Wednesday, March 23, 2011

banjo equinox: lesson one

First off, congratulations to all of you who signed up! Choosing to learn an instrument is quite the accomplishment in itself! I'm going to ask that everyone out there holding a banjo in front of your computers stop and take a minute to comment on this post and introduce yourself. And if you are someone thinking of joining in a few weeks, say hello too! Tell us your name, about your banjo (or future banjo), and why you want to learn? Tell us where you're from, about your life, etc. If folks see other working parents, teenagers, or retired folks taking on the banjo it might inspire them to drop all excuses and doubts and start making music as well. If we all know each other we can support each other along the way. I also am interested in how many of you are going from complete beginner to old-time frailer!

Parts of the Banjo
Tonight we're going to start with something really basic: anatomy. Before we start talking about what goes where, we need to know the what. This image here shows you the basics, and the names associated with them. This image differs from most old-time banjos because it has that big resonator on the back of the pot. It's a popular addition in Bluegrass banjos, and some of yours may have it, others not. It doesn't matter either way. Both will play music! Get familiar with the parts of your banjo. Go over this list, or the listed illustration in your books, and touch them as you speak their names. Feel the tuning pegs and say "tuning peg" run your hand down the neck and say "Neck, frets, strings, bridge.." etc. Learning an instrument is also learning a whole new language of terms and phrases. And it's important you are familiar with them.

After you felt up your banjo, let's get it tuned. I can't stress enough how important it is you get your banjo tuned perfectly well. So much of this method of playing is by ear, and you need to hear on your own banjo what the videos and CD sound like. We're going to let Wayne take it from here and show you how to get it into our beginner's tuning: Double C. P.S. If you have an electronic tuner, it will be a huge help. Between your ear, the the gage on the tuner, you'll be able to get your instrument pitch-perfect. Here's a link to a video on using your electronic tuner on your banjo. Thanks Youtube!

Frailing!Once you're in Double C tuning, play each note. Hear them. Get to know them. And when you have that little gal ready to play, it's time to learn the meat and potatoes of Old Time Banjo: The frail!! I strongly suggest you go through with the book and CD first and give it a try before you watch the video. It'll just make more sense to you as he goes through the steps visually after you give it the ol' college try. One you gave yourself a lesson in the Banjo Lick, watch and listen to Wayne!

P.S. Julie gave me a tip I'll share with you: when practicing the clawhammer frail (frail is another word for lick), make sure your hand is in a proper "claw" by playing with an empty toilet paper roll in your right hand. As you strum, it forces you into that position.

So from here you have plenty to practice! Honestly, this should keep you right busy till our next lesson later this weekend. The tuning and claw-ham-mer lick are the basis of everything we'll learn from here on out. So play it until you're cats are so sick of it they steer clear of your company. Play it till you can close your eyes and feel it. Make sure you practice at least 15 minutes a day, that is the deal.

Next lesson will be our first tune, and feel free to read and practice ahead. Also, PLEASE comment with posts of videos of you playing! The more music on this blog, the better!

banjo parts thanks to
seeger's banjo photo thanks to


Blogger rainydaywoman said...

I am so excited that you are doing this! I bought my banjo a year ago and have not been successful learning Blue Grass (Scruggs style) on my own. Thank you,

March 23, 2011 at 9:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll be starting a little late as I've JUST ordered my banjo. I had 7-day shipping so I should be able to start next week!
So, anyway, I'm Alex, the banjo I'm getting is a Savannah SB-100 (which is a bluegrass banjo but I hope to learn to play some of that too).
I don't really have anything else to say except that someday I shall learn to play The Ballad of Jed Clampett just because my dad said it would be too hard.
P.s. Congratulations on your new lamb. You should talk about your chickens more so I can live vicariously through you. My sister won't let me keep chickens here.

March 23, 2011 at 10:08 PM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

chicken talk will come, it's just lambtastic around here right now!

