The Freedom Of Learning Banjo As An Adult

by Carolina Bridges

Carolina BridgesIsn’t it fun to be a “grown up”? Oh, sure, it comes with responsibilities but it also comes with  the freedom of knowing it’s ok to make mistakes, that “try, try, again” is not just a phrase but a way to get through life, and that there are oodles of new adventures still ahead!  One of life’s sweetest adventures is learning to play the banjo! It is fun and easy to play the banjo and there is no better time than now to begin.

I didn’t start learning to play the banjo until I was well into my 40’s. I was definitely the “all thumbs girl” but lo and behold, you GET to use your thumb to play the banjo!

Back in those days, Janet and Greg Deering actually has a local teacher come to the factory and help us learn to play the banjo. That man is going to heaven for his patience alone!

The rest of the group actually already knew how to play. That knowledge made me feel kind of bad…like I was holding up the group. But, that thought was in MY head, not theirs. Now that I look back on those days and know just a little bit more about banjo, I can see that we all had different things to learn from the same lesson. Some of us were learning the “basics”, some were learning to play better, others were learning new songs, but all of us were learning to love the banjo.

It is true that younger children can sometimes learn to play faster because their fingers are more nimble and their minds are like sponges that are taking in everything…but then, they can out run most of us too and that doesn’t stop us from entering marathons or even walking on the treadmill at the gym, right? What this means to us is that we can learn to play the banjo slowly but surely, knowing that mistakes are only God’s way of showing us what we still need to work on!

There are so many ways to play the banjo and so many types of banjos to play that it’s like the “Willy Wonka Chocolate Bar” of musical instruments! You can strum it with simple bar chords, you can strum it while actually fingering formal chord structure, you can 3-finger bluegrass pick it, or you can play in the old time mountain style called frailing/Clawhammer. No matter which style you choose, you are bound to have some fun!

Let’s say you just want to strum the banjo. Barry Hunn, our sales manager, has developed what we call the “two finger method”.  I have taught countless adults and children to play the banjo this way. We have such fun laughing, playing, and singing “You are my Sunshine” right here at the factory and at festivals across the nation. You simply strum with the index finger of your dominant hand and use a simple chord method with your other hand. You can see snippets of this on YouTube or you can buy our DVD online for only $8.95 and learn three different songs. This method is meant to take the “fear factor” out of banjo.  It really does work!
Buy the Deering 2-Finger DVD here...

Check out a sample of the video online here:

You say you want to learn 3-finger bluegrass picking? As long as you are patient, kind to yourself, and play slowly…you too can master bluegrass picking. Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt played with Bill Monroe, who is called the Father of Bluegrass. They went on to form their own group in the early years of bluegrass music. Earl Scruggs is credited with popularizing the style of play called 3-finger bluegrass. His style and flair are legendary. So, if it was hard for Earl Scruggs to get used to fingerpicks, then I guess it is ok if it takes us time to get used to them too.

I thought I would never be able to learn to make a 3-fingered “C” chord on my banjo. No kidding, folks, I used to place each of my fingers on the neck with my other hand when I first started. But, time marches on and many sessions later, I can close my eyes and make that “C” chord without even looking! (Don’t ask about my 4-finger chords, ok?) There are many good books out there to help you learn to play the banjo with this method. One of the easiest books to learn from is “First Lessons Banjo” by Jack Hatfield. I like it because it has the book, CD, and DVD, all in one package. It covers all the basics and he plays the familiar tunes both slow and fast so you can “catch up.”

Like that “old time Appalachian Mountain” style? This style of play reminds me of the Blue Ridge Mountains and our country’s early American roots.  This is a rhythmic “pluck, strum, thumb” method of playing the banjo. Once you catch the rhythm of this style, you will have it wired. Getting that rhythm will require practice, but, hey, as adults we know that “practice makes perfect” is also not just a phrase. David Holt has a great DVD titled “Getting Started on the 5-string Banjo” that is one of the easiest ways to learn this method. It’s 30 minutes long…and guess what? You can play it as many times as you like…and that is truly the beauty of being a “grown up.”
Buy the David Holt banjo DVD here...

The freedom to learn at your own pace, the freedom to know you are doing it because you want to, the freedom to share it with your friends and family…that’s what it means to learn the banjo as an adult. My advice today to you all is enjoy the freedom today!

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