Last month I was invited to teach the banjo workshop at the Blue Ox Music Festival in Eau Claire, WI and was reminded of the value of group banjo lessons. As much as I believe in the benefits of one-on-one lessons, group instruction has its own set of advantages, for instance:
You Make Banjo Buddies
I’d say my favorite aspect of the group workshop format is the fact that you are not learning alone and you have the opportunity to meet other people who are on the same banjo journey that you are (even if they are a little ahead or behind you).
The banjo world is fairly small and, depending on where you live, there may not be any other banjo players to talk to, play with or learn from. If you walk away with nothing else from a group workshop, hopefully you feel a little more connected to the banjo world, have a better sense of where you are on the learning curve, and have made some new banjo buddies that you can jam with and stay in contact with after the festival.
The Banjo Hive Mind
Another huge advantege of learning in a group setting is the benefit of hearing the answers to other people’s questions:
- Some people are just too shy to ask questions and are grateful when someone else raises their hand. They may never have spoken up and now get a chance to learn through other people’s questions.
- Others are embarrassed to ask a question they feel like they should know already (this was always how I felt). I see this often—a rank beginner asks a very basic question and then others, with more experience, have a “lightbulb moment” and say something like, “I’ve always wondered about that.”
- Finally, perhaps the biggest advantage is that you get to hear answers to questions that you never even thought to ask. The curse of every beginner is that you really don’t know what you don’t know. However, when you are exposed to the questions of others, it can open up whole new channels of inquiry and expand your banjo universe in ways that you hadn’t yet imagined.
A Place for the Banjo Curious
Lastly, when the workshop is free to anyone attending the festival (which is common practice), it provides a safe place for people who are considering learning the banjo to immerse themselves in banjo instruction and see if it is really something that interests them.
I was truly surprised by how many people showed up to the Blue Ox banjo workshop (at 10am even) just to watch. I made a point to talk to some of those folks without banjos and, at least a few said they were there because they were thinking of taking up the instrument. I’d like to think I converted one or two by the end 🙂
If you’re learning the banjo and get the opportunity to attend a group workshop, I highly recommend you give it a try. As mentioned above, many bluegrass and folk festivals offer them for free as part of the price of admission.
If you don’t have access to one then round up your friends and send me a message—I love teaching private workshops and would love to work with you!