October 07, 2001

#10: Getting started, and playing non-bluegrass music on banjo

Calvin H. writes:

I am a beginner. I took lessons years ago for a short while. Put the banjo down for a few years and currently trying to get started back again. I have a few instruction materials. Some of which are easy to understand and some are not.I am also taking lessons again and I believe he is a better teacher. My church has a great praise band. Several guitars, etc. and I would like to play with them. I have tried to follow along but I dont know what a Em#, C2 and all those fancy chords are. My Earl Scruggs instruction book does not have them nor does my teacher know them. My teacher told me that a banjo could not be played with other types of music. I would truly like to learn to play bluegrass and well as accompany other styles of music. I would like to learn differnt chords. I would also like to know what are the different styles of banjo playing. 3 finger, melodic, clawhammer, jazz etc. How do these styles sound? What are good resources that are reasonable? Thanks.

Wow, Calvin, You've asked some good questions there. First, I want to tell you I strongly disagree with your teacher's statement "the banjo could not be played with other types of music." I'm assuming he means it's only for bluegrass, but I must refer to Pete Seeger and many others who play great banjo as part of many many different musical styles. Please don't assume that to learn an instrument you have to take lessons. They often help, of course, but not all good musicians are good teachers, and they can actually lead a student toward discouragement if they aren't careful in what they teach.

You might try Pete Seeger's instruction book and recording(s) that come with it. Consult the classified ads in Banjo Newsletter. You can get an issue from them free by mentioning my name. Their web site is banjonews.com. You will also see a lot of items advertised that will help answer the questions you asked me. Their site also has music downloads of different kidns of banjo music, and you would enjoy those I'm sure (as well as getting proof positive that the banjo is versatile). Learning banjo is a long journey, not easily summed up in one message like this.

Another note, the chords you gave names for don't really exist by those names. But I think Seeger's book, as well as various others, do show how all sorts of chords are played, and once you learn the ones you need for the songs you want to play, you could sing through the songs while changing chords as efficiently as you can. That would be a good start learning to play those songs.

I hope you will browse a little on my web site and consider getting either my new Getting Rolling video, which presents the rudiments of music making and bluegrass picking, and/or Beginning Bluegrass Banjo, which is a more complete video course starting from scratch moving through many of the basics of bluegrass style. Both will present a lot of material that I think you'll find useful.

Best of luck learning banjo!

Pete