Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Teaching Banjo Lessons

Hello Y’all!
I am probably going to be teaching someone beginner banjo lessons this school year. I am not very good myself, so this will be interesting…:wink: However, I am wondering where to start. Bar chords, theory, scales (which I might add, I have not really done myself… I know, I know. I should have.), Y chords, etc?
Give me your thoughts.

Hi @MicahE628 A good place to start would be chord shapes and roll patterns. Strum some through chords whilst singing some well known tums. Keep it simple


Ask the student what their immediate goals are. If it’s to sit in and play backup, Archie is spot on. Rolls and chord shapes are the way to go. If they want to play songs, teach them some simple ones.

My very first banjo lesson was Cripple Creek, right hand only. The next lesson incorporated the left hand.


Mine was Banjo in the Hollow, I learned it from Murphy Henry’s teaser video on YouTube. In fact watching that video got me so excited I rushed out then & there and bought my first bottle top banjo. The rest as they say is history.


Aside from the plethora of very valid topics… I would encourage you to consider to take a moment and really spend 10 minutes to recall your personal experience when you started.

What brought you excitement? What motivated you? What drained you or shook your confidence?

Now, be mindful to help your student navigate all those challenges and feelings, good and bad.

Help them get a sense of accomplishment and progress (a lack of progress or feeling of stagnation being a frustration of players at nearly all levels: beginner to advanced).

My point is this… On a tech and method level, there are probably about 1,000 ways to go… but being mindful of your experience will hopefully translate to an empathy (if that is the best word?) for the highs and lows a new player will experience.

Push the good stuff too hard, the student may well want to quit. Back off and go slow… the same result is possible because of boredom.

Maybe that is part of it… to LISTEN to your student and adapt to what will work for them. Also, be humble to ask for feedback too.

As for a bit on musical objectives, my first lesson was to take a familiar tune (one where the melody was WELL KNOWN to me) and learn it… under the guidance that when playing all the tech stuff later (rolls, hammers and slides) was to ensure the melody is always felt in the playing.

This translated later into songs I was NOT familiar with… To listen to the song many times and feel the melody… not play all the notes and rolls.

Personally, I have found this very insightful as this is one of many mastered characteristics of the great Earl’s playing.

It is a subtle but fundamental nuance, in my opinion and occasionally, I catch myself bogged down in notes… Realizing that the playing isn’t so musical anymore… as the melody gets lost. This is when I slow down to try to bring that element back into the song.

Finally, no matter what… follow @BanjoBen’s excellent example to keep it fun !

I hope I have helped you consider things from a different perspective… without mention of techniques… as to that, there are many here much more qualified to advise than me.

I wish you much luck and success. I dare suggest that @BanjoBen would be proud of you… What better compliment to a teacher than to create others who spread the craft.

I like to imagine the pride Alan Munde must feel from all of @BanjoBen’s amazing accomplishments.