Learning to Play the Banjo: 3 Practice Tips

Learning to play the banjo can be an overwhelming task. Practice is one of the major keys to success. But, how can we find more time to practice. Here are a couple of tips.

1.  Find Time To Practice:

When my mother retired she used to tell me she was busier than ever! As a lifelong volunteer, I remember being told that if you wanted to get a project done, look for a busy person. Both of these statements seem at odds with one another, right? But, what  do both of these statements have in common? The “busy” person has learned how to prioritize their time to get things done. They have looked at their “finite” time and carved out specific “moments” to help them complete their “to do” list.

The hardest part for all of us in this busy world is finding the time to practice. It’s not wanting, needing, or learning how to practice so much as it is carving out some time in our very busy lives to practice, right?

What do other people do to overcome this very common thread among those of us who want to learn to play the banjo? Because “practice”, my friends, really is one of the most important keys to learning to play the banjo. And you know what? It is fun!

How much time is needed? If you can only practice 5 minutes, then do so. If you can get in more time, say 15-20 minutes, then more is better. But remember, if you only practiced at 5 minute intervals, several times a day...you would be at 30 minutes in no time, right?

2.  Put the banjo somewhere convenient so you can reach for it more easily.

You might have to leave it on a stand near a comfortable chair in the living room. There are some folks who keep one by their desk in their office at work. I know of a busy truck driver who keeps it in the cab with him as he drives across country. You have to be able to pick up your banjo to practice! So if you can easily reach for it, then you are one step closer to your practice session. If you are walking through the living room on the way to the kitchen, take a 5 minute break and pick up your banjo. If you get a 15 minute break at work, pick up your banjo and walk outside and practice for 5 minutes (please wear a strap for safety!). If you are on a long distance trip and stop for a bathroom and beverage break, take out the banjo and include 5 minutes to play. Your brain will enjoy the break and your picking hand will get just that much MORE muscle memory. Get creative! Look at your day and see where you might be able to carve out just 5 minutes to play your banjo.

3.  Use a mute

Sounds counter productive, right? Nope. You can still hear your banjo and be close to your family, friends, neighbors, or people in the hotel room next to you. Mutes make banjos very “user friendly” in close quarters.  For the openback banjo player this can be something as simple as a towel sandwiched between your coordinator rod and the banjo head, a foam wedge can do the same thing, or you can buy a commercial mute (http://www.deeringbanjos.com/products/deering-banjo-mute)  if you have a resonator model to make life easier...and still get in that practice time. You can be with your family watching TV and still play the banjo. Think of how many commercials we are bombarded with when watching television? Now that is surely more than 5 minutes of practice time, right?


October 13, 2016 by Carolina Bridges

Healthy Playing Technique

I’ve read and heard musician’s refer to playing a musical instrument as athletics on a smaller scale.  

This is actually a pretty accurate appraisal and one that is worthwhile evaluating.  

Playing the banjo is more than just using your fingers.  No matter what style of banjo playing, there are physical considerations that can be helpful in fostering a healthy approach to your banjo.   Because no two people are alike in the way they walk, talk, dance, sing, run, stand, sit, swim, play tennis etc, we must allow for a huge range of tolerance to allow individuals to find their own personal comfort zone.   The suggestions here are not meant as “absolute” or “iron clad” or “cast in stone.” 

These are mere guidelines that might aid in facilitating greater comfort while playing.

December 20, 2013 by Barry Hunn

5-String Banjo Chord Inversions

Many banjo players learn songs and rolls from tablature, but never really learn what notes they are playing on the banjo. This series of articles is going to take you through this process.

This first exercise is going to teach you the chords on a banjo all the way up the neck. By learning all of the chord inversions, the fingerboard will open up to you and those notes up the fretboard won't be so intimidating. It will also open up your playing to a whole new world of ideas.

November 25, 2013 by David Bandrowski

The Symmetrical Tuning of the Tenor Banjo

By nature, the tuning of the tenor banjo in fifths inherently has a major advantage in that chord voicings and scale patterns are symmetrical. The intervallic relationship between an adjacent string is the same.  This means that if you make a triad on the fourth, third, and second strings with the root in the bass, a triad shape would be the same if you moved it up one set of strings to the third, second, and first strings.
November 14, 2013 by David Bandrowski

Improvisation: How do you do it?

Admired and feared, improvising has sometimes been shrouded by mystery and misunderstanding.   New banjo students are often baffled by top players who pick beautiful streams of notes but never the same way twice on a given song.
May 09, 2013 by Barry Hunn

Making the Most Of Your Practice Time

These days we all have limited time to do the things we like. We always have to make the most out of our time. If you are reading this, one of the things you like to do is to play the banjo, with one of your goals to always be a better player.

We often hear of players who tell us that they are practicing all of the time, but they don't seem to be getting any better. 

April 23, 2013 by David Bandrowski

The Ergonomic Subtleties of Playing Banjo

OK, so you are saying to yourself that “banjo” and “subtle” are an oxymoron, right? How can a banjo in any way be connected with that word? Well, folks, just as “still waters run deep” so it is with our beloved banjo. If you aren’t paying attention to those subtle little details of playing the banjo, you may just be working too hard!

One of the most critical factors to playing the banjo is playing position. 

July 10, 2012 by Barry Hunn

Will I Ever Get Better?

“Will I ever get better?” is the perennial cry of the pre-beginner (folks say there is no such thing as a pre-beginner but I have been one for 10 years…) or beginner player. We always feel just a tad bit “lacking” in improvement despite all of our best efforts. The truth is that we have more than likely made more progress than we know.
June 21, 2012 by Carolina

It's OK to Strum the 5-String Banjo

I know this statement seems like a “given” but I have spoken with many folks who feel they have to apologize because they “only” strum their 5-string banjo. My favorite way to play the banjo is to strum it! It’s relaxing, it’s easy, and it’s fun.

There are many wonderful advantages to strumming a banjo:

June 07, 2012 by David Bandrowski

Tips To Improve Your Banjo Playing

Whether you are an experienced banjoist or a novice, it is always fun to find out ways to improve your playing. I have a few suggestions that might help you get “in shape” for the height of the festival season that is just around the corner!
April 22, 2012 by Carolina