Banjo Workshop Notes

Banjo Workshop Notes

I just returned home from our 13th annual Banjo Workshop Cruise to the Caribbean. I wrote an impromptu note to the students that joined me this year and decided it would be helpful to publish on my free banjo lessons blog here at

Hi Everyone,

Wow, I wish the cruise had kept going, I feel like I was just getting to know everyone. I hope you learned new things and are inspired to keep on picking and learning. Sometimes I wish I knew how to make it more fun but I think I put you all in a fun environment and you all certainly had fun together and that meant a lot to me.

I can get pretty dedicated and serious about banjo teaching. I hate to see students get off on the wrong track or waste practice time fussing over things that don't matter much on the bottom line.

Speaking of the bottom line, here are a few tid bits off the top of my head this morning.

1. Be a steady picker.
2. Learn and get a clear sense of where a 4 beat measure starts and stops
3. Learn your songs using muscle memory, a measure or phrase at a time (a phrase can be a few measures strung together)
4. Learn the chords to the songs you know now or before you learn a new song. Know how to execute picking through the chord progression of the song using an even full measure picking pattern, or patterns. This should be a one measure roll or picking pattern that you are very clear where the four beats of the measure start and stop. Its like strumming through the chords pf the song like a guitar or mandolin player does first. The one measure roll just replaces the one measure strumming pattern they use. The other instruments in bluegrass learn the chords first, why should we be any different? Do that before you start learning the melody or tab.
Playing By Ear and Learning the Chords
5. Learn your arrangement first, where the verse and chorus is, A and B parts, repeats are etc.
6. Focus on the big picture, not the minutia of things that are not important, like constantly repeating a phrase out of time, that's a hole you don't want to fall in to.
7. Scruggs Style is basically based on alternating, forward, forward reverse or forward backward picking patterns, There are slight variations of those patterns and the strings you play within in those patterns can change but the patterns or techniques don't. Keep it simple, get good at that and stick to it, it works, ask Earl and all the thousands that can have the same fun by using the style he perfected. Even more advanced techniques are based on the basic principles of three finger "Scruggs Style"  Learning Scruggs Style

Scruggs style takes physical commitment to getting the skills needed. You don't have to become a pro, just be steady, simple, practice enough speed so you can keep up and be smooth...and play like a drummer, its all in the rhythm of the picking, that's the bottom line, get good at that.

I've attached quite a few handouts, things you can print and refer too that we covered in class and more.

1. I have the roll practice one we used.
2. A sheet of one measure combinations of 1/4 notes and 1/8 note timing examples. LEARN THOSE!
3. How to expand on picking thru a chord progression
4. The proper fingers to use for fretting the top 3 or top 2 strings of the chord. THE RIGHT FINGERS ARE IMPORTANT
5. Some rolls to use when fretting just the top two strings. The Melody is often played on the top two strings, 1st and 2nd that is, learn those.
6. I have sample song progressions, practice those, it puts it in context, the melody is somewhere in the chord, if you know the chord positions and locations you are more than half way there.
7. Learn the notes on fretboard, do this one string at a time on the 1st 2nd and 3rd strings.
8. There is a chromatic scale for finding the chords. You can also use that to find the notes on the fretboard too.
9. Learn where the G and D chord positions are and then find the others from there.
10. I have some more advanced other tabs mostly from my book The Banjo Encyclopedia, stay away from those until you are ready. There is tab for Turkey in the Straw, If you learn that first, you wont be learning all the important things above first that you absolutely need. BUT, you can spend some time doing whatever you want too, and its always ok to skip around in books and methods.

I have three DVDs in particular that cover many of the things I did in the workshop and more.
These are DVDs that teach things that are hard to teach in books, how to practice, the big picture and to play along, which is the best practice. Playing along with others or with a DVD or cd gives you reps which is what smooth's your picking out, gives you experience, teaches to correct mistakes on the fly and improves your tone.

1. Playing By Ear and Learning the Chords (This is all about playing rolls and chords and goes deeper into it)
2. How To Practice Banjo (This one explains what's important to practice, how to learn a song from tab properly, fretting hand exercises and other skill and technique building tips)
3. Banjo Jamming and Play Along and How to find the Major, Minor and Seventh Banjo chords without a chord chart (This one gives you a practice place and also I explain on video how to find all the Major, Minor and 7th Chords like I did in class)

I have discounts when you get more than one and if you see something you don't have or want you can call me directly at 866-322-6567, you can order online with a discount and free US shipping from the page link below too.

This year I came home from the Banjo Cruise really hoping that you all will return again, it was a great group and I'd like to get to know all of you more. Like getting the band back together.

Thanks again! Ross Nickerson

Posted by Ross Nickerson Home, Instruction Articles 0

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