Shannon writes:

I enjoy your banjo playing very much. I am beginning to play the banjo, and love it. What are some qualities to look for in a Banjo instructor? I have a teacher, but I often feel that he’s interested only in the monthly check!

Dear Shannon,

That’s a big question. I think a lot goes into good teaching, but in the big picture, it can be distilled into a few points:

1. Knowing what is appropriate to teach each particular student (tailored to the most essential, do-able, and desired skills for the kind of playing the student wants to do).

2. Ability to show the student clearly how to learn each skill, through a proper amount of repetition, written or taped help, and tactful correction as the student is learning.

3. Providing a certain amount of friendly interest and patient but persistent expectation, to spur the student’s motivation to practice and improve.

A teacher does not have to be a great musician, or even a highly accomplished one. He/she just needs to know more than the student, and to know what to teach and how.

Banjo Newsletter
will be printing in the June issue a pretty big article I just wrote about how I think beginning banjo players should be taught. I hope banjo teachers will take my ideas to heart, as they have worked very well for years for my students. Students like yourself might also benefit from reading the article, since in effect it’s you who are in charge of your learning program. You can hire or fire a teacher according to whether you think he/she serves your needs.

Without summarizing the article, I’ll just say here that the main point is to show the skills that will enable the learner to play music with other people, starting at the simplest level, and gradually moving up. Learning to play simple rhythm on simple songs is not hard, and if a teacher can group a few beginners together, they can have fun jamming right away, which sparks the motivational fire and builds success on success. Instead, most teachers give tablature to memorize, for solos that the student will have a hard time putting to use in a jam session. Some students can learn all right that way, but many find it a struggle, and lose motivation to practice.

I have two videos for beginners. One is brand new, called “Get Rolling“, which provides over 20 easy songs to play along with, in graduated degrees of difficulty (all relatively simple). I made it so easy that truly anyone who tries can play along. As they progress, three-finger rolls are added in, and get the student hearing and feeling the rhythm of bluegrass picking. The other video, “Beginning Bluegrass Banjo” is a 2-hour course starting from scratch, on the fundamentals of the style, including showing how solos are created, and showing many of the most important rolls and licks. You can find out more by clicking “store” on my web site.

If you find a teacher who is nice and is willing to work with you in the style of my videos, I think you’ll have some good help there. The main thing is, have fun and keep practicing!

Good luck,