Bluegrass Banjo For Dummies book cover

Bluegrass Banjo For Dummies

By: Bill Evans Published: 04-20-2015

Start picking the five-string banjo like a pro with this definitive guide to bluegrass banjo!

Whether you’re an absolute beginner or an experienced player, Bluegrass Banjo For Dummies gets you started off the right way and is your road map for mastering today’s most popular traditional and contemporary banjo picking styles. Online audio and video clips combine with the book’s clear step-by-step instructions to provide the most complete – and fun - banjo instruction experience available anywhere!

Bluegrass banjo has never been more popular and is heard today not only in country and folk music, but in jazz, rock and country styles. Bluegrass Banjo For Dummies provides everything you need to know to play just about any kind of music on the five-string banjo by getting you started with the roll patterns essential to Scruggs style picking. You’ll then add left-hand techniques such as slides, hammer-ons and pull-offs, play great sounding licks and perform classic tunes like “Cripple Creek” and “Old Joe Clark.” You’ll navigate up the neck on the instrument as well as learn the essential skills you need to play with others in jam sessions and in bands. You’ll even tackle contemporary banjo styles using melodic and single-string scales and picking techniques.

  • Choose a banjo and accessories that are just right for you and your budget.
  • Put on your fingerpicks, find your optimal hand position and start playing with the help of online audio and video.
  • Explore the fingerboard using melodic and single-string playing styles.
  • Accompany others in different keys with roll patterns and chord vamping techniques.
  • Keep your banjo sounding its best with practical and easy set up tips.

Bill Evans is one of the world’s most popular banjo players and teachers, with over forty years of professional experience. In Bluegrass Banjo For Dummies, he shares the tips, secrets and shortcuts that have helped thousands of musicians, including many of today’s top young professionals, to become great banjo players.

Articles From Bluegrass Banjo For Dummies

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44 results
44 results
Bluegrass Banjo For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet / Updated 02-23-2022

The picking-hand sequences known as roll patterns are what gives bluegrass banjo its unique and incredible sound. It’s important for these patterns to become completely second nature, because you use them in all aspects of bluegrass banjo playing. Melodic and single-string banjo techniques offer alternative ways to play based around scales. These ways of playing are used increasingly in progressive bluegrass banjo styles. Trying out a G-major scale using both techniques reveals the difference in these approaches. Finally, when playing with others, you’ll need to support other musicians with backup techniques. A key to playing great banjo accompaniment is knowing your movable up-the-neck chord shapes, beginning with the F-shape chords.

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12 Essential Fill-In Licks on the Bluegrass Banjo

Step by Step / Updated 02-01-2017

Fill‐in licks comprise a special category of phrases that are treated by bluegrass banjo players with special reverence. You call upon a fill‐in lick when there’s a break in the musical activity of some kind, as when a singer takes a breath between the lines of a song lyric. You can also use one or more fill‐in licks to raise the musical temperature for the final measures of your next banjo solo. Fill‐in licks put the focus on you and your banjo, and they’re an important part of your identity as a bluegrass banjo player. Each of the twelve licks below is worthy of your attention — you’ll want to play them all well. Banjo players owe a huge debt of gratitude to Earl Scruggs for coming up with almost all the ideas used in these licks. Check out the following fill‐in licks:

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10 Essential D Licks on the Bluegrass Banjo

Step by Step / Updated 03-27-2016

D licks can be real bluegrass banjo attention getters. This is probably because bluegrass banjo players have come up with a lot of creative things to play when this chord inevitably pops up in a song. Most of these licks are based around different roll patterns. If you grasp the picking‐hand moves first, you can then more easily add fretting‐hand techniques to play each phrase smoothly. Check out the following ten D licks:

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10 Essential G Licks for the Bluegrass Banjo

Step by Step / Updated 03-27-2016

Bluegrass banjo players live in the world of G! The open strings of your banjo are tuned to a G chord, most of the songs you play will be in the key of G, and you’ll encounter the G chord most frequently in chord progressions. For all these reasons, you simply can’t have enough G licks. The phrases you’ll encounter here lay the foundation for great bluegrass banjo playing. Now it’s time to play them yourself! Check out these ten classic G licks to start your lick collection:

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10 Essential C Licks for the Bluegrass Banjo

Step by Step / Updated 03-27-2016

Bluegrass banjo players can’t live by G alone, no matter how much they may wish this were true! It’s now time to look at ten great‐sounding licks based around the C chord, which is the chord you’ll often encounter just after you play a G lick in a song (and sometimes — as in the songs “This Land Is Your Land” and “John Hardy” — the C chord is the first chord you’ll play). As you try each of the following C licks, fret the full chord first before you play the lick. Check out the following ten C licks:

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Jam Survival Checklist for the Bluegrass Banjo Player

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

You’ll be hooked on the banjo for life when you’re able to play with other musicians in jam sessions. Here’s a checklist of what to bring to your next jam: Your banjo A capo A strap A tuner Maybe a songbook (but not a banjo tab book — that’s bad form!) A recording device (such as your cellphone) to record new tunes Here’s an inventory of the skills you should start working on now to enjoy beginning group playing: How to get and keep your banjo in tune How the guitar player makes G, C, and D chords How to use the capo to play in various keys How to make your chords, beginning with G, C, D, and D7, and how to use these chords with the capo to play in other keys How to make movable major chords shapes (barre, F, and D shapes) and how to vamp How to use simple roll patterns to create a basic accompaniment How to teach others a song that you can play (like “Cripple Creek”!) How to feel comfortable not looking at your instrument while playing, so you can look up at others How to make room for other banjo players in a jam How to find others in your local area who play at your experience level or who are slightly better (which is ideal for you!) And here’s an inventory of the skills you should start working on to enjoy intermediate group playing: How to follow chord progressions with minor chords in the key of G and progressions in the keys of C and D How to make minor and seventh chords How to effectively communicate in a jam How to play the same song at different tempos How to kick off and end a song How to transition into and play a banjo solo in the middle of a song How to play forward-roll down-the-neck backup How to play up-the-neck backup using “In the Mood” and D-shape licks How to use G, C, and D licks to begin to create your own solos How to use fill-in licks to enhance both lead and backup playing How to “hear” chord progressions on the fly How to accompany waltz time and slow songs How to play fiddle tunes in melodic style Most musicians welcome beginners at jams. If you find a group of people you think you’ll enjoy playing with, sit in on a session and keep a list of what they play — both the names of the songs and the keys. Then go home and start working on those songs!

