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The Banjo Encyclopedia - Bluegrass Banjo from A to Z

Learn bluegrass banjo
The Banjo Encyclopedia
"Bluegrass Banjo from A to Z"

by Ross Nickerson

Purchase here at the author Ross Nickerson's website

The Spiral/Wirebound Banjo Encyclopedia editions are available only at We take them in to be sprial bound so they will easier for you to use and learn from.

Wait, there is another reason to buy The Banjo Encyclopedia at We now are the only dealer that includes a hard copy CD disc. The publisher Mel bay has now gone to a download the CD off their website format. If you buy this book on Amazon or from any other online dealer, it will not be spiral bound or have a hard copy CD.

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The Banjo Encyclopedia, "Bluegrass Banjo from A to Z"

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Sound clips from the Banjo Encyclopedia and Ross Nickerson Scruggs Style Instruction

Hear Ross N sound clip of John Henry from the Advanced Chapter

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...what a book!!! Blown away at the content...this book is gold...great curriculum!! class exemplary teacher...tailored instruction...great resource.

...most comprehensive work...a "must have"...all will benefit...Ross' leadership and clarity of instruction is tremendous..…

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Note from Ross Nickerson

Here is the description of The Banjo Encyclopedia I wrote for Mel Bay Publications
. I've published the Table of contents below for the Banjo Encyclopedia too. I hope you will find it to be a great help in your banjo playing goals. It means a lot to me that I've received so many wonderful comments about this book It means even more to me that so many are learning from it. I was glad to do it. thanks, Ross Nickerson
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The Banjo Encyclopedia is a comprehensive, in-depth banjo instructional book and CD that covers in depth the intricacies of bluegrass banjo playing, including numerous topics that have been overlooked in banjo instruction to date. The Banjo Encyclopedia can take a student from the beginning, to intermediate, and right through to more advanced styles of banjo playing. Ross Nickerson uses his many years of experience helping hundreds of aspiring banjo pickers by offering the banjo student an opportunity to learn in a practical, straightforward manner. This wide-ranging banjo instructional book will focus on many techniques that will help every aspect of a banjo player's musicianship while simplifying many subjects in the learning process and comes with a 99 track CD. The Banjo Encyclopedia is undoubtedly one of the most complete five-string banjo books on the market today and a must for every banjo player's collection.

...Just a note to say thanks for writing the "Banjo Encyclopedia".   I have 6 other Banjo "How to" books and while they all had relevant material in them none had the over all structure and sequence that yours' does.  I have pretty much filed all the other books and am concentrating on working through the Banjo Encyclopedia exclusively.  My overall progress has just shot through the roof !  You have indeed paved the road to success for learning the banjo and the journey is fulfilling and exciting.  The advice you give is exceptional and I've found nothing to match in any other book I have and I have all the ones that are highly recommended.
Thanks Ross for providing an old Geezer like myself with a surefire path to success in learning the banjo.  I mention you and the website every chance I get.  Yours' I believe is the pinnacle method for learning the banjo.

......Now that I see the qualities of this gentleman, I am REALLY looking forward to meeting him and thanking him for the effort it must have taken to put this together!….

It's 240 pages long, has 17 chapters, and has a 99 track CD.

I'm confident if you buy the book and CD you will be very happy with it.
A lot of work went into this one.

Click here to view the Table Of Contents  

Special Wirebound version available only at

The publisher wasn't able to wire bound the Banjo Encyclopedia due to its size and other considerations. The Banjo Encyclopedia is normally perfect bound with a crease so you can flatten it out, but as a extra favor to my customers and make it easier to learn from we are taking the books in and having them wire bound. One of my students paid 8.00 to have this done. We sell them for only 3 additional dollars to cover the cost.

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Other Dealers: This page is copyrighted, please do not copy the table of contents in to your website.

