I firmly believe the main reason that so many folks choke at jams is because they learn a solo break or kick-off from a TAB book but never sit down to learn any rolling backup to accompany the other instruments or vocals in a group situation and simply fall apart because they just don’t know what to do.
How do I know this? Because I have travelled that pathway and I have experienced that sense of embarrassment and feeling hopelessly lost .Often the advise given to me from members of the BHO failed to reassure me, and in most cases was simply a string of negative comments that further zapped my self confidence.
I have come to realize a large part of playing banjo backup is listening to what the other instruments and vocals are doing and creating a sound that compliments the music and doesn’t drown out the other players’.
Banjo players have a reputation for playing too loudly which is why you may find a certain hostility at a jam that you don’t find at home. So learn to play softer and be mindful of others.
Instructional books are not set out well enough to explain this to the beginner student. Lessons are compartmentalised with the solo in one section and backup elsewhere. To my sense of thinking lessons should include solo and backup together.Backup is not meaningful if you don’t have a melody to accompany.
So over time and through trial and error I have come to conclude the best way to learn banjo is via video with TAB instruction. In short Banjo Ben Instructional Lessons.
According to my understanding, backup is maintaining the rhythm in a chord progression using improvisational skills to complement the other instruments or vocals in the band.
But in order to play meaningful backup first you must learn certain skills through drills and exercises. Once these skills have been acquired the student must then learn to apply these improvisational skills in a real time situation. This is no easy task.
These past few years I have managed to encourage @BanjoBen to put together a bunch of great lessons on learning how to play rolling backup and I would encourage you ALL to learn some backup this year.
I am also hoping @BanjoBen will have more time this year to do some simple rolling backup lessons to accompany some of his great Guitar and Mandolin solo’s he has produced over many years. Learning to play backup feels more natural when you have a proper melody to backup.
As an example @BanjoBen is currently working on a Guitar Solo for Salt Creek. It would be an invaluable exercise to do a Banjo Backup lesson using the skills we have learned from the Waypoint lesson to accompany the guitar solo lesson.