"Ask The BanjoTeacher" Question and Answer Free Banjo Lesson Articles with Ross Nickerson

Featured question and answer banjo lessons with well known banjo instructor Ross Nickerson. Get the answers to frequently asked questions by your banjo student peers. Many students are facing the same obstacles. You will learn a lot by hearing others share their challenges in learning the banjo and the advice Ross gives to them.

  • 10th fret bending on Foggy Mountain Breakdown

    10th fret bending on Foggy Mountain Breakdown

    QUESTION: Is my sound quality problem likely caused by my playing (and will improve with practice), or is it due to the limitations of playing a $300.00 banjo and is what I can reasonably expect from the instrument?Read More

  • 500 dollar Banjo

    500 dollar Banjo

    Had a quick question, I have a 500.00 Hohner banjo that I am playing better since I received your online video, but I am trying to get better clarity like your banjo.Do I have to buy a better banjo or is there some way I can enhance mine to sound better and crisper.Read More

  • Advice in the picking and fretting hand

    Advice in the picking and fretting hand

    I started learning the banjo several weeks ago and so far progress is pretty much stalled at the beginning. I realize that the right hand movements, and especially the ability to move the middle finger independently of the ring finger, should come with repetition rolls. But I am also having great difficulty with the dexterity required of the left hand. The laRead More

  • Advice on Banjo Back up Play Along CDs

    Advice on Banjo Back up Play Along CDs

    Good luck with the Backup CDs. Remember to read the instructions on charting out the chords and playing along with the tracks based on the chords and chord progressions. You could be missing the point of these practice cds (which is to work on many parts of your playing skills) if you obsess on the tab arrangemeRead More

  • Advice on retuning the banjo after putting a capo on

    Advice on retuning the banjo after putting a capo on

    Student Question I am having trouble with my banjo going way out of tune when I put a capo on, one of my banjos is fine but the other two I avhe quite a bit of trouble with needing to re-tune, any tips? Read More

  • Banjo Advice - Left hand muting

    Banjo Advice - Left hand muting

    Dear Banjoteacher.com: I recently purchased a Tennessee Crafters banjo and it has great sound. I am struggling with my left hand muting/interfering with the 4th string. The neck is (apparently) narrower than my previous banjo and the 4th string is very close to the lower edge of the neck. Is this something I might Read More

  • Banjo Advice - Left hand muting

    Banjo Advice - Left hand muting

    I recently purchased a Tennessee Crafters banjo and it has great sound. I am struggling with my left hand muting/interfering with the 4th string. The neck is (apparently) narrower than my previous banjo and the 4th string is very close to the lower edge of the neck. Is this something I might be able to adjust with a new nut, or is it just lazy left hand technique? Read More

  • Banjo Double Hammer-on Pull-Off Lick

    Banjo Double Hammer-on Pull-Off Lick

    I'm still struggling with the lick in sitting on top of the world. Would you mind a detailed explanation how to play the lick with the 2 hammers, pulloff ? exactly what the left and right hands are supposed to do and how to do it ?Read More

  • Banjo Help with the Forward Roll

    Banjo Help with the Forward Roll

    I have a question about the fingering of the forward roll as tabbed on pg 16 of "Beginning The 5-String Banjo" book. (The roll referred to is an eight note one measure forward roll starting on the 3rd string, TMTIMTIM)Read More

  • Banjo Practice Advice

    Banjo Practice Advice

    Question about the best products to learn from someone who is frustrated with keeping up with the tracks in the How to Build Your Speed on the Banjo BookRead More

  • Banjo Practice Trying to Hard

    Banjo Practice Trying to Hard

    One of the thing that comes up a lot at my private lessons is that students can think too hard, which many of us do. Adults especially, are used to solving our problems with our mind. With the banjo many of the difficulties can be solved by overcoming physical barriers. That of course is not new, but maybe not thought through enough.Read More

  • Banjo Set Up Advice

    Banjo Set Up Advice

    Just a quick note to say how much I am enjoying the courses I have downloaded from you. I have recently detected vibration on my 4th string when fretting. All the other strings are fine and it is a new set of strings. Are there any banjo websites who diagnose and advise on these problems. Read More

