Let’s do this! In this introductory video, you’ll learn:
- How this course works.
- How to get the most out of it.
- 4 great reasons to learn 2 finger thumb lead.
- Why 2 finger thumb lead is the ideal style to learn first when learning to fingerpick the banjo.
1) Click here to subscribe to the Fingerstyle Banjo Channel
2) Beats for Banjo practice tracks
4) The Laws of Brainjo: The Art & Science of Molding a Musical Mind (BOOK)
5) Click the button below to get the course book when available.
Welcome to 2 Finger Thumb Lead Banjo in 7 Essential Steps, a crash course for the total beginner. That’s what we’re going to be learning in this course. One of my absolute favorite ways to play the banjo, and a style anybody with a banjo should know how to play, because it’s so much fun, it sounds so good, and it’s really easy to get started.
So in this first video, I’m going to cover basically what to expect in this series of videos, and over the course of the next few days and weeks, I will be releasing the next videos in this series.
So if you want to follow this course, go ahead and subscribe to the channel, and ring the bell if you want to be notified when new videos or are posted.
Additionally, there will be an accompanying ebook for this course that has all the exercises. That is in progress and should be available soon.
The central headquarters for the course will be fingerstylebanjo.com/twofinger. You’ll find all of the course videos there, along with the exercises and the link to sign up to get the eBooks sent to you when it is ready, or if you’re watching this after this course has been completed, then the ebook will be delivered to you immediately.
So the goal of this course is for you to learn the fundamental techniques of 2 finger thumb lead banjo after you’re done, and to do so in the shortest, most efficient means possible.
If you have some prior banjo experience, that’s great. If you’re a claw hammer banjo and this is your first dive into 2 finger thumb lead, I think you’ll find you pick this up pretty quickly.
That being said, you do not have to have ever picked the banjo before to take this course, and you don’t have to have any prior musical experience, and it doesn’t matter how old you are. In fact, the older the better. There is nothing better than learning to play a musical instrument for your health and your brain as you get older.
All right, first question. Why learn 2 finger thumb lead style at all?
Best answer is it’s because it sounds amazing. There’s some links in the video description, I’ll put some links on this video that you can click to hear the style for yourself, and we’ll get more into the specifics of what it is, but all it involves is the thumb and index finger, and you could make incredibly fantastic sounding music that you could make for the rest of your life and never have to learn any other style of music and be perfectly happy with just these two fingers. It’s amazing.
There are so many great reasons to learn this style. It is one of the core traditional techniques of the banjo, and fortunately, it’s going undergoing a resurgence right now, which is fantastic. People are finally discovering just how cool it is.
One big reason is I think it is the best foundation for fingerstyle banjo in general. So regardless of what other styles you might like to play, I always recommend learning this style first, because what it does is it builds a foundation that then makes it easier to pick up three finger style, whereas the opposite is not true.
So in the Breakthrough Banjo course for fingerstyle banjo, which teaches all styles, a fingerstyle, 2 finger, old-time 3 finger and bluegrass 3 finger, everybody progresses through 2 finger thumb lead because it allows you to then play any style you want on the banjo, and it makes learning the 3 finger styles easier.
A lot of people take up the banjo, want to learn bluegrass or Scruggs style first, and I can tell you that after working with thousands of students if you try learning Scruggs right out of the gate or bluegrass right out of the gate, the deck is stacked heavily against you in terms of your odds of success, and even if you do learn it successfully, almost always, you’re going to be stuck with that being the only style that you can play.
However, if you learn this style first, 2 finger thumb lead, your odds of success of learning this style are way higher, and your odds of success of learning the three fingers Scruggs are much higher.
So you get to learn a fantastic style that you can continue to play as your only way of playing the banjo, if you want, or you’ll also be able to add any other style you want down the road. So it’s the ultimate win-win.
Now I’ve talked elsewhere about the neuroscience of why it’s easier to start with two fingers thumb lead and why it makes learning three finger style easier, so I will not get into that here, because here we’re just going to boil things down to the essentials.
The second reason to learn the style is, I’ve alluded to this already, it’s the easiest way to sound great on the banjo. The banjo is known for playing a lot of notes. So the basic banjo sound consists of melody notes, plus a lot of extra stuff, and on the banjo, there’s more extra stuff than there is melody, and all those extra notes present some challenges, and the difference between really good and really bad banjo playing is timing and emphasis.
So by timing, I mean putting the notes in the right spots on the beat, and then emphasis being emphasizing the right notes, which is critically important when you have more non-melody notes than you have melody notes, which is how the banjo works.
In 2 finger thumb lead style, what is fantastic is that the thumb naturally picks the strings stronger, and the thumb is responsible for the melody. So this emphasis on the melody notes is baked into the style. So you don’t really have to think about placing the emphasis where it’s supposed to go, it naturally goes where it’s supposed to go.