March 23, 2011 at 10:10 PM  
Blogger Hound Doggy said...

I got my American Bluegrass banjo a few weeks ago.
Over many years I've played a few instruments but have never even picked up a string.
I love the different sound of the banjo and would love to be able to do it myself, well.
I'm really excited about all of will be fun to see how far we can go. :)

March 23, 2011 at 10:20 PM  
Blogger CJ said...

CJ here, I'll be late to the party as well. I'm smack in the middle starting seeds - I have 750 started which is about 1/2 way.

Anyway, I found my brother's banjo (2 actually) however each one has a missing string, though not the same one on each. I can't afford a new banjo, probably not even the strings, so these will have to do. I'm assuming I can steal one string from one banjo and put it on the other. I think one may be a Kimball(seems very nice) the other doesn't have a name and doesn't feel as nice - both have backs on them. He hasn't played in years, it would be awesome to be able to play a tune with him some day.

March 23, 2011 at 10:37 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hi there! My name is Susan, and after watching the videos, my pulse is pounding and my fingers are twitching. I can't wait to start playing!
I don't have a banjo yet, so I'll be a little late to the party, but I am so gosh darn excited! I've been watching CraigsList and the local pawn shop for months with no luck. I'm afraid I will have to have to scrape together the cash to buy online. So it may be a few weeks or months (cringe) before I can manage it, but I'll be following along with the classes in the meantime! Cheers!

March 23, 2011 at 11:03 PM  
Blogger Pixie said...

Hi!! My name is Pixie and I am excited to join in the banjo lessons!
My father gifted me with his 1957 Gibson RB 100 5-string banjo with the condition I learn and play him 1 song!!
I'm going to try my best and i've been practicing for a few weeks now!
Nice to "meet" you all!

March 23, 2011 at 11:13 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I'm Kathy and I live in Idaho. I'm learning to play banjo so I can play with my daughter who is learning the fiddle. My banjo is the same one Jenna raffled here a while back and will be here soon. I can't wait for it to arrive.

In the meantime, I will be starting my lamb watch...

March 23, 2011 at 11:57 PM  
Blogger Maggie said...

Still waiting for my banjo, can't wait to start. I am getting the beanblossom you suggested. I play a little fiddle so was debating mandolin instead but i love the banjo so I decided to just go for it. Really, really.

March 24, 2011 at 12:07 AM  
Blogger Maggie said...

oops excited. I am a doctor and have two little kids so my time is super limited but 30 minutes a day, I can do. right? right.

March 24, 2011 at 12:11 AM  
Blogger delayne said...

Hi, everyone! I'm Delayne, an artist living in the 'burbs of Minnesota. I played violin years ago in school but gave it up when I graduated, and reading about Jenna's love for making music has renewed my interest in playing an instrument again. Just thinking about Banjo Equinox has kept me awake nights, so on a whim I stopped last week at the local music shop and was surprised to find a used Fender open-backed banjo there on consignment. Needless to say, she's not there any longer. Because -- bottom line -- if Jenna says, "Get a banjo, son!" I know I won't be happy until I do. So I did. (:D) Thanks, Jenna, for this great idea! It'll be fun to see where it takes us all. ~delayne.

March 24, 2011 at 1:50 AM  
Blogger Casie said...

I'll be playing along with you all for Banjo Equinox too. I'm a SAHM of 3, wife of a VERY understanding husband, and caretaker of a flock of chickens, four American rabbits and a pair of Muscovies. Oh, and I'll be turning 40 this October.

I have never learned to play any instrument and when Jenna started blogging about banjos I was hooked. I asked my mom if anyone in the family had one. Come to find out my Great-grandfather played the 4-string tenor! I now have his banjo here all cleaned up and restrung.

I will be learning on a new Savannah SB80. She's beautiful! Still waiting on my book to arrive, but I've been watching some youtube videos by rpeek so I can start getting the action of frailing and practice that for now.

