Here’s a couple of software applications that I have found to be pretty essential; one is useful for anyone working with sound on a computer, and the other is great for anyone working with tablature (not just banjos)
Audacity is available at http://audacity.sourceforge.net/. It is a great audio waveform editor / recorder that is free. No bought version, or nagware, even. It’s available for PC as well as Mac and Linux/Unix platforms. It does take a while to learn, but once you do, it will be very useful. I especially like to use it to grab a section of a file containing a break I want to learn. I can save just this one section off to a separate file and slow it down as much as I like, while keeping the same pitch – just what I need to be able to pick out individual notes in a break!
I also like to use it in conjunction with songs I have recorded from my old collection of vinyl for placing on my iPod. Using my old record player connected to my PC, sometimes I don’t get the beginnings and endings just right. With Audacity, I can go in and either shorten or lengthen the silence, and fade out the ending if it’s one of those songs that transitions into another with no convenient place to stop recording.
You can also record you own songs and dub one track after another. This takes a bit more effort using Audacity that with commercially available packages, but it is doable.
TablEdit can be found at http://www.tabledit.comand is a great tablature editor for creating, editing and listening to MIDI files based on tablature. It is easy to get used to and has many options to tweak, although I sometimes have to hunt around for exactly where the command is that I need.
It also can import files from several other formats including ASCII, MIDI, ABC, MusicXML, Bucket O’ Tab, TabRite, and Wayne Cripps files. Files can be saved in TablEdit format or exported to ASCII, HTML, ABC, RTF, MIDI or WAV formats.
Also, you can find a lot of banjo tab on the internet that is already in this format. You’ll be able to not only create tabs of your own creations, but also listen to others’ tabs. You can view either the tab or the equivalent musical notation, or both simultaneously.
It can really help if you’re learning about timing in musical notation, too. Just input some examples and play them back to see if the timing is what you’d expect.