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Banjo lessons in London

Learning the banjo with Dick Smith

Learning the banjo is both healthy and fun, what more can you ask from a pastime?

How hard is it to learn to play the banjo?

Learning the banjo, like any instrument, should ultimately be an enjoyable and self-fulfilling experience, but initially, it might feel that it's nigh on impossible and not without its frustrations. However, studying music at any stage in life is recognised to prolong memory and motor-skills functions. So there you have it - playing the banjo is good for you! (Even though the cat/dog/family/neighbours might express a different opinion!)

Although the 5-string banjo is considered to be very hard to learn, any instrument has its own inherent difficulties, and I would say that, any instrument taken to the highest levels is probably equal in this respect.

How quickly will you progress?

Personally, I feel that the banjo is relatively simple in the early stages, far more so than the guitar, for instance. The beauty of the banjo is that the open (un-fretted strings) are tuned to an open chord and therefore, once the instrument is in tune, simple right-hand (or left, if you're left-handed) picking patterns (or rolls) can be played on the strings to create musical sounds. Hence, I tend to focus on the picking from the very outset, obviously after a small tour of the various parts of the instrument, how to tune your banjo, hold your banjo and hand positions. Another plus is, reading formal musical notation is not required as the banjo has it's own system, called tablature, which is very simple to understand.

For many people, these basic principles can be learnt fairly quickly, but I encourage students, if at all possible, to have weekly lessons and to practice on a daily basis until things become a little more complex, and more time may be needed to practice new techniques or tunes. (You'll find yourself pleasantly surprised at your progress with only 15 minutes a day over a week or two.) Familiarity with your banjo is paramount, and at first, it feels rather alien, but with time it becomes second-nature.

Generally by the second or third lesson, I will introduce, left-hand (right-hand), of which the fingers will fret the strings on the neck of the banjo to produce different musical tones (or notes). I find that, students tend to find this a little more challenging, but I take things very slowly, and gently help this aspect, again, to become more comfortable.

What about different abilities?

Everyone has differing abilities, and progress is tailor-made to reflect this, as you start on your banjo playing journey. 90% of my new, total, absolute beginners have at least one or two simple tunes under their belt after a block of six lessons. It's do-able!

What do you need to start learning the banjo?

A few items are necessary for learning the banjo:

  • a banjo!
  • a case,
  • a strap,
  • some finger picks

and I would highly recommend having:

  • internet access
  • and a device for recording (this might be the dictaphone function on your mobile.)

What is Dick Smith like as a banjo teacher?

I have been playing and teaching the banjo for many years now, and am greatly experienced at the triumphs and pitfalls that can, and will be encountered along the way. I have an easy-going nature and more patience than you would not think humanly possible and believe it or not, I get such a wealth of satisfaction, helping and encouraging pupils through the thick and thin of their endeavours.