Bluegrass LESSON PLAN

We are really proud of our bluegrass section. With over 100 lessons it takes a student from zero musical experience to playing over 60 songs of beginner, intermediate and advanced levels. Below you will see the outline of our Bluegrass Banjo Class as well as some sample lessons just to give you a taste of how we do things. However, if you’re serious about learning banjo then join Banjo Mountain and experience our easy step-by-step method.

Lesson 1 – Holding the Banjo

Before we get started picking, let’s make sure you’re holding the banjo correctly. Good playing starts with properly positioning the banjo in your lap. While it’s important that you hold it in a way that feels comfortable, there are some specific guidelines you’ll want to follow to insure clean, precise picking. Let’s take a closer look at them.

Lesson 2 - Picking Hand Position

Sure, you’re chomping at the bit to let those fingers fly, but first you’ll need to know how to properly position your picking hand on the banjo so that you have a stable, solid anchor for support and leverage. Once you’ve accomplished this, you’ll be right on track for building speed and dexterity a little further down the road. Check this video out

Lesson 3 - Picking Basics

If you’ve ever watched a banjo player in action, it might appear as if the fingers of his picking hand are flailing about randomly and haphazardly. Despite this impression, these players are actually following very specific picking rules that dictate which fingers pluck which strings. It’s essential that you learn these rules

Lesson 4 - Finger Picks

So, what exactly are fingerpicks? How many and what kind should I get? How do I wear them? Will they clash with my suspenders? So many questions to be answered! This video will address these concerns, and more. Check it out – after all, knowing how to properly utilize the fingerpicks will be crucial in insuring good picking habits early on in your banjo career.

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Lesson 5 - Fretting Basics

Some basic exercises to familiarize your picking hand with the strings. This video will not only show you how to properly pick the strings, but will get you started developing the coordination needed to pick accurately and cleanly.

Lesson 6 - Right Hand Basics

So, what exactly are fingerpicks? How many and what kind should I get? How do I wear them? Will they clash with my suspenders? So many questions to be answered! This video will address these concerns, and more. Check it out – after all, knowing how to properly utilize the fingerpicks will be crucial in insuring good picking habits early on in your banjo career.

Lesson 7 - Tuning

You can tune using a tuner or your smart phone. You can also tune the banjo to itself using your ear. Learn how to do all three as well as pitfalls to be aware of.

Lesson 8 - Tablature

Feeling good? You should be! You’ve got all the basics down to start learning rolls (that great finger picking!). But first we need to understand tablature which is an easy way to read banjo music.

Lesson 9: Intro to Rolls & Alternating Thumb Roll 

In the rolls section you’ll learn what a roll is. Then you’ll get started on the alternating thumb roll, forward-backward roll, index leading roll, middle leading roll, foggy mountain roll, forward roll and backward roll. If you follow our suggested practice time for each of these rolls, you’ll be picking like crazy by the end of this section.

There are 7 lessons in the “Rolls” section. 

Lesson 10 - Forward Backward Roll

Another commonly heard picking pattern is the Forward-Backward Roll. This roll is a commonly used roll in many beginner-level songs and provides a simple yet tuneful picking pattern that lends itself nicely to basic songs.

Lesson 11 - Index Leading Roll

Here’s a roll that really puts that index finger to work. And the good news is once you’ve learned the first four notes, you’ve got the entire roll – the final four notes simply repeat the first four! What could be easier?

Lesson 12 - Middle Leading Roll

Now here’s a roll that really puts that middle finger to work. Just like the index leading roll, the good news is once you’ve learned the first four notes, you’ve got the entire roll – the final four notes simply repeat the first four! What could be easier?

Lesson 13 - Foggy Mountain Breakdown

There’s a reason for this roll’s name – it’s the picking pattern that forms the basic melody line for the Grandaddy of all Bluegrass songs, Foggy Mountain Breakdown. Check it out!

Lesson 14 - Forward Roll

Like the Forward-Backward Roll, the Forward Roll works nicely when plugged into any basic song. Even a simple chord progression (G to C, G to D7) suddenly comes to life when applying this roll to it. See for yourself!

Lesson 15 - Backward Roll

The Backward Roll is similar to the forward roll with one important exception – instead of picking the second string and immediately following it with the first string, the order is reversed. Yep, you guessed it, brainiac – we begin by picking the first string and immediately follow it with the second string. Go see for yourself!

Lesson 16 -Chord Basics I

If you’re new to music, you’ve heard the word “chords” thrown around. Now you’ll find out what a chord actually is and how to play it. Check it out – you’re well on your way to learning how to play a song!

