The Banjo

It is better, of course, to know useless things than to know nothing. -Seneca

It all started with my discovery of bluegrass music. For some reason, hearing blue grass music make me feel like I wanted to (and might be able to) learn how to make music myself.
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Online resources

Mistakes are great learning tools and are underrated as instructional aids. - Richie Dotson
There are mountains of online stuff available for the person wanting to learn to play the banjo:

Most explanations of music theory make the assumption that you already know something. This site does a great job of starting from scratch.

The following is my paraphrase of the tips given by Bill Evans:

  1. Listen carefully to great banjo music.
  2. Set specific short, medium, and long range goals.
    (short = this week, medium = in a few months)
  3. Practice regularly, even if for just a short time.
  4. Warm up, and stay in your comfort zone when doing so.
  5. Use tabs sparingly.
  6. Focus first on the right hand.
  7. Practice slow and in control, speed comes later.
  8. Learn songs one measure at a time.
  9. Play the right repertoire.
  10. Keep a record of your progress.
Something my first teacher said: "It is more important to play on time than anything else. People you play with will forgive a few wrong notes, but if you cannot play on time, they will take you out back and beat you." He might not have said exactly that, but that was the gist of it.

Playing slow when learning is something that almost every teacher emphasizes. Play it slow and get it right. Be patient and speed will come. Almost every student lacks patience and jumps ahead trying to play too fast.

Who makes good banjos?

Steve Martin

Steve Martin (yes, the comedian/actor) is an accomplished Banjo player. Here are a couple of quotes:


I had the good fortune to hear Douglas Dillard play a concert, and afterwards had a brief moment to speak to him. I told him I was learning the banjo and asked his advice. He said what I hoped he would: "practice".

Earl Scruggs advised playing a tune 10,000 times to really learn it.

The recent book "Outliers" suggests that people who are "great" at anything have invested 10,000 hours practicing or studying it. Perhaps it is the drive or passion to practice 10,000 hours that is mistaken for talent. Hard work; painful demanding practice are what are required to achieve success, not some natural gift. Practice specific things with a focused goal. If you settle for mediocrity, realize that it is your choice, not your destiny.

See this article on what it takes to be great.

Talent may just be a discount on the hard work required. Bobby Fischer spent 9 years in intensive study to become a chess grandmaster at age 16. Deliberate and focused practice, not just hours banging away is what yields results.

Have any comments? Questions? Drop me a line!

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