Thursday, March 17, 2011

Banjo Equinox!

This weekend is the Spring Equinox! For a girl who just went through a hell of a winter, reading that out loud is music to my ears. It feels like Spring out there, too. I collected five eggs today (girls are back into production!) and lambs are moments from hitting the ground bleating. This farm is still melting the feet of snow and ice that covered it all through the past three months—but spots of grass are showing up. Tiny bright green blades are shooting through the winter of sheep poop. It's a hell of a contrast.

In celebration of warmer weather, Easter, sump pumps, daffodils, chicks, lambs and everything else wonderful about spring: we're going to put on a concert. We're going to play some banjo music. Yes, us. Any one of you out there that wants to be playing tunes on your porch by the solstice (and you will if you stick with us) can. No experience with instruments needed. I don't care if you never read a sheet of music in your life. We are learning the mountain way to play banjo: which is by ear and tune. And not any of that newfangled bluegrass: but OLD TIME banjo!

Yes darling, Old Time! The banjo music that grew out of the soil of the south. The songs from older Appalachia. The banjo tunes people played at Civil War camps and trapper rendezvous. We're all going to start with our first lesson on the Spring Equinox, right here. On this blog we'll start with the parts of the banjo, the history, and how to get her into tune. We'll cover the basic clawhammer strum, and I'll add my own videos of learning along with Julie Dugan: Grand Banjo Frailer of Cambridge, New York. It'll be fun and easy. You just need to promise to practice with us everyday.

You don't need a banjo to join us yet, but if you want to learn, you'll need to get one soon. You can borrow, buy, or beg for one. I can't say enough good things about (They aren't sponsors, so I'm not getting any sort of cash for endorsing them. I just really like them.) They hail from Knoxville, Tennessee and sell affordable banjo starter kits for beginners at affordable prices (under 200 shell cards) and the best part: they come all set up. You don't get a box with strings that need to be attached and tuned. They also come with electronic tuners, and many kits come with the book we'll be using to learn. It's called "Clawhammer Banjo for the Complete Ignoramus" by Wayne Erbsen. This course is 100% FREE. Enjoy it! Share it with friends and family who might want to join. If you can't do it in real time, that's okay, you can always catch up later.

Robert Webb won the CAF Bean Blossom Hobo package giveaway. It's a fine beginner banjo, and if you can swing it, get one or one like it. I play the Morgan Monroe Scoop Neck. You can play any 5-string banjo you can think of, resonator backs are okay too if that's what you got. We aint fancy.

So here's what you need to join up, son:

A 5-string Banjo (open back preferred)
An electric tuner (guitar tuners are cheap and work great)
Wayne Erbsen's Book listed above
Practice time of minimum 15 minutes, twice a day.

Additional Goodies and inspiration to check out!

Songcatcher (movie!) about old-time music
Banjo Camp! by Gene Senyak (amazing beginner book!)
The How and Tao of Old Time Banjo by Patrick Costello
Clawhammer Banjo From Scratch - DVD- Dan Leverson

Homework before starting: Order Erbsen's Book, read pages 1-22 with CD to listen to as you go. Get a banjo and tuner too. Check back on the Equinox to see our first group lesson: holding, tuning, frailing 101.

Raise up those stickpots, people. We're learning to make mountain music!


Blogger Bex said...

I can't say I'll be able to join y'all with a banjo but I will definitely give it a try with my guitar. Off to YouTube I go for some song research.

March 17, 2011 at 10:15 PM  
Blogger Amber said...

So excited about this! Thanks so much for hosting such a fun thing. Can't wait to start learning!

