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Author Topic: Seriously...how hard is the Banjo?  (Read 4583 times)

Hoosier Daddy

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Seriously...how hard is the Banjo?
« on: July 01, 2015, 08:02:21 PM »
Last weekend at the campground a guy put away his guitar and harmonica and pulled out a Banjo. Admitting he was new at that instrument he began slowly rolling.
I was smitten! I have always interested to learn to play banjo and this was the first time I was that close to one.
 I have a musical history. Piano lessons as a kid, french horn an then baritone brass all through school. Even played in the Madison Scouts Drum Corps after High school back in '81...
But I have never played a string instrument. OK, I confess I have had a Hondo bass guitar in the closet for 20years but never really really tried to master it.
 Once home last weekend after camping I started the research. Monday I won an eBay auction for a new 5 string closed back banjo. A GuitarWorks gwbj-2. http://www.guitarworksinc.net/STORE/productdisplay.asp?productid=1761
 I have watched countless youtube lessons and it seems like I can do this. Considering a few hours practice a week.
 I know there are other Banjo players here. What would you say is yor skill level and how long did it take you to pluck out a tune? Say something easy like Cripple Creek with confidence?
I know every one is different but in real world experience what can I expect?
« Last Edit: July 01, 2015, 08:15:18 PM by Hoosier Daddy »
Scott & Rhonda
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56safari

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Re: Seriously...how hard is the Banjo?
« Reply #1 on: July 01, 2015, 09:35:04 PM »
Been at it about 15 months and like you had a history playing brass instruments.  Guess I would qualify as advanced beginner at this stage.  Play about  10 tunes from memory and another 20 using TAB( a form of   written music that graphically shows the strings rather than standard music notation).  Tried a couple of different books and settled on instruction from Jack Hatfield - published by MelBay.  Jack has his own website  - Hatfieldmusic.com.   Started with First Lessons and then Book 1.  About a third of the way through Book 2.  They all come with a cd that has each exercise and song at several speeds, including at full speed with accompaniment  on one track and banjo on the other .

Since you can count time already, its just a matter of learning the various picking sequences to get started.  AS with anything, the learning curve is pretty steep at the beginning, but it didn't take too long to produce a recognizable tune.  Speed comes with practice - which I still look forward to doing!

Didn't use the Hatfield arrangement for Cripple Creek, but went directly to Scruggs' version.  It's written in 2/4 time, not 4/4, so don't be shocked when you see 32nd notes.  If you leave out the up the neck part, you can probably have a recognizable tune in a month.  At 15 months, I can probably do it at 150 BPM in 4/4 time.  Not the 200 BPM like the pros, but plenty quick to sound good.

Go to Banjohangout.org. Lots of good stuff including the forums.

Have fun!

Jim & Lin
1999 Rexhall Aerbus

Tom

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Re: Seriously...how hard is the Banjo?
« Reply #2 on: July 01, 2015, 11:34:26 PM »
I must admit to having taken the 'easy route' to banjo playing. I'm not much of a picker, and had spent a couple of years strumming ukuleles and a banjo ukulele. I researched the various styles, and opted for a plectrum (4-string) banjo. This made it easy to get straight into strumming the banjo, just different chord fingering and, as with my ukulele playing, I sing the melody.

One of these days I'll get a 5-string banjo and follow the route Jim did.
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John Stephens

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Re: Seriously...how hard is the Banjo?
« Reply #3 on: July 02, 2015, 12:56:59 AM »
I majored in music ed. while in college and played professionally for many years, but never picked up a stringed instrument. When I think of a banjo, two thoughts come to mind: I smile when I think of the virtuosity of Roy Clark, and then I get scared when I think of the weird look on the face of that kid in Deliverance. :-[
John

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Hoosier Daddy

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Re: Seriously...how hard is the Banjo?
« Reply #4 on: July 02, 2015, 05:09:14 AM »
Thanks 56safari, very helpful and encouraging. Still learning the terms, I know Scruggs is a style named after a man who created it, or made it famous, but what is "clawhammer" and how is it different?

Tom While strumming a 4 string does sound nice as an accompaniment, signing while playing might be over my head for quite a while.

John With a major in music ed, that's what you come up with?
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Larry N.