Banjo Encyclopedia Table of Contents

About the Author
Foreword by Ross Nickerson
Tips On Learning The Most From The Book

Chapter 1: The Basics

Holding the Banjo, Using the Picks
How to Read Tablature
Parts on a Standard Five-String Banjo
Tuning Your Banjo
Right-Hand Positioning
Overcoming difficulties
Final tips on right-hand positioning
Left-Hand Positioning
Do's and don'ts for common problems with left-hand technique
Photos of left-hand positions
Final Note

Chapter 2: The Right Hand
Rhythm & Timing
Rhythm and timing exercises
Learning the Basic Rolls
More tips on rolls
Earl Scruggs' contribution
Examples of basic rolls
Timing Review
Using a metronome
Some suggestions about using a metronome
Timing exercises using a metronome
Advanced Rolls
Working with and learning some advanced rolls
Working with the thumb
Working with the index and middle fingers
Middle finger exercises
Index finger exercises
Exercising the index and middle fingers together
Developing Tone and Dynamics
Angle of attack
Balance of tone
More about positioning
The effect of picks on tone
Dynamics in your banjo playing
Dynamic examples
Developing Speed
Technique factors in speed building
Psychology of speed
What if I make a mistake?
How hard should I pick?
Should I use a metronome?
Always use a metronome?
Speed-building metronome?
Tone Exercises
Advanced Rolls for Practice
Final Note

Chapter 3: The Left-Hand
Finger Exercises
Several reminders for practicing the exercises in this chapter
A reminder before you start the exercises
Left-Hand Exercises
Left-hand exercises using thirds
Exercises for learning the notes on the fretboard in the G scale
Learning tips
Ways to Improve Slides, Hammer-ons, Pull-offs, and Chokes
Tips and reminders on slides, pull-offs, chokes and hammer-ons
Improving slides
Improving hammer-ons
Improving pull-offs
Improving chokes or bends
Adding and Improving Slides, Hammer-ons, Pull-offs, and Chokes in a Song
Banks of the Ohio - basic version
Banks of the Ohio - with slurs (slides, pull-offs, etc.)
Bury Me Beneath the Willow - basic version
Bury Me Beneath the Willow - with slurs (slides, pull-offs, etc.)
Final Note

Chapter 4: Practice Habits and Practicing Priorities
Practice builds confidence
Practice priorities and making the best use of practice time
How often should I practice and for how long?
Your practice area
Setting goals
Lesson Plans
Practice outline
Practice outline example
Splitting up practice time in the lesson plan
Working on Physical Challenges and Overcoming Obstacles
Isolating areas of practice
Tablature Discussion
Using CD, Video or DVD
Suggestions for memorizing
Working on the left and right hand separately while memorizing
A few more general suggestions on memorizing
Final Note

Chapter 5: Earl Scruggs' Style
Learning the Basics of Scrugg's Style Picking
Accenting Notes
Accenting Exercise
Bringing out the Melody
Sitting on Top of the World
Blues in the Scruggs' Style
Nine Pound Hammer
Learning a Breakdown in Scruggs' Style
Banjo Students' Breakdown
Final Note

Chapter 6: The Melodic Style
Melodic Style Exercises
Learning Songs in the Melodic Style
Sailor's Hornpipe
Turkey in the Straw
John Hardy
Playing in Harmony in the Melodic Style
Devil's Dream - Lead part
Devil's Dream - Harmony part
Playing the Blues in the Melodic Style
Blues Scale Melodic Exercise
Final Note

Chapter 7: The Single-String Style
Exercises Using the Single-String Style
Learning Some Scales in the Single-String Style
Chord shape single-string exercises
Don Reno Style Exercise
The Darktown Stutters' Ball
Learning Songs in the Single-String Style
Wildwood Flower - basic single-string version
Wildwood Flower - more complex single-string version
Arkansas Traveler
Whiskey Before Breakfast

Chapter 8: Mixing the Scruggs', Melodic and Single-String Technique, Learning to Play
Up the Neck, and Learning More About the Blues

Mixing the Scruggs', Melodic and Single-String Styles
Banjo licks that serve a similar purpose in each style
A Song Mixing the Three Styles With Some Blues
The Scruggs, Melodic, Single String Blues
Playing Up the Neck
Licks serving the same purpose, up and down the neck
Learning Both Down and Up the Neck Versions of a Song, for Comparison
She'll Be Coming Around the Mountain - lower neck version
She'll Be Coming Around the Mountain - up the neck version
Bonus Song, Mixing the Styles
Oh, Susanna
Learning More About the Blues
Blues Scales
Making Common Banjo Licks "Bluesy"
Blues comparison licks
Learning the blues scale exercise
The Blues Scales Blues
Another Song Mixing the Styles
Whiskey Before Breakfast
Final Note

