How We Teach

We make learning fun and emphasize ease and speed, so you can spend more time playing and less time in the classroom.

Why The 5-String Banjo

Banjo music evokes dreams and soul in Old Time, Folk, Bluegrass and more. Our modern Five-String banjo harkens straight to its African cousins–the ngoni, the halam, the akonting. Original banjos had three or four strings–including–in the U.S.–one short drone string. Old Time players use fingernails and thumb; Bluegrass banjoists play with picks on three fingers and their thumb.  This African-based instrument has the deepest heritage in the United States, and that is why we play it.  The songs ring on.

How we select music

Our method series starts out with simple, well-known melodies that almost everyone knows.  Baby steps to get you started in confidence.

We quickly move to graspable versions of tunes drawn from African and African American traditions—Down Home, Mande, Afri-lachia, Gnawa, Zulu, Maroon, and more.  

We also includ introductions to the rich history of the songs and their creators.  You will play modern gems, and songs hundreds of years old, too.  You’ll learn where they came from, and what they mean. Later volumes of Funky Banjo return to some of these same tunes, offering more complex playing techniques, and in-depth knowledge.

Dealing With Censorship

The banjo, invented by folks forced to emigrate, was created to serve and succor communities surviving in an environment set up to deny and crush their humanity.  

All that–blessed and the brazen, beautiful and the brutal—is in the banjo’s DNA, in its music, and in the soul of the United States of America and beyond. To ignore, or sugar-coat, that legacy implies shame, and ignores the power of success against horrible odds, generation upon generation.

To become whole, pain and triumph must be admitted, accepted, and incorporated.  Toxins internalized and suppressed bring disease. Purging this poison sets us all free. To not appreciate our successes is foolish vanity before the Creator. To admit to and cherish the healing this instrument gave to its inventors and successors is a great beginning, we think. So, if a song’s authentic lyrics talk about a Nigger, we’re not changing it to “Johnny” or “Boy”, or “Soldier”.  We’re keeping it real here.  It’s the only way to remember where we’ve come from, cherish what we’ve come through, to have honest conversation, and to grow.