Playing the Tenor Banjo
- Learn how to tune the instrument and keep it in tune. Tune it (before) every time you play it.
- Hold the instrument on your lap, or get a strap and adjust it so that your arm is horizontal from the elbow.
- Find a pick (plectrum) that you are comfortable with (medium to heavy is normal on a tenor banjo,
but it's a matter of preference - try several different grades). Hold the pick lightly but firmly resting on your first finger between
the first and second joints and clamp it with your thumb (pointy end towards the strings!).
You should be able to move the hand so the plectrum moves from horzontal to a downward angle.
Normally the pick is held horizontally and the hand is moved up or down
from the elbow, with fine
adjustment at the wrist. Rotate the pick to get an angle for faster movements (tremolo and fast triplets)
- Try to practice alternate notes on a down-up cycle. Sometimes it will feel normal to deviate from this. Often the first or accentuated beat is better always on a down.
There are some decent tutor books and videos at music shops which specialise in folk music. The tutor books usually assume that you can or will learn to read music, while the videos
tend to allow you to follow the leader.
Going to local sessions is a good way to learn. The tunes get into your head and you start picking them out after a while. Listening to tracks of the tunes you'd like to play is good for this too.
- Learn a tune in your mind. Be able to hum it or whistle it. Play a favourite track until you really know the tune.
- Start with tunes you know, the simpler the better.
- It's good if you can find the starting note of the music because you will then learn it in the right key and others will probably know it in that key too. You might be able to match the note by ear or find the music for it to get the key and starting note.
- From the start note, the tune in your head will guide you. You will know when it sounds right and when it doesn't.
- Try starting something like "She'll be coming round the mountain" on the 2nd string open (which is actually A)
- play: open, 2nd fret, 5th fret (4 times), 2nd fret, open to get you started. Try and figure out the rest.
- There! That's your first tune.
- There is some information on scales (related to keys) under Music/Scales
- The next thing to know is about rhythm (for jigs, reels, waltzes, hornpipes etc)
Whether you read music or not, you need to know where all the notes are on the GDAE fretboard. It isn't essential, but it certainly helps.