Enough with the Banjo Style Snobbery

Yesterday, I came across an online community of people who enjoy singing traditional songs and accompanying themselves on banjo with a simple pattern they had learned from an online source and a few self-published books.

An hour later, trying to track down the materials they had used to get started, I came cross another online community of people who were incensed that the first group was having so much fun with their banjos, without playing the banjo the way the second community thought they should.

I usually consider the source, but one of the old-timers went so far as to say that if one of the newer group came to one of his jam sessions, he would refuse to play along with any of his songs. Way to show the love, guy!

Seems like no one under sixty remembers that as late as 1970, there were a dozen ways to play the banjo, and all of them were equally accepted in the Folk, Country, and other traditional music communities, as long as the music you produced was compelling. I learned banjo in that era, and have played an eclectic style that suited my songwriting and concerts for young people ever since. I’m guessing that I wouldn’t be welcome in that other fellow’s jam session either. That doesn’t bother me as much as you might think.

If you’re just starting banjo and you’re having fun with the instrument, don’t let arrogant jerks get you down. They’ve just forgotten that they were beginners once, too, and other people encouraged them instead of shutting them down. Some of us OLDER-timers probably even nodded our heads and said, “Good work, keep it up,” even while we were wincing inwardly. That’s what you do when you believe in something greater than your own ego.

In the meantime, MOST banjo players I’ve met in my lifetime are friendly, helpful people who will be glad to see you enjoying your instrument. If you run into the other kind, just remember who you’re doing this for – YOU, not them.

Best of luck – keep singing, keep playing, keep writing, keep loving!

– Paul


About Paul

Paul Race has been writing and playing all kinds of music since the 1960s, though he tends to favor acoustic and traditional songs. He has created resources like CreekDontRise.com, ClassicTrainSongs.com, and SchoolOfTheRock.com to help other musicians get a good start on their own journeys.

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