101 Things a Banjo Player Should Do

Well, OK. Maybe not exactly 101 of them, but here's a number of my suggestions for banjo players.

Number 1: Remember the Basics.
This varies, depending on your style. For Scruggs style, it's the 3 or 4 basic rolls, knowing the fretboard logic, keeping good rhythm and a good repertoire of suitable licks. Melodic style also includes knowing your various scales. All styles include knowing good jamming etiquette.

Number 2: You should practice everyday if at all possible.
Even if it's just 5 or 10 minutes, you'll be amazed how much you'll gain from it over the long run. Conversly, you'll also be amazed at how much you lose your touch if you don't! 30 minutes to an hour each day will show noticably better improvement!

Number 3: Don't play too fast.
It may feel very satisfying to play everything fast, but many songs don't sound good fast. Plus, your fellow musicians may not appreciate the speed, and beginning musicians certainly won't as they probably can't keep up! Save the speed for a couple of select songs, and do several more at a medium pace and you'll have a much more satisfying repertoire.

Number 4: Define Your Musical Goals.
A set of goals - daily, weekly and long-term (I also keep a monthly one myself) will go a long way in keeping you on track and making progress. Don't get bogged down by lists, though.

Number 5: Keep those right ring and little fingers in place.
If you're playing Scruggs, melodic or Reno styles, it's pretty much useless practice to let those two fingers flop around while the other three try to pick strings. It's extremely important to keep them firmly on the banjo's drum head, thus giving you an anchor for the other three.

Number 6: Make it Your Own
Don't you like something more if it is "yours". Well, okay, maybe it's not really yours, but you sense a feeling of pride, protection or maybe responsibility with something. Try making not only your repertoire and techniques but also the songs you learn "your own' as well. If you're like me, then sometimes it's hard to separate what your doing from the people involved in it, but to do so and to make whatever you're doing "your own" is to increase your effectiveness.

Number 7: Find Your First Banjo!
If you've been playing long, you probably play a different banjo from the one you learned on. Do you still have that first one? Maybe you don't care about it; guess I'm just a sentimental old codger, but my old Lark banjo means a lot to me and I found it again after loaning it out and then losing track of it for about 10 years.

Number 8: Learn from Other Instruments.
Some of my favorite musicians aren't bluegrass. Count Basie, Carlos Santana, Dave Grusin, Benny Goodman, Chet Atkins and Pat Metheney come to mind. That's certainly a very diverse group, but they all do have wonderful ideas to learn from.

Number 9: Practice Together
Nothing will improve your rhythm and musical 'common sense' like getting together with friends that love to jam! Don't know any musical buddies? Check out places like FolkJam.org or jam notices at local music stores. Also, check out Pete Wernick's website for more leads to folks in your area.

Number 10: Get Vocal
Not as in singing (that's the next one in this series, though), but rather on Email Lists (Banjo-L, for instance) and Social Networking sites (BanjoHangout.com, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc.). Just don't reveal too much real personal stuff!

Number 11: Learn to Sing
Singing is a mainstay in traditional genres of all kinds and really helps you to add a more complete sound to your music. Singing puts the 'roots' in 'grassroots' music!

Number 12: Get Ben Freed's List of 99 Songs to Learn
Ben Freed did a list in Banjo Newlstter some time back and it is an excellent starting point for learning new songs. These are pretty much standards that you'll always be seeing and hearing played whenever folks get together.

Number 13: Consider Teaching
Although I had taught several folks imformally down through the years, I never had thought of myself as a teacher per se. Having been teaching 'officially' for a few years now, I love it and wish I had started years ago! If you've had many years experience, you may also be ready to advance your musical studies to a new level - give it a try!

Number 14: Leave Your Banjo Out
Either leave it propped up against a bookcase or such, even better, get a guitar stand so it's available at a second's notice to play.

Number 15: Keep a List of Songs You Know
I keep a few different lists, actually: one of 'conservative' stuff to play for any occasion, a list of more 'experimental' songs I know and a list of everything. These are handy when you are jamming; it prevents the 'Well, what can we play?' scenario.