The Banjo Lesson banjo lesson 2 interested in learning to play the banjo

I’ve been teaching clawhammer (frailing) banjo for more than 40 years: individual lessons in person and by Skype, and at banjo camps and workshops throughout the US and in Europe. My YouTube channel, with lots of ad-free instructional videos, has had more than 650,000 views and has 3,500 subscribers.  I am also occasionally available to provide individual and small group instruction over a period of 2 days (plus lodging and meals)  to students visiting my home in the Appalachian town of Athens, Ohio.  My rates are extremely reasonable.  Many people helped me learn to play the banjo, and I love passing on what I have learned!



I find that the overwhelming majority of clawhammer banjo tablature is simply too complex for beginning to intermediate players to play smoothly in a medium- to fast-tempo jam situation.  For this and other reasons, I don’t use tablature. Instead I have developed a sort of descriptive patter to prompt students during a lesson if it’s helpful to the student (it is to most, but not to all, as learning styles differ) and I supply slow and clear audio-video instruction, generally uploaded to YouTube, for students to refer back to.  Another reason I’m not a proponent of tablature is that a tune learned through tab feels to me as if it’s lodged in a different part of the brain… and seems to be “locked” there in such a way that improvisation on the tune becomes more difficult.  Of course, your mileage may vary, but I’ve had very few students who weren’t easily weaned from tab!

I believe that it’s often useful to learn an initial repertoire of tunes note-for-note from an instructor, as these tunes help equip you with a sort of vocabulary of “licks” that will then follow easily when learning many other tunes.  But I think often students learn more tunes note-for-note than they need to, when what would be most useful for them at a certain point is learning how to play a tune they are hearing at a jam or on a recording… that is, learning how to figure out how to choose and produce the melody notes they want to play, and how to make those notes fit rhythmically into the clawhammer style.


So how does one move from learning note-by-note to picking tunes up on the fly?  I try to teach the method that worked really well for me. Firstly, I encourage students to learn some basic chord shapes in the two most common tunings, and learn how (and why) to refer to them using a handy, increasingly popular number system.  And secondly, I encourage students to practice hearing and applying chord changes.

Some thoughts about my teaching philosophy and methods...

My style is supportive and relaxed. Your goals are MY goals.


Ultimately, the greatest joy I’ve had as a banjo player comes from playing with others.  Those peak moments of “entrainment” where you are locked together musically and are of one mind keep me loving life!  It’s the kind of joy I wish for all my students, and I try hard to help you get there.


To me, the role of a banjo in a jam (including a “knee-to-knee” jam with just a fiddler!) is threefold:


1) Play the most important melody notes. (Not ALL of them… that’s the fiddler’s job!)


2) Sketch out the chords when possible/appropriate. (You can do less of this when playing with guitar, bass etc. if you like.)



Here's a video interview for the Old Time Central website that talks a bit more about my background and teaching philosophy,

Through my Patreon page, which is where all my new teaching videos live.  They can be accessed by my patrons, who pledge a small fee to help support my efforts ($4/month. ) Check it out here. 


In person, to people local to me, I teach at my home in Athens, Ohio. Lessons are $40 for an hour lesson. Lower prices available to some individuals, based on individual circumstances.


In person, to people who arrange with me to come individually or in a small group to my home in Athens, Ohio for a 2 or 3 day period.  We have guest bedrooms in our home and we generally supply dinners at the restaurant we own, and breakfast and lunch at home.  There are lots of local motels if you prefer.  The closest large airport is CMH in Columbus, 70 miles away.  References are available upon request.  Price is dependent on my schedule and how many hours of instruction you think you can take in the period of time you’re here, and whether you’re bringing a significant other or are coming with a friend who also wants banjo instruction.  Just call me and we can discuss my pricing, which is very fair.


Remotely, via Skype or Facebook Video Messenger.  If you’ve never tried this, you’ll be amazed at how well it can work.  My price is the same as for face to face lessons: $40/hour.  Payment is by PayPal or credit or debit card or you can send me a check.


At music camps and workshops.  Check my schedule page.


Through my YouTube channel. If your financial circumstances are such that you can’t afford lessons, or my Patreon page, I urge you to check out the hundreds of free instructional videos available on my YouTube channel.  You won't get the feedback that a lesson provides, but it's still a good resource!


For hourly lessons, my policy is to set up the first lesson, then have you notify me when you’re ready to set up the next.  This is partly because my schedule is changeable because of catering etc for my restaurant, and partly because you may not be ready for another lesson right away.  I want you to get the most for your money, and if that means a lesson every two weeks or three, that’s fine with me.  To schedule, check my contact page.



I teach clawhammer banjo in several ways:

compact rabbit transparent