Dr. Banjo » Videos » Make Up Your Own Banjo Solos – 2 Volume Set

Learn how to create convincing banjo solos, both “on the fly” in jam sessions and with more precision in your practice time. Here’s the alternative to total dependence on tab and memorizing other people’s arrangements.

“A tremendous amount of information — enough licks to satisfy people looking for those, and, more importantly, great direction on soloing.”
— Bluegrass Unlimited

Close-ups of both hands and printable tab booklets make every note clear!

Volume 1: First-position solos in the key of G

Even novice pickers will easily follow Pete’s gradual approach to soloing. He starts with the basics – simple chords and rolls – showing you how to instantly play a “placeholder” solo, the simplest way to step out in a jam situation with only the chords to go by. He gradually builds in “filler” content – simple moves and phrases adding variety and believability.

On five bluegrass standards, Pete shows you how to hunt down a song’s melody notes and create a full-fledged arrangement featuring the recognizable melody. The addition of appealing licks, lead-ins, tags and other embellishments will give your solos polish and interest. 

Solos for:

  • Handsome Molly
  • Wabash Cannonball
  • Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms
  • Will the Circle Be Unbroken
  • Man of Constant Sorrow
Volume 1 Video Preview

Players at all levels will benefit from the user-friendly information that Pete imparts in this groundbreaking video lesson. Whether you’re a beginner or a veteran picker, Pete gives you the tools you need to build your improvisational and composing skills.

Volume 2: Keys of D, C, F, and Up the Neck in G

Learn how to create convincing solos in common but challenging keys such as D, C, and F, without a capo. Use many of the same ideas to put together solos up the neck in G. Pete makes it easy to learn how to combine melodies and roll patterns – so you can learn to do it on any song!

Pete explores nine bluegrass standards, taking each song’s melody and showing how to weave it into smooth rolls for a full arrangement highlighting the recognizable tune. The addition of appealing licks, bluesy variations and other embellishments will give your solos polish and interest.

Includes the following songs:

Volume 2 Video Preview
  • Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms (D, no capo, G tuning)
  • As I Went Down to the Valley to Pray (D, no capo, G tuning)
  • Angeline the Baker (D, no capo, G tuning)
  • Colleen Malone (D, no capo, G tuning)
  • Country Blues (D, no capo, G tuning)
  • New River Train (C)
  • Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow (C Tuning)
  • Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down (F)
  • Will the Circle Be Unbroken (G up the neck)

Published Reviews

Comments from Satisfied Customers

Banjo Newsletter, by Scott Anderson

Make Up Your Own Banjo Solos, Vol. 1
Pete Wernick, 120 Min.
(DVD or download) www.homespun.com

When I started playing banjo years ago there wasn’t a lot of instructional material available. While these were great resources they left many unexplained gaps that a beginner had to struggle to fill. The lucky beginner could find a good teacher. But some, myself included, didn’t have a teacher available and rarely got to see other banjo players.

You kids nowadays have it so easy! You just turn on your computer, pop in a DVD, and have immediate instruction from a pro! In this case, you’ll receive two hours of instruction from Pete Wernick, a very experienced and accomplished player and teacher.

This DVD is geared toward players with some basic banjo knowledge – those who know some basic rolls and chords. Pete demonstrates some of those things but he does so pretty quickly. Because the plan here is for you to be able to jump into a jam session and play! Pete explains some easy to understand ways for you to start doing that, likely using some of what you may already have learned. There are accompanying written materials with roll patterns, chord diagrams, chord charts for the songs, and examples in tablature right on the disc (which you can print out if needed.) Pete also includes some ideas and instruction on how to play along with a recording and even how to make your own practice rhythm track.

Pete first stresses to play cleanly with good timing over chord changes, and uses a method he calls “placeholder” soloing. Here you’re just learning to play along over the chord changes (for Handsome Molly and Wabash Cannonball) without really worrying a lot about the actual melody of a song. This is a very important concept and will go a long way towards creating a functional player. Because really, this is exactly what a bluegrass banjo needs to do much of the time.

He then proceeds to “filler content solos” which utilize the idea of plugging in licks over specific chord changes in a song. These can make the song more interesting and provide a little more of that banjo sound you’re looking for, though still not necessarily sticking close to the melody. Pete demonstrates many common, useful bluegrass banjo licks that work over G, D, and C chords and fleshes out the previous song examples of Wabash Cannonball and Handsome Molly.

