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Now some people don't understand. They think a blues player has to be worried, troubled to sing the blues. That's wrong. I'll put it this way; there's a doctor, he has medicine. He's never, sick, he ain't sick, but he has stuff for the sick people. So the blues player, he ain't worried and bothered, but he's got something for the worried people. Doctor . . . you can see his medicine, you can see his patient. Blues . . . you can't see the music you can't see the patient because it's soul. So I works on the soul, and the doctor works on the body - Roosevelt Sykes, spoken on Smithsonian/Folkways Classic Blues anthology

Author Topic: Comparing Banjo to Guitar playing  (Read 439 times)

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Offline big joe weems

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Comparing Banjo to Guitar playing
« on: August 13, 2018, 01:32:30 PM »
Hi all,
I know many of you are both banjo and guitar pickers. Question for you, as I'm about to pick up a banjo and try to learn after years of picking guitar. Can you give me an idea of your mindset or approach to playing banjo as compared to guitar? I think this will help me transition to playing a different instrument with different history, technique, etc.
Thanks,
Joe

Offline banjochris

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Re: Comparing Banjo to Guitar playing
« Reply #1 on: August 13, 2018, 02:37:06 PM »
I would maybe recommend starting off with thumb-lead two-finger picking if you're a guitar player switching to banjo and want some results right away. It's an extremely simple style to get the hang of if you're already playing finger style. Some three-finger styles also will be fairly easy.

Clawhammer is a great style, just be prepared for it to take a little while to get, similar to getting an independent thumb while learning to play guitar.

Left hand will be less chord-based than guitar although chord positions will help you place your fingers. Don't be afraid to use your left-hand pinky.

I would highly recommend books by Art Rosenbaum (especially Old-Time Mountain Banjo, out of print but worth tracking down) and the Southern Banjo Styles DVDs by Mike Seeger. Both will show you a panoply of approaches to playing -- pick a couple you like and see what happens.

And not just to toot my own horn, but I have a few banjo lessons on YouTube; this one is probably the most helpful if you're interested in two-finger style. I think it's pretty easy to understand:

Good luck, playing the banjo is a lot of fun. I'd also recommend joining Banjo Hangout -- there is some good information there and a lot of good players, just be prepared for a certain number of threads whose theme is: "I don't really want to practice much, how can I magically become a good banjo player?" :)

Chris

Offline Lastfirstface

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Re: Comparing Banjo to Guitar playing
« Reply #2 on: August 14, 2018, 06:26:30 AM »
Careful, you might get sucked down the banjo rabbit hole! The things will start polluting your home and turning up under the bed. Your best guitar might end up lonely in its case for a while.   :P

Chris's video is a great place to get started, and thumb-lead right hand styles do seem like good transition from guitar. A lot of people get into old time banjo and feel an obligation to learn clawhammer, but that's just one part of the big spectrum of right hand technique.

Offline Stuart

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Re: Comparing Banjo to Guitar playing
« Reply #3 on: August 14, 2018, 09:09:56 AM »
At some point it's worth taking a look at Pete Seeger's How to Play the 5-String Banjo, if only because it's how many people got started back in the day. Here are a few links:

https://www.fretboardjournal.com/features/banjo-bible-pete-seegers-book-launched-thousand-fingers/

https://www.amazon.com/How-Play-5-String-Banjo-Third/dp/1597731641

https://folkways.si.edu/pete-seeger/how-to-play-the-5-string-banjo/music-instruction/music/album/smithsonian

Obviously, Chris and others will give solid advice about where to begin, but I thought Pete Seeger's book and record were worth mentioning.

Offline banjochris

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Re: Comparing Banjo to Guitar playing
« Reply #4 on: August 14, 2018, 11:38:20 AM »
Obviously, Chris and others will give solid advice about where to begin, but I thought Pete Seeger's book and record were worth mentioning.

I couldn't agree more, it's still an excellent book, especially if you don't quite know what style(s) you want to play. I will point out that Seeger's "basic strum," used by a lot of the '50s and '60s folk crowd, is pretty rare today, although it is a useful technique.

I realize I didn't even consider that you might want to be playing bluegrass banjo instead of old-time. If so, I would recommend getting a teacher as soon as possible. Old-time you can pick up a lot of stuff on your own, but everything I know about bluegrass banjo (which isn't a tremendous amount) suggests that a teacher at the beginning is almost essential (I think the same is true for fiddle). You can get into too many bad habits otherwise.
Chris

Offline RobBob

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Re: Comparing Banjo to Guitar playing
« Reply #5 on: August 15, 2018, 05:51:45 AM »
I had been playing guitar for several years when I got serious about the banjo.  Two and three finger styles came easier at first then I got on to clawhammer.  I found that my banjo playing helped my finger style guitar playing.  The big thing is banjo music is related to guitar music but different than guitar music.  Acquaint yourself with those differences and embrace them.  Once you know them you can go on after you learn the "rules".  As one must first know the rules before they can successfully break them.  One rule I never followed was folks would say you can play something finger style but you can't do it clawhammer style.  Granted rags are easier finger style but they can be played in a clawhammer style.  It just takes more studying. Can't is a word I don't hear when thinking in banjo.

Offline big joe weems

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Re: Comparing Banjo to Guitar playing
« Reply #6 on: August 19, 2018, 11:36:07 AM »
Thank you for the excellent insights and recommendations, I appreciate the help and will take them to heart!

Joe

Offline Rivers

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Re: Comparing Banjo to Guitar playing
« Reply #7 on: August 19, 2018, 08:45:24 PM »
My experience was it really depends on what you like to listen to when you hear banjo. For me it was always the great groove I heard listening to clawhammer banjo. Mike Seeger's video set on old time banjo styles allowed me to break out of that a little bit, as in "hey, it's alright to fingerpick an open back banjo, this is easier than I thought".

But I'm still mainly hooked on clawhammer. Bluegrass doesn't do it for me at all, unless it's Scruggs jamming with Watson, for example.

Clawhammer takes some work over a few months to get the frailing hand going. The closest I can get to a similar challenge on guitar is learning to use fingerpicks. One sunny day it just starts happening, you just have to want it enough to persevere.

So I advocate letting the music you want to play drive the learning process. It's the path of least resistance, and most reward.

Offline eric

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Re: Comparing Banjo to Guitar playing
« Reply #8 on: August 20, 2018, 09:09:08 AM »
big joe,

My experience with clawhammer, for what it's worth: I was drawn to the sound ofclawhammer after several years of guitar playing.  After a couple of frustrating attempts to get the strum down, my late lamented old pal and banjo ace Rick Abrams walked me through the motion very slowly.  Very slowly.  It did not take long with practice to get it down, kind of like riding a bicycle.  And if you play fingerstyle guitar, you're ahead of the game on double thumbing because you already have an independent thumb. For my money, its a very satisfying style of music to play.  Good Luck!
--
Eric

Offline lindy

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Re: Comparing Banjo to Guitar playing
« Reply #9 on: August 20, 2018, 09:34:54 AM »
I did my 6-12 months of working on frailing banjer in my 20s, long before I bought my first guitar. What Eric wrote is true: start **slowly** with the strum pattern--there's no hurry!!--and within a week, likely much sooner, you'll have it in your fingers and thumb, and can start doing all the reps required to build muscle memory.

Years later, Jerry Ricks imparted some advice for guitar playing that I continue to refer back to as I tackle intricate licks and sections of finger-picking blues: "Speed is a function of accuracy." You can start working on the accuracy part at a very slow speed.

Yes, it's helpful to have someone to show you the initial pattern, and from my experience, in this country of our'n you're never very far from a banjo frailer, no matter where you go.

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