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Banjo Lessons: How to Practice

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[MUSIC]
Okay, how much have you practiced today?
There is my question.
Well, hopefully some, hopefully a lot.
I know it's hard when you're a little bit
older, you have a job,
you have a family perhaps.
And I know from my own experience that I
don't always practice
quite as much as I would like.
But this is what I do for a living, so I
have the banjo in my hands a lot.
But when you practice you get better.
It's an amazing thing.
And there were no absolute rules for what
you should practice,
how long you should practice, anything
like that.
One thing I would say though, even before
we start talking about practicing,
make sure your banjo is out of its case,
in a safe place.
But if it's wa, stuck away in a case in a
closet,
you're gonna be less apt to play it.
If it's staring right at you there, you're
gonna be much more apt to play it.
So.
There are various instrument stands you
can get that you can use to just have your
banjo hanging out in your practice room,
or your den or your bedroom.
Or, wherever it is that you have a room
for, where you practice.
And I, not to dis any company at all, but
please do not get one of
those stands that has kind of the wishbone
wiggly thing, because I had a banjo that
was on one of those, and it just got
unstable and fell off and broke the neck.
And a friend of mine had the exact same
stand, unbeknownst to me, and about
a month ago as of this, as of my speaking
to you, had exactly the same thing happen.
The best kind of stand to get is one of
those hanging stands where there's
a tripod on the bottom.
And and the banjo just hangs from a little
kind of a crotchy thing here, just hangs
down.
And it's not resting on anything
particularly.
So avoid that wishbone construction.
Maybe that's okay for guitars, but not for
banjos.
If you have one, disassemble it and sell
it at your next yard sale, or
put it on eBay immediately.
And do not sell it to another banjo
player.
Or you can just have it sitting in the
case with the case open
unless you have a sheep dog that likes to
jump around a lot.
But if, if you can do that.
Just as long as it's out, so you can just,
if you have a spare moment you can just
pick it up.
In terms of practicing there are a number
of ways of looking at it,
one of which is to just kind of when you
have a spare moment,
you're hanging out and you got five
minutes, pick it up and play.
And I think that's great.
I know Bela feels that that's a really
good way to go.
Bela Fleck that is has a really, that's
his feeling about it.
Just play it when you're ready to, when
you want to.
Don't force yourself to play.
And I think there's a lot to be said for
that, and
it's certainly has worked for him.
The other way is to say okay I'm gonna set
an hour aside every day.
And some people need to structure their
time if
they have a full time job and family.
And say okay, once the kids are asleep at
10 o'clock I practice from 10 to 11 or.
They get up at an ungodly hour and
practice from 6 to 7 before they go to
work in the morning, something like that.
And if that's how you operate with the,
let's, I say hypothetically an hour a day,
that's a nice amount of time to be able to
practice.
If you can do more, all to the better.
And what I suggest, and I have a whole DVD
about this for Homespun Tapes.
That gives you much more much more
information related to all this and
some various exercises, and it's called
Practice Techniques.
But on that DVD what I talk about is
dividing your time into your hour,
hypothetical hour's time into quarters.
And for the first quarter just.
And this is maybe not just for, maybe not
for beginners as much, but
once you've been playing a little bit.
And if you've been working through these
lessons what you can do is for
the first 15 minutes or so, just work on
basic core concepts.
In other words, work on just rolls.
Just.
[MUSIC]
With a metronome.
[MUSIC]
Just work on alternating thumb rolls,
maybe do that for half a minute.
Maybe move your thumb to the fourth string
once in a while.
Just with the metronome and not in a very
fast tempo, or forward backward rolls.
For, Osborne rolls and just stack them.
And if you want to add a little bit of a
left hand.
Or if you're de learning the thirds.
[MUSIC]
Maybe do some of these exercises.
Or the Osborne roll, or again, with the
metronome.
[MUSIC]
Or if you're getting into
the melodic style, do some melodic scales.
Or the single string.
[MUSIC]
Whatever the core thing you're working on.
Now for the second 15 minutes, I recommend
working on a tune that you've
already played or I'm sorry, a tune that's
new to you.
If you have teacher or if you're working
out of something here in the,
in this on this site, whatever you were
last working on.
And, you know, maybe the thing the, what
you worked on before, the lesson before
and this current one that you're working
on or the next thing you're gonna work on.