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Re: Seriously...how hard is the Banjo?
« Reply #5 on: July 02, 2015, 08:33:28 AM »
Earl Scruggs played a style picking with the thumb and first two fingers in such a way it comes out as a "rolling" sound, but clawhammer has the whole hand moving a lot of the time, a little like some guitar pick/strum styles. If you ever watched Hee Haw, Grandpa Jones did clawhammer, as did Stringbean, while Roy Clark did the Scruggs rolling style.

I'm not sure that Earl Scruggs actually invented the style, though he made it popular. I've come across references both ways, so don't know for sure. Don Reno (and I think a couple of other early birds) used that "rolling" style too.
Larry and Mary Ann N.
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greensleep

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Re: Seriously...how hard is the Banjo?
« Reply #6 on: July 02, 2015, 08:48:44 AM »
I also play banjo, like the original poster, have a backround in music as a brass player(cornet). Having been interested in "Scruggs" style picking for years, I purchased the best banjo that I could afford at the time(glad I did) and began to teach myself. That was 4 years ago, I have not lost my enthusiasm for the instrument, but have been using tablature (tab) sheet music for the past 3 years. It makes picking up (pun intended) the banjo much quicker and,initially, easier. Since then, I've purchased a much better quality instrument that has increased my pleasure tremendously! Never did enjoy "strumming" banjos and have a distaste for "dixieland" style music. But fingerpicking in the Scruggs style makes my heart soar. Once worked with a fellow that played 6 string guitar in a bluegrass band and he told me that the banjo was "the bane of bluegrass". Needless to say, I totally disagree and feel that the banjo may even be one of the defining instruments of bluegrass. That old saying "the finest sound is that of a banjo hitting an accordian in the bottom of a dumpster" is for or by folks with no appreciation of the complexity and history of the instrument.
"Humor is the gadfly on the corpse of tragedy"    Ilyea Kuriaken, Man From Uncle

56safari

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Re: Seriously...how hard is the Banjo?
« Reply #7 on: July 02, 2015, 09:27:05 AM »
Hoosier - Clawhammer, as aptly described by Larry, is much older than the three fingered style. Unlike the three fingered style which doesn't always play every melody note, the melody notes are the only notes usually picked in clawhammer.  I learned "Wildwood Flower" in clawhammer, but personally prefer the three fingered picking.

Tom -  Have my Dad's banjo Uke which I learned to play as a kid.  Still use it with the grandkids to sing things like Grandfather's Clock and k-k-k Katie.  I thought the uke experience would be more help with the banjo, but the string and fret spacing are really different.

John - My wife was a voice performance major in college and knew next to nothing about southern gospel, mountain music or Blue grass till she married a guy with family roots in the hills of East Tennessee.  Now we both enjoy nearly all kinds of music although I must admit that opera does less for me.

On a related note - Bought a Fireside Banjo from Backyard music to play and carry while off on my annual motorcycle trips.  It's much quieter than a regular banjo, is small and cheap ($109 for the kit form) but Has a standard finger board and bridge.  I can move between it  and my full size banjo without any trouble.  Has almost a Harpsichord sound to it. 

Turning up the volume on the stereo will always produce better music, but its a lot less fun.

Jim
Jim & Lin
1999 Rexhall Aerbus

Tom

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Re: Seriously...how hard is the Banjo?
« Reply #8 on: July 02, 2015, 09:56:30 AM »
Quote
I thought the uke experience would be more help with the banjo, but the string and fret spacing are really different.

Understood, but not as different as a guitar.

FWIW I grew up in the UK watching George Formby play the banjo uke. His self-developed style takes (me) a lot of learning. YouTube has lots of clips from his old movies.
« Last Edit: July 02, 2015, 10:00:18 AM by Tom »
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John Stephens

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Re: Seriously...how hard is the Banjo?
« Reply #9 on: July 02, 2015, 11:19:42 AM »

John With a major in music ed, that's what you come up with?

Ya gotta cut me a break. It was 2 in the morning and I was on my way to bed.