Good luck to you all and I can't wait to be able to play a recognizable song to my family!!

March 24, 2011 at 8:08 AM  
Blogger Coley said...

HEY!!!! I'm Coley from Michigan. I have a Abilene 5-string w/resonator. MY husband bought it for himself last year and hasn't touched it. I've claim it as my own now.
I've been practicing for 2 months now with online lessons. I really enjoy playing it so far!
I've been playing in open g and I'm really getting the hang of things!!!
My book should be in today! *crosses fingers*
Will we need a Capo? I don't have one.

March 24, 2011 at 8:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was inspired to join in by Amber.

My name is Stacey and I live in a small town (less than 10,000 people) about 26 miles east of Austin, Texas. By day I work in the production department of a magazine. By night and weekend I am a council woman, board member, volunteer, gardener, knitter, printer and have just added weaving to the list.

I have my mother's banjo. She passed away over three years ago and it's one of the few items I really wanted. I really have no idea what make it is, but it is open back. I've cleaned it up a bit, but need to have the head replaced. I am lucky enough to have a man who repairs and restores instruments in his backyard studio living right up the street. I have my book, and once the banjo gets some TLC, I'll be joining in a bit late.

I should note that I am the only member of my family that does not play an instrument...yet.

March 24, 2011 at 8:35 AM  
Blogger Rachael said...

Hi everyone! I'm Rachael, and I've had an old banjo sitting in the corner of my living room for almost 3 summers now begging to be played. I've played many a different instrument in my day before finally settling into the guitar and fiddle (my favorite). I've played around with my banjo but have never been a strong 'picker'. However I love the sound of the banjo and think this is the perfect opportunity to learn.

I'm from NW PA, and rent a farm about 35 miles north of Pittsburgh. We have chickens, angora rabbits, alpaca, and an Old English Sheepdog. Hoping to find our own farm this spring so I can expand - dairy goats and sheep are next on the list. Homesteading is a dream of mine, and slowly I'm getting there.

March 24, 2011 at 8:36 AM  
Blogger Firecracker Farm said...

Hi, Cathy here.

My (almost) 15 yo son and I will actually be sharing a banjo for this endeavor.

My father is sending one that I think he bought at an estate sale about 20 years ago. THANKS DAD! I have no idea what condition it is in, so we may be a little late joining in. But who cares?! We are getting a banjo! Yay!

Oh, I live around the corner (sort of) from Jenna in Veryork. I homeschool my three boys. There are 13 chicks in a brooder in my rec. room, a vermicomposter in my kitchen, a beef steer in the barn (some of you remember Tasty), garlic popping up in the raised beds and a mountain of seed packets next to my bed.

Erbsen's book is on order (along with a couple from Gene logsdon).

So looking forward to learning this new thing!

March 24, 2011 at 9:43 AM  
Blogger Geode said...

Hi, I'm Rachel from Castroville, Texas. I bought a banjo about 3 years ago and haven't played that much on it since then besides occasional spurts of mad practicing followed by sad abandonment. I'm hoping that practicing with other people will inspire me to continue forward. I never thought of myself as very musical and have never attempted to learn any other instrument, so maybe I quit practicing every time because my confidence is low. I really want to work myself up to Cluck Old Hen because I'm an apartment mouse hoping to have a home and gardens and chickens some day. I just graduated library school and am waiting for a job to open I have bushels of time to practice ;)

March 24, 2011 at 10:23 AM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Hello everyone, I'm Lisa, a graphic designer living on a small farm in central Ohio, and I just bought my banjo on Tuesday(a really cheap one, but it will do for now). I'm waiting for my book to come from Amazon, but I'm tuned up to double C and ready to start! Can't wait to learn to play Cluck Old Hen for my new chickens.

March 24, 2011 at 12:13 PM  
Blogger Kitchen Mama said...

