Learning the banjo can be an extremely enjoyable hobby. It is never going to be something that it is over one weekend, but a hobby and learning process than can take weeks to months to progress.
The first step to learning banjo is to choose one that fits the style of music you want to learn while being choosing a banjo that is beginner friendly. The type of banjo is extremely important to the learning process.
Dixieland, Jazz, and Celtic Music
If your preference for music leans in the direction of dixieland or jazz, the 4-string banjo is the instrument you want to learn first. It also has the advantage of being the easiest to learn. Most beginners start with four strings and move on when they’ve had some time to learn. Beginners should choose a style that makes it easy to learn, so they do not become frustrated or discouraged.
Bluegrass and Folk Music
The 5-string banjo is associated with bluegrass and folk music, and it is also the most common banjo for most styles of music and level of musician. Beginners find the 5-string to be the most versatile since they can stay with that type of banjo for most of their learning.
From dixieland to folk to bluegrass, most professional banjo players have a 6-string banjo or what’s called a guitar banjo. It has the widest range of notes, but can be difficult, and it is not recommended for beginners.
Resonator or Open-Back
The heavier the banjo, the better the sound produced by the instrument. While this should be kept in the back of the beginner’s mind, choosing a banjo that is comfortable trumps the weight of the instrument. A beginner might want a lightweight instrument when first starting to play.
Resonator banjos have a closed back that produces a louder sound. They are most often used by people who want to play with a band or need something louder. The open-back banjo will be lighter and is often the first choice for beginners. They are also less expensive.
Action and Scale
There’s so much to consider before you even sit down and begin to play the banjo. It can be you are pressure on a beginner who might be confused about the choices. The next step to picking a banjo is the string distance and action. The action is how far the strings are from the fingerboard. The more distance, the harder it is to press down on the strings. It can become uncomfortable for beginners whom that has enough finger strength.
When choosing a banjo, it is important to sit down with a professional, explain that you are a beginner and have them make some recommendations. Visit a music shop but be armed with the knowledge about the type of banjos available so you are not stuck with one that’s too advanced.
Learning to Play
Once you have your banjo, it’s still not time to begin playing. You’ll need to make sure it is in tune. Otherwise, you will not know if you are making the correct sounds with it. An electric tuner is an important accessory for a beginning banjo player. Often, a more experienced player can tune their banjo by ear, but beginners will need the extra help.
Now, you are ready to hold your banjo and start playing. First, the proper posture is essential. The sound can be altered by the position of the banjo about your body. If you’re hunched over the banjo, you’re blocking the sound from resonating to the audience. Keep your shoulders back and straight so that you are not hunched over the banjo. It does not matter if you are sitting or standing as long as your body is not blocking the sounds from the banjo. Keep the neck in a light grip since the sound can be altered by gripping too hard. The neck should be higher than the bottom for proper sound.
As you start to play, your fingers will move slightly, but hand placement should remain fairly close to the original, starting point. The left hand should be holding the neck lightly, and the right hand should be on the strings in the middle. The pinky and ring finger rest on the banjo. Banjo picking is done with the other three fingers, never the pinky and ring finger so they remain stationary.
Picking the Strings
Many beginners find that finger picks help them learn the notes instead of worrying too much about creating large sounds. The metal picks wrap around the fingers and has a slight point for picking the strings. The first thing a beginner has to know is that the music is in eight notes. These are called rolls. The roles are a band of eight notes together as one measure of music. The timing is important.
There are many songs that use three chords as a basic roll. These are the easiest to perform for beginners. A basic roll that can be practiced is hitting the fifth string, third string, and first string then repeats that sequence and add the fifth and third again. See important to remember that each roll consists of eight notes banded together.
Motivation and Progress
Learning the banjo can feel a little difficult at first, but with a bit of effort and playing every day, the beginner can soon start to feel like it’s becoming fun. Start by learning rolls and keeping time using the eight count measure, but make sure you’re not waiting to play real songs. Small, easy songs will make it feel like you’re progressing and will make it fun.
Many students will quit the banjo after a few weeks or months because they do not feel like they are seeing any progression. It might feel too hard for them, or they feel like they will never “get it.” That’s why it’s important to make sure to vary the type of practice. Let it become a social interaction and jam with some other people. Don’t sit at home picking away at the strings without some time with friends to sing and laugh while you dazzle them with your new skills.