1. Banjo good practise tips and practise exercises
Regular structured practise each day for about 30 to 40 minutes - ideally at
the same time with no distractions.
There are two aspects to this - first is learning new material. Whatever that
might be, scales, chord progressions, pick techniques, licks, scale
relationships, a new chord progression, a song or instrumental.
NEVER take on too much in one hit - break things down in to small pieces.
ALWAYS first run over what you were doing the day before.
Regularly review the pieces you have leaned, e.g., once a week for a month
then at monthly intervals..
Secondly, is to take the new learning (particularly with repetition techniques)
and drive it into long term memory so that it becomes a motor skill. Here I
find distractions useful, like watching a film while practising rolls over and over
again. Or a particular lick over and over again. Or hammering on and pulling
off. Slides and finger warm up exercises and pick movements like single
string picking with thumb and index. So you don't have to think about them or
look at your fingers.
Structure - as a guide, to create a clear planned session and make notes keep a journal for reference. Here is an example:
5 minutes - warm up exercises like rolls and slides with rolls and left hand
spider crawl with alternate thumb and index on single strings up and down the
10 minutes - go over what you did yesterday to reinforce it and speed it up
slightly with the metronome or drum machine.
10 minutes - go over all the rolls, licks and scales you have learned and
speed them up slightly with the metronome or drum machine.
10 minutes work on something new - a new piece, a particular tricky lick, a
chord progression or whatever.
We have two finger picking, three finger picking, single string work and
melodic scales as well as frailing if you want to learn that style.
Each style has foundation techniques that need to be honed separately.
Two finger picking is a simple pattern of strings 3,1,5,1 and 3, rest, 5, 1. With
three finger picking it is all about right hand forward and backward rolls and
combining them with rolls. With single string it is about scales like a plectrum
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2. Banjo good practise tips and practise exercises
work alternating single strings picking between the thumb and the index.
Melodic is all about scales and getting the individual notes to flow in a stream
of melodic notes. Frailing is a difficult technique and is how to accuracy
hitting a string while the right hand fingers don't move and stay in the form of
a relaxed fist with the index extended whilst driving from the forearm.
Each technique requires its own practise session.
These are ornamentation that creates interesting flow to a piece and need to
be practised to get finger dexterity and strength. These include Hammering
on, pulling off, slides and string bends. It is worth spending time each day on
simple exercises for each embellishment technique. Then spend time
incorporating them with rolls.
Learn the three main major chords and where the root is on each of them.
Then learn where the 3rd of the scale is on each of them. This will enable
you to move them and know what they are called and also to be able to lower
the 3rd by half a tone to create the minor chord form.
Chords are essential for backing up another player (playing rhythm). The role
of the banjo in Bluegrass is to partner with the mandolin in providing the drum
or rhythm section. If you consider that in a Bluegrass band there are often a
singer, bass, guitar, fiddle, mandolin and dobro as well as the banjo with all
except the bass capable of taking a lead break.
Role of instrument
The main lead instrument
Rhythm and chord direction
Rhythm and takes lead breaks.
Key percussion rhythm instrument
replacing drums. Takes lead breaks.
Lead and secondary rhythm and filling licks
Lead and secondary rhythm and filling licks
Lead and fill in licks and percussion rhythm
replacing the mandolin when the mandolin
So in essence the majority of the time the banjo will be supporting the other
lead instruments. So leaning percussive backup and fill in licks is crucial.
Two finger picking is less dynamic than three finger picking so a good solid
grounding in this style is useful for backup.
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3. Banjo good practise tips and practise exercises
Good timing and building up speed
A crucial point here is to resist playing faster than you are able. Because
many students have been attracted to the 5 string banjo because of its speed
they get seduced into trying to play fast too soon. Try to force in to your
head that slow and accurate is more desirable than playing fast. Speed will
come as your technique gets ore accurate. It is better to play a piece slow
and in time than to play a piece that speeds up and slows down - no one
wants to listen to that.
Rhythm and good timing is crucial all music. So, in essence a person that
cannot keep rhythm is not someone you want to play with or have in a band.
This doesn't come naturally to most people and therefore needs constant
practise. It is especially difficult if you spend most of your time playing or
practising alone and requires discipline to force yourself to do it. Alone you
will naturally speed up on the easy parts and slow down on the difficult parts
without realising it. This is not good as over time it will become habit and
create a person that cannot keep time. So you need some external source to
force you out of your comfort zone.
There are aids that you can use such as rhythm machines and metronomes.
The computer is a great resource for this. There are many free online and
downloadable software packages out there that allow you to change the
speed of the rhythm. Also many people, including serious professionals of all
genre use the software package from PG Music called Band in a Box to
enable them to create chord structures and rhythm to aid their practise.
Even so, it is crucial to learn to count OUT LOUD. 1, 2, 3, 4 and 1, &, 2 &, 3,
&, 4, &. Do this with all roll and scale exercises all the time. Eventually you
will be able to do it in your head, and eventually you will do it intuitively.
Play all exercises and rolls with the metronome at a speed that you find
comfortable making no mistakes. Set the metronome slightly faster and play
until you make a few mistakes - that is your practise speed - as that gets
comfortable speed it up a notch. Keep doing this process and over time you
will be playing accurately in time and faster.
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