June 03, 2001

#1: Practice Habits

Umberto Capasso from Italy writes:

My current study on banjo takes about an hour 30 up to 2 every day when I‘m lucky. I divide this time in 2 time blocks:
1 -- for Learning
2 -- for playing

Into time block # 1 the time is divided into :

1a -- play a pattern on the entire fingerboard (for stretching my fingers, and possibly different pattern every time )
1b -- play the circle of 5th
1c -- learn new song from a Hatfield book
1d -- learn new song from another book ( from Acutab for example)

The time block 2 is reserved for playing the song that I am learning. Would you be so kind to tell me if my method of learning is correct?

Do you have any suggestion for building speed ?

If not, do you have a suggestion for boost my learning and do you have a suggest for building a strong and accurate right hand?

Dear Umberto,

It's good to hear you are working so hard on the banjo. Any practicing you do will help you progress. If I heard you play and talked with you about your goals as a banjo player, I could make better suggestions than I am able by way of e-mail. (I do this at my banjo camps, and would welcome you to consider coming sometime.)

I do not think of any practice pattern as "correct" or "incorrect". I try to make sure I (and students) can execute some pieces as perfectly as possible with excellent tone. For many, this means they need to practice for tone and clarity on easy pieces to be most able to get an excellent result.

Much of what people decide to practice should be based on what music they will be playing with other people. To me, this is the best material to practice. I prefer it to scales, circle of 5ths, etc.

To practice for speed, use a metronome or rhythm machine to see how fast you are going, and learn to play something perfectly at some speed, even if very slow. Once it is perfect, then increase the speed gradually. When some mistake starts happening due to speed, make a repeating exercise out of just the part where the problem is until you can do it smoothly and correctly at the speed where it had failed. Then resume increasing the speed on the whole piece until another part fails, and repeat the process.

There is much to say about a "strong and accurate right hand", but again practice is the key of course. Make sure every single note you play sounds good, and go as slow as you need to in order to listen and concentrate.

Good luck with your learning!

“Dr. Banjo”, Pete Wernick