Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

New beginner from UK

Hi to all. I’ve been learning banjo for about 4 months and glad I found this site which I hope, will improve my playing.
I’ve played guitar for over 30 years, but always wanted to learn bluegrass banjo. Not knowing much about banjo’s and not knowing how I would get on, I bought just a basic beginners resonator 5 string banjo, which seems OK. Only problem I found is, the arm rest sticks up a bit high and tilts in at a slight angle. Because of the type of ‘L’ shoes used, the arm rest will lower no further. (Poor design of a cheap banjo I guess) However I’ve persevered. I probably started off trying to learn a difficult tune, (Foggy mountain breakdown) but after 4 months, I can play it, well the first part, not the up the neck part,if not that well.
One thing I find, and I don’t know if this is common to beginners, or its just me. When I first pick the banjo up, I cannot play it so well as I did the day previous, but after about 20 minutes improve again. I still keep hitting the odd wrong string which is really annoying and have to re-adjust my right hand position. Also I cannot keep my ring finger secured. My little finger, I can keep anchored, but my ring finger flaps about a bit. I read somewhere that it’s nothing to worry about, as long as the little finger keeps anchored.
How important is keeping the ring finger anchored? Is just the little finger good enough? Or does having both fingers anchored improve playing?

Welcome Jon!

I am not a banjo guy, but I suspect it is fairly common to have issues with hitting the wrong string. When I first started playing guitar with fingers, it was similar. The more you do it, the better it gets. As far as the ring finger anchoring issue goes, I am going to guess that isn’t anything to worry about, but I defer to others who know more about banjo.

Again, welcome and have fun!

I played guitar too.

Don’t worry too much about planting your two fingers. You need to keep down one so you have a reference point. Eventually, you will feel comfortable enough with you right hand (this took me about a year) that you can just decide if you want to plant one or two fingers and it won’t be that difficult to do but for now just plant as you are able.

FMB was the third song I tried to learn. I can’t say it was a bad decision but I am glad that I moved on to other songs before I could completely play it. I played that song every day. It started to come around near the 18 month point and at three years I could more or less play it. So it is a long haul.

If you want an easier Intermediate song, try The Old Home Place and then move on from there. A nice beginner tune is Worried Man Blues. And Cripple Creek is an easy one you can impress your friends with.

In my experience you have to learn just about all of the Intermediate songs in order to pick up the basics of the banjo vocabulary that you will need to play the instrument.

Again, in my experience, it’s not just a question of learning how to finger the chords and pick and then take it from there like a guitar. There is a definite ‘book’ of finger patterns you need to assimilate (so they become automatic) in order to play this instrument. The songs are fun way to do this.

Thanks guys. Yes, I will try learning a few easier tunes and practise all the different rolls. I tried to speed up FMB and then found I was getting into a bad habit of not playing cleanly. So now I have slowed down again so as to try and pick cleanly.

Sometimes we banjo guys get frustrated at practicing slow, because Earl Scruggs isn’t famous for his slow fingers, right? But I read a good article the other day by Deering Banjos saying “When you practice slow, you learn fast.”

Here it is if you want to read it: … -dexterity

Another one:

Bearded banjo is right on! I hate metronomes but they really work, especially for beginners. Try one, you can download for free one of the various apps for your phone.

Thanks Terry. Will do.

I also have difficulty in keeping my ring finger on the head so I don’t bother. It feels natural for just the pinky to be there.
I have just bought Bluegrass Banjo for Dummies as I was getting bored with my basic Mel Bay book.

That free floatin’ ring finger ain’t gonna hurt nobody. If it bugs you too much, just cut it off. You got 9 more to get you by.