How to Start Playing
When I started playing there weren't a lot of ways to get any instruction let alone good quality instruction. That has all changed. Here are a few recommendations to help you get started learning the banjo or help you improve and advance your playing.
There is a lot of free stuff on the internet and I highly recommend that you look around and get what you can. Spend some time searching various banjo sites and banjo players and I'm sure you'll find lots of free tabs and tune snippets out there.
Find a Banjo Teacher
Learning from others is essential and having regular sessions with a banjo teacher is the best way to do this. No matter what other learning method you choose, you should try to get some private instruction as well. While the cost might seem pretty high, the saying that "you get what you pay for" holds true here. In the long run you'll learn more, you'll learn correctly and you'll do it in a shorter period of time.
Today, thanks to the internet, private instruction happens both face to face and over internet using a communication tool like skype. Both methods are great and help you to quickly get to the areas where you might need help.
Make sure you find a good teacher. Look for a professional or semi professional who is also a performer and whose playing you admire. If your local music store offers banjo lessons, ask who the teacher is and what their background is. Don't spend your money unless you're sure that the teacher has the right credentials. A good banjo teacher can help you get started on the right foot and will save you a lot of time.
I live in the Niagara, Ontario area and know of a few good quality teachers in the Greater Toronto, Hamilton and Niagara Area.
- Chris Coole from the Foggy Hogtown Boys teaches in Toronto. I belive that you can get lessons from him both in person and online.This is a link to his banjo hangout page.
- There are banjo lessons available at the Guitar Loft in Streetsville. Charlie Street, who is an excellent banjo player formerly of the group Streets and Hills used to teach there although I'm not sure if he still does.
- Thorold Music in St. Catharines offers banjo lessons as well. Don Couchie, a fine multi-instrumentalist and banjo player who has been in the bluegrass business for years used to teach there. Again, I'm not sure if he still does. Here is a link to Don's Banjo Hangout page.
- Sally (Short) is a great player with a great teaching and tablature website. I'm not sure where Sally lives at the moment but check out her website and you won't go wrong.
- Finally, I have put together free video/tablature lessons here at banjoden.com. I used to teach in Toronto years ago and have assembled some of the instruction ideas that I used to use then. These lessons are pretty informal but hopefully, with the tablature (hand written ...my apologies) that's included, you'll find them useful. I add new lessons periodically and am working my way from beginner through intermediate to advanced levels.
I have met a ton of great players over the years including the ones I mentioned above. Even if you can't get lessons scheduled with them on a regular basis, just spending a session or two playing with an accomplished player is invaluable. And I've found that most players are more than happy to share their ideas.
As the internet has grown so has e-learning and as e-learning has grown so has the availability of online banjo instruction. There are lots of sites out there where you can find online courses (and courses on CD and DVD). Check out the Banjo Hangout and Youtube for a start.
If you can't schedule regular lesson times with a teacher, online lessons are the answer because you usually can access online lessons anytime, anywhere. Look for lessons from quality instructors and lessons that are given in video format(not just audio). The lessons should also provide you with any relevent tablature to support the concepts being taught.
Online lessons are available at banjoDen.com.
This is probably the most popular way to learn. Banjo "books" can be divided into two catagories: tablature books and instruction books.
Instruction Books teach you HOW to play. The most important instruction book is the Earl Scruggs book. If you don't have it, BUY IT! You'll use it for reference and as a guide for years to come. Instruction books will also contain tablature to a number of tunes most of which are beginner to intermediate in difficulty (but some instruction books are for advanced techniques).
There are companies (Mel Bay is probably the biggest) that offer books by many different players. Try out a few. It's not expensive and you'll likely get a lot of variety.
Tablature Books teach you WHAT to play. These are books that typically focus on tablature to songs. The assumption is that you already know how to play. Tab books are often published by players who have released CD's and have had requests by players for accompanying tablature. The tablature can often be a bit more advanced than in instruction books.
The Denis LePage Tablature Book is available at banjoDen.com.
Take a look.
Play with Others
Once you are able to "play along" find others who you can play with. It doesn't matter if it's other banjo players, guitar, fiddle, mandolin or piano players , playing with other humans makes you keep time and keep up. It is the best thing you can do to improve your playing.