A large portion of the runtime is spent on “melody-based soloing.” Pete talks about playing the melody within your solos, and how to find those melody notes. He includes how to use specific licks to play melody notes, within examples of several songs, including new rolls and licks within those examples (Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms, Handsome Molly, Long Journey Home, Will the Circle Be Unbroken, and Man of Constant Sorrow.) Pete teaches using the blues scale (flatting the third and seventh notes of the scale) to create that mournful feel that so many songs require. He goes on to discuss and demonstrate pickup notes or lead-ins for beginning songs and solos.

The video production is top notch with excellent sound and picture. An added benefit of seeing these things on DVD is that with the slow examples, you can hit “fast forward” and hear what that sounds like when played up to speed. Very helpful. Also the right hand/left hand split screen videos can be really helpful for a beginner who’s trying to figure out “How’d he do that?”

The methods here are very similar to what I and a lot of others learned by trial and error. And they work! Throughout, Pete stresses learning to create your own solos rather than concentrating on recreating someone else’s solo. This is a difficult concept for many beginners, but once learned, sets them free from the prison of memorization and opens the door to having a lifetime of jamming fun. And here the concepts are explained simply, clearly, and effectively. I’d recommend this DVD for players looking to take that next step toward improvising and playing with others.

Banjo Newsletter, by David Jakubiak Make Up Your Own Banjo Solos, Vol. 2: What to Play When It’s Your Turn To “Take It.” Keys of D, C, F and G (Up The Neck) By Pete Wernick, Homespun (www.homespun.com) When I first started out, there were only a couple of decent books on learning how to play bluegrass banjo. I still have one of the first ones I bought: Bluegrass Banjo by Pete Wernick (Oak Pub., 1974). Two years later Pete would join with Tim O’Brien to establish the band Hot Rize. So Pete Wernick is no stranger to performing and teaching the five-string. His comfort level and personality as an instructor are apparent in his new Homespun DVD, “Make Up Your Own Banjo Solos Vol. 2.” In this latest DVD, Pete summarizes the first video as showing the principles on how to find melodies and work them into breaks. The primary focus was in the Key of G and the first few frets of the neck. Pete says the purpose of this second video is to learn how to play breaks in keys other than G, or up the neck in G. As a teacher and performer myself, I cannot over emphasize how important it is for a banjo player to learn how to play in various keys. When you start jamming with a fiddle or mandolin player, or a singer, you soon learn that others have learned various songs in the Key of D or even in E or F. When a fiddle tune in D is introduced, you can either jump in and play along or put your banjo in the case and call it a day. If you are currently stuck playing in the Key of G, then this DVD is right for you. Pete starts his instruction in the Key of D, with demonstrations of songs such as Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms, Down in the Valley to Pray, Angeline The Baker and Country Blues. Throughout these selections, Pete teaches a common theme: How to utilize partial chord positions effectively with roll variations to build a melody line. A banjo player can use filler licks sometimes, but the best thing to do is to hunt down the melody and shape your rolls around it. Pete correctly points out that one of the problems with playing in the Key of D is that you have to deal with playing melody lines on the first string. Whereas Scruggs rolls start with the thumb either on the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th string, the first string offers few options for roll variations, unless you start with the middle finger. Pete explains that it’s always nicer for banjo players to play a melody line on the 2nd or 3rd string because there are more ways to play melodies as opposed to the 1st string. Pete talks about playing filler licks that can be incorporated into a song as backup. He first introduces how to play a D6 chord and later plays this chord with a variation of a forward backward roll (4, 3 and 2 instead of strings 2, 3 and 1). By using this roll, you can play some filler licks within a song, such as his excerpt of Soldier’s Joy. He summarizes by saying that while filler riffs are useful to back-up, sometimes you can play filler licks and generate a lead with some if not all of the melody line. In addition, using the “roving ring finger” allows a banjo student to play useful riffs in the Key of D. tab for Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms Naturally, playing in the Key of D requires the use of what I refer to as the Position 2 chord form (commonly known as the D position). In Down in the Valley to Pray, Pete shows how to construct a melody line while using forward and backward scales with rolls. He often emphasizes using an MIMT roll to accommodate a melody line that starts on the first string. Discussions about playing in D would not be complete without demonstrating the use of a capo. In Colleen Malone, Pete indicates that a banjo player has an option to played in of D or capo on the second fret to play in the Key of E. While seasoned players may be aware of this, it is my experience that beginners can be confused with how to use the capo. In summarizing the Key of D, Pete explains that performing bluegrass is not an exact science and emphasizes his philosophy “if it sounds good, it must be good.” He encourages a student to feel free to explore the variations of playing riffs in a given position. Throughout the DVD, Pete offers useful advice on banjo technique. Performing “blues” on the banjo has always been a favorite topic and genre of mine. Pete demonstrates the use of pentatonic scales in D. He identifies the flatted third and flatted seventh notes in the lower part of the banjo, and offers various riffs with rolls that provide a blues feel. In Country Blues, Pete provides a great tip of playing individual notes of an F chord while others are playing within a D chord. He explains the similarity of the F chord’s flatted third and seventh of a D chord. Pete summarizes his blues discussion by saying there are many possibilities to having a bluesy sound without having to do too many variations with your left hand. Just the use of different tunings and configurations of chord positions than most people typically use can offer a different sound than is usually found in bluegrass banjo. This DVD, however, does not stop with the Key of D. Pete addresses playing the Key of C out of an Open C chord with the song New River Train. He uses what can be termed as “double stop technique” while playing a Foggy Mountain roll, to move from an open C chord to the bar C on the fifth fret. Next, Pete expands on this roll with up-the-necks hammers-ons that are similar to those done in open G forms. In Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow, Pete changes to C tuning and provides Scruggs style signature licks that would be useful in this key. I would have liked to see Pete explain about the back-up chord forms in the C. Yet, those who have never played in C tuning will find this section a good introduction to alternate tunings. One tune that uses a standard jazz (I–vi–ii–V) chord progression is Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down, played in the Key of F. You can find this song in an early Flatt & Scruggs’ recording. By learning a song in this particular key and chord progression, you will add a tune to your repertoire that has a unique sound. Finally, Pete extends his Key of C and D techniques to the Key of G, by moving up the neck. Pete talks about a “pallet of colors” in chord structure (for instance, using various 6th, 7ths, 9th, or flatted thirds) to help enhance your filler solos, back-up and melody-based solos. So the Key of G is not neglected in this DVD. In fact, while revisiting Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms, Pete applies some excellent passing chord sequences and secondary chord variations that progress from a G (I) to a C (IV) chord. This DVD’s format is similar to many on the market today. An accompanying tab booklet is on the CD and the tab is clearly written. For students struggling to play in different keys, this is a useful instructional DVD and will be worth your time, at the very least in gaining some useful licks for playing in other keys. David Jakubiak has produced seven books on CD for banjo, mandolin and guitar. Check out his site at www.Fretmentor.com

