At one time the banjo was deemed "the devil's instrument" purportedly for it's unique ability to get people up and dancing. Whether or not that statement is accurate I can tell you personally that any time we break out the banjo onstage, people who have been sitting quietly all night will get up and dance like crazed lunatics. It's like magic. So maybe there is a little bit of devilment in the banjo after all.
Adopted by an American minstrel named Joel Sweeny in the 1830's the banjo is often referred to as the "only original American instrument." Apparently there were other forms of the instrument that originated in Africa utilizing strings stretched over a gourd of some type. But the 5-string banjo that most of us are used to hearing, is at least an original American adaptation.
I have been playing and teaching 5-string (bluegrass) banjo since the early seventies. I first became enamored of the instrument after seeing the movie "Deliverance" and hearing it's catchy banjo-based soundtrack. It was not until after seven years of devotion to the instrument that I was able to take it onstage.
Learning to play banjo not only requires a love of the style of music, but a significant investment of time and money. Banjos are not cheap. They are complex instruments to build and require a lot of time and practice to master. If you're thinking you want to learn to play the banjo, expect to pay at least $500-$1,000 for a beginner instrument and several thousand dollars for the bluegrass-standard Gibson Mastertone. While you can probably find a cheaper used instrument to learn on, be sure that it's playable. Otherwise you may find yourself discouraged at your lack of progress in short order. If you're determined to learn to play banjo and don't have an instrument as yet, contact us before you buy one and we'll assist you in getting a good affordable instrument.
Because the banjo spans many generations and musical styles, you can expect to learn songs that are literally hundreds of years old. It's sometimes a humbling experience, and very cool, to realize that the song you're playing was written for someone's sweetheart two or three hundred years before you were born.
The commitment to time and practice required for even the most basic of skills on banjo is something that stops most would-be players in their tracks and has them considering something a lot cheaper and easier to play. But if you persevere you will succeed and be greatly rewarded for your efforts.
Our approach to teaching banjo begins with basic techniques and the proper way to hold and play the instrument. There are very specific techniques required to recreate the banjo sound that most people are familiar with. We usually begin with teaching basic picking patterns, called "rolls", along with first-position chords to get you playing right away. We also provided students with custom recorded backup tracks on CD, at different tempos for each song, so the student can get the experience and benefits of playing with a full band. This approach instills solid timing and gives the student a unique "feel" for the music.
If you love bluegrass and old time music, and you want to learn an instrument that's fun and different from what everyone else is playing, then the banjo just might be for you. Call us today to schedule your free introductory lesson and make a little history of your own.
PICTURES: Top-At "The Prospector's Pick" in Estes Park, CO. 1982. Middle and bottom: live onstage at the first John Denver Tribute Concert, with "Cowboy Brad" (Brad Fitch) at Performance Park in Estes Park, Colorado. 2003
Bob Buford, Instructor