  • Banjo Timing Instruction

    Banjo Timing Instruction

    Reply to a student reporting on learning timing on banjo and other common hurdlesThanks for the positive feedback. timing problems can often be solved by learning to count out or tap out the beats or notes in each measure, (without playing).Read More

  • Beverly Hillbilly D Chord Part

    Beverly Hillbilly D Chord Part

    I bought your books How to Build Up speed and The banjo song book. I am a newcomer but have got the hang of the basic rolls and can play reasonably fluently and at a medium tempo. Problem I am trying to learn The Ballad of Jed Clampet and I just cannot for the life of me get the phrasing of the end of the 3rd to the beginning of the 4th measure. I know the tune, I've watchedRead More

  • Chord shapes / keys

    Chord shapes / keys

    Student Question I understand the concepts of playing back up as explained in the encyclopedia and other books I have but I can't find anything specific concerning backup in alternate tunings, particularly and specifically Dm...iRead More

  • Controling Banjo Picking

    Controling Banjo Picking

    I have been playing (or trying) for a few years now, and for the amount of time invested, feel I should be a pretty good player by now! Not so unfortunately as my biggest problem seems to be my right hand and fingers going everywhere once I start trying to pick up some speed. My hand cramped up terribly when I had two fingers on the head, so it was suggested that I try with just my pinky. I did this and it made me woRead More

  • Fingers tensing up while playing banjo

    Fingers tensing up while playing banjo

    I have just started using some of your materials but have not yet seen this issue specifically addressed. My playing consistency is poor. Some days I can play moderate difficulty tunes with rhythm and timing and with few if any errors. At other times (particularly when playing in front of an “audience”), both right and left hanRead More

  • Fretting Hands Question

    Fretting Hands Question

    I'm still struggling with the lick in sitting on top of the world. Would you mind a detailed explanation how to play the lick with the 2 hammers, pulloff ? exactly what the left and right hands are supposed to do and how to do it ?Read More

  • Getting Better Control of Your Picking

    Getting Better Control of Your Picking

    Love your Banjo Encyclopedia and have found it a great help. I have been playing (or trying) for a few years now, and for the amount of time invested, feel I should be a pretty good player by now! Not so unfortunately as my biggest problem seems to be my right hand and fingers going everywhere once I start trying to pick up some speed. My hand cramped up terribly when I had two fingers on theRead More

  • Help with D Chord

    Help with D Chord

    I can play most chord forms pretty well at this point, but have never comfortably mastered the full D chord—in fact, I’m not very content with how I play it at all. This is certainly an important chord shape that is essential to basic bluegrass music, especially up-the-neck playing. Here’s my question—what can I do to improve my ability to accurately transition to this chord form (I know, practice, practice, practice)? Do you have something specific that you can recommend?Read More

  • How do I use Banjo Rolls?

    How do I use Banjo Rolls?

    I'm finding your DVDs, CDs, etc. very useful and am pleased to have them. I have a question about the rolls information in your Fundamentals program that came up for me when I first got into that material. I didn't ask this when I started as I thought it was too basic or obvious a question but it keeps coming to mind so here goes: My understanding of rolls is that they serve an ongoing, background rhythm purpose so, as the term suggests, they roll on and on and on. Several of the rolls you present have one measure of eight notes with the second measure ending in quarter/half notes (I don't have the book with me and may not be using the right term for the secRead More

  • How do you become more advanced?

    How do you become more advanced?

    How did you go from beginning to professional? There is one thing that I would like to offer as a question and that is, have you considered writing an article about how you progressed playing the banjo from the beginning through intermediate, and advance play, before becoming professional? I'm sure countless aspiring banjo players would be interested in how you went about going from a novice banjo player to an expert today. For example, I, for one, would be interested in knowing how often and for how long did you practice, your approach to learning, and your daily practice routine. Read More

  • How long to stay practicing on 1 thing?

    How long to stay practicing on 1 thing?

