Making the Most Of Your Practice Time

Banjo PracticeThese 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. I hear of people who are putting in an hour or more a day, but they aren't seeing many results. The problem is very often that they are practicing incorrectly.

Many players will pick up their banjo and play through a couple songs that they know already, maybe try out a couple licks that they already know and then put the banjo down. They never venture out into the unknown and try a new song, new lick, or practice a specific technique.

Maybe they will work on a new song and start it off well, but they hit a sticky point somewhere in the middle. The player then will go and start the song over again until they fall off the tracks at the same point. They will do this over and over until they get frustrated and try something else or put there banjo down and do something else entirely.  They never solely focus on the section that is giving them problems.  Even if it is just one note, practice that note.  Then add the note before it.  Gradually expand the phrase out on both sides.  When you feel you have it, then start from the beginning and try to play through the section.

Here are a few tips to help you make the most out of your practice sessions:

  1. Practice with a metronome.  If you have a smartphone - there are a number of free metronome apps that you can download.
  2. Do not always start at the beginning of a tune. Practice only the passages that are giving you trouble.
  3. Practice slowly - the speed will come.
  4. Make sure you are playing all of your notes cleanly.
  5. Focus on right hand techniques.
  6. Focus on left hand techniques.
  7. Concentrate. Do not daydream. Do not start noodling around on your instrument.
  8. When you feel your concentration drifting - mental and/or physical fatigue is setting in. That is when you know it is time to put your instrument down and to take a break.

If you dedicate a third of your "practice" time to a focused practice time. You will see a dramatic improvement in your playing. This focused type of practicing can still be fun, but it should feel like a work out.

April 23, 2013 by David Bandrowski
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Al Boddy (AUSTRALIA) said:

fantastic advice here!
good onys mate!!

Butch Black

Butch Black said:

Yep, that’s exactly how I have been playing and calling it practice. Time for a change, good article, thank you.




Herb Kleinfeld

Herb Kleinfeld said:

One other suggestion…Hang out the “Do Not Disturb” sign. I can walk around this house for hours without anybody saying a word to me. As soon as I pick up the banjo, people can’t move without asking my opinion! So, the rule is: “If you can hear banjo, I’m not to be disturbed unless the house catches fire!”

Will West

Will West said:

I have found that the better metronomes are easier to work with than the stuff for your phone. More features make learning/practicing interesting and easier to keep up. One by Korg has a built in recorder that is helpful too. I purchased it at my local music store. I especially like that the first beat of the measure has a different tone. I also like the 1 and ah beats, or triplets. The basic doink doink doink gets boring in a hurry.


Carolina said:

THAT is what I call dedication! One more good tip! Thanks.


Carolina said:

Thanks for writing. This is how we all learn about the new tools available.


Jean said:

Keep these tips coming, so helpful! Thank you.

Brian Oldham (NZL)

Brian Oldham (NZL) said:

Good advice for anyone David, thank you.
Some years ago whilst trying to learn Dueling Banjos, I progressed to a particular line in the piece that really stumped me. It was a real sitcking point that broke the flow of the tune for me. I resolved the problem by Learning the remaining parts of the tune through to the outro, then revisiting the difficult section. Being confident with what came next made the difficult part less of a stumbling block. Now, when I reach a difficult section of a new tune I sometimes skip to the last bar (outro) learn to play that, then learn its predecessor, and so on. Building the tune in reverse avoids the stumbling block because you already know what’s ahead


Carolina said:

Thank you. I think David did a good job of focusing the practice session. He is a banjo teacher as well as professional musician so he brings lots of experience to the topic!

Rodney Turlington

Rodney Turlington said:

Thanks for reminded me of this.When I first started picking that is exactly what I was doing,taking my time an getting it right.Over time I started doing the very same bad habits y’all have mention.

John Talmadge

John Talmadge said:

I’ve been playing guitar for decades, but just picked up a Deering Banjo a couple of months ago, so these website tips are really helpful. I use TapNTempo, a little program that runs on the Mac. I have Banjo Companion, Guitar Tools, and Musician’s Kit for the iPhone. Since I’m a newbie, my expertise on tools is obviously limited, but I do like the Banjo Companion for practicing with a steady beat. I had never used a metronome before (for example, with guitar), and I wish I had discovered this helpful tip long ago. It really, really improves speed as well as accuracy. I actually have three Deerings, ranging from the Good Time to a resonator I picked up pre-owned at Charlie’s Guitar in Dallas, and a mid-range open back. My last comment is off topic, but Deering is the way to go. You can start with a Good Time and then the sky’s the limit. Their higher-end instruments are simply elegant works of craftsmanship, inspiring me to learn to play so I can shop at that end of the Deering spectrum. I’ve played them, and even a guitar player can tell you that these are really great banjos. I watch eBay quite a bit, and one thing you’ll realize is that a Deering is an investment that only improves over time. Thank you, Deering!

John Cottam

John Cottam said:

I have had to go back to basics to rid myself of poor right hand technique and (at 70 years) am taking “remedial/beginners” lessons from a very talented young player.Your wise advice on practice is very welcome-thank you.


Åke said:

I learned Blackberry blossom piece by piece for 3 months til it really worked for me. Then I recorded bass and guitar and put the banjo-lead on and realized the timing wasn’t so good I want it to be. It’s very easy to be to fast in some part and vice versa in others. I’m 60 now so that may be the reason to this problem.

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