Beginners: What do you need?

Several people have asked me to make some videos for beginners, so I guess I will. I’ll start with the very basics, like how I hold the banjo and how I tune it. I’ll also cover how I approach the basic clawhammer stroke.

A bit of a caveat: I’ll assume that beginners plan to play all sorts of music, so I won’t focus exclusively on what’s considered correct in the old-time community. I’ll just show what has worked for me.

Are any beginners reading this? If so, what do you want to see that isn’t already covered by other YouTube videos? Please leave a comment.

10 Responses to “Beginners: What do you need?”

  1. 1 Eric March 30, 2009 at 2:04 am

    I’d call myself a beginner. I think most of your stuff is way out of my reach without really sitting down and spending a lot of time with it.

    I’ve been going through the Ken Perlman video and that’s pretty good. It’s bite-size and progresses in difficulty and introduces different techniques slowly and gradually, but is still easy to skip around in if I want to learn a specific tune. It’s great.

    I’ve also been reading a bit of the How and Tao of Old Time Banjo (I think that’s what it’s called). It’s not a very good book but it does cover a lot of stuff. It’s very messy and scattered, but mostly I have been trying to find blues and ragtime banjo stuff and it’s nearly impossible (recordings, sure; books/videos, there’s basically two).

    As far as what I would like to see, really just simple stuff. I’d love to see simple introductions of different styles and how they very from the standard bum-ditty. Maybe some up-picking, various uses of drop thumb, which I’m still trying to ‘get’, especially versions of songs with and without the drop thumb.

  2. 2 Toni Armstrong Jr. March 30, 2009 at 8:09 am

    I am a lower-intermediate clawhammer player looking to expand. I know OF many advanced skills, but cannot yet apply them with speed and accuracy. My goal is to learn to play some polkas and a few relatively simple jazzy songs. My suggestion if you do things for those of us who are not very skilled, be sure to slowly enough that we can really see what you’re doing. Thanks! PS My cousin Deb looks just like you – it’s uncanny. She’s a creative one, too – owns and runs a butterfly farm in California.

  3. 3 Cathy March 30, 2009 at 9:56 am

    Thanks for your comments. I should clarify that this isn’t a change of direction for me. I’m thinking of doing just a handful of “basics” videos, keeping my main focus on offering musicality tips for intermediate and advanced clawhammer players.

    I’ve put drop thumb on the list, since many people seem to have questions about it. And I’m pleased to know that I have a double in California who runs a butterfly farm. I used to think I wanted to run a donkey farm.

  4. 4 bill March 30, 2009 at 10:21 am

    Hi cathy
    can you always be sure to tell us your tuning—you do mostly but not always! I always presume that it is always a downstroke and never up? Is that right? I like it too if you play through slowly a couple of times and then normal speed! That is so helpful! Also your demo of with and without syncopation is great too!
    Brilliant stuff—thanks

  5. 5 Viper March 30, 2009 at 10:32 am

    Perhaps you could focus on how a beginner can break down an old-time tune and put a new spin on it. Show us how to isolate the melody and what notes need to stay and what we can throw away. I know you cover some of that in your beyond bum-ditty videos, but sometimes it’s just a little beyond my abilities. As a n00b I don’t quite understand the basics of deconstructing a song.

  6. 6 Cathy March 30, 2009 at 11:25 pm

    Bill and Viper, thanks for your suggestions. I think they’ll be helpful for a lot of players, not just the newer ones.

    Bill, you’re right, I play melody using a downstroke. I very occasionally strum up, but when I do it clearly sounds like a strum and it’s not on a main melody note.

  7. 7 Kevin April 11, 2009 at 6:32 am

    Hi Cathy

    I’m just begining the banjo and have been watching your videos. I am amazed at how someone can get to play at your level. I know, I know you’ll say parctice, practice!
    I was wondering if you could look back when you first started with the banjo and show us what exercises, routines or workouts you think helped you the most to develop as a banjo player. Thanx.

  8. 8 Joe Lyon April 22, 2009 at 10:28 pm

    Hi Cathy

    I love your fresh aproach

    What I would like to see is you going through the literature on beginner tuition – tweaking it to reflect the insights you have found; furnish examples in really easy, familiar and beuatiful tunes.

    Further you should write this stuff and then back it up with videos.

  9. 9 Lisa pixley February 26, 2010 at 3:31 am

    This is an old thread but I’m so excited to have found you that I am posting anyway. I’ve been playing for 3 months. Mostly I’m doing all the old exercises. scrugs and bum-diddy frailing. I’m not a musician, I have nothing to prove with speed, and I’m not all that interested in bluegrass.  I cant seem to find a teacher in my area and am enjoying the many teachers on youtube. I love the more slippery jowly Appalachian sounds as well as the more avaunt gaurde uses of this instrument. Possessed by Paul James for example. I don’t mind repetition and practice, that’s partly what I’m in it for, a practice, but I want to be excited about it. I would love to approach learning it differently. Maybe learn more sexy, simple, and sultry songs and sounds that I can spend time perfecting and nuancing. Or anything… Oh Suzanna was wonderful in it’s way, when broken apart and slowed down. You get the idea. I’m not suggesting anything different than the other posters, I’m really kind of just begging.

  10. 10 Lisa Pixley February 26, 2010 at 2:47 pm

    My last message was garbled for some reason? I would love to learn some alternative methods. I am excited about the sultry sounds that the banjo is capable of making. I am not all that interested in Bluegrass sound but am resigned to practicing my Scrug’s roll and learning the traditional folk tunes. What I would like to learn are simple songs and sounds that I can revel in practicing and nuancing.I lean towards the Avant garde with my work and want to approach learning the banjo in the same way, as an exploration. Also, alternative rhythms. I was watching one you-tube video that you were drumming the head with an Arabic rhythm. I would like to learn how to be more percussive with the banjo and wonder how you would go about teaching that.

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