A quick post about learning to play music.

Guess what? My creativity bone is still broken! But, fear not, I have something for you.

Not terribly long ago, a question came in from a person on Poal and they asked about the differences between playing a banjo and a guitar. That’s beyond my area, but I was able to get them the answer they were looking for. You can see the result of that question by clicking here.

Anyhow, that led to some commentary over on Poal and one of my answers to their question seemed interesting enough, so I saved it for later review and possible inclusion as an article stub.

Today, you get that answer – as few people would have seen it. Enjoy!

About Learning to Play:

They’d asked me a few further questions, or made a few further comments, and I ended up typing this response out to them. It’s pretty generic and you’ll see what I responded to by the context of my answer. I figure this is a pretty good piece that deserves a wider audience and I’d like to thank RepublicOfTX for having provided the motivation to type it out.

Here it is, in horribly barely-edited format:


I have a significant amount of formal training in music, but nothing with banjo.

But… I have some “rules” that you can follow and I’m 99.999% certain they will help.

  1. Get a tuner. You can get a free tuner app for your phone.
  2. Learn to read tab. Tab is sheet music for stringed instruments. It’s awesome.
  3. Get some song books and tab (you can find them online).
  4. Set aside a set amount of time to practice – every day.
  5. Practice that set amount of time – every day.
  6. Noodling around isn’t practice. Go back to practicing.
  7. I’m serious. Practice. No excuses.
  8. Consider a metronome. You can get a free one for your phone or computer.

Let’s give an example.

“I’d like to practice for 10 hours a week.” That’s not unreasonable. Now, every day – and you can try to make it the same time every day, practice for an hour – Monday through Friday. Then, on Saturday and Sunday, you practice for 2.5 hours.

Notice that I said “practice.” I did not say “play.” The two are totally different things. Practice is scales, rolls, picking drills, chord learning, and things like that. Playing is what you do when you’re playing a song or just messing around. They’re two different things.

You can practice playing a song. That is different than playing the song.

A more realistic number is 20 to 30 minutes per day – of practice. Then, on the weekends (or whenever) you can practice for twice that. Again, you’ll have the banjo in your hands more than that – but that specific time is reserved just to practice.

I’ve been playing since 1968 – taking formal lessons starting in January of 1969. I still practice – every single day. I still practice 2 hours a day. I then play for another 2 hours. I have four hours of band rehearsal – every week, sometimes more.

Now, you don’t have to go to the extremes that I go to. You can learn and have fun with far less time invested. It depends on how far you want to go and how much of your life you want to dedicate to the instrument.

I’d go so far as to suggest taking 1 to 6 months of formal lessons. They’ll teach you proper tuning, instrument maintenance, technique, and things like basic drills and rudiments that you can learn. Your goal is to go in, forget everything you’ve ever learned, and start from the beginning – absolutely with the very basics. You’ll want to skip over early lessons (probably). Don’t do that.

There’s also tons (I’m sure) of good lessons on YouTube. If you don’t take formal lessons, find some lessons that are good for a beginner and work your way up. Follow a few of them. Watch them but, more importantly, watch them in full screen.

Why? Because you’re going to have your banjo in your lap and the space bar is your friend. When you hit the space bar, you’ll pause the video. Learn the keyboard navigation and things will go much more smoothly.

I do really recommend at least a small amount of time taking formal lessons. They can be once a week for a month and that’s probably enough to get you started.

However, when/if you do that, tell them right up front. “I only plan on taking formal lessons for x-amount of time. I may continue with the lessons but I want to learn the absolute basics in that amount of time. I want to learn to maintain my instrument, string my instrument, clean my instrument, proper form, and proper terminology so that I can continue to learn as my life proceeds.”

And, those will be your actual goals with taking formal lessons.

There, you have a quick write-up about learning to play the banjo from the very start. I know the process but I honestly haven’t done so. I’ve never taken formal banjo instruction and probably never will. I am not now, nor will I ever be, a good banjo player.


It’s nothing huge or all that inspiring, but it’s a pretty good start (I think, though I’m biased) and applies to pretty much every musical instrument out there. It boils down to taking the time to learn and keeping that dedication up, even when it feels like you’re not progressing.

I do think I’m going to write some more for the more beginner folks among us. But, as I said, my creativity bone appears to be broken. So, I’m not sure when it will happen and I’m pretty sure I want to finish the series of lessons for performing musicians – and then move into that for a while.

We shall see and I’d like to take a moment to thank you for taking some time out of your schedule to read this. Please, do feel free to comment, hit the contact link, or toss suggestions at me. I’m at the point where suggestions would really be helpful, right about now. Like, seriously helpful. I almost started writing about drumming and that just doesn’t make any sense. My creativity bone is that broken. Until next time…

Shut up and play us a song!

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