Honestly, the banjo is one of those instruments that I never really cared for because I never got into C/W music that much, but had great respect for those who could play it. Listening to Roy Clark or Earl Scruggs do a song like Foggy Mountain Breakdown is a joy to the ears.
John

2005 Winnebago Adventurer 38J

Tom

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Re: Seriously...how hard is the Banjo?
« Reply #10 on: July 02, 2015, 11:39:15 AM »
A friend who plays various instruments including a 5-string banjo always says that 1/3 of his time is spent tuning his banjo, 1/3 is spent playing, and 1/3 is spent apologizing.
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blw2

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Re: Seriously...how hard is the Banjo?
« Reply #11 on: July 02, 2015, 01:24:27 PM »
I do like some banjo music..... and fiddle too

My dad has never had a music lesson in his life, and can't read music at all, but he is self taught on guitar and banjo
To a purist it might not be that good.... but I actually think some of the stuff he makes up aint bad!
He can even play piano and organ a bit.

I don't know if it's because I had 7 years of school band (trumpet) forcing me to not improvise..... or if I just didn't get the gene...... or maybe it's because i just haven't turned off the TV and spent hours picking and goofing around, but I can't do it.  I did teach myself a little fiddle playing once, using a book "You can teach yourself Fiddle".... or something like that.

I think dad mostly learned while he was out to sea in the Coast Guard.

Speaking of banjo picking....
My aunt used to be married to J.D. Crowe back in the early 1970's.  I remember as a kid sitting on my grandparent's front porch down in a 'holler' in KY, listening to JD on the banjo, with my dad and another uncle on guitar....
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56safari

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Re: Seriously...how hard is the Banjo?
« Reply #12 on: July 03, 2015, 05:12:21 AM »
Took a while to get to listen to George Formby as we're at my Mom's - 89 and still going strong albeit without much internet access.  Pretty cool stuff.  Never did get far with the guitar -   

I'm amazed by the people who can play be ear.  And getting to listen to JD Crowe would have been amazing. Just wish I'd still been a kid in the 70's
Jim & Lin
1999 Rexhall Aerbus

Tom

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Re: Seriously...how hard is the Banjo?
« Reply #13 on: July 03, 2015, 06:15:29 AM »
I too am blown away by folks who play by ear. A Hawaiian-born lady in our ukulele band received her first uke when she was "able to swim a length of the pool at her grandparents' home". She's now well into her 70's and has never read any music to help her play.

I'm at the other extreme; My ears tell me a chord change is coming, but I have no clue what chord to play unless I'm looking at either a score or a lead sheet. I immediately know if I played a right or wrong chord, but can't predict what it should have been. Same thing if I'm playing a keyboard. It doesn't seem to matter how many times I've played the same piece of music. OTOH I can usually "get" the melody and lyrics on the first hearing, and I'm usually able to sing a new-to-me number from memory.
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Hoosier Daddy

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Re: Seriously...how hard is the Banjo?
« Reply #14 on: July 03, 2015, 07:00:24 AM »
Thanks for all the insight folks it is truely appreciated.  As mentioned I have been watching videos on the basics on getting started as well as the advanced "maybe someday" stuff. So keep the suggestions coming.

... 1/3 of his time is spent tuning his banjo, 1/3 is spent playing, and 1/3 is spent apologizing.

That is what I (and the Wifey) am expecting for quite some time!  ;D
So as luck would have it the Banjo arrived last night, just in time for the 3 day weekend!
While I am a head-banger from the early days (Hard Rock). I have an appreciation for ALL music styles. Bluegrass, Dixieland, I grew up with the parents / Grand-Parents watching Hee-Haw, Merle Haggard, and the Grand ole Opy on a black and white TV... but the modern C/W music is towards the bottom of my "favorites" list.  ;)
Our town has a "BlueGrass Festival that I avoided like all the area big crowd events, but this fall I may actually have to go and learn.
 Here is my new toy.
Scott & Rhonda
Kendallville, IN.

TT: 2011 Dutchmen 265BHS
TV: 2013 Ford F-150 S-Cab

"Don't do anything during the Day that will cause you to loose sleep at Night"

Tom

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Re: Seriously...how hard is the Banjo?
« Reply #15 on: July 03, 2015, 07:10:24 AM »
Congratulations on the new banjo. We look forward to seeing your first video on YouTube  ;)
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56safari

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Re: Seriously...how hard is the Banjo?
« Reply #16 on: July 04, 2015, 12:42:18 PM »
Congrats on getting the banjo! 
Jim & Lin
1999 Rexhall Aerbus

Hoosier Daddy

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Re: Seriously...how hard is the Banjo?
« Reply #17 on: July 05, 2015, 06:03:18 AM »
Thanks guys, I have been lurking on Banjohangout.com and just registered.
After studying TAB, for a bit it makes sense, Thanks for the suggestion.
Scott & Rhonda
Kendallville, IN.