My name is Arienne. I'm a stay-at-home-mom, part-time French teacher, shipping supervisor for 6 weeks in Alaska during salmon season, wife to a history professor and mom to a 9 year old and an 11 year old. I have 5 chickens, a dog, and 2 cats. In my dreams I'd have a milk cow but that isn't going to happen as long as I live in town here in southeastern Washington State.

I played clarinet as a kid but have harbored longings for a banjo for a long time. My son has played fiddle, my daughter mandolin, and my husband guitar. Banjo just fits in, right? But no one else is playing their instruments so I'm hoping to inspire them all to get back into it.

I have a bean blossom coming early next week as my birthday present, the books should arrive today. I cannot WAIT to start trying out that clawhammer lick. Thanks a lot for doing this, Jenna. You're the spark that got me going on this dream.

March 24, 2011 at 1:23 PM  
Blogger Dani said...

Hi there. My name is Dani and I'll be joining in on the fun too. Got my Bean Blossom ordered and it should be here on Monday.

This is all so exciting!!!!

March 24, 2011 at 2:04 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

My name is Tanya. I'm a stay-at-home-mom of two kids, ages 7 and 4. We live in central Indiana. No homestead, just a suburban lawn that I'm slowly covering with a vegetable garden. My husband bought an inexpensive banjo off Ebay a couple months ago and is just letting it sit in the corner. I decided that Banjo Equinox is a good excuse for me to pick it up and see if I can learn to play. My previous musical experience consists of a few years of clarinet in the school marching band and maybe three guitar chords. I am looking forward to being able to play Cotton-Eyed Joe on the banjo because my husband loves to play the annoying techno version of it, and I would rather hear it in its more traditional form!

March 24, 2011 at 2:49 PM  
Blogger Tami said...

Hi. Tami here currently residing in southwestern WA dreaming of one day watching the fireflies again in TN. 2 more years. 2 more years. I'm a SAH mom to 2, homeschool them and am working on our urban farm. Bought my husband a banjo back in TN as a fathers day gift. He attempted to tune it and gave up. The kids were so little that my attempt failed. Given that they are 5 and 6, I picked the banjo back up. When the kids were little, little, I thought I'd attempt blue grass style. Then recently I thought I'd go for clawhammer. Man was I stoked when I just started playing away. One night while watching a youtube video I realized that I was "ham"ing wrong. I was going from the 1st string up. Not the 3rd string down. Grr. Went back to bluegrass...can play a few rolls but would really like to get this clawhammer bit down.

March 24, 2011 at 3:26 PM  
Blogger Odd Ducks Farm said...

Hey there everyone. I'm Kevin from Spokane, WA. I'm half of Odd Ducks Farm here in town, though we're soon to be moving out north into some larger land and less restrictive land use laws. In the mean time we raise chickens and children and keep our alpacas at our friends' farm for the time being.

I've played guitar for years as well as piano and I've been itching to learn something new. Banjo Equinox came along, thanks to Jenna. I'm currently waiting for my father's old banjo to arrive in the mail and borrwoing my neighbor's until then.

March 24, 2011 at 6:51 PM  
Blogger City Girl said...

Hi, I'm Diana and I live in the capital city of Ottawa, Ontario with my wife and our Golden Retreiver. I am a policy analyst by day and a newbie banjo enthusiast by night. Last weekend I bought a 5-string Alabama banjo with a resonator that I took off for now. I have never played an instrument (other than a failed attempt at clarinet in grade 6) and I can't read music -- but I am not letting that stop me! Thanks to this Banjo Equinox, I will be learning to play tunes with what looks to be a great group of people!! I can't wait to see some of your videos!

