Learning the banjo can seem like a daunting undertaking. With the fast-paced picking styles and quick licks, it’s easy for playing this instrument to seem complicated. But, by learning the right basics at an appropriate speed, you might be surprised at how quickly you can pick it up.
In his course, Bluegrass Banjo for Beginners, Ned Luberecki demystifies the experience of taking your first steps into the world of bluegrass banjo playing.
Here are 9 free beginner bluegrass banjo lessons from the course. For the full course, check out Ned Luberecki’s Bluegrass Banjo for Beginners on TrueFire!
Bluegrass Banjo Lesson – Forward/Reverse Roll
The forward reverse roll is another pattern that you’ll often hear in bluegrass banjo playing. Like the alternating roll, it can use all five string, but instead of alternating, this one starts like a forward roll (T-I-M) and then reverses (M-I-T).
Bluegrass Banjo Lesson – Worried Man Blues Strumming
“Worried Man Blues” is another old folk song that should be familiar. When I’m strumming the banjo in this video, I’m strumming down with the fingernail of the right finger of my right hand. This keeps it from being too loud and overpowering my singing. You could also remove your picks and strum with a different finger or your thumb.
Practice along with me, and if I’m going too fast, remember that you can slow the video down. Practice it at slow speed until you’re comfortable, then speed it back up. Once you can do it reliably at the standard speed, move on to the next lesson.
Bluegrass Banjo Lesson – Alt Roll
Now play along with “Worried Man Blues” using the alternating roll. Once again, it’s very important to make the chord changes without stopping or slowing down the roll. Use the speed adjustment on the video to slow it down so that you can keep up, and then once you can play it comfortably, speed it up until you can match the regular speed.
Bluegrass Banjo Lesson – Jesse James Slow
Now play along with “Jesse James” using the fifth/first and forward roll to fill in the spaces in the melody. This one is the slow playalong. There is a faster one to follow, but if this one is still a little too fast, remember that you can slow the video down and play along at a slower speed. Once you can play it all the way through at slow speed, gradually speed it up until you’re ready to move to the next lesson.
Bluegrass Banjo Lesson – Jesse James Fast
This is the same version of “Jesse James”, done just a little faster. Once you can play this one up to speed, for an added challenge, try moving the speed on the video up just a little and try that. Or better yet, get your own metronome out and play it without me. Ultimately you should try to memorize it so that you can play it without the tab or the video. Once you can play along with this tempo, you’re ready to move on to the next lesson.
Bluegrass Banjo Lesson – Cripple Creek B
Like most bluegrass and folks songs, this one has a verse and a chorus. In instrumental music, these are usually referred to as the A and B parts of the tune. We’ll learn the B part of “Cripple Creek” first.
Bluegrass Banjo Lesson – Cripple Creek A
Now that we have the B part of “Cripple Creek”, let’s learn the A part. It starts with a long slide from the 2nd to 5th frets of the first string, When playing slowly, it may be hard to hear the note a the fifth fret at the end of the slide. Keep practicing and once you can play it a little faster the sound will get more clear.
Bluegrass Banjo Lesson – Cripple Creek Slow
Now that you’ve learned the parts, let’s put them together and play the song “Cripple Creek”. Pay close attention to the slide midway through the A part (when it repeats). The last pinch in that measure is the first note of the slide in the next measure. At the end of the A part, it’s just a pinch on the open strings.
Bluegrass Banjo Lesson – Cripple Creek Fast
Here’s “Cripple Creek” at a faster tempo. Once you can play this song up to speed, start trying to play it along without the tab and finally, without the video. It’s time to start memorizing these tunes. Soon, you’ll be ready to join the jam!
Digging these free beginner bluegrass banjo lessons? Check out Ned Luberecki’s full course, Bluegrass Banjo for Beginners.