Learning the Banjo #1

I am pleased to announce a new category on my blog: Banjo.


And I know thousands of people will be delighted to hear that I received a banjo for Christmas. I am intending to dedicate at least one post a week to my progress on learning the banjo. I know if you’ve read some of my education posts you might be thinking that I’m about to use a banjo as some kind of metaphor for the state of education in the UK. But no. It’s just a banjo. And I’m learning to play it.

Playing the Banjo
Me. Concentrating. On some banjo music.

So as I already play guitar, you may argue it’s a bit of a cheat to be learning the banjo: it’s already a stringed instrument, I’m hardly learning it from scratch.

Fair comment. But a banjo is a different beast. It has 5 strings rather than 6, and one of them is bizarrely high-pitched. In the book I’m learning from, I don’t even know what it’s for yet, and I’ve been practising for 2 weeks. And while I can strum a guitar competently, I’m hardly finger-pickin’ good; from what I’ve seen a banjo requires a large amount of finger-pickin’.

So the book I have introduced me to the banjo, got me to tune it (for which I downloaded the Android App PitchLab onto my phone) and then got me learning to play ‘G’.

Strumming a banjo is really quite a different job from strumming a guitar. I soon learned that the standard song for banjos is in 3/4, rather than 4/4 (4/4 is all a bit too pop). And I soon learned that the standard strum begins with a pluck of a single string, rather than strumming all of them. Pick first, strum later. Whereas with guitar it’s more strum first, pick later. Here’s me trying to strum ‘Clementine’ last night (as in ‘Oh my darling…’).

Oh My Darling Clementine version 1

Then of course there’s the whole, actually picking out a tune thing. I’ve never even tried on a guitar, but it seems to be more expected on a banjo. So here’s me having a go at ‘Yankee Doodle’

Yankee Doodle

Tomorrow, I am looking forward to bringing my banjo into my school. I haven’t done show and tell for about 35 years, so it’s going to be fun to stand in front of the assembly, show the children how far I’ve got in two weeks and get them to challenge me to learn more. I might even challenge them to see what they will learn this year.

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