Understanding Frailing Banjo

Going over my notes for my book in progress, it hit me that nobody has really broken down the craft of frailing banjo in terms of the skills required and a general order of progression.

There are not just talking points pulled out of the air. I was pushed, sometimes against my will, to learn these things. I have epilepsy. Getting onstage scared the crap out of me. Learning to sing with my hearing loss was brutally hard. None of this was easy for me. I did the work because it was required to play like the musicians who mentored me.

  • Posture, form, and setup
  • Right-hand basic skills
  • Left-hand basic skills
  • Rhythm
  • Naturalizing the left and right hand
  • Song structure
  • Basic teaching skills
  • Playing and singing
  • Basic showmanship
  • Backup
  • Jamming
  • Taking breaks at jams
  • Calling out chord progressions at jams
  • Basic songwriting
  • Basic musical literacy (keys, chord progressions, scales, and transposing)
  • Starting a jam
  • Working with lyrics
  • Understanding the fretboard
  • Basic repairs
  • Festival, theater, and broadcast work onstage and backstage
  • Basic public speaking, writing, and presentation skills
  • Instrument design
  • Improvising

This is not a checklist. If you approach it that way, you will not learn anything.

Mastering any one of these points can take months to years. Blending them into something that reflects your personality and gives voice to your emotions takes a lifetime. Forty years in and I’m still working on it. If some points seem unrelated to the banjo, like public speaking or working onstage and backstage, try thinking a bit deeper. All of this, even instrument design, flows together for a greater understanding of the craft.