TT: 2011 Dutchmen 265BHS
TV: 2013 Ford F-150 S-Cab

"Don't do anything during the Day that will cause you to loose sleep at Night"

greensleep

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Re: Seriously...how hard is the Banjo?
« Reply #18 on: July 05, 2015, 11:27:49 AM »
    There is a difference between Country/western and bluegrass. Some crossover exists, but they are distinct styles. Not a fan, generally, of CW, myself, but truly enjoy the virtuosity of the instrumentalists in good bluegrass. Jazz banjo work is something to check out.
"Humor is the gadfly on the corpse of tragedy"    Ilyea Kuriaken, Man From Uncle

8Muddypaws

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Re: Seriously...how hard is the Banjo?
« Reply #19 on: July 05, 2015, 12:56:31 PM »
Banjo is a very versatile instrument.  Jazz, blues, turbo grass, new grass.  Allison Krause, Allison Brown, Bela Fleck to name only 3 different styles.

When I played in a group with a banjo we stuffed a towel in the resonator so we could hear the guitars.
Retired computer professional
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Tom

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Re: Seriously...how hard is the Banjo?
« Reply #20 on: July 05, 2015, 03:51:10 PM »
Quote from: 8Muddypaws
When I played in a group with a banjo we stuffed a towel in the resonator so we could hear the guitars.

Some of the banjo ukulele players in our uke band do something similar (they use a towel or foam). I don't, partly because we have a small number of banjo uke players and, on the numbers where we need the BJU sound, we need the sound.

A couple of us were visiting a wonderful luthier in Concord recently, needing to fix a few things with our banjo ukes. One of the "foam" guys was told to remove the stuff(ing) if he wanted to correct the sound problem he was having.

Any unique Portugese instrument you'll bring home with you?
« Last Edit: July 05, 2015, 07:19:28 PM by Tom »
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8Muddypaws

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Re: Seriously...how hard is the Banjo?
« Reply #21 on: July 05, 2015, 06:43:12 PM »
I stumbled upon a luthiers shop today (Sunday) and he has a couple a beautiful classical guitars for around 850 euros.  Just over $900.  The shop was closed.  Leaving Madrid at 8AM tomorrow and the shop opens at 10.  Eh, whatever.  already got a sweet sounding classical that I rarely play

Not bringing anything home but memories, pictures ( lost count), and a serious case of exhaustion.
Retired computer professional
Musician, songwriter and music director
2006 Bounder 34H, 2008 CR-V Toad

Hoosier Daddy

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Re: Seriously...how hard is the Banjo?
« Reply #22 on: July 06, 2015, 06:50:30 PM »
You will be seriously exhausted after that flight home! Takes me about a week to get my days and nights straightened out!
Scott & Rhonda
Kendallville, IN.

TT: 2011 Dutchmen 265BHS
TV: 2013 Ford F-150 S-Cab

"Don't do anything during the Day that will cause you to loose sleep at Night"

8Muddypaws

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Re: Seriously...how hard is the Banjo?
« Reply #23 on: July 07, 2015, 10:57:06 AM »
No kidding.  I woke up at 3AM this morning (local time) and my body said it was lunch time.

I've got nearly 1800 images to selectively process and export.  Several HD videos.  I'm kind of glad I didn't take my portable audio studio with me.  Editing that stuff takes even more time.

The high point of the trip home was the candy apple red Steinway grand piano in the terminal in Munich.  It had a sign next to it saying "Just play a Steinway".  Out of the 100+ top level musicians I was traveling with my grandson was the only one with the guts to actually play it.  The entire terminal stopped for a moment.

The trip home was over 25 hours long and I only napped for about 30 minutes.
Retired computer professional
Musician, songwriter and music director
2006 Bounder 34H, 2008 CR-V Toad

Utclmjmpr

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Re: Seriously...how hard is the Banjo?
« Reply #24 on: November 09, 2015, 09:08:10 PM »
 A difficult part of playing the banjo is the weight over time, a GOOD banjo will weigh 13 pounds (I own two)and is murder on your back and shoulders over time.>>>Dan
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