The Banjo Conservatory
Sitting under a shady tree picking the banjo at home or in a festival campground with some friends on a summer evening is one of life's great pleasures to me. I feel that many more people would enjoy playing were it not for the traditional systems of learning that tend to take years before a person feels they can play acceptably. Interfering with that is what these pages are about. All the notes are there on any banjo, and I have found that almost everyone has the capacity to learn to play at an enjoyable level. And if the little voice inside your head just said "except me", or something like that, this means you too. You got 2 brain lobes just like everyone else.......
The entire Banjo Conservatory concept is for it to be a catalyst for transcending barriers in 5 string banjo, music and learning habits. My overall purpose with it is about helping people to play whatever they want to, quicker, more easily, with greater understanding, natural flow and fun. This speeding up of learning and opening up of new music can be through various paths and media, and if you follow the discussions and strategies offered you will be mentally and physically challenged. You will also tap into the deep well of music that is within you.
It means letting go of your preconceived ideas of how the banjo and things in general are learned. The path will be different for each learner. This is at loggerheads with the idea of a planned curriculum, yet since 95%+ of all starters fail(quit) the regular way does not work very well.... The idea of a one curriculum for all didn't even exist until about 150 years ago, when we started to teach all children to read. The size of the task and the number of teachers forced that, before then the tutor naturally would tailor the lessons as needed. Learning music is one of the pursuits where one on one instruction is still the norm. Unfortunately many banjo teachers now present material without regard to the individual needs of the learner. "Here's the tab for this week, go home, learn it, see you next week." is all too common without feedback and insight into what the learner is struggling with in terms of technique, hearing, understanding and depth. If you are in this situation, change the way things are or dismiss the teacher. They sure aren't going to initiate the change, and it is a very expensive way to buy a book of tablatures.
So this is about learning to play the banjo, rather than to play tunes on the banjo. Tunes cannot be ignored though, and any tune can conceivably be played on the banjo. Whether or not this is enjoyable, tasteful or even desirable is not under discussion here. The tunes can be arranged to be played on the 5 string banjo if desired.
There are actually two parts to the Banjo Conservatory, a free one and a mercantile one. On the free side I offer:
- Interesting and thought provoking banjo tablatures at all levels of proficiency
- Exploration into effective learning and how to have more of it, and ways of usefully pushing the envelope. These will of necessity be somewhat different than the usual methods.
- Bill Gokey's masterful series on Teaching the Kid.
- Bluegrass jamming pointers, clues and guidelines. This is the stuff that could be posted on every tree at a festival, and never is.
- Out of the Mould, lessons by David Boots.
- The story of the Earl Scruggs Gibson banjo by Doug Hutchens.
- All four pieces of software needed for a freeware transcriber for PC's.
- The lure of the banjo explained.
- The Search, a short story.
- A stolen instrument story with a happy ending.
- The Tai Chi of the Banjo.
- A description of the Hawthorne banjo straps which relieve back tension and pain effectively, so that you can make a set.
- A listing of Bill Monroe's banjo players
- A number of links with comments including National Public Radio show on 4-1-00 on Earl Scruggs and the tune Foggy Mountain Breakdown as one of the 100 most influential pieces of music of the 20th century. As of May 2003, this link is still good. And that is GOOD.
- A reading list for the searching musician including two new additions...if you are ready to dare to be different, and re-access you childhood learning rates.
- An overview of the Asian banjos available in the US, 196x to date.
- Images of Asian banjos catalogs196x to date.
- Obscure banjo facts.
- My former (now sold) 5 string octave guitar banjo on it's own page. You could defile an instrument in this way too.....
- Where I disagree pretty strongly with the teaching of Jack Hatfield on picking hand use, and why.
- Some comments on the fabled prewar sound and buying a banjo. (new direct link)
- and anything else I find that helps.
- My (out of print) milestone banjo book, Gestalt Banjo Vol. 1 - Shortcuts to Learning the Right Hand. A sample chapter, one of the appendices and notated table of contents are here also.
I also do private tutoring.
Further I have a daily rate, to which all expenses will be added. Travel days under this scheme will be billed at full rate also. Time is time.
This website is by no means finished, and may never be. Additions are more or less continuous, so it could pay you to check back every so often.
Last Updated 03 Sep 2006 by PJH
Edited 05 Apr 2007 by WF