Branching Out On the Banjo – Vol. 1
Patterns, techniques, and a “road map to the banjo neck” will give everyone from experienced beginners to advanced players new ways of spinning out your own licks, or learning those of the masters. The emphasis is on do-able, good-sounding, versatile ideas that work in both solos and backup. If you’re in a rut, this will open up endless possibilities for new realms of creativity!
“Of all the videos I have from a wide variety of instructors, your ‘Branching Out’ set are the ones that I go back to again and again.”
“A veritable encyclopedia of techniques that can be used for a long time as a reference. Each time I view it I see new things to work on.”
“I’ve never had much luck learning from videos in the past, but this video is really well done, fun to learn from, and it’s given me a lot of new ideas.”
Volume 1: A Treasury of Techniques
110 minutes with 18-page booklet. Dozens of left hand chord groups, versatile rolls and licks that use them. Chord vamping and rhythm patterns for fast, medium, slow, and waltz tempos. The basics of chord theory taught briefly and simply, including building 6th, 7th, 9th, minor chords and knowing when to use them. Learn the licks as well as many ways to vary them.
- Favorite up-the-neck Scruggs licks, movable positions, more.
- Solos for Back Up and Push (C) Essential parts of Theme Time, Powwow the Indian Boy
- Backup for Life’s Railway to Heaven, Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes, Gone But Not Forgotten, Blue Moon of Kentucky.
From Pete, about "Branching Out on the Banjo" (September 2017)
It’s been 25 years since I put out Branching Out On the Banjo (Volumes 1 and 2) — designed as the most efficient way I know for sprucing up both breaks and backup, and applicable to any key, and whatever tempo, slow or up-tempo. It’s a road map to interesting variations all over the banjo neck. This way of expanding banjo knowledge is not about memorizing exact melodic licks or any specific licks…. it’s about expanding your tool kit of left hand positions and right hand rolls.
It’s based on ways of altering the basic F-shape or D-shape or bar-shape chords. The modifications are often no harder than the basic shapes, and they flavor those chords and create appealing sound, while expanding your knowledge of the neck a little at a time. The applications are endless, and I use them all the time in my own playing, whether jamming or working up arrangements.
Just knowing where the 6ths can be found in relation to each shape, or the flatted-thirds, opens up all sorts of possibilities to explore. This is a different approach from memorizing specific licks to try to incorporate on the fly (not easy). Once you know about where the 7ths and 9ths and augmented notes can be found, just by reaching a left hand finger to a new place, it’s amazing the variety you can add to your playing, even on the fly.
It may sound like this is about sounding super-complicated or jazzy in your playing, but many of these tricks are actually already in use by Scruggs or Crowe or other bluegrass players, just not shown with reference to the components of the chords they use. Many of them are not especially hard to execute, just variations of familiar chord positions. Many are not in common use, but still quite bluegrassy and tasteful.
Along with these left-hand door-openers, the videos also show a variety of right hand patterns (many in common use, some not) that also open up many options. Between the left hand and right hand variations, it’s like getting a big Lego set to try at your own pace. Many examples are shown, from famous breaks, or ones I’ve done over the years in Hot Rize.
Learning this kind of stuff from videos is what I consider the most efficient way to take on new material. Everything on the screen is also tabbed, and there are chord diagrams, but nothing beats hearing and seeing stuff shown at regular and slow speeds. Check it out and see if this material can open up more than pages of tab of exact licks can.
Comments from Satisfied Customers
Five String Quarterly, by Eddie Collins
Pete Wernick has a guiding philosophy when choosing what to play: “It must sound good and be easy to play.” Thus, while developing licks by combining uncommon rolls and left-hand formations, none should leave you reaching for the “deep-heat” rub. This well-produced two-set, therefore, is appropriate for intermediate level players, even though much of the material will have you sounding like an advanced player.
Wernick covers a little non-threatening music theory as a foundation for his presentation of left-hand formations. He separates left and right-hand tasks nicely — when working on new left-hand patterns he uses standard right-hand patterns and vice versa. The well done split-screen camera work allows you to easily see what each hand does (especially when dampening with the left-hand).
