Am I Too Old To Learn the Banjo?

Barry Hunn
Barry Hunn
Deering Banjos Sales Manager

It’s too late to learn when the dirt hits our face, but until then, we have plenty of time.

An 81 year old fellow came to see me some years back and asked me if he was too old to learn to play the banjo.  I told him, “I don’t know, I’ve never had an 81 year old student before…”   So, he bought a banjo and we started some basic lessons.  This fellow lived on a sail boat with large, powerful and somewhat stiff hands.  After three months of slow practice, his fingers started to move better.  In 9 months he was learning new songs and played about as well as any adult student of mine in that amount of time.

This and a few similar experiences proved to me that learning to play the banjo is not a factor of age, but more about desire and willingness.

Desire is pretty self explanatory.  Willingness, for adults, usually means allowing some time each day or each week for a little banjo playing.  It also means to accept that, given the requirements of being a responsible adult, it will take as long as it takes to learn to play the banjo.  This gentle discipline will help us learn to play the banjo with great satisfaction.  It means we commit to enjoy each stage of our skill to develop and understand that we don’t have the freedom to learn as quickly as children.

We tend to think that because children tend to learn to play the banjo quickly, we as adults don’t have the “ability” to learn as well when we get older.  However, most children don’t have to work long hours, take care of other children or a spouse and carry the usual daily adult responsibilities like paying the rent, keeping up the car, and attending the needs of others.

Kids have the mental, emotional, and physical time to dedicate to banjo playing.

True, our bodies change as we age.  But those of us who aren’t dealing with severely injured hands, backs, etc., can learn to play the banjo with tremendous satisfaction.  Will we learn to play like some of the great banjoists we love to listen to?  That’s harder to predict, but then how many of us who golf, bowl, ride a bike, or sing in church, expect to perform like world champions?  Why cloud our enjoyment with such grand expectations?  We can participate in these activities because of the soul satisfying joy that comes from developing one’s self.

If you (or someone you know) would like to play the banjo, but don’t think you can, do this:

Go to your local music store and rent a banjo, or borrow a one from friend. Order the Deering 2 Finger DVD .  The DVD teaches you the most basic strumming approach possible.  Virtually every person who has bought this DVD and tried this technique has learned to strum and sing a few songs in a matter of an hour or less.  This approach will also give you insights as to how music works.

If you already play the banjo or have ever played guitar, violin, piano, or almost any musical instrument, then the banjo is a going to be no problem for you to learn.

No matter what your age or occupation, play your banjo as much as you can. Remember that champion players, like champion golfers, great orators, or world famous chefs, have developed their natural gift by gradually building skills through years of daily training.  I might like to ride a bike, but Lance Armstrong will always leave me in the dust.  I love playing my banjo, but I will never play as well as Jens Kruger, Tony Trishka, Steve Martin, Bela Fleck, or Mark Johnson.

Does that mean I can’t love doing these activities? Of course not.

Playing the banjo is not a competition.  Playing the banjo is not just for the young. Most importantly, playing the banjo is not just for professionals.

Banjo playing is for each and every one of us.  It’s the perfect, personal canvas for expression.  The bouncing, brilliantly sparkling banjo tone allows us to express something that is sleeping in us just waiting to pop out, no matter how young or old we are.  It is also one of the easiest of all the stringed instruments to learn to play in a simple style.  The Two Finger DVD will show you. 

Your age won’t stop you.  Go for it!

Click here for more banjo playing tips!

Barry Hunn

Barry Hunn

Worldwide Sales Manager for Deering Banjos

With over 40 years in the music industry, Barry Hunn has been the Worldwide Sales Manager of the Deering banjo company for over 18 years. His experience encompasses teaching five string finger picking banjo at the University of Idaho, performing with artists like Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson, The Mamas and the Papas, Danny O’Keefe, both in groups and as a soloist and also teaching privately for over twenty years. He developed Deering’s “two finger method” to show non-musicians that they CAN play the banjo. Several music industry historians and business leaders have said he has sold more American made banjos than any person in history.

  1. Thanks for the inspiration. I’ve been kicking the idea to learn the banjo for a while. Your article pushed me. I may never be an Earl Scruggs. But I can be me, and I can play the hell out of that banjo.

    1. Hi Marcus,
      I will never be Earl Scruggs either but I think he would have loved knowing we are inspired to play banjo since he loved it so much. Glad the article was helpful and thanks for writing.