    I received my banjo and materials very quickly. Thanks for the quick service! Your book and DVD (Fundamentals of 5-String Banjo) are invaluable resources for the beginning student. My problem is I'm not sure exactly how quickly to move forward or how long I should practice one thing. Should I learn one roll until Read More

  • How to Bend Banjo Picks

    How to Bend Banjo Picks

    Is there a preferred bending of the finger tips? Should they be bent to where they are 45 degrees to your finger nails or left as they are when you take them out of the pack?There seems to be as many answers as there are stars in the sky. I just want to know if there is a mechanically best method so I don't have to change later. Read More

  • How to Capo the 5th string

    How to Capo the 5th string

    In your years of playing the banjo , do you find it usefull to have a 5th sting sliding capo bar? I not sure if I should have one mounted ,if it is not really needed. Read More

  • How to fret better on banjo and improve the left hand Question

    How to fret better on banjo and improve the left hand Question

    As a relative newbie to the banjo, I've got a question that pertains to the Banjo Encyclopedia's 3rd chapter on left handed technique. Here's my question. If you could only practice one part of that chapter (for about 15 min) everyday, which part would it be? I know it somewhat depends on the needs of the student, but I'm just wondering which part of this chapter I'll be truely glad I worked diligently on a year from now. Also, please relate any really really important left handed techniques that you did not mention in BE, if there are any. ThanksRead More

  • How to play a banjo roll with a bounce

    How to play a banjo roll with a bounce

    I always am interested in opinions on whether one should try to pick with even spacing (time) between notes or a slightly different spacing resulting in a “bouncy” rhythm. I have noticed listening to your monthly songs that on most you seem to have an even spacing between notes even at the slow speed resulting in the so called “machine gun” sound.Read More

  • How to Play Banjo Up the Neck, Cumberland Gap

    How to Play Banjo Up the Neck, Cumberland Gap

    Question Hi Ross, I have a question about playing the Cumberland Gap up the neck break. I'm having trouble with the pinky finger hitting the 11th fret, 2nd string right. Is there a pearl of wisdom for this?Read More

  • How to play in the Key of D on banjo

    How to play in the Key of D on banjo

    I can play most chord forms pretty well at this point, but have never comfortably mastered the full D chord—in fact, I’m not very content with how I play it at all. This is certainly an important chord shape that is essential to basic bluegrass music, especially up-the-neck playing. Here’s my question—what can I do to improve my ability to accurately transition to this chord form (I know, practice, practice, practice)? Do you have something specific that you can recommend?Read More

  • Index Finger flies away

    Index Finger flies away

    Just wanted to thank you again and let you know how productive the cruise workshop was for me. I have been playing about two hours a day in the month since we’ve been back and am seeing improvement in most areas. I’m mostly practicing the two-finger chord positions, playing in thirds and sixths, and doing left and right hand exercises out of the Banjo Encyclopedia, which is very well done I must say. My only source of frustration right now is that no matter how muRead More

  • I’m learning to play banjo like this in 7 months

    I’m learning to play banjo like this in 7 months

    One of my online students sent me this nice message and also an MP3 recording of his progress. I think he is doing well so I sent back some encouragement and some tips that might be helpful to my blog readers as well. Here is the letter.I bought a banjo the last week of March this year. I’ve been amazed at how far I’ve come since then thanks to books like yours (I’m entirely self taught). I attached an mp3 of a song I just recorded today. I’ve got a friend who plays guitar and I was recording it so he could practice with it. Thought you might like to hear what someone with your books and 7 months of practice can do.Read More

  • Learning Banjo From the Bluegrass Encyclopedia of Banjo

    Learning Banjo From the Bluegrass Encyclopedia of Banjo

    Try reading The Banjo Encyclopedia without playing to get some further understanding of what is being presented. A lot of students say that has helped them. Try to gain more of the big picture before you dive into playing, it will likely save you valuable practice time.Read More

  • Learning the D Chord Part In Beverly Hillbillies / Jed Clampett

    Learning the D Chord Part In Beverly Hillbillies / Jed Clampett

    Banjo Advice Beverly Hillbilly's / Jed ClampetLearning the Beverly Hillbillies theme on banjo Student Question: The D chord part in The Ballad of Jed Clampet Read More