If you are familiar with the “three basic moveable chord shapes,” you may want to skip the first 35 minutes or so. If not, pay close attention as it is the basis for everything to come.
Vol. 2 is a continuation of Vol. 1 with the following differences: Vol. 1 provides a groundwork of basic music theory and terminology. For the most part, popular bluegrass tunes are used as examples; Vol.2 assumes you understand the terminology and details many specific Hot Rize breaks. For these reasons, the delivery is a bit quicker in Vol. 2.
Pete does a nice job of identifying his source of licks (i.e. “a Floyd Cramer piano-style lick”). Especially nice is the way he takes a unique roll (moving the middle finger to and from string 2) and combines it with non-standard left-hand forms (F6-C9-G7 in “Back Up And Push”) to create a simple, yet interesting phrase.
All in all, Pete delivers a lot of great material in a comfortable easy-to-follow format. If you are an intermediate ready to “branch out,” start with Vol.1. Fans of Hot Rize who are experienced pickers may want to dive right in with Vol. 2.
Banjo Newsletter, by Wayne Shrubsall
Branching Out On Bluegrass Banjo, Volumes One and Two. Homespun Video
Peter Wernick has been in the instruction business now for over twenty years, teaching banjo while performing with various groups such as the late great Hot Rize. That’s no news. Nor is this , which has been out now for some three years and is one of Homespun’s top selling video series. I should have reviewed it when I got it, but that’s another matter that I hope this review will correct.
The success of this should come as no surprise to banjo enthusiasts. Wernick’s banjo-teaching has been exemplary for all of us, in part because his interest in the form called bluegrass (and music in general) is really a passion. Though Hot Rize has disbanded, Wernick continues to perform with his wife Joan in a Colorado-area duo format, and he appears with other musicians as opportunities avail. Lately he has assembled an eclectic band called Flexigrass which features clarinet and xylophone among other non-bluegrass instruments. Though it will not appeal to hidebound bluegrass fanatics, Flexigrass is a good sounding aggregate.
Enough update. The [videos] themselves are filled with valuable information which is augmented by well-designed tablatures which do a good deal of work. At times, Wernick refers the viewer to the tabs rather than elaborating on each note of certain banjo solos; at other times the selections (back-up, fillers, and so-los) are explained to the viewer in painstaking detail. This variety of approach adds to the appeal and value of these [videos] as instructional devices. In addition, the tabs employ a unique chord fingering system which uses geometric shapes to represent fingers on the left hand. Once learned, this system cuts down on the interpreting time one must spend in figuring out the chords: this is important, as working with chords is integral in this series.
When one thinks of Scruggs style harmonic structure, one thinks of the seventh and sixth chords as things which are vamped (Wernick calls this “chunking”) or as the basis for back-up and solo rolls. Wernick explains these as significant features of the bluegrass sound. But then he does what an individual artist must do: he adds his approach to banjo harmony, chording, and rolls. Wernick’s approach to rolls and harmony may be characterized by two factors: The forward and back right hand roll (Thumb– index–middle– thumb– middle index– thumb-middle), and the use of the ninth chord. Both of these create the distinctive Wernick sound, and their use comes up again and again on this . This is not to suggest that the is only a dissertation on How Pete Plays. There is plenty of material derived from Scruggs style (including the fine “Foggy Mountain Special” which I teach students as a means of mastering backup in higher neck positions) and others (notably Bill Emerson’s “Theme Time”,) presented as a way into learning chord positions up the neck. Nevertheless, the ninth chord is the factor which most distinguishes Wernick’s playing, for not many straight-ahead bluegrass performers use it–at least not to the extent that Wernick does.
