Wednesday, March 23, 2011

an interview with wayne erbsen!

Banjo Equinox starts this week, and to kick it off I have an interview with none other than Wayne Erbsen, our instructor! Wayne wrote the book we're using for this course: Clawhammer Banjo For the Complete Ignoramus! I asked him if he'd answer some questions about how he discovered the banjo and starting a new instrument as an adult. Later tonight we'll get started with tuning our banjos to Double C tuning and the Clawhammer Lick. These two things will be fundamentals in learning our first song "Old Molly Hare" which we'll be playing by this weekend! Right now, all of you sitting at home with your books and banjos: make sure you read that entire book up to the first tune: Old Molly Hare and feel free to practice ahead. But for right now, let's welcome Wayne to Cold Antler and thank him for being a part of Banjo Equinox!

You can learn more about Mr. Erbsen, his books, classes, lessons, workshops and even instruments for sale at his website

1. Why did you start playing the banjo?
In the early sixties I was bitten by the folk music bug that was biting a lot of people back then with the popularity of Pete Seeger, Joan Baez and all the folk groups. I started playing the guitar and was soon giving group lessons when I was just a fifteen year old wet-nosed kid. My sister brought home a banjo and when she wasn’t around, I’d sneak it out and learned how to play it. I was soon giving banjo lessons too. There is something about the tone of the banjo that really grabs hold of you and won’t let go. So far, it still has a grip on me.

2. Do you come across a lot of adults who want to play the banjo but have no musical experience? And have any of them had success?
I seem to be a magnet for older adults with the lust to play the banjo but with no previous experience. Maybe that’s because I advertise the fact that I can even teach a frog to play the banjo. A lot of people claim to be frogs and sign up for my classes. I am able to teach the vast majority of them to play. The only ones that are a challenge to teach are older people who have been harboring the urge to play the banjo for fifty or sixty years. By the time they sign up for my class, they’re often in their seventies and eighties. Although many of these people certainly learn to play, others have difficulty because of arthritis, or other physical limitations. In general, though, I’ve had great success teaching beginners to play. That’s because I’ve been able to break things down very simply in my books and lessons.

By the way, in addition to my clawhammer banjo book, I’ve written Bluegrass Banjo for the Complete Ignoramus, Bluegrass Mandolin for the Complete Ignoramus, Old-Time Fiddle for the Complete Ignoramus and Flatpicking Guitar for the Complete Ignoramus. Right now I’m finishing up my newest book, Bluegrass Jamming on Mandolin. Other books in this series will include Bluegrass Jamming on Fiddle, Bluegrass Jamming on Banjo and Bluegrass Jamming on Guitar. All my books can be found at

3. What’s a reasonable practice regime? How much effort does it take to play a few tunes?
I’m sure most of your readers are busy people with jobs, families and many things requiring their limited time. If they can spent about fifteen minutes a day, they’ll be able to learn to play. If they can spend more time than that, it’s even better. In learning clawhammer banjo, the hardest part is learning the basic clawhammer stroke. Once they learn that, playing a variety of tunes is rather easy.

4. What's the best advice you can give to new pickers and strummers?
Choose an instrument to learn that you’re really passionate about. Some people are discouraged from trying the instrument of their dreams because some well-meaning friend has told them that they heard that the instrument you want to play is very difficult to learn. To that I say “baloney!” If taught right by a good clear book, video, or instructor, anybody with average ability can learn to play any instrument. Mainly, it all boils down to determination. If you are hell-bent to learn an instrument, then nothing can stop you.

Good luck to all the folks who are accepting Jenna’s banjo challenge and are going to learn to play out of my book, Clawhammer Banjo for the Complete Ignoramus. I look forward to teaching you to play the banjo.


Blogger Trailgoat said...

Hello-I'm a radio news guy in Lansing, Michigan and I find your blog to be one of the most interesting I've ever come across. Really great stuff--so well-written! I completely enjoy it. So very interesting.

March 23, 2011 at 1:21 PM  
Blogger Tina - Our Rustic Roots said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

March 23, 2011 at 2:45 PM  
Blogger Lilbitbrit said...

My grandfather played the banjo and had a band in the 1930s in a small UK Essex village.

I also ran across handmade dulcimers while visiting a family in Kentucky. His father was a miner, but in the tradition of mountain Kentucky folk music, he made and played his own dulcimer and also played the banjo and the fiddle. He was recorded by a visiting Brit, he was archiving all traditional music.

Enjoying the Ups and Downs of life on Cold Antler Farm

Lil Bit Brit

March 23, 2011 at 3:03 PM  
Blogger Rachael said...

This will be a good time! I've been needing that kick in the pants to finally pick up that old banjo sitting in the corner. Can't wait to get started!

March 23, 2011 at 4:13 PM  
Blogger T. said...

Thanks for the inspiration! I took bluegrass banjo lessons for a while way back in 2002-03. More recently realized I really want to learn to play clawhammer...I've watched some of Patrick Costello's YouTube videos, but haven't really stuck with it. A friend of mine shared your blog with me not too long ago (love it!) and encouraged me to pick my banjo up again, so here I am...I took my resonator off this last week, ordered a different bridge and tailpiece, and the instructional book. I really hope knowing other folks are committed to learning together will help me keep up. Anyway, just wanted to introduce myself and let you know I'm planning to join in the banjo fun. Thanks! And congratulations on your first lamb :)

March 23, 2011 at 10:23 PM  
Blogger WeekendFarmer said...

Hi J...on the lamb after you have docked the *have* to give a shot for tetanus. You might have done it already. Its important you do it now as well as a follow-up shot. The vet will give you the schdule. Are you using a band? From the net..."When bands are used to dock tails, it is very important that lambs be protected against tetanus (lockjaw), as the rubber ring creates an anaerobic (without oxygen) environment that is favorable to the tetanus organism. If the lamb's dam was not vaccinated or her vaccination status is unknown, the tetanus anti-toxin should be administered at the time of tail docking. The anti-toxin provides immediate short-term immunity whereas tetanus toxoid, while longer lasting, takes 10 days to 2 weeks to elicit any immune response."

March 24, 2011 at 6:24 AM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

I have given him a tetanus shot, got some from the vet before he was even 24 hours old! I'm on it.

Yup, using a band for all castrating/docking.

March 24, 2011 at 8:23 AM  
Blogger spike said...

Love Wayne! He played at my wedding rehearsal at a summer camp nearly 9 years ago! What a treat!

March 25, 2011 at 8:35 AM  
Blogger Amber said...

This is awesome! What an honor to have Mr. Erbsen helping out. :D

March 25, 2011 at 9:59 AM  

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