want a real structured way to learn songs, take a look at the Splitting the Licks book by Janet Davis. Arrangements of each tune include one with the melody notes only, one with just forward rolls, one with different rolls/picking patterns, one with picking patterns and licks, and (last) one with hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides. So from the simplest to more complex. I have read that the Hatfield beginner book has the melody notes indicated in some way in the tab.

Jun 19, 2024 - 6:33:31 AM

4865 posts since 3/28/2008

There are multiple levels of "learning a song". There's the melody, which you need if you're going to sing it or play it recognizably. There's the chord progression, which you need if you're going to play it with other people. And there's whatever specific banjo arrangement--licks, left-hand moves, etc.--you'll play if you take a solo when playing the song. Which are you referring to in your post?

Jun 19, 2024 - 6:36:50 AM

1428 posts since 1/26/2011

First I learn the chord structure. Then I play rolls over those chords, with more forward rolls than anything else since I think it produces more drive. At least it does the way I play. Over the past 14 years I’ve learned a lot of licks that work over different chords, so I then start trying different licks in appropriate places to see what works. But I try not to overburden the song with licks. If I do I lose some drive.

If I decide to learn something from tab I work on the individual licks I don’t know first, I play them slow over and over again until I can play them perfectly and then start working on the whole break. But I don’t use tab much anymore for a whole break. I usually just learn licks I’m interested in.

I also record myself a lot, just about every day, and listen back during my practice sessions. Feedback is critical.

I learned most of this from Geoff Hohwald. A teacher is an important part of learning. I was fortunate enough to live close enough to Geoff that I could take lessons from him.

Edited by - jdeluke137 on 06/19/2024 06:38:27

Jun 19, 2024 - 7:46:28 AM
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111 posts since 4/14/2024

Ira= I'm sorry...I apparently didn't frame the question properly. I am curious as to the process and method that some of the more experienced players use when they learn a new song...not specifically just for me but I thought it might be beneficial for anyone reading this post, beginner or experienced, to see the method and process that others use to learn a song...does that make sense?

Jun 19, 2024 - 8:17:48 AM
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Texasbanjo (Moderator)

USA

30305 posts since 8/3/2003

Patrick, I've been playing since the early '70s and my method to learn a new song now is:
1. Listen to the song until I have the melody in my head and can sing and/or hum it.
2. Figure out the key it's in. If it's a vocal, figure out the key best for my voice.
3. Get the chord structure down.
4. Play the song.

I don't usually have to play it more than once to have a pretty nice break figured out.

It all comes with practice, practice, practice before you get to where I am now.

Just that easy. Little practice unless I'm going to play on stage (which I don't any more) and otherwise, just let my fingers and brain figure out what sounds good.

Jun 19, 2024 - 8:48:49 AM
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4248 posts since 7/12/2006

One thing i used to do when a beginner was to takeameasureof tab and break it down itits open roll, no fretting the notes on the tab, just playing the measure as if it were all pen strings. Just to get the rolling hand familiar with the song. By doing tha id notice owoften id be playing te same pattern even though the licks were different.

Jun 19, 2024 - 9:07:17 AM
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115 posts since 9/1/2020

quote:
Originally posted by Patrick1962

Ira= I'm sorry...I apparently didn't frame the question properly. I am curious as to the process and method that some of the more experienced players use when they learn a new song...not specifically just for me but I thought it might be beneficial for anyone reading this post, beginner or experienced, to see the method and process that others use to learn a song...does that make sense?


Chord changes.

That's it. 

If you can play the changes in time, you are playing the song. 

Filling everything else out will be to the extent of whatever your current skill level at that point in your journey. 

As you progress, you'll be able to do more with each tune.