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10 Chord Progressions to Jam Instrumentals You Need to Know

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Musicians take turns suggesting tunes to play in bluegrass jam sessions. Tunes like “Cripple Creek,” “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” and “Fireball Mail” are high on the list of banjo players’ jam-session favorites, but fiddlers and mandolin players enjoy playing a different set of tunes that can sometimes be challenging for even experienced banjo players to play well. If you’re at home playing the chord progressions to these more difficult tunes, you can play along at the jam and also lay the groundwork for working up your own solos. Here are the chord progressions to the ten most often played of these somewhat unfriendly-to-banjo jam instrumentals. Make sure that for every two or three of these tunes you’re forced to play in your next jam that you’re able to expose your fiddlers and mandolin players to one of your more banjo-oriented favorites. These chord progressions are all in 4/4 time with “/” marks separating one measure from the next. When two chords appear in one measure, they’re played for a half-measure each. For those tunes in the key of A, the chord progressions for the banjo are given in the key of G. Banjo players typically use their capos at the second fret to play in the key of A, using the playing techniques they’re more comfortable playing in the key of G. “Arkansas Traveler” (key of D) ||: D / D / A / A / D / D / D / A D :|| ||: D G /D A /D G / D A / D G / D A / D / A D :|| “Bill Cheatum” (key of A, capo second fret) ||: G / G / C / C / G / G / G C / D G :|| ||: G C /D G / G C /G D /G C /D G /G / D G :|| “Cherokee Shuffle” (key of A, capo second fret) ||: G / G / G / Em / C / G / D / G :|| ||: C / G / C / G / C / G / G / Em / D / G :|| “Gold Rush” (key of A, capo second fret) ||: G / G / G / G / G / G / G / D G :|| ||: G / C G / G / G / G / C G / G D / G :|| “Ragtime Annie” (key of D) ||: D / D / D / A / A / A / A / D :|| D / D / D / G / A / A / A / D D / D / D / G / G / D / A / D “Red Haired Boy” (key of A, capo second fret) ||: G / G C / G / F / G / G C / G / D G :|| ||: F / C / G / F / G / G C / G / D G :|| “St. Anne’s Reel” (key of D) ||: D / D / G / D / D / D / G A / D :|| ||: D / Em / A / D / D or Bm / Em / A / D :|| “Soldier’s Joy” (key of D) ||: D / D / D / A / D / D / D A / D :|| ||: D / G / D / A / D / G / D A / D :|| “Turkey in the Straw” (key of G) ||: G / G / G / D / G / G / G / D G :|| ||: G / G / C / C / G / G D / G / D G :|| “Whiskey Before Breakfast” (key of D) ||: D / D / G D / A / D / D / G D / A D :|| ||: D / D / Em / A / D A / G D / G D / A D :||

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What’s in Your Banjo Case: Essential Tools and Parts

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Whether it’s across the country to a festival or just across town to the local music store’s weekly jam session, bluegrass banjo players love to travel. Unexpected things can happen while you’re away from home with your banjo: Strings can break, your tuner’s battery can go dead, a tuning peg can fail, or something even worse. If you were to open up the case of just about any professional touring bluegrass banjo player, you’d be likely to find the following tools and supplies to keep their banjos happy and running well out on the road: Capos: Some players use a quick-release, wrap-around style capo for the first to fourth frets and a Shubb-type capo for the fifth fret and above. String sets: Bring two or more for longer trips! String cutter Electronic tuner with extra battery Bridges Thumbpicks and fingerpicks: You’re bound to lose or step on one sooner or later! Banjo mute: For those late-night hotel practice sessions! Extra fifth string and regular tuning pegs 1/4-inch banjo or T-wrench for head adjustments: 1/4-inch is standard, but check for your correct size. A small, adjustable wrench for coordinating rod adjustments and replacing tuning pegs A small regular or Phillips-head screwdriver that fits truss rod cover screws 1/4-inch nut driver or Allen wrench for neck truss rod adjustments: 1/4-inch is standard, but check for your correct size. A polish cloth for wiping down strings and your banjo neck

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Picking-Hand Bluegrass Roll Patterns

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Bluegrass banjo is characterized by a hard-driving, forceful picking-hand approach. Developing good timing is essential to great playing, and you'll want to practice these rolls slowly at first, keeping a steady rhythm. As you encounter new songs, take note of the many ways that roll patterns are used to capture melodies. Forward-reverse roll Alternating thumb roll Forward roll Lick roll Foggy Mountain roll Backward roll Middle leading/Osborne roll Index leading roll

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Movable F-Shape Chord Positions in the Keys of G, C, and D

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

The chord progressions for many bluegrass songs are made up of the chords built upon the first, fourth, and fifth notes of the major scale of the key of the song. Internalizing the I–IV–V chord positions using the F chord shape prepares you for playing great bluegrass banjo backup with fretting and vamping techniques. Key of G: G, C, and D chords Key of C: C, F, and G chords Key of D: D, G, and A chords

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