Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced banjo player, we’re sure you want to improve your banjo skills. Practice promotes confidence, helps you keep track of your progress, and helps you stay on top of your game.
So why do many players put hours into practice but don’t see any results? It’s likely because they’re practicing incorrectly and developing the wrong habits.
If you happen to feel the same way towards your banjo playing, read on to learn about 5 practice habits that will help you get “in shape” and become a master banjo player.
1. Gradually increase your speed.
Many banjo players, especially beginners, want to play as fast as possible. If you haven’t mastered a technique or a song, playing fast doesn’t help you hone your skills and is an inefficient use of time.
Make yourself comfortable playing at a slower pace with good timing and tune. Don’t worry about speed. It will come from the repetition of playing things correctly multiple times. When you’re ready, practicing with a metronome can help you gradually play faster.
2. Apply active listening.
Find a recorded version of your favorite banjo song and try to play it by ear. Listen to the music you’re playing; you’ll internalize the sound of your banjo and finer details of the style you’re learning.
Be sure to mix up what you’re listening to. Take time to listen to some of the banjo greats from years past, like Earl Scruggs and Pete Seeger. Mix it up with some newer players, too, such as Noam Pikelny and Alison Brown.
While you’re playing, try to record yourself. This will give you an outside ear – a different perspective on your own playing. You’ll be surprised at what you hear and start noting what doesn’t sound right or what needs to be improved. Then, you can take action from there.
3. Attend a jam session.
Doesn’t playing by yourself get lonely and boring? Try to play with others as often as possible. Every time you play with other musicians, it gives you the energy and motivation to get better. Join a local music community. If you can’t find a jam, start one! It will accelerate your learning.
If the mechanics and protocols of jamming are new or mysterious to you, consider having a look at bgJAM.com. There, you’ll find a lot of guidance for learning to jam, including a Jam Skills Checklist, a full sheet of all jamming protocols, and suggestions for learning – even slow-jam play-along videos.
4. Set goals.
If you want measurable results, you need to define your goals. What do you want to achieve within the next week, month, or 3 months? Knowing where you want to be will help you find the right materials for practice, as well as the actions you need to take to get there.
Be sure that your goals are M.A.G.I.C.:
Some good goals for playing banjo might be learning to master dynamics – the loudness or softness – of your playing, playing open chords, learning slides, using both up and down strokes, or combining basic patterns.
5. Work on your weaknesses.
Find a song that challenges you or that has particular chords you need to work on. Practice and record your playing. Not only will this help you to actively listen, you can keep track of your progress and know which parts you need to “polish” next time. It can get a little painful listening to recordings of yourself over and over, but don’t let your ego kick in.
You may realize you have a difficult time controlling your volume. Dynamics on the banjo can be difficult to master. Likewise, playing with clarity can be a challenge. Often, beginner banjo players complain of having a “muddy” tone. No matter what you feel your weakness is, keep working! Just remember, like Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Every artist was first an amateur.”
If you implement these habits into your daily banjo practice routine, you’ll see a dramatic improvement in your playing. We can all get busy with work, family, and life, but try to set aside a certain amount of time (even if it’s only 15 minutes!) to invest in practicing each day.
We hope you find these tips useful. If you’re struggling with your banjo playing skill and want to get better, join Musical U today to gain access to powerful resources and a supportive community that can help you achieve your goals.
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