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Play Faster! Free Banjo Lesson

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one thing almost all banjo players want

to be able to do is play fast for you

that might mean playing like this or it

just might mean being able to play a

little faster than you can now whatever

your goals are there are specific ways

to increase speed on the banjo and I'm

going to show them to you right now in

this video fast banjo playing has always

been a part of bluegrass music perhaps

the earliest recording of bluegrass

features a young Earl Scruggs playing

little Maggie at a quick 145 beats per


there is a wide range of tempos in

bluegrass music and not everything needs

to be played as fast as possible but if

you're serious about playing bluegrass

banjo then being able to play fast is a

valuable tool to have in your arsenal of

techniques one common piece of advice is

that in order to play fast you need to

start by playing slow and that is true

but there's a little more to it than

that let's use Foggy Mountain breakdown

as an example our goal is to play this

song fast but at the same time we want

to make sure we're playing with

consistent timing no mistakes and good

tone in order to do that we're going to

start by playing the song slowly with

consistent timing no mistakes and good

tone this starts by really familiarizing

yourself with the material if you can't

play through something at any tempo

without making mistakes we're stopping

then it's not time to increase speed yet

and this really isn't just for beginners

every time I learned something new I

make sure I can play it correctly at an

extremely slow tempo in order to develop

consistent timing I recommend you use a

metronome run block

banjo player for Alison Krauss and Union

Station who practices regularly with a

metronome says that a metronome is like

checking in with time headquarters it

doesn't move and it doesn't respond to

you it's going to give you an unchanging

reference point by which to compare your

own sense of timing there are a lot of

metronomes available but I personally

use the pro metronome app for iPhone

notice that I've been saying consistent

timing instead of good timing timing is

a subjective notion and all banjo

players have slightly different

tendencies when it comes to timing if

you listen to Earl Scruggs JD Crowe and

Ralph Stanley you'll hear three very

different ways to interpret timing all

of which I would consider good timing

you'll have your own sense of timing and

a metronome won't rob you of that but

playing with the metronome will tell you

exactly when you have a tendency to

speed up or slow down so start playing

the material in this case Foggy Mountain

breakdown at a speed that allows you to

play comfortably and without mistakes we

need to establish a baseline because our

goal is to eventually be this

comfortable at higher speeds I

personally like to start around 60 beats

per minute but you should start wherever

you're comfortable


as you play make sure that every note is

evenly spaced and at a relatively even

volume if you can do that then you're

ready to increase the speed if you find

that you're consistently making mistakes

then you either need to slow down or

become more familiar with the material

this is one of the most crucial aspects

of practicing when you make a mistake

acknowledge it honestly and deal with it

don't be afraid to practice a pattern or

a roll on its own over and over again

just to make sure you're comfortable

with it when you do increase speed make

sure you do so gradually we really only

want to increase the difficulty by a

small amount so that we can acclimate to

the new speed and maintain our tone and

technique I generally will increase the

tempo by only five or ten beats per

minute at a time and as you repeat the

song feel free to increase the speed as

do you feel comfortable but before we

get too far we need to talk a little bit

about technique at very slow speeds it's

pretty easy to get away with inefficient

technique and usually this means a lot

of unnecessary muscle tension obviously

there needs to be some muscle tension in

order for us to actually move our

fingers but in general we want to be as

relaxed as possible while still

maintaining tone and volume we can't

consciously control every muscle in our

hands all the time but if you pay

attention then you'll notice when

certain muscle groups tense out it might

be in your hands or your wrists or your

arms or even your neck and your back any

unnecessary tension like this is going

to limit your range and ease of motion

and actually puts you at risk for injury

so if you're unable to play at a certain

speed without too much muscle tension

then it's in the best interest of your

playing and your health to slow down and

make smooth relaxed movements a habit if

you're playing assuming you're conscious

of muscle tension and you're not making

too many mistakes as you progress you'll

eventually reach a tempo that's a little

too fast for you to keep up with that's

your limit for today but that doesn't

mean we can't still make progress try

dropping the tempo about 10 beats per

minute and then play at that speed for

as long as you can what we're doing here

is building stamina near our maximum

speed then tomorrow when you come back

and do this process all over again

playing near your maximum speed won't be

as physically demanding or intimidating

if you want to make consistent and

lasting progress then you'll want to

practice this way as regularly as you

can maybe every day or every other day

it definitely won't happen overnight but

if you practice with a purpose then you

will see results however practicing with

a metronome is not

the only way to increase speed and

dexterity on the banjo another option is

to play along with recordings at fast

tempos ideally you want to find a

recording that is right around your

maximum speed and your only job is to

try to keep up



it's not necessarily the most efficient

way of building speed on the banjo but

it's a lot of fun and it simulates the

feeling of playing with a real band

which is pretty different from playing

with a metronome of course we're still

going to try to maintain our relaxed

technique but the act of reaching for

that higher tempo can be pretty

productive playing along with these fast

recordings for an extended period of

time will help you build stamina which

you're gonna need if you want to play

fast so now that we know how to develop

speed how fast is fast enough that

really depends on your goals most

professional banjo players can play

cleanly and comfortably around 160 beats

per minute to 180 beats per minute but

how fast should you practice any one

particular song when I was studying at

East Tennessee State University I

briefly took lessons with Adam Steffi

who was the mandolin player with Alison

Krauss Union Station Mountain Heart the

boxcar is a bunch of other really great

bluegrass bands he told me that in order

to play comfortably at one tempo then he

would practice until he could play

faster than he needed to

then when he went back to the original

tempo it would be much easier by

comparison let's say then that I wanted

to play Foggy Mountain breakdown at a

hundred and sixty beats per minute which

is about the tempo of the original 1949

recording to really feel comfortable at

that tempo that I'm gonna try and

practice until I can play at maybe 170

or 180 beats per minute


then when I drop back down 160 it'll

feel a lot more comfortable




building speed and dexterity is in

endless process as with other skills

it's something you're going to develop

gradually over a long period of time so

remember these things to efficiently

increase speed on the banjo start slowly

and gradually increase speed as you

practice and make sure you're really

familiar with the material before you

increase the speed use a metronome to

develop even and consistent timing this

can also be useful for monitoring your

progress as you can take note of what

your maximum speed is every time you


be wary of unnecessary muscle tension

sometimes we just want to muscle through

it but playing fast requires a balance

of power and finesse that can't be

achieved through brute force alone don't

be afraid to push your limits even if

you never really have a reason to play

say 160 beats per minute if you can get

to that tempo then playing at slower

tempos is gonna be so much easier you

can get the tablature for Foggy Mountain

breakdown at my website or at slash

Eli Gilbert banjo just in case you have

learned that one yet it's a good one to

know and on that note I want to thank

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like this as always thanks for watching

and I'll see you in the next video