  • Learning to play Chords and Chord Shapes

    Learning to play Chords and Chord Shapes

    As I'm practicing chords and my chord progressions on banjo, Should I try to find the chords closest to each other on the neck. or try to pick up and down the neck or try pick different shapes.I get a little confused trying to pick out say which D to go to Good question actually. I normally suggest finding the ones closest to each other when you learning and finding them. Read More

  • Middle Finger Problems

    Middle Finger Problems

    A question on the middle finger not cooperating I am a member and I have a question for you. I started playing last June and my middle finger wants to move up away from the strings when I strike the other strings with my thumb and middle finger. Is they any way of trying to correct this. Maybe some exercise. Anything advise would be greatly appreciated. Read More

  • Play Along CDs for Speed Building Book

    Play Along CDs for Speed Building Book

    Question about the best products to learn from someone who is frustrated with keeping up with the tracks in the How to Build Your Speed on the Banjo BookThe new backup play along CDs are probably the best banjo practice advice I could give for improving playing the songs you know, They are much slower than the Speed book tracks. The fRead More

  • Play by ear banjo tips

    Play by ear banjo tips

    Playing in the the key of D and playing by ear Here are some suggestions I just sent to a student preparing to attend an upcoming workshop of mine. I don't always have time for this but was inspired tonight. The suggestions might help you too so I'll share them.Read More

  • Playing the Melody by Ear

    Playing the Melody by Ear

    Playing the Melody on Banjo A question on how to learn to pick out the melody notes. So you have any suggestions that would help me learn how to just pick the melody notes out when learning a tune or is it just learn the notes on the fret board?Read More

  • Playing using the chords

    Playing using the chords

    Learning new techniques and new songs has been the driving force for me to play every day and your Website has added a new dimension to my quest. I've watched your newest video of "Boil Them Cabbage Down" and thoroughly enjoy the style you've created with that song. I know a simple version of that song but would love to get my hands on the tab from your video.Read More

  • Practicing Basic Banjo Rolls

    Practicing Basic Banjo Rolls

    I am member and have been getting much material from your great collections. My question is that I have never practiced the basic banjo rolls and other rolls. I have been playing for about 3 years now and I am learning different songs from many books. I feel like I am learning the forward roll and other rolls better because I use them in alRead More

  • Practicing the left hand for fun

    Practicing the left hand for fun

    Question I'm getting better at banjo but the left hand is tough for me right now. I remember you emphasizing it in your workshop. It seems so much easier and 'fun' to work right hand picking techniques. Read More

  • Pull Down or Push Up?

    Pull Down or Push Up?

    Ross when i first learned to play i was taught to push off from 3-2 (third string) and have always done that but lacked consistency in sound- and sometimes my middle finger hits the fourth string such that i can hear it. i have the encyclopedia ( which is awesome) and you teach a pull off (3-2). i think it sounds better but i am so used to pushing that it is slow going right now. what do you recommend that i do ? Read More

  • Pull off 3-2 on the 3rd string

    Pull off 3-2 on the 3rd string

    I have a question in regards to the 3-2 pull off. After experimenting one night, I found that my pull offs were crisper and cleaner if I used my left ring finger instead of my left middle finger to do the pull off. After doing this for a few minutes, I started thinking about the physics of using the ring instead of the middle, and it seemed to makRead More

  • Pull-off and Push-off tips/follow up

    Pull-off and Push-off tips/follow up

    A featured email question from a student and answer by me, or some advice I have given someone who has requested it. Many of the questions I receive are questions that many students learning the banjo have. I hope the answers and advice I share ring through as sensible to you.Read More

  • Putting One or Two Fingers on the Banjo Head

    Putting One or Two Fingers on the Banjo Head

    Should I place two fingers on the head? One finger down? If so, which finger? When picking what's the difference between planting two fingers or just one? The advantage? Why put any fingers down?Read More

  • Putting the Capo on

    Putting the Capo on

    I spent yesterday at a oldtime music jamboree with about ten different bands playing. I noticed the guitar players when they moved their capos they didn't retune, when I put mine on the banjo it doesn't sound right and appears to be out of tune. Your book (banjo encyclopedia) says I may have to retune with the capo on. My question is if I put the capo on the 2nd fret (key of A) what do I tune the strings to?? I guess this question would be the same for any placement of the capo.Read More

