July 13, 2003

#56: Beginning advice

D. Gilray writes:

I can tab out songs but it would be a lot easier to follow a book or material that is set up for a beginner.

Lately I have been making a point to say to every teacher of beginning banjo players who'll listen:

Consider teaching the basics of musicianship BEFORE teaching tabs. That means, keeping time and changing chords correctly when a song is being played. Most of the playing a new student might do successfully with others will be relatively slow jamming on SONGS, not instrumentals. Help get your beginning player confident at learning to play correct chord progressions in time, just by looking at the chording hand of a guitar player. That is preparation for what he'll actually be doing. Once that is in place, teaching breaks to easy songs using tab works great: Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Worried Man Blues, etc. These arrangements are much likely to be mastered to the point of *actual usability* in real jams than instrumentals, which are almost always harder. Remember, most people jam mainly on songs.

This is the quickest path I know to achieving the multiple goals of:

  1. Having fun
  2. Feeling a sense of progress and thus staying motivated
  3. Developing a solid music foundation for all the learning to come
  4. Making it possible for a person to have the fun/reward of actually jamming
  5. Making it easier to play tabs in correct time, because a sense of timing has already been developed.

This philosophy is given in some detail in an article I wrote for Banjo Newsletter not long ago, called Teaching Beginners. It is based on my experience teaching beginners since 1964.

There is a lot of other free beginners' material on the site, as well as a way to order my two video/DVDs for beginners. The one called Get Rolling is designed to be as easy as possible for a beginner, teaching the above principles with a bunch of 2- and 3-chord songs.

I hope you'll check it out.

Pete Wernick

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