The Art of Frailing Banjo

If you have heard me reminisce over my days learning my trade in Philadelphia or read about my exploits in Just This Banjo, you already know that I was mentored by some amazing musicians.

For as long as I can remember, old-time banjo was about singing. Peggy Seeger and Elizabeth Cotten sang when they gave me my first pointers and every good frailing banjo player I have known since then has been a singer. The solo melody players always struck me like Bobcat Goldthwait trying to pass as a mime.

I was told from day one to sing, and never mind that I couldn’t hear. The craft is the craft. I was told flat-out to either cowboy up or take up a hobby that won’t require effort.

In these videos, I am not playing from tablature. Frailing banjo is an improvisational approach to music. I simply note the time signature, pick a key I think will work with my voice and then use my singing as a guide through the melody and chord progression. People tell me that it seems hard, but it is a million times easier than memorizing tab files note by note. I mean, I don’t have to remember anything and there is no end to the music I can make. It isn’t talent. It isn’t a gift. It is simply frailing banjo.

This YouTube playlist is not a jukebox. I am not singing for your entertainment. I am simply applying the craft so that our students can see basic concepts and techniques in action.

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The black boxes bolted on either side of my head in some of these videos are a bilateral BAHA implant or Bone Anchored Hearing Aid. If I am not wearing them, I can barely hear my voice and I am playing largely by feel.