March 24, 2011 at 8:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi. My name is Tracie and I live in Alabama (go ahead and giggle now) and I do own a banjo. It's a very old open backed 5 string banjo named Sylvia. I can't find anything on that make but that's the brand printed on the peghead. I got it second hand from an estate sale years ago. It came in an old (alligator?) case and has traveled with me to Galax where I learned to play Little Maggie and John Hardy clawhammer style -- across from the horse stalls. Since then, I became a mom and haven't played at all. I'm ashamed to say that I remember very little and am looking forward to this refresher. I am a 48 year old mom of 5 and 8 year daughters. We live on 5 acres where we have growing garden and we keep bees, chickens, a couple of rabbits. 4 dogs share our home too. I homeschool my kids and I am an artist.

March 24, 2011 at 9:39 PM  
Blogger Christine said...

I'm so excited!!! WOO HOO! I'm borrowing my dad's old banjo and have ordered my book. Thanks for the videos!

PS, I'm a knitter, dyer, spinner and mom.

March 24, 2011 at 10:36 PM  
Blogger Amber said...

See if I can get all this.

I am a 31 year old mother of two living in semi-scenic Berks County, Pennsylvania. Lots of beautiful farmland around, but unfortunately I don't live on one. I never finished college, but I fill my time with a thousand hobbies, some of which I am quite good at, and a select few that actually make me some money.

I have been obsessed with the idea of owning and playing a banjo for the past ... 17 years? Maybe less, maybe more. All I know is that I have had my eyes peeled for one and have been actively looking for a used banjo for the past 12 years.

My time finally came recently when, thanks to Craigslist, I found a lonely banjo in need of some TLC and some repairs.

I'm sharing the link to the post I recently did about my banjo, complete with before and after pictures and its history, as told to me by the previous owner.

I am so excited to be joining in the fun. Thank you so much for hosting this!!!

March 25, 2011 at 10:08 AM  
Blogger Odd Ducks Farm said...

Wow, Amber. You made me feel positively . . . un-handy. :o) That's a beautiful instrument you have there after all that hard work.

March 25, 2011 at 10:37 AM  
Blogger Amber said...

Kevin - Thank you? Sorry? ;)

Seriously though, thank you. I was very fortunate to get the chance to personalize my instrument (wouldn't have done any of that had I bought a new one) and I had a ton of fun doing it.

March 25, 2011 at 11:05 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hi I am Katie from California. I got an open-back Rover banjo for my birthday about two years ago, I've been teaching myself a few blue grass tunes via youtube but I am excited to learn more!

March 26, 2011 at 1:33 PM  
Blogger mommypie said...

I'm Laurie, and I'm a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom of two (11 and 14) in Wisconsin. I've had banjo envy for about ten years, and big plans to make my own out of a cookie tin. That may yet happen, but in the meantime, I found a beautiful used Regal in a consignment shop which my husband insisted we bring home. We were away at a homeschool conference this weekend, and Wayne's book was in the mailbox when we got home--now I'm ready to go!

p.s. My daughter plays the fiddle, and my husband can play anything, so I'm really looking forward to making music with them soon : ).

March 27, 2011 at 8:47 AM  
Blogger Julie said...

Julie here in Swannanoa, NC (just east of Asheville). I've had my Rover banjo for a few years. Wayne Erbsen recomended it for me when I started learning the banjo with him and it has served me well as a beginner banjo. Sadly, it has become dusty these last couple of years as I haven't taken it down and played much.
I am using Banjo Equinox to get back in the groove! I really do miss it. I heard a quote on the radio the other day that sums it up....
"you just can't have anything but a smile on your face when you hear that 5 string banjo!"
I agree! Happy playing everybody!

March 27, 2011 at 12:12 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

Alright I've got my banjo now! Just got it and the book today and tried it out.
Which is more important, hitting the right stuff for the basic lick or doing it they way he says? I can't seem to get it all while failing like that, if I move my fingers instead of my wrist or if my thumb only touches the fifth string to hit the Mer, I'm good but when I try to have it touch for the other parts I end up hitting a bunch of extra strings!
Going to try the toilet paper tube thing, regardless.

March 28, 2011 at 6:37 PM  

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