After learning “Chord Basics” you’ll move on to “Chord Basics II” and then to “Licks.”

 

Lesson 17 - Chord Basics II

Alright, we’ve done some practicing with the basic G, C and D7 chords and our transitions between all three chords are getting smoother and smoother.  Looks like you’re ready now for some more advanced chord work!  No better place to start than with the four-fingered (fretted) G and D chords, two of the most common-four fingered chords used in bluegrass.  Try ‘em out for size!

Lesson 18 - Basic Licks

Alright, we’ve done some practicing with the basic G, C and D7 chords and our transitions between all three chords are getting smoother and smoother.  Looks like We know you’re chomping at the bit to start picking away, and we don’t blame you. But let’s not put the cart before the horse. Before we delve into actual tunes, let’s take a look at some rudimentary licks that will get your fingers familiar with basic picking and fretting patterns. Get these under your belt and they’ll provide a solid foundation for much of what you’ll be playing in bluegrass banjo.

Lesson 19 - The G-Lick

We consider the G-lick the Godfather of all banjo licks. It’s not only an awesome lick, but an ESSENTIAL lick. If you’re going to play bluegrass banjo, you’ve got to learn it. It appears in almost every song. It’s the pretty little bow that wraps up virtually every musical phrase played in bluegrass banjo. Often times it is employed to end entire songs. If you haven’t figured it out by now, it’s an extremely important lick. Let’s take a look at it

Lesson 20 - Tag Lick

Alright, we’ve done some practicing with the basiNow that we’ve gotten are feet wet with some basic licks and have begun practicing them on a daily basis, let’s explore a tag lick – the lick that ends a banjo tune. Although there are countless banjo tags used to end songs, the one tag that is probably heard most often is the classic “Shave and a Haircut” tag lick. In the video that follows, I’ve presented a basic version of it. You’ll be well on your way to sounding like a real banjo player once you’ve mastered it!c G, C and D7 chords and our transitions between all three chords are getting smoother and smoother.  Looks like We know you’re chomping at the bit to start picking away, and we don’t blame you. But let’s not put the cart before the horse. Before we delve into actual tunes, let’s take a look at some rudimentary licks that will get your fingers familiar with basic picking and fretting patterns. Get these under your belt and they’ll provide a solid foundation for much of what you’ll be playing in bluegrass banjo.

Lesson 21

Bile ‘Em Cabbage Down

Enjoy this free lesson to see how we do things. Keep in mind that all of our lessons have tablature (available to members). Don’t know what tablature is? You would by the time you got to this lesson and you’d be able to read it and play along. 

 

Lesson 22

Tom Dooley

“Tom Dooley” is an American folk song that chronicles the story of the murder of a woman named Laura foster by her lover, Confederate soldier Tom Dula (pronounced “Dooley”) in North Carolina in 1866. A local poet, Thomas Land, wrote the original song. While not necessarily a “bluegrass” tune, its sparse and unadorned melody make for a perfect beginner’s banjo tune. And as far as I’m concerned, it sounds as if it was written for bluegrass banjo! (Hey, check it out – your SECOND murder ballad!)

 

 

Lesson 23

Banjo In The Hollow

Banjo In the Hollow, unlike most of the beginner songs we’re using, isn’t a traditional song. It was written by the Doug Dillard, banjo player of the pioneering Los Angeles-based bluegrass band the Dillards, and was featured on their 1963 debut album, “Back Porch Bluegrass”. They became known for their appearances on “The Andy Griffith Show” in the early 60s and are widely considered to be the earliest proponents of the burgeoning Southern California folk rock/country rock genres in the late ’60s, influencing such artists as Linda Ronstadt, the Byrds and the Eagles.

Lesson 24

Blackberry Blossom

“Blackberry Blossom” is a fiddle tune that initially became popular after being recorded by Fiddling’ Arthur Smith in the 1930s. Over the decades it has become a staple among bluegrass pickers the world over. Today you’d be hard pressed to find a bluegrass band that doesn’t play the tune. While the song is closely associated with the bluegrass tradition, it enjoys the distinction of being frequently played by old time musicians as well as traditional Irish musicians.

This arrangement of the song is “roll driven”, meaning we’ve taken one roll (in this case the forward-backward roll) and, barring a couple of measures, plugged it in to the song from start to finish. It’s a great way to learn songs when you’re just getting familiar with the rolls.