Then the structure of how 2 finger thumb lead is weighed out, laid out, makes keeping timing much, much easier. Neither of these things is true with Scruggs style. The emphasis is not always placed on the thumb, and it is heavily syncopated in such a way that timing is not easy, it is not baked into the structure.
So both of those things are challenging, especially when you get started, and so many people learn that style and then complain that their playing doesn’t sound right, and the reason is that the timing and the emphasis is off, because it’s really hard to learn all those things at the same time while trying to learn three finger style. So learning two finger style first gets you to build those two essential habits from the very beginning.
The next reason to learn 2 finger thumb lead style banjo is because it, in my opinion, is the best style for solo banjo playing, is the best finger style for solo banjo playing, clawhammer banjo being the other one that’s perfect for solo playing, and it’s also, by far, the best one for solo playing and singing. So it sounds great and works great for vocal backup.
On the other hand, three finger style, especially 3 finger bluegrass, is really intended to be played in a band setting. So it sounds it’s best when played when there are other instruments playing as well, because it often relies on those other instruments to maintain the beat so that you can fully appreciate and make sense of the syncopated sound of the banjo, and it’s also not really a style that was intended for playing vocal backup with. It’s intended to play instrumental breaks, so it’s not as well suited for that, whereas 2 finger thumb lead is.
So if you’re interested in having a style that’s great for just sitting around at home on your sofa by yourself playing, sitting on your back porch and playing, or singing along, 2 finger thumb lead is perfect for that.
Like I said, 3 finger can feel like you’re missing something when you do that. You can practice on your own, but it doesn’t always sound complete when you do so. Furthermore, 2 finger thumb lead sounds great when you play at slow to moderate tempos.
A lot of people associate banjo picking with really fast playing, and that’s really exclusive to three finger style banjo, and particularly 3 finger bluegrass-style banjo, that it’s almost become a bit of a dog and pony show where the speed part is more about kind of competition and flash rather than playing something that sounds really good.
Oftentimes things that are played really fast don’t sound that great, even though they may be technically impressive, but 2 finger thumb lead sounds really great at a nice, relaxed tempo.
I’ll link here a demonstration video of a medley of 2 finger thumb lead songs that are played at a nice, relaxed tempo, and played on a Gore banjo, which really enhances that relaxing sound, and we’re out to play those same songs at the breakneck speeds that you hear some bluegrass banjo, it would sound awful and kind of ridiculous.
The next reason to learn 2 finger thumb lead style banjo is that 2 finger thumb lead is way more versatile than you might think. It sounds like it might be constrained by two fingers, but it’s not.
If you’ve ever heard Reverend Gary Davis play guitar with just two fingers, you know how versatile a sound you can get with just two. Some people may have the misconception that you can’t play fiddle tunes on the banjo, if that’s your interest in 2 finger thumb lead style, and you absolutely can, it’s one of my favorite things to do.
All right, so briefly, how this course is going to work. You’re going to be learning the fundamental techniques of 2 finger thumb lead banjo. It’s going to be based on the Brainjo Method of instruction, which is a method of musical instruction that incorporates the science of how the brain learns to create the most effective and efficient path to learning for anyone of any age.
So in each video, we’ll have a short lesson covering that particular technique, and then I will demonstrate a set of exercises to practice that technique with, to master before you move onto the next video.
One of the critical things to do as you are learning early on is to practice with some kind of external rhythm keeping device. The metronome has been the thing used classically over history, but fortunately, these days we have much better alternatives, and in this course, I’m going to be demonstrating these exercises with a tool that I’ve created called Beats for Banjo, and Beats for Banjo was created as a practice tool.
So what it is is backing rhythm tracks that give you the kind of fundamental beat that so much of banjo of music, including two finger thumb lead style, is based against.
So it makes it a whole lot easier to practice against than a metronome, which is … Playing along with that is almost a skill in and of itself. So it’s way easier to do and it’s way more fun. What so many people do is they don’t like the metronome, so they don’t practice with it, they don’t practice with any rhythm keeping device.
In the beginning, you can’t play with backing tracks and chords, because you’re not ready for that, so people end up practicing with no timekeeping device, which lets you build that habit. So super important to do, and I think you’ll really enjoy using Beats for Banjo.
Again, it’s backing rhythm tracks set at all different speeds for you. Now I will be demonstrating in each exercise how to play it and how to play it along with the backing rhythm track.
Lastly, another thing you’re going to learn from this course besides the fundamental techniques of 2 finger thumb lead banjo, is you’re going to start learning how to play by ear.
You’re going to be using your ear in this course in a very easy and natural way that I think you’ll find straightforward, and that will help to demystify this whole process of learning by ear so that after this course, not only will you understand how two finger thumb lead works, you’ll have the basic techniques, but you’ll also have developed some of your ear skills and you’ll understand how you use your ear to then pick out tunes on the banjo and start playing your own music.
All right. That’s all for this video. I will see you in the next one.