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Learning Banjo Online from Germany - Student Perspective

learning banjo in germany - view from the porch

I have been a student of Tony Trischka at ArtistWorks for almost a year now. Last year I knew nothing about the 5-string banjo and very little about bluegrass in general. I live in the center of Germany where, sad to say, there are likely no banjo players at all. That’s my view from our porch in the picture.

Living in Germany is like living in a bluegrass desert with a little oasis here and there. Not much to speak of a Banjo Culture. In the south of Germany, especially in the Munich area you can find some bluegrass musicians and some banjo players. Rüdiger Helbig and Adiaha Burgmüller are players that might be known abroad.

In Switzerland it's somewhat different. They have a quite big bluegrass scene there. I guess almost every Banjo player knows Jens and Uwe Krüger but they are "out of the wilderness" now and live in the United States. As you can imagine the Video Exchange® method at ArtistWorks is the best way to learn banjo here in Germany.

I stumbled upon the banjo more or less by accident. In March 2014 I became diagnosed with a condition called frozen shoulder. My right shoulder became stiff and movements were very painful. To play acoustic guitar was quite difficult because of the big body of my dreadnought guitar.

I was at my cousin’s house when I saw an old unused banjo hanging on the wall, so I asked him if I could borrow it for a while. Playing that beast was not painful to my shoulder at all, and it only took a few days until I fell in love with the 5-string banjo.

learning banjo in germany - student perspective

In the following days I searched the internet for basic information like “how to tune a banjo” and “how to pick or strum the banjo.” Finally I found banjohangout.org where I saw an advertisement for ArtistWorks. At that time I had no clue who Tony Trischka was but it took just a few minutes searching the internet to realize that Tony is one of the most influential banjo players alive today. So I thought, if I cannot find a banjo teacher here in Germany, why not choose the best teacher online?

When I've started to learn with ArtistWorks I had almost no experience with bluegrass at all. In the 1070s I listened to a lot of James Taylor, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, Joni Mitchell, Marshall Tucker Band, Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie and Paul Butterfield - but Bluegrass was a kind of an exotic thing to me. My first encounter with bluegrass was through the banjo. So the music of Bela Fleck, Jens Krüger, Ryan Cavanough, Noam Pikelny & Tony Trischka was what I listened first to and man, I loved it from the very first second.

Besides the lessons in the curriculum, ArtistWorks also has a wonderful source of interviews and performances with Special Guests. Not only does it add insight to the different approaches and techniques of the masters, but also having access to their personal backgrounds and stories is very important to me.

sammy shelor - california banjo extravaganza

I was very impressed by Sammy Shelor. There are some videos of him from playing at the California Banjo Extravaganza 2013 that I like very much. I have tried to come close as possible to Sammy Shelor’s driving forward rolls in my playing ever since. Other Special Guests I find amazing inspiration and advice from are Jens Krüger, Bill Keith, and the Single String Exploration with Noam Pikelny which gave me challenges I can work on for the rest of my life.

The Video Exchanges are the best part of learning online at ArtistWorks. It helps so much to focus on a musical goal, so when Tony give me an assignment it's easy to keep on practicing until I'm "ripe" for another VE.

learning banjo online in germany - student submission

First of all you don't want to be embarrassed by your awkward playing, secondly you are looking forward to get Tony’s always encouraging response and the encouraging comments of your fellow students. My experience is that his comments on my playing always hit the point, either as a correction or as motivation to go further in the right direction.

I recently told him in a VE that he is able to see and release the "nuggets" in his students. So his responses are very motivating to keep on to learning your stuff. When I get a new assignment from Tony, I first go backs to the lessons and watch the technique several times. Then I take a look at the VEs from my fellow students for on that same technique.

learning banjo in germany - video exchange with tony trischka

I like to print out the tab for the lesson so I can get more familiar with the notes. If I can identify certain roll patterns I first concentrate on the rolls rather than to practice the whole tune.

The camera has become a second teacher to me because it shows exactly what you are able to play rather than what you think you can play or what you dream to play some day. So I strongly recommend to establish a friendly relationship with your recording device.

Right now I practice 30-90 minutes a day - kisses and hugs to my wonderful wife who allows me to do this! In the morning I do nothing other than practice banjo rolls. Then I have my business day at work. In the evening I have two 30 minutes practice times.

I love music and with ArtistWorks it’s much easier to keep going further with your instrument and keep up with your practice schedule. Another great thing about it is the Music Theory course they offer to all the schools, taught by Jonathan Coppersmith.

music theory lessons at artistworks

Going through the Music Theory lessons at ArtistWorks was an interesting thing to me. I already knew some theory but only in the German language. So I had to learn all the English words that are used in music theory - that was great and quite the challenge.

Now my understanding of music is much deeper than before. The fact that I am a non-English native speaker and passed the online quizzes shows the outstanding teaching qualities of Jonathan Coppersmith. This man is a great teacher and he is able to give you portions of the sometimes dry material that you really can digest without getting a pain in your musical stomach.

My first goal when I've started with ArtistWorks was was just to have fun in sessions. 

This goal I already achieved. My next goal is to set up a bluegrass band in our area. I have already started to find and contact some musicians. We have had some mini sessions here in our area and it seems we will have a group soon or at least a pool of bluegrass musicians for sessions on a regular basis.

learning banjo in germany - rolf and friends

Learn banjo online with Tony Trischka at http://artistworks.com/tony-trischka

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