 

Lesson 25

Worried Man

“Worried Man” or “Worried Man Blues” is an American folk song.  Like many folk songs passed down through the oral tradition, it has numerous verses the lyrics of which vary widely from one version to another.  In all versions the chorus generally remains the same – “It takes a worried man to sing a worried song/It takes a worried man to sing a worried song/I’m worried now, but I won’t be worried long.”

 

Lesson 26

Bury Me Beneath The Willows

This American folk song, long since a staple in bluegrass music, tells the story of a desperate girl who wants to die and be buried under a weeping willow tree so that her former fiancé, who cheated on her and is now with someone else, will weep for her under the tree. The genders may vary depending on the version of the song.

The song was first archived in 1906 by an English professor at the University of Missouri who collected old folk songs. The Carter Family were the first to popularize it, releasing a recording of it in 1935.

 

 

Lesson 27

Jesse James

“Jesse James” is an American folk song that tells the story of the famous outlaw and gunman. The first commercial recording of it was made by Bascom Lamar Lunsford in 1924. Over the years it has been covered by a wide variety of artists, including Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Van Morrison, Bob Seger, The Pogues and Bruce Springsteen. With its straightforward chord progression and melody, the song makes a great beginner banjo tune.

Lessons 28 – 40

  • Red River
  • I’ve Just Seen A Face
  • Cripple Creek
  • Buffalo Girl
  • Froggy Went A Hopin’
  • Arkansas Traveller
  • You Are My Sunshine
  • This Land Is Our Land
  • Cumberland Gap
  • Wabash Cannonball
  • Oh Susannah!
  • Turkey In The Straw
  • Cluck Ol’ Hen

 

Lesson 41

Coordinating Rolls With Four-Fingered Inversions 

Lesson 42 

INTEGRATING MULTIPLE ROLLS INTO FOUR FINGER INVERSIONS

 

Lesson 43

Harmonics

Lessons 44 

Harmonics 2 

Lesson 45

Song Intro Licks

Lessons 46 

Intermediate Tag Licks 

Lesson 47

The Choke – Part 1

Lesson 48 

The Choke – Part 2

Lesson 49

Backup 1: Intro to Backup

Lesson 50 

Backup 2: Inversions (G Chord Inversions)

Lesson 51

Backup 3: Inversions II (C & D Chord Inversions)

Lesson 52

Backup 4: Inversions Groupings in a Chord Progression

Lesson 53

Backup 5: Intro to Vamping

Lesson 54 

Backup 6: Embellishments While Vamping I

Lesson 55

Backup 7: Embellishments While Vamping II

Lesson 56 

Alternate Tunings

Lessons 57 – 71

  • Eighth of January
  • Will the Circle Be Unbroken
  • John Henry
  • Banks of the Ohio
  • The Girl I Left Behind Me
  • Mountain Dew
  • Shenandoah
  • Cherokee Shuffle
  • I Saw the Light
  • Amazing Grace
  • Chicken Reel
  • Clinch Mountain Backstep
  • Little Sadie
  • Old Joe Clark
  • Salty Dog

Lessons 74 – 91 (Advanced Songs)

Lesson 74: Classic Scruggs Backup Lick

Lesson 75: Classic Scruggs Boogie Wooge Backup Lick

Lesson 76: Single String Backup and Fill Lick

Lesson 77: Sleepy-Eyed John

Lesson 78: Banjo Boy Chimes

Lesson 79: Yankee Doodle Dandy

Lesson 80: The Ballad of Jed Clampett

Lesson 81: Pony Express

Lesson 82: Dear Old Dixie

Lesson 83: Green Willis

Lesson 84: Red Haired Boy

Lesson 85: Virginia Hornpipe

Lesson 86: Blackberry Blossom

Lesson 87: Fisher’s Hornpipe

Lesson 88: Whiskey Before Breakfast

Lesson 89: St. Anne’s Reel

Lesson 90: Roanoke

Lesson 91: Arkansas Traveler

Lessons 92 – 103 (Pop Songs Bluegrass-ified)

Lesson 92: Blitzkrieg Bop (The Ramones)

 Lesson 93: Stayin’ Alive (The Bee Gees)

 Lesson 94: Time of Your Life (Green Day)

Lesson 95: Stir It Up (Bob Marley)

Lesson 96: Rocket Man (Elton John)

Lesson 97: Wouldn’t It Be Nice (The Beach Boys)

Lesson 98:  Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nirvana)

 Lesson 99: We are the Champions (Queen)

 Lesson 100: Bad (Michael Jackson)

 Lesson 101: I’ve Just Seen A Face (The Beattles)

Lesson 102: All I Want For Christmas (Mariah Carey)

Lesson 103: Last Christmas (Wham)

 

 

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