I was chatting with somebody on Facebook the other day and I was told a story I hear all too often.

The story goes like this:

  • Person buys a banjo.
  • Person starts lessons.
  • Teacher presents the craft by handing out tab sheets for fiddle tunes.
  • Person finds Dear Old Dad and Patrick on YouTube.
  • Person mentions Dear Old Dad and Patrick to the teacher.
  • Teacher goes on a rant about the Costello family.
  • Teacher goes back to handing out tab for fiddle tunes.

Teaching and handing out tab are two different things.

Dear Old Dad gives a banjo lesson.

I started bluegrass lessons with my dad back in the 1970’s. In all our years making music, working as DJ’s, running a huge festival, managing a country music theater, Performing as The God Knows We Tried String Band, running a video music magazine, pioneering web-based education, pioneering open-source music instruction and launching a publishing company we have yet to meet one person who started out on the banjo wanting to play fiddle tunes.

We have been up and down the East Coast, out into the Midwest and through the Internet all over the world. We always hear the same things. People took up the banjo to make music on the front porch. To sing songs for their kids or grandchildren. To have fun.

Many people presenting themselves teachers ignore what their students want and do a hard sell on a fictional version of traditional music that fits their skill set. Instead introducing the student to the language of music, they take a shortcut. They hand over a tab sheet which leaves the student with no tools to build coordination, confidence or an understanding of the medium. Making music becomes memorizing the notes of fiddle tunes. Everything sounds the same!

The student is left feeling like a failure.

Banjo camps, banjo workshops at festivals and banjo lessons have fallen into this ugly routine of struggling to remember the tab sheet for a song that is not pleasing to the ear. If the student gets antsy the teacher will distract them with multiple obscure tunings or pointless technical exercises.

We have watched this long enough. It’s time to clear the deck and drive out the carpet baggers and joyless drones who are providing bad instruction.

We have already made enough information freely available for self-motivated beginners to teach themselves. Our books and video workshops are used by tens of thousands of students around the world. The missing element has been face to face instruction. Well, my father and I have decided to make ourselves ourselves available to students for personalized lessons via video chat.

Contact us at ask.patrick@gmail.com to schedule a phone meeting with Dear Old Dad. He will assess where you are right now and schedule a first video lesson with one or both of us. After the initial lesson we will give you suggestions on what to practice. Once you have that material down cold, contact us to schedule a second lesson.

If you have read The How and the Tao of Old Time Banjo this setup should be familiar to you.

“Ok now, get lost. Go on and work on that. Don’t come back until you can do like we showed you.”

So right about now you are wondering what these lessons are going to cost.
I am happy to tell you that the answer is nothing.
There is no charge for this service!

Well, we have done this for free in the past and some people ended up behaving as if our time is not valuable. To avoid that we are asking for a few things if you come to us for instruction.

  1. Don’t waste our time.
  2. Don’t make excuses for not practicing.
  3. Stop paying for lessons based on memorizing fiddle tunes.
  4. Stop hanging around in banjo forums.
  5. Once you are playing, share as we shared with you.

If this is acceptable, contact us at ask.patrick@gmail.com to schedule a phone meeting with Dear Old Dad to discuss the possibility of scheduling an initial lesson.