Banjo Instruction

Are you locking your banjo strings?

Huh? What does it mean to lock your banjo strings?

That’s what I said recently when my buddy and bandmate Mike Hedding heard me complaining about my strings dramatically slipping out of tune soon after changing them (particularly the 5th string).

Turns out, it only took me two decades of pickin’ to discover that when my strings slip out of tune suddenly and dramatically, it is NOT happening at the tailpiece (where the string is wound to itself by the loop end) but rather, they are slipping around the tuning pegs (doh)!

So, being the good teacher that he is, Mike sat me down and demonstrated a technique for “locking strings” to the tuning pegs when you change them.  With this technique, you actually wrap the end of the string under and around itself in such a way as to lock it in place on the tuning peg. I’ve come to discover this is common knowledge in the guitar world (insert banjo joke here).

Of course, Mike made it look easy but I had a hard time visualizing what he was doing while watching him from the opposite side of the neck and  so I promptly forgot the proper order of things. He directed me to a video demonstrating it on the banjo but it still wasn’t clear exactly what was happening to create this string “lock”… so I turned to “Guitar YouTube” for more help.

So how do you actually “lock” a banjo string?

Turns out, the same way you lock a guitar string. I was able to find a variety of good  tutorials on how to do this on a guitar that helped me visualize the technique in a way that I would remember.

Below are a few videos demonstrating “string locking” from different angles. I hope you find them useful:

A good top view of the method:

A good side angle to see it in action (on guitar):

Despite the fact that this is on an electric guitar, this is the clearest view of the actual “locking action” I could find. Bonus– it includes a slow motion demonstration and heavy medal guitar soundtrack 🙂

Instruction Musical Adventures

Teaching and Learning at The International Music Camp

The International Language of Banjo!Last weekend I was grateful to return for my third year teaching banjo at the International Music Camp‘s annual Fiddler’s Weekend, held in the International Peace Garden, which straddles the US and Canada just north of Dunseith, ND.

I always learn a thing or two going up there. This year I learned that if you play folk music in Canada, you better know who the heck  Stompin’ Tom Connors is!

Jaws dropped when I explained I had never heard of him and I was promptly given a proper education via an evening of Canadian beer and a playlist of many of his 300+ Canadian-themed folk anthems.

Stompin' Tom 101We listened to songs about hockey, Ketchup, potato farming etc…. all with tons of references to Canadian towns and history. From what I gathered, he literally only sang about Canada. Apparently, he even turned down a chance to play the Gand Ole Opry because… not Canada!

I enjoyed what I heard, for me it landed somewhere between Johnny Cash and John Hartford. However, what I liked most was how the music resonated with all of the Canadians in the room, who knew all the songs and sang along with every refrain. 

There was a real feeling of pride. I’ve always been a bit jealous of people who have a true musical connection with “place.”  I try to imagine how folks from Appalachia feel singing bluegrass in the mountains or the Irish sharing traditional songs in a local pub.

Well, I may not have claim to bluegrass or Stompin’ Tom, but I still get excited when I hear The Replacements mention Garfield Ave. in “Run It“(I used to live on Garfield!) or Prince sing about  “Uptown” (where I grew up skateboarding). I guess this is my folk music.

I digress… I had a wonderful time teaching banjo and performing with the High 48s at the Fiddler’s weekend. If we go back, we’ll definitely have to work up some Stompin’ Tom!