Hello there...well I started about 2 weeks ago learning to play the banjo...been working on Round Peak rolls...and some normal bum ditty ....i set up my banjo with a fiberskyn head and some nylgut strings...not really knowing about Classic Banjo...i was heading towards fretless playing after hearing some wonderful music.

I'm a jazz piano player by trade for over 45 years...and really didn't pay much attn to the banjo...and then going to the internet I found this music to be more than I ever expected for this instrument.

I started to see some tab charts for classical like Bach ECT. I come to you folks that know so much more than I about some way to start to play the Classic Style of music...maybe with easy tab but with the right kind of music to get my voyage started with this....regards Paul

If you want to hear my piano playing go to Paul Painter Jazz on YouTube

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Comment by Trapdoor2 on November 16, 2018 at 13:23

Hi Paul,


Since you already read the treble clef, you probably should just jump in with reading banjo notation rather than tab. There are about a dozen (or so) basic tutors available right here on this site for free download. The whole universe of classic-banjo music will be at your fingertips if you do so.

However, tab is there too...but much less so with teaching/beginning tunes. I'm a tab user and have uploaded quite a bit of tab to this site. Not much on the beginners side though.

You might check out the books by Rob MacKillop, they're in both notation and tab: https://robmackillop.net/banjo-books-by-rob-mackillop/

Do go to the "Learn To Play" section of this site. Excellent stuff there.

Comment by Paul Painter on November 16, 2018 at 15:30

Thanks for the reply! I will do both I think...the tab gets me used to the higher notes being on the bottom of the instrument...that warps my mind! Hi hi hi...and yes I have done a little reading yesterday...im just very new...about 2 weeks into it...i don't know these songs so the recordings I believe will be useful to me.

I put the nylgut strings on my banjo not knowing that anyone has fitted their fretted instruments like that...so you can imagine my delight to see this site!

Again thanks for getting back to me...regards Paul

Comment by Joel Hooks on November 16, 2018 at 16:23

Hello Paul!

I recommend giving yourself a course of study.  The course I am most fond of (currently) is the "Mel Bay Banjo Method Concert Style" by Frank C. Bradbury.  It is still in print if you want a hard copy, or you can buy a digital copy and print your own.

Frank Bradbury wrote two books for regular banjo.  The first was in the 1920s (and can be found for free on this site).  It is good, but not great.  The Mel Bay version (which has some very similar material including more than a few of the same pieces in new arrangements and a lot of similar exercises) was published in the 1960s and reflects the 40 years of his teaching experience-- it is great.

If you knuckle down and work through the book (with your reading skills it should take you just a few months) then you will be done with all the basics and will be able to play any piece that you want at your skill level.

The other option is to get some TAB and spend the next three months learning two or three pieces, number by number.  This option will leave you with the ability to play a few pieces but that is all.

I would recommend the first option. Takes the same amount of time but opens the door to the tens of thousands of pieces published for banjo.

While TAB has been found as a useful path for many people (including myself at first) for "jumping right in," my one major regret was not just starting with a course of study and being done with it.

Comment by Paul Painter on November 16, 2018 at 16:34

Hi Joel...yes I agree with you with a course of action..and I will follow this advice...just for now using the tab to get my feet wet...but right along with this I have read the music..so thanks for your advice..i do believe it's sound! Regards Paul

Comment by Paul Painter on November 16, 2018 at 16:58

Joel...i just found the Mel bay concert in "C" and it's on the way...regards Paul

Comment by Jody Stecher on November 17, 2018 at 14:21

Instead of thinking of the string layout as the high notes being at the bottom of the instrument try this view:

Each string has frets beneath it. The frets separate the string into half steps, just like the keys of a piano. You are already familiar with two rows of keys, the white ones and the black ones.  And an organ has many more rows. On a banjo the whites and blacks are not in two rows, the layout is chromatic: 12 divisions to octave in one straight line.  The banjo has 4 long rows and 1 short one. The short one is mostly not fingered even though it has frets below it.   On an organ the player uses the various rows for different sound colors. It's the same with the banjo.  C at the 5th fret of the 3rd string has a different timbre from C at the 1st fret of 2nd string and different from the same C at the 12th fret of the bass string. In addition the different strings give the convenience of moving vertically between notes rather than entirely horizontally on one string (or on one keyboard).

Comment by Paul Painter on November 17, 2018 at 15:04

Jody...ya I'm getting it! But for 55yrs I've played instruments that if you go to the left or go to the bottom you get a lower tone...hi hi hi...so I learned a finger pattern with this instrument that if I go the way I'm used to that just don't work to a point..but that being said it's true for most of it...hi hi hi...it actually hurt to teach my hand to go where no hand has gone before hi hi hi!

I'm practicing the C major scale using both the high strings one going all the way up on the 1st string and then transferring to the 5th...im starting to relax with it...and reading more music than tab...im really listening to this type of music that I'm now familer with at all...and I really love it quite a bit ...l...learning another way is a great thing for me...it is stretching my mind and I think that's excellent for me....ive had a stroke 16years ago...and 2 heart attacks 5 years ago...last year I rode 5700 miles on my bicycle...so I'm not afraid of the challenge...

I put in 4 hours yesterday and listened for about 3...just like I said I'm really liking it!

I got a nice instrument and I got a minstrel fretless banjo being built for me....it will be done in about 10 months...so I'm all in on learning this really great music and just having a great time with it...

I want to thank all of you for your thoughts and kind comments ..its really nice! Regards Paul

Comment by Jody Stecher on November 17, 2018 at 18:10

If you play a note at any fret on any banjo string and then go to the left you *do* get a lower tone. Unless of course you hold the banjo backwards with the right hand pushing the strings to the fingerboard. In that case going to the left gives a higher tone.  :-)        you can't  hold a piano backwards.   That is the difference between these two great instruments! 

Comment by Paul Painter on November 17, 2018 at 20:59

Funny hi hi!

I guess that's the best comment!

Comment by Joel Hooks on November 26, 2018 at 14:00

Hi Paul,  I am replying here to a response to a comment as the homepage comments tend to be fragmented and hard to follow.

Did I understand you correctly that you have skipped ahead to page 26 in the Mel Bay book?  That puts you starring on the second page of the exercise piece "Pajama Dance."

If that is the case I would recommend you goring back and starting from the beginning.  While it may seem trivial, the early lessons are more then just teaching where and what the notes are.

They teach proper right and left hand fingering-- which is the key to playing banjo smoothly. There is a lot of fundamentals in the pages you skipped.  Pay special attention to learning alternate picking and the thumb glide. 

Follow Bradbury's left hand fingerings for chord structure and follow where he has you retain the stopped notes in chord positions (connected by a dashed line).

Also make sure you are using good left hand form, don't grip the neck like a baseball bat, the thumb should be on the back of the neck not hooked over the top.

Don't worry about comparing TAB, if you work through this book you will never need tab again.

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