  • Question on using a preamp with a Fishman Banjo Pickup

    Question on using a preamp with a Fishman Banjo Pickup

    Hi, I purchased a Gold Tone BG-250 F from you a few months ago. Great banjo by the way. I installed the Fishman rare earth pickup in it and was hoping you could give me some insight on a good DI for this set up. I am playing in a full band set-up with electric instruments, drums, etc. I am having trouble getting good volume with control. Is it ideal to use a DI with the Fishman? If so, what do I look for? Thanks for any help you can give me at all.Read More

  • Questions about banjo tab

    Questions about banjo tab

    I get a little bit of an attitude with any issues with the tab related the backup tracks in particular. That's because it's my feeling, and desire for students to get away from the tab with these tracks, to try to fill in the space where they forget, (or the tab is wrong or doesn't suit them:) and practice just picking along really,Read More

  • Relaxing when playing banjo

    Relaxing when playing banjo

    Getting in the Zone! By Ross Nickerson I had a very nice email that included compliments on my book The Banjo Encyclopedia. The student also had some interesting comments that inspired an impromptu email I sent back to him with some suggestions and insights that might help some of you as well. Thanks! Ross Nickerson. Read More

  • Right Hand Placement Question

    Right Hand Placement Question

    I am in my mid 50’s and got my first banjo as well as your impressive book “The Banjo Encyclopedia”. I wanted to be sure that I am on right track and to verify that you suggest using the book in the sequence presented which has ‘Right Hand Banjo Instruction ’’ techniques with Rolls prior to “Left Hand” techniques with Chords, etc.Read More

  • Songs on Banjo that sound good slow

    Songs on Banjo that sound good slow

    Here's a question for the "Ask the Banjo Teacher" forum. Being that I started learning the banjo later in life and have a problem playing some of the songs "up to speed" do you have any suggestions for songs that sound good slower, played at a slow speed? I've done some searching and can't find any kind of a compilation of songs geared towards a slower tempo yetRead More

  • Take it Easy Tab Question

    Take it Easy Tab Question

    I'm wanting to learn the tab to "take it easy". It's hard for me to hear the song in the tab. Is this played from the very beginning of the song or is it the solo piece towards the end of the song. What speed should this be played in. Thanks Paula Read More

  • Timing Tips

    Timing Tips

    Learn Timing and how to count time Tips from Ross Nickerson answers to students A couple of tips. Learning to count time is very important on the banjo and easy if you just take the time to practice it.Read More

  • Trouble with Playing Banjo Chords

    Trouble with Playing Banjo Chords

    Question: Hi, I am a beginner/newly intermediate banjo player and am having a very difficult time with playing banjo chords.Read More

  • Trouble with the Index Finger

    Trouble with the Index Finger

    I have been struggling with right hand accuracy for some time now. I have even emailed you a couple of times for advice, which you graciously offered. Please indulge me one more time as I have determined the root of the problem.Read More

  • What is the definition of playing thirds on a banjo

    What is the definition of playing thirds on a banjo

    Hi Ross what is the definition of playing a third on a banjo? Looked but couldn’t find the definition, Thanks TedHi Ted,A Third is two notes 1/3 apart; chords are made of 3 notes, each note 1/3 apart which is why they harmonize. Singers most often harmonize using notes 1/3 apart.Read More

  • What To Practice

    What To Practice

    I need some advice on practicing. I’ve learned “Dixie Breakdown” cleanly at the slower speed. In addition, I’ve learned Lonesome Road Blues from the Scruggs CD at the slower speed. My question is: should I concentrate on “just” those until I get them at the “breakneck” speed you play them at? ( which is going toRead More

  • What´s the benefit with a radius neck compared with a standard one?

    What´s the benefit with a radius neck compared with a standard one?

    Hi Nick! I´m really pleased with your Nick Picks that arrived a few days ago. They improve both tone and speed to my picking. Bye the way, could you tell me what´s the benefit with a radius neck compared with a standard one?Read More

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