Spend 15 minutes working on whatever's
current for you.
Then the next 15 minutes, go back to some
of the past lessons and
make sure those are still in your fingers
and you understand them,
and that everything is copacetic with some
of your older material.
There's no way you're gonna remember
everything you've learned over time.
I mean, I've been playing for 46 years
right now,
and I've forgotten quite a bit, but I
think every,
everything you learn adds to your
understanding of the instrument.
Even if you don't remember a specific
tune, maybe there was a technique in there
that was really important that helped you
move forward.
So spend some time going back to some of
the older material.
Then for the last 15 minutes, noodle
around, just have some fun.
Have some time where you just kinda pick
up the banjo and
don't worry about what you're gonna play.
Just.
[MUSIC]
Let's say you never played B-flat.
[MUSIC]
Figure out what
the one four five progression is in it, in
B-flat.
Which is B-flat, the four is E-flat and
then F is the five.
Just use some
simple rolls.
You see, when you're B flat that fifth
string sounds really pretty.
[MUSIC]
That's the sixth note of the scale.
One, two, three, four, five, six.
And it's right, well it's just built right
in there on the fifth string.
Then go up here.
It's kinda pretty.
[MUSIC]
I'm just noodling around.
That's all you have to do, or
[MUSIC]
if you're just working on G.
Maybe what's that sound like,
if you go up to the first fret of the
fourth string.
Maybe even one more fret.
[MUSIC]
One more.
[MUSIC]
It's kinda pretty.
[MUSIC]
Or
this double, if you've gotten to the point
where you're learning about this double,
forward roll lick.
[MUSIC]
And
you can do the same thing using that roll,
or that series of rolls.
[MUSIC]
Or
you can try to write a tune, sit down and
compose a tune.
Try to write something in 30 seconds to a
minute, or
write something in some key you've never
played in before.
Write something with harmonics.
[MUSIC]
It's just a wide open field.
Just have fun.
Or just improvise off a tune.
Sometimes I'll just sat down and play,
I'll sit down and play some tune for
five minutes.
Like Little Maggie and just take break
after break after break, just improvising,
doing stuff like, you know,.
[MUSIC]
Just noodling around.
And, and of course that's some more
advanced stuff but.
[SOUND] If you're just doing Boil Them
Cabbage Down, just.
[MUSIC]
Maybe just change it around a little bit
and, sometimes when you're just messing
around stuff comes out.
[MUSIC]
That rather than going,.
[MUSIC]
I'm gonna go.
[MUSIC]
Just play quarter notes,
two quarter notes, second string, first
string.
[MUSIC]
Get some
harmonics on the seventh fret of the first
two strings.
[MUSIC]
And let go of each one.
[MUSIC]
And of course playing with people,
which is a little bit outside the
parameters of practicing, but
that's one way that you'll really see
yourself moving forward.
Is when you're playing with other people,
and I've mentioned this elsewhere in here,
but I can't stress that enough.
And again, Earl Scruggs says, right from
the beginning,
you should be playing with people cuz it
teaches you about backup and
playing in time, improvising, playing
different keys, and so on and so forth.
Plus you build up a nice social network.
So keep at that jamming thing and.
So I think that's about it.
Again, if you're just beginning and you're
just learning some chords and,
and just, maybe know just Boil Them
Cabbage Down, then just work on that.
But see if you can change it around a
little bit.
And and maybe break it down to the
individual roles.
And and again, while you're practicing.
I believe I've mentioned this elsewhere.
If you get to a point where you're stuck
on something and
you're doing Boil Them Cabbage down like
this, and getting a little speed going.
[MUSIC]
And you have a little trouble and
you slow way down, then you go back
uptempo.
[MUSIC]
And
this is a, is an important part of
practicing.
Then just loop that section that you're
having trouble with.
So, if you're having trouble with that C
chord, quarter note and two forward rolls.
[MUSIC]
Just repeat it with a metronome,
or the drum machine or whatever you're
using to keep time.
[MUSIC]
Until you get the speed up on it.
[MUSIC]
[SOUND] So you go.
[MUSIC]
And
that'll get you a much more even kind of a
sound, so everything's in time and
up to tempo.
All right.
Good luck.
Practice.
[MUSIC]