LIFTING THE FOG ON “FOGGY MOUNTAIN BREAKDOWN”

If you’re a banjo player (and if you’re reading this blog post, there’s a 99.9999% chance you are), it’s a pretty safe bet you’re familiar with the Earl Scruggs classic, “Foggy Mountain Breakdown”. Let’s face it, any bluegrass banjo player worth their salt not only...

Searching for Little Sadie

When I began my bluegrass banjo journey as an innocent pre-teen, I remember coming across a little ditty called "Little Sadie". I had recently bought a Doc Watson record (yes, we all listened to vinyl back in those days), and I remember listening to him sing this...

DEMYSTIFYING THE ALTERNATE-STRING PLUCK

In my years teaching clawhammer banjo, I’ve found that once students have mastered some of the more basic mechanics (i.e. bum-ditty, pull-offs, slides, hammer-ons, simple chords, drop-thumb,  rhythm fundamentals), things generally go smoothly up to a point –  that is,...

THE OPEN-BACK BANJO VS. RESONATOR DEBATE

In the decades I’ve spent teaching 5-string banjo, a fairly common (and thoroughly reasonable) question usually crops among banjo newcomers just before the first lesson. This question takes many different forms, but usually goes something like this…“What kind of banjo...

MASTERING THE BAR CHORD

  Since I began teaching banjo some three plus decades ago, I’ve had the pleasure of helping hundreds of banjo students attain a level of facility on the instrument. Along the way, I’ve noticed a common issue that most students wrestle with at one time or another...

BATTLE OF THE FINGERPICKS: METAL VERSUS PLASTIC

If you’ve recently embarked on your bluegrass banjo journey and have begun looking at fingerpicks (or perhaps have already bought a set), you’ve probably noticed that both fingerpicks and thumbpicks come in two basic varieties: metal and plastic. So which do you...

THE CLAWHAMMER CONUNDRUM: INDEX VERSUS MIDDLE FINGER

Poring over online clawhammer forums this morning, I was struck by the amount of confusion there is over which finger to use – index or middle - in the clawhammer strum. Before I take a crack at this question, let me first provide some background. When I started...

REFRAMING THE DROP-THUMB

Thinking back to the days when I was beginning my clawhammer journey, I remember picking up a copy of Ken Perlman’s “Everything You Wanted to Know About Clawhammer Banjo” at my local library. That night, I began working through the book starting from page one. Things...

FINGER PICKS: SCRAPING THE SURFACE

As a banjo teacher with years of experience helping beginning banjo students find their sea legs as bluegrass players, one issue that always seems to crop up is the age-old problem of getting your picks to stop scraping against the drum head while playing. And, as...

FRETLESS BANJO – NO NEED TO…(ahem)…FRET OVER IT

(Above photo courtesy of Rhiannon Giddens) If you’re somewhat new to banjo, one thing you may have noticed is how many different types of banjos are actually out there. Banjos with resonators, open-back banjos, 4-string banjos, banjos with ridiculously long necks...
Curiosity, the Crucial Catalyst

Curiosity, the Crucial Catalyst

Why a willingness to explore and discover is the prime motivator in any musical journey. (3-4 min read)   I often hear banjo students lament how they are unable to play anything on the banjo if they're not using tablature. They feel absolutely clueless If they don't have the notes written out in front of them. While reading tablature is an essential component in learning to play banjo,...

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Bluegrass Jams: The Cornerstone of a Banjo Player’s Musical Education

Bluegrass Jams: The Cornerstone of a Banjo Player’s Musical Education

Photo source: see below As a banjo instructor with years of private lesson experience under my belt, I'd have to say the most common question I hear from students is how to move from learning and playing songs via tablature to being able to pick spontaneously with other players, often times with tunes they are unfamiliar with. In other words, how does one make the leap from playing set pieces to...

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How To Mute Your Banjo

How To Mute Your Banjo

So, you've just got your first banjo and you're super stoked to play it. You bring it home, take it out of its hard shell case, put your picks on and start making some noise. And then it happens. You realize it's loud. Really loud. It doesn't take long for you to realize that if you intend to keep your wife/family/roommates/neighbors from murdering you, you'll have to quiet the thing down. And...

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How Much Time To Practice? Everyday!

How Much Time To Practice? Everyday!

I'm often asked by students how much time they should be putting into their banjo playing each day.  This depends on many things: how much time you're able and willing to commit to disciplined, goal-oriented practice, how busy your days are, your priorities with regard to work and family, etc.   While it will be ultimately up to you to decide, the simple fact remains: the more time you put into...

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One Finger, Two Fingers or No Fingers? The Right Hand Anchor

One Finger, Two Fingers or No Fingers? The Right Hand Anchor

When I was learning banjo as a kid, the prevailing wisdom in all the banjo books was, "Both the ring finger and pinky of a player's picking hand need to be planted on the head of the banjo at all times when when playing." Indeed, this was how my own banjo teacher taught me to play. Of course, I never questioned this logic for one minute. And why would I? This was, after all, the way Earl Scruggs...

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Learn Banjo Faster with Deliberate Practice

Learn Banjo Faster with Deliberate Practice

While arguments may differ as to the best way to practice, the surest way to yield consistent results in any practice regimen is to engage in what I call "deliberate" practice. Deliberate practice means mindful practice. It means practicing with a specific goal in mind every time we pick up our banjo. For example, working on straightening out your rhythm on a particular song might be your goal...

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