Scott from Wichita, KS writes:

I’m thinking about entering the Winfield banjo competition next summer, and I’m thinking about what that involves. Any thoughts or advise you might have on that subject will be greatly appreciated, including recommendations on possible songs I might use. I’ve thought I might polish up “Blackjack” and maybe “Black Mountain Rag” but also have some pretty good tab for “Welcome to New York” and “C G (Country Gentlemen?) Express” both Bill Emerson songs, right?

Warmest regards,


Dear Scott [a former basic-skills and then intermediate Banjo Camper, by the way, now performing regularly],

I’m not the best one to ask about contest playing, but here are a few pointers:

    1. The pieces themselves are not so important, though it’s good to stay away from hackneyed ones (on your list, only Blackjack might possibly be near that category). The material is usually used as a vehicle for your interpretation, hot licks or whatever.
    2. Contests are judged partly on content, but I think it’s great to stress execution: smoothness, clarity, tone, accuracy, as well as liveliness and comfort level. That all amounts to practice, and practicing into a tape recorder followed by listening (especially later, say, in your car) will help a great deal.
    3. Due to nervousness that’s bound to occur, it will help a lot to get your arrangement started, start practicing it early (like this month), working out every bug you hear. Finalize it a month before the contest, so you can practice it in its entirety and get it deep into muscle memory. That will be a great safety net if your mind should falter. Of course, breathing deeply, and all the other stage fright tips from Banjo Camp will apply!

Good luck,

Dr. Banjo