Getting Back Into Playing the Banjo

by Carolina Bridges

One of the best things about our newsletter is the questions that come our way from all of you who read it. One man asked how to get “back” into banjo after having played and been a non-player for a few years. I will try to offer some suggestions on making this easier!

When beginning again, it is always best to go back to the basics. This would be true of anything be it golfing, yoga, sewing, cooking, or playing banjo! First you want to check out your “tools” to be sure they are in good order. You wouldn’t want to sew with dull needles or cook with rusty pans, would you?  Next you want to brush up on your “terms” to be sure you understand how things are supposed to be done. My favorite phrase on just about anything major is, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” So let’s start back, just “one bite at a time” and before long, we will be picking happily away!

Clean Up and Reset Up Your Banjo:

If you already have a banjo, it is best to spruce it up before you begin playing it again.

Strings will definitely need to be changed. Despite the fact that they are made of steel, strings do not last forever. They lose their ability to vibrate easily over time, can get rusty and definitely get dirty from the movement of our hands over them repeatedly. The good news is that strings are readily available and not very expensive.

You can download the Deering and Goodtime maintenance manuals free from our website for instructions on how to change strings. Carefully locking them in place is important so read this section carefully or visit your local music dealer to have him change the strings for you.

The banjo head will need tightening. Again, refer to the manual for the best way to do this. You may also need a new banjo head and we have a variety of them to choose from on our website. Each head will give you a different sound so read carefully before you choose. The top frosted head is the most popular style for bright, even tone.

You should take a look at your banjo bridge. If it is not straight across the top, invest in a new one as that bridge has outlived its usefulness and will not give you good sound. We have several styles to choose from.

Clean the hardware just for good measure. We have a set of care cloths that make that quick and easy.

A banjo tuner -  make it easy on yourself and get an electronic tuner to help you keep your banjo in tune.

Review the Basics:

The world of instructional material for banjo has blossomed greatly. The choices are almost endless given today’s technology. You have books, CDs, DVDs, online lessons, YouTube videos, Blogs, etc. Hal Leonard and Mel Bay Publications work with some of the best banjo players and teachers in the business. I will begin with a review of some basics we can offer you on the Deering website from these great resources.

Banjo Books: 
There are two main types of banjo books - method books that teach you "how to" play banjo and song books that teach you specific songs usually in one particular style or genre and help you increase your repertoire.

The method books that focus on the “basics” are nice because they focus on the most important aspects of whatever style you desire to play. The First Lessons series by Mel Bay has books on 3 finger style 5-string banjo, Clawhammer banjo, and Tenor which include a CD, a DVD, or both! The ones we carry are by well-known musicians like Jack Hatfield, Dan Levenson, and Joe Carr.

Tony Trischka’s “The Complete 5-string Banjo Player” is a book/CD set that encompasses not just beginning techniques but goes beyond. This may be a very good tool for those of you who already have your “basics” under control.

Want to get ready for the festival season? Try our Parking Lot Pickers book for banjo. Filled with more songs than you can ever learn in one summer, you will return to this one again and again for any jam session.

Our children’s book selection is not meant for just children! What I like about them is that they are easy to understand and are filled with songs that we know and can enjoy just as much now as we did when we were younger.

Banjo Smartphone/Tablet Apps:
Listen and Learn 
for iPad only
Everyone has the ability to listen and learn any instrument, and here's your chance to see for yourself. The Listen & Learn app combines written notation and audio recordings so you're challenged to figure out notes and phrases by ear, but you still have a visual reference of where you are in the song.  It's as addicting as playing a video game, but you're actually learning how to play a musical instrument. With this app, you learn 9 popular traditional bluegrass songs by ear. Start jamming immediately!

Pocket Lick Banjo
 iphone/iPad
Android
Have all the licks you need, right in your pocket!  With Pocket Lick you can learn any lick in half the time of other methods. No need to comb through videos and mp3s looking for the new licks to learn. We’ve brought over 50 of the best licks in bluegrass and broken them down in our lick library so you have the best learning tools at your fingertips!  New licks and updates are being added regularly!  Up your playing, fuel your improvising skills, and sound like the pros!

Online lessons:
Tony Trischka School of Banjo by ArtistWorks
Tony Trischka has created a definitive video library that includes hundreds of banjo lessons, special guests, exclusive interviews, and performances. Students have unlimited access to all these online banjo lessons plus banjo tabs, backing tracks, and other study materials.

Peghead Nation
Peghead Nation’s String School is a great source for roots music instruction, bringing you full courses in guitar, mandolin, banjo, ukulele, fiddle, and Dobro, featuring talented instructors, high-quality video instruction, accurate notation and tab, and fun songs to play right from the beginning. Featuring Beginning BanjoBluegrass Banjo, and Clawhammer Banjo courses.

Banjo Forums:
Banjo Hangout
This is a banjo chat line where you can “talk” to lots of seasoned and new banjo players. They have a newsletter where you can learn about other lesson outlets and accessories to make you banjo playing more fun.

YouTube videos:
This outlet is a valuable resource for just about anything. The other day my husband used it to help him change our faucet!  
You can type in names of songs, artist names, styles of playing, etc. The best part of this is that it is all free! It’s a good way to review and update your information.  Musicians like Mean Mary James and the Sleepy Man Banjo Boys (both Deering endorsees) have literally come to the public’s attention through this new media outlet.

Checkout the Deering Banjo YouTube Channel here!

Local Banjo clubs: Eventually you should hook up with a local banjo club. Even if all you do is go to listen to their concerts or jam sessions, it will give you a community of folks to nurture you journey in music and especially banjo.

PLAY, PLAY, PLAY

In the end, this is what it is really all about. Whether you play alone or with others, it is in the playing of the banjo that we all find joy. New or seasoned player or “returning” banjoist, just enjoy the journey. 

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