So, you say you've always wanted to learn banjo? Perhaps it's a dream you've harbored ever since you were young? Your number one goal in life before you die, you say? In the decades I've been teaching banjo, I can't count the number of times I've heard people express sentiments like this. It is, without exception, one of the most common refrains I hear from people whenever the subject of the banjo is broached. And my reaction is always the same: "What are you waiting for?"
Seriously, what are you waiting for? There are a million and one excuses we can always find for not fulfilling our dreams. Life just has this habit of getting in the way. So, here's the newsflash: Life will always get in the way. There will always be a reason to put it off. Part of the reason I helped build Banjo Mountain was to eliminate this excuse once and for all so you can start learning banjo today! Need some inspiration? Check out our video teaser “We Believe the Banjo Should Be Played Everywhere”.
If you don't own a banjo and buying one is a major consideration, you'll be happy to learn there are a ton of ways to get your hands on a banjo without breaking the bank. For instance, renting from a music store is a practical and affordable option if you're looking for a banjo.
OK, now that we've solved the "never-postpone-your-banjo-dreams" dilemma, let's talk specifically about the best way to go about learning the banjo.
With the advent of YouTube and the proliferation of computer programs that allow us to slow down music, many people nowadays assume the music teacher/student paradigm is outdated.
Granted, technology does exist that makes certain aspects of learning an instrument easier than ever before (we actually take advantage of this technology on our site). But this will never take the place of a teacher or banjo school. A good teacher can give us something a YouTube video never will - direction. Without direction, a student's motivation will dry up (usually very quickly). Research indicates that students learn faster and with a greater success rate when working with a teacher and a structured step-by-step method rather than by teaching themselves (some might call this "direction”). Shameless plugs aside, you can check out some of our beginner step-by-step lessons here.
It's important to note here that while a good teacher is an essential piece of the "learning-thebanjo"puzzle, it is by no means the magic bullet. The crucial element in this scenario is practice.
Deliberate practice. Some people call this mindful practice. Deliberate practice means practicing with a specific goal in mind every time we pick up our banjo. It means practicing with focused and exacting attention to our playing at all times. It means being willing to problem solve if the music we're making doesn't match the music we hear in our head (e.g. why does that D7 chord sound muted every time we play it? – Figure it out!) Deliberate practice does not mean practicing while watching TV, eating, carrying on a conversation, listening to talk radio or to your favorite podcast.
In addition to deliberate practice I can't stress enough how one's commitment to consistent, daily practice is critical to any effective practice regimen. Personally, I've found that the surest way to yield positive results from practicing is to set aside a minimum of fifteen minutes a day every day with your instrument. If you're able to do more than this, all the better. But as a bare minimum, try to commit to at least fifteen minutes (let's be honest, it's not much to ask for!)
If you lead a busy life and your free time is constrained, rather than making promises you can't keep try committing to picking up your banjo at least once a day regardless of how long you play it. You might take it out, strum a few chords or play a couple of rolls and that could be it. The idea is simply to pick it up every day. You could do this whenever you have a free moment – as many times throughout the day as you want. Believe me, those stolen minutes will add up!
While it will ultimately be up to you to decide how much time to invest in practicing, the simple fact remains: the more time you put into your practicing, the quicker you'll improve. If you're dead set on improving you're picking within a year's time, see if you're able to commit to an hour of practice every day.
Alright, so there you have it.
Start today -> Get a Teacher or School -> Practice Deliberately -> Practice Daily
Now go out there and learn some banjo and perhaps we’ll see you around the Mountain!
- John Rosen and the Banjo Mountain Team
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