Jun 19, 2024 - 10:48:18 AM

4248 posts since 7/12/2006

Forgive the terrible typing of my previous post. I was in a hurry

Jun 19, 2024 - 10:59:17 AM
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167 posts since 10/12/2018

This is how I do it…
1. Learn the chord progression first while strumming or pinching. At this point, you are playing the song and can play backup.
2. Pick out the melody by ear using the chord positions you already learned.
3. Play it with rolls while trying to hit as many melody notes as possible.
3. Add licks to emphasize the melody.

You must know the song before any of this starts. You should be able to hum it or hear it in your head.

Edited by - NewBlackDak on 06/19/2024 11:04:07

Jun 19, 2024 - 11:10:37 AM
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1428 posts since 1/26/2011

quote:
Originally posted by NewBlackDak

You must know the song before any of this starts. You should be able to hum it or hear it in your head.


This is a great point.  If I can't sing it I can't play it.

Jun 19, 2024 - 1:29:49 PM

KCJones

USA

3111 posts since 8/30/2012

My method (as learned from a few sources but mostly the JD Splitting the Licks book). Note that this isn't "my" method and there's nothing new here at all that I invented, it's just how I've learned to do it.

  1. Figure out how to hum the melody from memory, if I don't already know the song.
  2. Pick the melody in the correct rhythm, using only downstrokes with index finger (or using the thumb if I'm doing 3-finger style).
  3. Fill in the spaces between the melody with basic rhythmic techniques (e.g. bum-ditty or simple double-thumbing for clawhammer, or partial roll patterns and pinch chords for 3finger)
  4. Add slurs and seasoning as necessary to give it more flavor (drop-thumb, slides, hammer-ons, pull-offs, passing notes between chord changes, different voicings and chord inversions, licks that fit the melody)
  5. For backup/singing, I just play basic chord changes based on that melody if I can figure that out, or I just look up a chord chart for the changes if it's not super clear. I keep backup simple, with either basic clawhammer strumming, or pinch vamping and basic rolling backup.
  6. If I'm trying to do a specific melody run or fill, to mimic a specific banjo player or specific version of a song, I will sometimes use tablature if it's available. But only in this situation do I go to tabs, I don't use them learn a song in general.

It's important to try to get each step down fairly well before moving on to the next step. This method is without question slower at the beginning than most other methods, but after you've done it a few times it makes things a lot easier moving forward.  

Edited by - KCJones on 06/19/2024 13:32:32

Jun 19, 2024 - 4:57:19 PM
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seanray

USA

1686 posts since 9/11/2004

Learning your first few tunes is tough but it gets a lot easier after that.

Here is my process.

1. Listen and or watch as many good recordings of the piece as you can find.
2. Look over any available sheet music or tablature.

From here it depends on whether you're writing your own arrangement or learning a specific solo.


Learning a specific solo

3. Import the recording into Logic Pro X. Apply a high pass filter and slow it down to 50% and tune it to A440 if need be.
4. Figure out the key and chord progression.
5. Write the chord progression and arrangement down in a TablEdit file.
6. Start transcribing the banjo part one bar at a time from Logic into TablEdit.
7. Once that's done, start playing along to the slowed down recording and gradually increase the tempo until you get back to 100%.

Writing your own arrangement

6b. The same as above but Instead of transcribing just create your own arrangement.

Jun 19, 2024 - 5:29:39 PM

111 posts since 4/14/2024

Cool..thats what I was talking about! Hopefully a few people got a few new ideas from all of your responses

Jun 20, 2024 - 7:58:57 AM
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4865 posts since 3/28/2008

quote:
Originally posted by Patrick1962

Ira= I'm sorry...I apparently didn't frame the question properly. I am curious as to the process and method that some of the more experienced players use when they learn a new song...not specifically just for me but I thought it might be beneficial for anyone reading this post, beginner or experienced, to see the method and process that others use to learn a song...does that make sense?


Well, I start with learning the chord progression and the melody. For a beginner, that can be a long and uncertain process, perhaps involving an algorithm like seanray's, but higher-level musicians will have internalized skills that enable them to get the chords and melody without explicitly figuring them out step by step--at least for songs that don't do anything expecially tricky.