Bluegrass Unlimited, by Chris Stuart

Make Up Your Own Banjo Solos, Vol. 2: What to Play When It’s Your Turn To “Take It.” Keys of D, C, F and G (Up The Neck)
Taught by Pete Wernick, Homespun, 1 hr 55 mins, $29.95. (www.homespuntapes.com)

This second DVD in Pete Wernick’s Make Up Your Own Banjo Solos series on Homespun concentrates on the keys of C, D, E, F, and G—the last primarily up the neck. Songs include “Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms” (D), “As I Went Down To The Valley To Pray” (D), “Angeline The Baker” (D), “Colleen Malone” (D or E), “Country Blues” (D), “New River Train” (C), “Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow” (C Tuning), “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down” (F), and “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” (G, up the neck).

Pete is one of the most influential banjo players and teachers of the past twenty years. His teaching style is personable and accessible and this is essentially a two hour private lesson with Pete on playing in the C and D positions and up the neck in G. What I appreciate most about Pete’s teaching is that he starts with the basic chord structure and melody of a song and emphasizes singing along with the melody. He then teaches soloing out of C and D chord positions and how to reach notes in the melody at various points along the neck.

There is a tremendous amount of information here—enough licks to satisfy people looking for those, and, more importantly, great direction on soloing by finding the melody and placing notes around it in virtually any key. The DVD also contains two computer files: a .PDF tab book of all the solos on the DVD and a Word document written by Pete on using and making your own play-along practice recordings. Both of these items add tremendous value to the video.

The two volumes in this series are well worth having as part of your library of banjo instruction material and a great place for a beginner to start on his or her jamming journey. Highly recommended for beginning to intermediate banjo players.

“The DVD Making Up your Own Solos has really opened a whole new world for me. I guess I was in a “rut” playing / practicing the same things everyday. I’m not nearly to the end of it yet but I’ve already learned some new rolls and various licks that fit into lots of different songs. For folks that haven’t discovered the value of DVDs, I’m sold and plan to use them steadily in the future. I enjoy playing along on songs which is fun & it forces me to stay in time.” — Paul M. on Banjo Hangout
“Thank you for your DVDs. They have opened up so much information on the banjo for me. your latest DVD said that you might know 6 or 7 song on tab and then get to a Session and then sit there not knowing what to do next. This has now changed my way of playing by making my own melodies up, it is just the hard practice now that you have shown me through the door. Many Thanks.” — Sean B., England