Dale asks:
I am watching/using your Bluegrass Slow Jam video and am having some beginner problems. I am using a book to try and learn songs but I am very slow to remember and have not really gotten anything down pat. Nothing up to any kind of speed. Also I have never played anything other then this banjo in my life. No musical background and can’t hear the chord changes.

So a banjo hangout member sent me his copy of your video to learn from so I might find some enjoyment from this banjo. Up until now it has been lots of practice work and no fun. I have gotten real discouraged and ready to quit a couple of times and the BHO members kept dragging me up again. So here I still am. Now I know that I am not going to master this thing over night but I do enjoy the pace that you have on this video.

Pete writes:

I’m glad you’re finding the video helpful. It happens I disagree with the learning approach of learning “songs” (meaning lead arrangements in Scruggs style) first. I think rhythm playing should be taught first, with good chording, and then a person should join in with bluegrass jamming, at slow speeds.

Unfortunately, most instructors don’t teach anything about jamming, nor do they facilitate jams. They instead teach people to “recite” tablature, which I assure you is only a fraction of what it takes to learn to actually *play* the style.

The fact that you’ve gotten discouraged doesn’t surprise me, because I think the kind of teaching/learning you’ve done so far tends to be a dead end, especially because it doesn’t lead to successful jamming. Now that you’re oriented more toward jamming, I hope you have a better time.

I can make the chords like you show them in the beginning of the video above the fifth fret but can’t follow you when you are playing chords down around the 5th to seventh frets.

The purpose of this video was not to show a variety of banjo techniques, but to give you the opportunity to play along. As I teach on the video, playing backup just means doing whatever you know how to do that will follow the chords and the beat, and sound good in context of the jam. You don’t have to worry about duplicating what I do. As you learn more techniques on the banjo, your playing will develop variety, like what you see me doing. That will come from your other study of the banjo.

Also can you point out a simple roll that can be done to those tunes so I can do something besides the chopping thing.

Any roll at all, if timed right with the rhythm, should sound fine. One roll that’s easy to synchronize to the beat is the TITM roll (alternating thumb). This is the roll I suggest the viewer use when playing along with my introductory video Get Rolling. It sounds good, and is pretty easy to do and to link to the beat.

I hope you’ll take some time to look at the beginners materials on my web site, as they try to point novice players in the directions I feel are most productive and satisfying for a person trying to learn to play enjoyable music.