Chapter 9: Rhythm, Chords and Playing Backup
Learning Chords and More About Them
F form chords
D form chords
Barre form chords
More about chords
Chromatic scale for finding any chord
Chord Inversions for G, G7 and G Minor
Chord Inversions for D, D7 and D Minor
Chord Exercises - Blackberry Blossom
Chord Progressions for Practice
Augmented, Diminished and More on Seventh Chords
Augmented chords
Diminished chords
Learning More About Scruggs' Style Backup
Scruggs' style backup lick examples
Passing Tones
An exercise using bass run passing tones
Bass Run Passing Tone Exercises With Chords
Four Examples of Playing Backup
Backup example for verse and chorus
Song Example for Verse and Chorus Backup
Playing backup on a slower tempo song
Slow Backup Song Example
Backing up a fiddle
Fiddle Backup Example
Waltz backup
Waltz Backup Example
Using Seventh Chords
Seventh chord form chart
Seventh Chord Exercise
Final Note

Chapter 10: Improvising and Learning to Play by Ear
Taking what you know and turning it into ten things
Improvising in small steps
Thinking in terms of playing by the chords
Improvising practice assignments
Sample Chord Progression Using a Specific Roll
Reverse Roll Chord Breakdown
Building Up Your Chord Changing and Locating Ability
Sliding into the Chord Exercises
Tip on changing chords
Recovering from mistakes
Knowledge of the neck
Notes on the fretboard chart
More on Improvising
Plugging in licks that work with the chord changes in the song, and other
Comments on improvising
Improvising using chords
Writing your own arrangements and playing songs that you have never
Heard before
Learning to play without tablature
Cautions when improvising
Importance and joy of not using tab
Final Note

Chapter 11: Beginnings, Turnarounds and Endings
Common bluegrass song beginnings or "kickoffs"
Bluegrass Song Kickoff Example
Pig in a Pen
"Bluesy" Kickoff Example
Kickin' Blues
Basic turnarounds
Some common endings to bluegrass songs
Final Tips on Beginnings, Turnarounds and Endings
Final Note

Chapter 12: Jamming
Priorities in Preparation for Jamming
Preparation and practice
Practice timing
Know you chords and how to back others up
Learn songs that others should know and standard bluegrass
Taking the scare out of it
Learning How Standard Bluegrass Arrangements Work
Typical bluegrass vocal arrangement
Popular Vocal and Instrumental Songs at Jam Sessions
Other Tips and Suggestions for Learning How to Jam with Others
No One is Perfect and Everyone Makes mistakes
Final Note

Chapter 13: Adapting an Easy Melody to a Bluegrass Banjo Arrangement

Music Reading Basics Made Easy
Learning the notes
Counting time
Creating a Bluegrass Banjo Arrangement Using Quarter and Eighth Notes
When the Saints Go Marching In
Red River Valley
Final Note

Chapter 14: Playing in Different Keys, Tunings and Using a Capo
Using a Capo
Types of capos and tips on using them
Capoing the fifth string
Playing Chords in Different Keys
The I - VII chords in seven different keys - chart
Playing a song using roman numerals rather than chord names
Chord Progression Practice
Learning to Play the Same Song in Three Different Keys
Don't This Road Look Rough and Rocky - Key of G
Don't This Road Look Rough and Rocky - Key of C
Don't This Road Look Rough and Rocky - Key of D
C Tuning
Wildwood Flower
D Tuning
Home Sweet Home
Jesse James
G Minor Tuning
Pretty Polly

Chapter 15: Playing at Slower Tempos and ¾ Time
Different Techniques Used in Playing Slower Songs
Learning Some Songs in ¾ Time
Some suggestions for learning the songs
Silent Night
Amazing Grace
The Streets of Laredo

Chapter 16: Banjo Maintenance by Mike Munford

Introduction by Ross Nickerson
Preface by Mike Munford
Bridges and tone
Tuning, intonation and setting the bridge
Changing the Strings
More on Strings
The Nut
The 5th string nut
5th String Spikes
Actual spike location
The head
Action Adjustments
Neck and Resonator Woods
Good Tools
General Maintenance Tips
Final Note

Chapter 17: Advanced Song Section
John Henry
Train 45
Glossary of Common Banjo Terms

Closing Comments and Credits
CD Track Sheet

Back to Banjo Encyclopedia home page

Banjo EncyclopediaThe Banjo Encyclopedia
"Bluegrass Banjo from from A to Z"
by Ross Nickerson

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Special wire bound Banjo Encyclopedia available only at

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