Am I Too Old To Learn the Banjo?

by Barry Hunn

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

An 81 year old fellow came to see me some years back and asked me if he was too old to learn to how 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 sailboat 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 how 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.VIEW OUR BEGINNER BANJO PACKAGES!

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 Trischka, 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!


Kristin Scott Benson chooses the Deering Golden Series banjos
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