Hi Chris, I live in tulsa, ok and there are no banjo teachers here, so I decided to struggle on my own and so far I memorized 5 tunes and I can play them decently. I feel good I can memorize but isn't a ROBOT can memorize and act?, so I decide to do what I did with the fiddle. I am been learning the fiddle with the fiddle on my own ( no teacher here ) and my approach is if i can play the notes without looking at both my hands and without worrying how the tune or melody sounds, just like scale practice ( the only difference is , in this practice I am practicing on the real tune themselves), as a result in just 3 and half months, from a complete beginner , I can play standard 1st position tune relatively smooth without lookin at both my hands , just looking at the notes. And I feel good, and may be in a month or two i may start learning the melodies or songs.
My big qestion is can I start doing the same thing what I did with the fiddle ? that is can I just practice at the banjo tabs without looking at both my hands? So that eventually my hands will be free. Is this the best approach ? Do you have other alternatives? It is hard without a teacher. I am dying for you advice
Hi There -
I certainly think that there is more than one way to learn to play an instrument, and each person will have a way that works best for them. As a teacher and a musician, I don't consider banjo and fiddle on equal par. The reason is that fiddle ONLY plays the melody notes in the beginning, and banjo must incorporate lots of other notes into the melody (rolls). That makes banjo much harder for most beginners because many times the beginning banjo player can't play fast enough to make the song sound like the song. I teach by ear, but that doesn't mean that my students never use tab or notation to help them. They also take home a CD of the song played very slowly and faster. I think it is very important to memorize as you go, regardless of whether it is "robotic" in the beginning. The feeling you put INTO your music will be what makes it real music. I also teach people how to interchange parts of one song with another song ("licks"). Changing bow patterns, changing rolls, and incorporating new licks into songs are all ways to "make them your own."
As far as not looking at either hand, if that helps you then go for it. I tell my students to watch their bows when they play fiddle, and to watch their left hand when they play banjo. The reason for this is that these are the two main areas that hinder banjo and fiddle players. For fiddle players, the bowing is of utmost importance. Of course, playing in tune is, too, but even if you play all the correct notes, if the bowing is not good the music won't be good. You much watch that your bow is straight across the fiddle and that it stays straight. You must also make sure the bow does not get too close to the bridge or the fingerboard. For banjo players, it is important to watch the left hand because the banjo is already tuned to a chord (normally G), and so if your left hand is in the correct spot, even if you miss a string with your right hand, it will still sound okay. It might not be the melody or what you had intended to play, but it will at least sound okay.
Rhythm is one of the most important elements in playing. I like to teach beginner banjo players how to play backup immediately. Even a banjo player that has played for two weeks can play backup in a group if they have basic rhythm. You take the G, C and D7 chords, along with a capo, and just about all basic bluegrass songs are within reach. This allows the beginner to develop better rhythm, camaraderie with other players, and learn what all the songs sound like and their chord changes right away. Then as you get better, you know what everything sounds like. When you don't know how something is supposed to sound, you can't learn it. You wouldn't even know if you were doing it right because you wouldn't know what to listen for. Every once in a while I get a student that has no natural rhythm whatsoever. That is the most difficult thing to teach someone, and it is one thing that will keep them from EVER playing with other people if we can't fix that.
Now, I certainly don't believe that my way of teaching is the only way to learn or even the best. I do believe it works for me and my students, but I am also flexible. Flexible with what songs to learn, what order to learn them in, and even coming up with new ways to teach things if a student seems to be having trouble learning something. If your method is working well for you, then you should stick with it. Especially since you don't have a teacher. The more you get together with others, the faster you will get better. You might want to check out this website to look for jams in your area: www.folkjam.org.
I think on banjo if you understand WHY you are learning certain rolls and licks, and HOW to put them into other tunes, that will be the most help to you. You should start to notice patterns that repeat themselves in more than one song. If you just read tabs, you won't understand the logic behind them. You might get very good at reading tabs and not looking at your hands, but you won't understand why you are playing what you are playing. I hope this helps you. If you have other questions, feel free to ask!