Learning banjo, where to start/what to avoid? (1 Viewer)

Eng JR Lupo RV323

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I've met y'all before. A lot of you seem to be pretty musically inclined, so I thought this might not be a horrible place to ask for a little guidance. I picked up a late 1800's model banjo in Point Reyes back in April and I've fiddled with it a little bit but honestly I just don't know where to start. I have about 30 years of playing guitar but that's been probably more realistically about 8 years, as I have often not owned a guitar through many of those years. I either sold em, they were stolen or they're sitting in pawn shop windows somewhere depending on my life during whatever years.

I never really learned guitar the right way(assuming there's a right way). I just more or less learned little parts of songs I liked, but that's really crippled me from being able to "jam" with other people. I never learned theory, I never studied scales. I never did any of that, I just learned what to do with my fingers and applied it to shit I wanted to learn. Anyway, with this banjo I don't want to fall into the same habits. I'd like to be able to play with people. I'd like to actually understand the instrument. What playing in the key of C, E, etc even means and when to apply that?

It's all a mystery to me. I can pluck around on the thing and I understand super basic ass shit like reading tabature, forming chords, doing hammer ons, pull offs, slides, bends, arpeggios, artificial harmonics, etc.. but these are all just things I can emulate with my fingers. I really don't know how I'd ever make a song of my own or be able to join in with other people playing something I didn't know. So where would you recommend I start? I don't like the idea of taking a formal class for this. I feel like there's gotta be a way around that with all the shit on YouTube and whatnot nowadays.

I'd be down to pay for a workshop from someone I'm really inspired by but I can't really see myself even wanting to do that until I have some basics sorted out. Can I learn theory online? Should I take a community college course for that? Is theory important? Any suggestions on YouTube channels? Things I should avoid? Things I should do daily? I don't necessarily want to play straight up bluegrass banjo, not that I'm opposed to learning some of it. I just like a more old timey or haunting/dark/melancholic type banjo sound.

Anyway.. any advice would be greatly appreciated. To give you an idea of what I'm trying to learn on, it's a 5 string banjo but only 17 frets, kinda uncommon but I think most shit works out fine. I'm not trying to pull off a banjo solo on the 18-22 frets or anything. Pretty sure I can get it done with 17.
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ali

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I've never played banjo before, but something i can suggest for all musical instruments is learning scales. Scales are nothing to be afraid of, they are just a certain group of notes that sound good together. Having a few scales deeply ingrained that you can riff off will help a lot if you just want to jam and create your own stuff.

Personally i don't think you really need to learn about "key" or "mode" or whatever if you're playing a stringed instrument. Just move the whole shebang up or down a fret to change the key till you like how it sounds. Once you can comfortably play a scale, you should be able to build your own riff just by putting the notes in a blender, play them in whatever order, hold them, hammer them, bend them etc.

What scales to learn? Imo the most useful for guitar music is minor pentatonic. Natural minor is nice if you want to play something a bit more complex. Phrygian has a mysterious sound too. You might hear Phrygian described as a "mode" or "dominant", but don't worry about that, just learn the pattern of the notes on the fretboard. Check out Banjo Scales - PurpleBanjo for the patterns. Btw, i have no idea if these particular scales sound good on a banjo, so have a listen online then just pick one or two that you like the sound of to learn.

The tricky part where you probably will need a bit of musical theory is matching riffs/scales to chords. There is a science to it, but you can also try it by ear, especially once you find a song you already like and realize what scale the riff is based off. Then you can use the same chords that you already know from that song.
 

ali

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I just re-read your post and realized you want to play with other people. Then it will be easier if you know what "key" means. It means... the first note of the scale. So if the key is G, the scale will start with G. Usually the song will begin or end on a G chord too, that's sort of the "center" of the song that everything revolves around.

If you know how to play a G scale, you can play an A scale too, just by moving it up two frets (G -> G# -> A).

What you'll find when you are playing a scale is that you can either move all the way up the scale on a single string, or you can jump onto the next string to play the same notes. It is up to you when you jump to the next string, it depends on the length of your fingers and how you like to play. For a beginner, probably better to try jump to the next string as soon as possible, and try find a scale which uses a lot of open strings, this way you don't need to remember too many positions. Later on you might find you prefer to play certain scales starting from further up the fretboard because it's more comfortable or easier to switch between individual notes and chords.

Really short hint on how to create chords if you already know the key... look at the scale in the key of the song (G, G minor etc) and then create a chord from some notes in that scale. Usually it's just three (or occasionally four) notes which are then repeated across the strings. The chords themselves all have certain names, but even if you don't know the name of the chord, as long as you build a chord from three of the notes in that the scale, it should sound okay with the melody.

Here's a YouTube intro for banjo: Scales, Chords, & Modes for Banjo - YouTube
 
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coltsfoot

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if u figure out a really great way to learn more of the music theory side of things let me know. im in a similar boat as you. i do write my own stuff but cant really play along with other people for the most part other than a bit of noodling around and if anyone is like "this song is in the key of g" or whatever, i cant do much with that info haha.

but i really like Clifton Hicks' tutorials for banj. he has a whole internet subscription thing thru patreon but also puts up all his vids on youtube. i love his music (old timey appalachia) and he seems like a super nice guy in general so yeah, i recommend checking him out if you dont know his stuff already

cf
 

Eng JR Lupo RV323

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Thank you @ali There was some helpful stuff in there. I feel like a lot of it I already had my mind wrapped around more or less. I guess I've scratched the surface of theory I just haven't went too deep into it. I hate to say it because it seems so wrong to feel this way but honestly.. it just fucking bores me to death, theory. Like trying to listen to someone explain it in a video or even reading about it. It's just absolutely not interesting at all to me.

That sucks because I know it's useful to know. I know it's a building block I would need to get really good. And I know that sometimes you gotta trudge through shit you don't necessarily like or enjoy.. to reach goals. Maybe I just don't want it bad enough. Something will inspire me eventually and maybe I'll progress further. I kinda decided to put it on the side burner for now. Went out and spent way too fucking much on a bass I fell in love with the other day.

Bass is sort of the instrument I feel most comfortable with. My hands are huge, the banjo is difficult in that respect. It's electric, I couldn't take it traveling but I don't travel a whole lot these days anyway. When I do, I'll bring the banjo and maybe try to get back into it at that point.
 

brando

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Imo, your quickest route to being able to play along with other folks will be to learn your basic chords. Most songs use a handful of the same chords in varying patterns.

Find yourself a nice chord chart with the basic major and minor chords to start. To help find out which ones you'll use most, get chords for some songs you'd really like to play.

When you're comfortable with that, the scales and accompanying theory will fall into place much more easily.
 

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