What you will like is the section on basic music theory. This section is easy to follow and put into practice, more so than other similar video and print efforts I have seen. The student will also receive good advice and illustration for using passing tones, walking the chord, converting slow to fast back-up, exploring the fingerboard to create solos and fills, employing what Wernick calls “the big tree of licks,” forming two- and three-finger left-hand formations for fills, playing in C and other keys (notably D) without capo, learning to be a tasteful banjoist (this is no oxymoron, folks!), and playing in the key of D out of a modified (3 tuning (the fifth string is tuned to F (a strategy not enough banjoists use).
One thing which characterizes the whole is Wernick’s three rules for good musical ideas: they must sound good, be fresh ideas, and be easy to play. The last factor is the main selling point of this . Naturally, determining what is easy to play will vary from musician to musician, but I think Wernick can claim that he has succeeded in showing a variety of licks and techniques which are indeed easy to play–once one has approached them with the idea of disciplined practice in mind, which Wernick emphasizes. As for the fresh ideas, the basics are provided, and you are given the opportunity to employ them as you like. Wernick’s fresh approach. as I said above, is his use of the unusual ninth chord in his material.
While the first emphasizes theory, fills, chording, and backup, the second shows one how to play a variety of solos, at least six of which Wernick created himself. In performing these, Wemick analyzes how he came to create them, and how they fit his three rules, thus applying the information provided on [Video] one. Wernick’s earnest and supportive tutorial tone is seasoned with fine examples of his deadpan, dry wit. This is climaxed by a surprising comic ending to two. Not many tutorials are willing to have a little self-deprecating fun.
You have a choice: you can attend Wernick’s banjo camp or buy these [videos]. The [videos] will save you some money, and they are effective. Nothing completely replaces a flesh-and-blood teacher, but these [videos] come mighty close. It’s a good course, well worth the cost of admission. My standard of assessing the value of instructional material is to figure that the cost of a series must equate at least to what individual lessons covering the same material would cost. With that formula in mind, I figure that these [videos] are a clear bargain.
“Of all the DVDs I have from a wide variety of instructors, your “Branching Out” set are the ones that I go back to again and again.”
— D.L., Wisconsin
“Branching Out is a veritable encyclopedia of techniques that can be used for a long time as a reference. Each time I view it I see new things to work on. The banjo is a lifetime endeavor for me and I have many years of learning within these two fine DVDs.”
— Steve on Banjo Hangout
“You have no idea how much you have helped me on the banjo with your ‘Branching Out’ [videos]. I recently discovered them again and am using them again. I’m kicking myself for ever getting away from these [videos], there is so much on them to learn!”
— B.W. Kentucky
“I have just sat through Bluegrass Jamming Closet Pickers and Branching Out 1 DVDs and I am most impressed with the videos. Your instructional skills and the content are of extremely high quality.”
— Archie, England
“Just wanted to say what a great video ‘Branching Out’ is. I’ve never had much luck learning from instructional videos in the past, but a few months ago I decided to try “Branching Out” and purchased the DVD. This video is really well done, fun to learn from, and it’s given me a lot of new ideas that I can implement when writing original material with my own band. I feel ‘refreshed’ as a banjo player after picking up ideas from this video. I can’t wait to get back in the studios to try some new licks out for our next album.”
“I recently bought your Branching Out DVD’s and they have really helped my playing out a lot. I’m not all the way through both yet but there’s some great stuff on there!”
“I recently resurrected Pete Wernick’s Homespun videos 🙂 It was hiding behind the smoked glass doors of the VCR cabinet beneath the TV, keeping company with Bela Fleck, Tony Trischka, The Reno brothers and others. The in question is Branching Out On BG Banjo, (this is not a commercial).
“If you want to hear some great picking and get some cool tips, eyeball this . The main reason I wanted to play the video again, after a long break when it was gathering dust, was because on it there is a tune called ‘Gone Fishing’. This is a very neat and different tune that Pete plays and is a great workout for both hands… a very good exercise and good alternative to just playing meaningless inside roll practice patterns. I had to ‘re-learn’ the tune again (which means I hadn’t fully learned it in the first place).
“I am stunned by the musicianship on the video and at the same time, the facial grin muscles get a good workout as well as the fingers… Thanks again Dr Banjo!”