Being a Well-Rounded Banjo Player

Have you even had someone make a request for a certain song, and they weren’t quite sure how it went (sort of like that line from Billy Joel’s ‘The Piano Man’), but from their description, you strongly suspect they have in mind a frailed banjo? Maybe it was ‘Some of Shelly’s Blues’ by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band; remember how that starts off with a great scene-setting ol-timey banjo intro? What do you do when someone makes a request such as that?

That’s a great reason to be well-rounded, isn’t it? Just take off the picks and do it! I believe that even though we each have our main areas of proficiency on banjos, we should learn at least a few basics across the board. Here’s a start at a list in no particular order (can you tell I’m an inverterate list-maker?).

See if you can think of others for a ‘ What every banjo player should know how to do’ list. It’s admittedly slanted towards what a 5-string bluegrass banjoist should do, as that’s where I’m coming from.

1. The basic frailing or clawhammer rhythm

2. A melodic scale. Maybe G, or C.

3. A song or two (or at least a few chords) on the Tenor or Plectrum banjo.

4. G, C, D on the guitar and how to backup someone else.

5. A jig, reel or hornpipe.

6. Any other suggestions?

About Phill Gibson

I'm from Huntsville, Alabama where I work as a Systems Engineer and part-time banjo and mandolin instructor. I've been playing various instruments since my teen years. I started mandolin at about age 17 and banjo at 20. I love just about all kinds of music. In terms of banjo styles, I play Scruggs and melodic and am working on becoming more advanced with single string. I'm also working on 4-finger banjo, which is way off the beaten path. I would like to see more jazz techniques integrated into bluegrass situations; counterpoint, especially. So long-term, that's what I'm doing. I'm also very keen on astronomy, ATM (amateur telescope making), birding, christian homeschooling, martial arts, organic gardening and about 30 other distracting hobbies to a (mercifully) lesser extent.
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