March 17, 2011 at 10:30 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Thank you, I just think I will have to join in Banjo Equinox. I've had a banjo sitting in my room for 3 years and I can bum-ditty like a mad fiend but haven't progressed all that far beyond. I happen to have Erbsen's book already....I have absolutely no more excuses :)

March 17, 2011 at 11:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Sorry to get off topic, but do you know of a good place to get a beginner fiddle online? I'm looking to spend around $250 and I know that I'm not going to get something crazy good, but I do want something of quality to learn on... and something that I won't outgrow very quickly. Looking to learn soon and have been looking for a while. Thought I'd get your take on it. Have fun with the banjo. My great-aunt, who passed in the mid-90s was an old-time banjo player. I remember sitting in my cousin's screened-in porch on the lake in East Georgia (in the early 80s) listening to her and her bandmates play. Seeing and listening to that large happy rotund lady with her banjo blew me away and I was just a little wee one then. So, I think of her every time I see or hear a banjo and it makes me smile.

March 18, 2011 at 12:25 AM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

MIssy, I play a fiddle I got off ebay for fifty dollars, you don't need to spend a lot at all. I do know that the new Palatinos and Cremonas are a step above most other student models, and better than they used to be.

March 18, 2011 at 6:13 AM  
Blogger WoodElves said...

It really shows that you've had a rough winter - you typically hate spring! I guess it has some redeeming qualities after all, no? :)

March 18, 2011 at 8:00 AM  
Blogger Jill said...

So midwives look for a surge in births around big storms (rapid barometric change) and full moons. Full moon is tomorrow -- does it work on sheep?

March 18, 2011 at 8:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for letting me know, Jenna. I'll take a look at the link!

March 18, 2011 at 8:48 AM  
Blogger Kitchen Mama said...

My husband just ordered a banjo for me and I just ordered the book--I can't wait!

March 18, 2011 at 9:51 AM  
Blogger wanda barrett said...

I found a cool tuner app on my Droid phone. There were several but the free one that I liked was DaTuner.

March 18, 2011 at 12:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps we could have a Mandolin solstice? lol!

March 18, 2011 at 2:31 PM  
Blogger City Girl said...

Woohoo! I'm in!

March 18, 2011 at 5:57 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

What a great idea! I love this. I might get one and join in.

March 18, 2011 at 6:26 PM  
Blogger delayne said...

Jenna, this is all very exciting! I'm totally looking forward to Banjo Equinox. I'm having to order the book online so I'll be a little behind in that department, but I'm set with everything else! Mightn't I suggest a future Fiddle Equinox and Mandolin Equinox? (:D)

March 18, 2011 at 6:37 PM  
Blogger jamberry_song said...

Love it! That's going to be so awesome. There are a lot of great Civil War and Appalachia tunes out there. :) Should be fantastic!

March 19, 2011 at 1:16 AM  
Blogger mommypie said...

I just found a banjo at a small-town consignment shop. After having banjo lust for almost ten years, I finally have one! The timing of your banjo class couldn't be better for me--thanks for offering such a good incentive to get started : ).

March 19, 2011 at 10:29 AM  
Blogger Diane said...

I'm having a vision of people having to put down their banjos to help deliver lambs. You'll have to make sure that scene gets into the movie that's made someday based on your life!

March 19, 2011 at 10:30 AM  
Blogger Weaving Rose said...

The banjo sounds interesting, but I've often thought I'd love to play the mandolin. Do you know of any books resources for this instrument? I used to play the guitar but I gave it to a young student in need some years ago. I'm thinking a mandolin may be smaller and easier to manage. Any ideas?

March 19, 2011 at 11:28 AM  
Blogger Weaving Rose said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

March 19, 2011 at 11:28 AM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

Good news! Wayne Erbsen himself emailed me over facebook to ask if he could help out! He might lend a hand as well (the author of the book we're using!).

Also, has a mando book i suggest, because all of them are super easy intros, check it out there. see if he has an ignoramus book!

March 19, 2011 at 5:50 PM  
Blogger Amber said...

That is so exciting!!! I just got his book in the mail today and have been looking through it every change I get.

March 19, 2011 at 10:06 PM  
Blogger Julie said...

hey Jenna!
I used to take banjo classes with Wayne Erbson here in Asheville, NC at his little log cabin. I love him and he makes it so easy to learn.
I have not been playing hardly AT ALL the last couple years so i'm going to use Banjo Equinox to get back in the groove! Thanks for the push. I'm excited!

March 22, 2011 at 12:40 PM  

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