Then, when it comes to playing a break, once again it's often NOT a matter of deliberate calculation and composition. Rather, a break for a typical sort of melody will be put together out of common banjo vocabulary--licks, right hand moves, etc. In fact, for standard-type material in Scruggs style, the experienced player often is not playing a memorized break, but rather is reconstructing the break anew on the spot each time he/she plays it.

Jun 20, 2024 - 8:05:44 AM
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Texasbanjo (Moderator)

USA

30305 posts since 8/3/2003

quote:
Originally posted by jdeluke137
quote:
Originally posted by NewBlackDak

You must know the song before any of this starts. You should be able to hum it or hear it in your head.


This is a great point.  If I can't sing it I can't play it.


You don't have to sing it, if you can hum it or just have the melody in your head, that's all you need. 

Jun 20, 2024 - 10:20:52 AM

9661 posts since 8/30/2004

Yes,
I agree with you Sherry. As long as you can hear the melody in your head....Jack

Jun 20, 2024 - 3:54:12 PM

1081 posts since 10/23/2003

quote:
It is pretty hard to answer this since you do not explain what kind of banjo playing you are aiming at: bluegrass, old time frailing, old time two finger,  classic guitar style banjo.   So it is hard to say.
The key thing is to listen to as many variants of the tune as you can, and learn to hum or sing the melody, or play the tune single note.  One thing I would do and continue to do even if I am working on a tune I have know for 60 years, is to google the song or search for the song on YouTube.  You would be surprised to see how many lessons on how to play the most obscure songs, tab, and standard notation is out there online
Also, I find it useful to try to figure out how parts of a tune I am learning resemble a tune I already know.  If I am picking with a band or a jam or a friend, learning what chords a guitarist or mando player is making.  When I was a teenager (77 now) a good friend taught me to get an idea of what chords or musical shapes look like for banjoist, mando players, or guitarists so I can figure it out.
But all of this is different from different kinds of banjo.   If you are going from a recording by a professional player or even a good amateur, dont try to match it.  Try to figure out the tune note by note or parts of, try to slow it down.
There is all kinds of software you can get to slow down recordings.   I have tried a lot of fancier ones but I use Audacity which is free and fairly easy to use.  I can take a recording on the computer and slow it down as much as I need to.
Mostly be patient.  If you are listening to a recording, you are listening to someone who spent years picking, working, studying, learning stuff, be patient that it takes time.
And again, find other banjoists, take lessons if you at all can.  You do not have to reinvent the wheel.  I started playing banjo in my 50s after playing guitar since I was 12.  For a while I thought I had it figured out but was completely.
Finally, something I have heard from master musicians, dont be afraid to sound lousy, only working at it when you are not good can help you get better,
You can often find tab or even standard notation online for many tunes, learning to read tab and standard notation is essential.
If you are a real beginner,  you should FIND A TEACHER either online or in person.   
Go find other banjoists!   You should go where banjoists of the type of music you play are and not be shy.  Tell folks you are learning the banjo or learning the music they play and ask for tips.   
I played guitar for about 35 years before I got into the banjo at about 53, and I continue to be shocked at how generous banjoists are to someone who wants to learn to play, but again it is hard to give a proper answer since you dont tell us what banjo style you play.
 

Edited by - writerrad on 06/20/2024 16:12:39

Jun 20, 2024 - 4:01:29 PM

1081 posts since 10/23/2003

Again difficult insofar as you dont tell us what style of banjo playing you are aiming at.  It is different for old time than for bluegrass or folk.  One thing I do find helpful is learn as much basic music as you can, learn the scales, and learn the pentatonic scale, and the blues scales that will associate notes you hear with places on your fingerboard,
But there are no short cuts.  You are always working on songs every time you play.  I find myself figuring out better ways to play tunes I thought I had learned well on banjo 20 years ago, or songs I started playing well on the guitar in the 1960s.  You are always working on every song you think you know.

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