  2. Merry Christmas to all you Banjo players. As my contribution to our mutual endeavour, I would like you all to try this simple and always effective method for keeping your picks on your fingers. Where they belong. I have seen ads for a commercial liquid…it’s probably effective, but just as effective ( or maybe more so ) is this: Just before putting on your picks, briefly, for a half a second per thumb and fingers, suck them. Yup. Leave them just moist with saliva. Not dripping. Just wet. Put on your picks, and by the time you have slung your banjo strap around your shoulder, those picks will be LOCKED on to your fingers.They will require prying to get them off. Play hard as long as you want. Honest. And, it’s FREE ! Try it, and send me money ! Just kidding about the money. Merry Christmas !

  3. What do you recommend for a beginner, what type of banjo. Or does it matter? Where online is a good place to purchase a banjo of the type you recommend?

    1. HI Stacy, If you are interested in a five string banjo for finger picking “bluegrass” style, a Goodtime 2 banjo is a great choice. Most bluegrass players like a resonator banjo. If you are interested in clawhammer style, a Goodtime open back banjo is ideal. If you are interested in Dixieland Jazz, a GOodtime 2 plectrum or 19 fret tenor would be perfect. If you are interested in Irish / Celtic banjo, a GOodtime open back 17 fret in low Irish tuning would be ideal.

      However, if you just want to play the banjo, and you don’t have any particular “style” preferences or my descriptions above don’t mean anything to you, then I think you can’t go wrong buying a GOodtime open back five string. This is a super versatile banjo and one that you could learn to play fingerpicking bluegrass style, clawhammer, or jazz. You could even learn some flatpicked Irish music though going to a tenor later would involve learning all new fingerings.

      None-the-less, you could not go wrong with a Goodtime open back five string. For folk singing, picking out songs or even performing at open mics, this banjo is great.

      We have dealers all over the world who can help you find a banjo. You specified a dealer “on line” and I would recommend a dealer close to you. Our website has dealers listed around the U.S. and you can contact them for a banjo. Just about every Deering or Goodtime dealer carries the GOodtime open back five string. Some carry tenors and plectrums, but five strings are definitely the most popular. Try to find someone close to you so if you need service (like adkustments, new strings etc) you can get help quickly. In Georgia, we have In the New York area, Mandolin Brothers. In MIchigan, Elderly Instruments. In Kentucky, Steilberg Stringed INstrumnets. In Tennessee, Banjo Hut. In ARkansas, Janet Davis Music. In Denver Colorado, The Denver Folklore Center. In Seattle, Dusty Strings. In Palo Alto CA, Gryphon Stringed INstruments. In Los Angeles, McCabes GUitar Shop. I think all of these folks could help you AND help you with service after the sale. Pick one that is close to you and again, go to our dealer finder on the website to find someone close to you. Musician’s friend ships all over the world. THere are more excellent dealers than I can list here on our dealer locator. Our Master and Premier dealers always have the best inventory in that they carry more models in stock as part of their dealer agreement. Try them first. Thanks Stacy.

  4. I just got my first banjo today and looking for some quick tutorials came across this page. To your 81 year old student, and any age student for that matter, all I can say is age is NEVER the determining factor in learning to do ANYTHING. A desire to know and the determination to practice, practice, practice is all that is needed.

    1. HI Marco,
      You are right on everything you have said. Take a good look at our “2-finger method” on YouTube and there are lots of great tips on the blog that will be of help. You can always contact us directly at We will be happy to offer advice.

  5. I’m 74 and a widower who needed a hobby, having played the 3 chord trick in a 1960’s Skiffle Group I had an idea of how to go on. By following free lessons and tabs off the web I can now play a slow version of Blackberry Blossom after two months of intensive and finger skinning practice.
    Never too old, get some advice as offered here and have a go.

  6. Great article — I began banjo at age 57 plus and love it. I will be 60 in a week and I don’t regret it. I have had many hobbies in my life but banjo is at the top best. When I see how I have learned and progressed I wish I had begun sooner and wonder were I would be now. But for me it is all about the journey and the discovery along the way. Great fun– great therapy. Too old? Hardly — go for it. Steve

  7. I am a beginning banjo player at age 55. I have played many instruments over the years and find it hard to believe that I’m starting over again with a new instrument. There are days when I feel like my fingers will never get it ,especially after a long day at work. Then there’s the days that my fingers seem to wake up and play almost every note perfectly! It makes it all worth it! I can’t wait to play it again tomorrow!

  8. before I can start to play. I want to know were the bridge should be is it like the guitar 12 frets from the nut, and equal distants, youll know what I mean, then how do I tune the banjo 5 string is there a tunner for the banjo what isits name , can you help eddm735

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