While it may seem a difficult instrument to learn, the truth is that it’s not hard to pick up the basics of a banjo rather quickly. In fact, with enough practice and dedication, you could even play a song within a month!
What separates the newbies from the seasoned players is the way the latter can play the banjo with excellent timing, tone, well-practiced technique, and at famously fast tempos.
When you listen to a banjo player picking at the strings at the speed of lightning, trying it yourself can be a daunting thought. But with practice, you can get there too!
Learning to play the banjo takes quite a bit of physical endurance as well as mental focus. To build up the speed needed to play the 5 string banjo a lot of repetition and physical exercise are required.
The three-finger Scruggs’ style is so appealing because of its simplicity, and how it delivers simple, solid rhythmic music in a very straightforward fashion. It’s not only pleasing to the ear but is a good place to begin learning.
Of course, you have to put your mind to it when you’re playing the banjo – as with any other musical instrument. But you also have to develop control of the instrument. It’s helpful to think of sports analogies. For example, it’s easy to learn to do one push-up, but harder to do 50 of them.
Likewise, it’s easy to learn a chord but harder to play a whole song, especially with a dexterously demanding instrument like a banjo.
Another sporting analogy would be how golfers spend time perfecting every aspect of their game such as putting, driving, chipping, and their short game. Banjo players also need to put time into picking practice, hand flexibility exercise, as well as developing muscle memory with repetitions.
Muscle memory is often more powerful and effective when playing an instrument than relying on your actual memory. After all, your mind can only store so much information, and it can only store so much information that you can recall quickly and relay to your fingers in a split second.
Muscle memory on the other hand lasts for years and years and involves virtually no thinking.
When learning the banjo, the most important thing to focus on is learning basic techniques and repeating them until they are ingrained into your muscle memory. This is so when you pick up your banjo you can play a song without having to think about what you’re doing.
Just sit back and let your fingers find their way around the strings! If you really get into practicing and find you can’t put your banjo down, the more you will build up your muscle memory.
This is one of the most fascinating and appealing things about playing the banjo, the physical sensation you develop when picking the strings makes it truly addictive!
Is banjo harder to learn than the guitar?
The banjo is certainly not harder than playing the guitar and in fact, some aspects of the banjo are easier. For one, the strings are a lighter gauge than a guitar and easier to push down. Mastering a few simple things on both instruments doesn’t take long at all.
However, playing in a bluegrass band with a banjo may require more practice than only playing rhythm guitar, if you’re simply strumming chords. But if the guitar player takes on soloing, then their job will become just as difficult as the banjo player and require just as much practice.
The banjo player even has the advantage of using three fingers to pick at the strings, as opposed to one flat pick a guitar player uses when playing bluegrass music.
What’s a good banjo for a beginner?
You must make sure the banjo is stable and stays in tune. Tuning a banjo or keeping it in tune is harder than tuning a guitar, so it’s important to pick a banjo that tunes well. Otherwise, you’ll be starting on the back foot.
The banjo should have good ‘action’. This means that the strings are not too high up over the fretboard, and not too low. This will cause the strings to buzz. This can be adjusted, but if you experience this problem with an old banjo it could mean a problem with the neck, warping, or a cracked rim.
New, good-quality beginner banjos cost around $350-$650. They’re definitely worth it though, as learning on a good quality banjo will only speed up your progress, while a bad banjo will just slow you down.
Do you need to learn to read music to play the banjo?
There is very little ‘written music’ for a banjo. Anything that is written down for banjo is mostly in something called tablature. Tablature is a simple number system that is great for playing the banjo. Due to the lack of sustain on a banjo, you only use ¼ notes and 1/8th notes.
This means that there is no need for written music, and makes using tablature even easier.
Can you learn the banjo at home?
Due to the accessibility of the internet, there are plenty of online resources available for free that can teach you how to play the banjo. Not to mention the more traditional teaching mediums too, such as CDs, DVDs, or books.
Due to them being a visual medium, books are probably the most difficult way to learn the banjo at home, especially if you purchase a book that does not come with audio or video demonstrations.
I hope that I have been able to put your mind at ease about giving the banjo a try. Although it does require a lot of practice and determination, it’s certainly not impossible.
Plus, there are so many resources out there that will help you to improve, and the online banjo community is brimming with nice, helpful people from all walks of life who have lots of knowledge to share.