Banjo/Lessons

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Question
Hi Patrick and seasons Greetings.
I have a bit more free time so I thought I would get back into learning to play the 5 string banjo I bought. I was making basic progress but I seem to have lost the book that came along with it 'Earl scruggs and the Five string Banjo'. Nothing I have checked out of the library seems as good-can you reccomend anything?
Also, one of the music stores is offering banjo lessons. My previous experiance with lessons (guitar) a roomfull of learners learning new pages to an instruction book. What should I expect? He wants $20 for each 30 minute lesson-seems kind of pricey. Maybe if he was Earl Srruiggs...
Thank for any thoughts!

Answer
Greetings Barry, and thanks for your question.  There are lots of good instruction books out there; the Earl book is probably the most standard, and certainly the most referenced in bluegrass.  Replace it when you can (it was recently re-vamped, with a lot of errors corrected from the original edition).  Besides the Earl book, some good ones are Pete Wernick's Bluegrass Banjo , Ross Nickerson's Banjo Encyclopedia , and Janet Davis' You Can Teach Yourself Bluegrass Banjo .  A pretty thorough, if pricey, one is Tony Trischka's Complete 5-String Banjo Player ; I also like the intro books by Eddie Collins (go to his website: www.eddiecollins.biz).  And a terrific free source is Banjo Hangout - check out the forums there.

I certainly recommend either one-on-one or group lessons in conjunction with whatever self-instruction you can obtain; I'm unclear as to the format of the banjo lessons you are considering.  Are they one-on-one, or group?  Twenty dollars for thirty minutes is not bad for private lessons; it's probably about average.  You do need to be careful, though, with banjo instructors - teaching from a book might actually be okay right at the beginning, but if that's all they know to do, find someone else!  You need an instructor right there to let you know if your mechanics are right, and to encourage and guide you along, which a book can't do.  Also, too many instructors just teach the wrong way, which will be showing you how to read tablature, then proceeding to give you a "tab of the week" and having you learn song after song by rote, which is a terrible way to learn if you ever want to play with other people (which is really the only reason to play an instrument like this).  Pete Wernick is good on learning the right way, making sure you start with basic mechanics, then keeping rhythm, learning simple chord progressions, picking out melodies by ear, and eventually being able to create your own lead parts "on the fly" - sounds hard, maybe, but only if you started by learning only by other people's arrangements, like I did.  Go to his site for more on this - DrBanjo.com.  The idea is to be able to play along to songs you don't know, which comes in real handy at a jam.

I hope this gives you a few good pointers I wish I'd received when I started.  Good luck!

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Patrick Dunn

Expertise

I can answer most general questions on bluegrass banjo (3-finger, or "Scruggs" style; basics of playing, major figures associated with the style (mostly older, or "traditional" practitioners, not so much the contemporary players). I can deal with basic music theory as applied to the 5-string banjo, plus tunings, techniques, and associated styles (melodic, single-string). I've never been an instructor, but I've taken enough lessons and collected enough instructional material that I'm sure I could help out beginning students. I'm good with tablature, less used to classical notation; I've attained a pretty broad knowledge of bluegrass in general - the songs, players, and history, but I don't have such a refined ear that I could differentiate one person's playing style from another just by listening, like some can. I can also answer questions regarding "jamming" procedure and etiquette, since that's what I've tried to focus on lately in my own playing. I don't regard myself as any kind of expert on banjo construction or banjo makers. I also do not perform on stage, so I have little knowledge of the procedures of equipment related to that area.

Experience

I've played 5-string banjo, on and off, since around 1978, though with greater intensity the past several years. I've had many private lessons, have attended numerous workshops and bluegrass festivals, and have done quite a lot of self-teaching with the aid of many books, videos, and cd materials collected over time.

Organizations
Northern Nevada Bluegrass Association, California Bluegrass Association

Publications
Library Journal, NNBA Newsletter, Desert Survivors newsletter (The Survivor)

Education/Credentials
BA - English - Washington State University MLS - Library Science - Columbia University

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