Banjo teachers, lend me your ears! Are we doing all we can for our students? The ideas which follow may not be typical, but they’re based on experience, and they work. This article will try to convey both my method for teaching beginning banjo players and the reasons for what I do, and what I don’t do.
In sum: Focus your teaching directly on the skills that will enable your students, as soon as possible, to play simple and enjoyable music with other people. And as soon as they’re ready, help your students get together with others to make music.
A hard fact: Most people who try to learn bluegrass-style banjo give up at some point, whether after a few months or a few years. I feel this would happen far less if teachers and instructional materials would help students, from the first lesson, to play simple music with others.
It’s sad and frustrating to see how many teachers and teaching methods set students up for failure, when there are great possibilities for launching musicians. The biggest problem is that they focus primarily on having the student try to memorize note-for-note banjo solos, usually instrumentals. Most new players find even the simplest solos too hard, and play them very slowly and haltingly. Even those who learn to pick smoothly often have persistent rhythm problems because they never have to play in “real time”. This often goes on for months or even years, wearing down the student’s optimism as they struggle to learn a repertoire that amounts to only a few minutes of music.