Richard B., from New Mexico writes:

I have been playing for about a year now and have the opportunity to play with a church group during an evening service.

The problem is that they have been together for 5 yrs. and have a fairly large playlist. I only see the songs for the one hour we practice and don’t have time to really get them down.

Many of the songs use the more complex chords such as C9, F#m7, etc., or are in a more difficult major key, so I have trouble keeping up with the timing.

I very much want to play with them, but am feeling rather frustrated at the lack of progress and support. What can I focus on to improve my playing to a level where they will feel I’m ready for performance?


Dear Richard,

Tape record all the practices. If you don’t have a written source of chord changes, have someone call them off into your tape recorder as the song goes along. If there are still problems with the chords, ask one person who knows them to get with you and your recorder some other time than the group practices. Once you know the chords, figure the melodies out by ear and see if you can produce a melody-oriented solo. Or at least, find a way to accompany the songs on your tape and sound smooth and rhythmic while adding the sound of the banjo.

By the way, 7ths and 9ths are embellishments. You can play C instead of C9, and F#m instead of F#m7. It will sound just fine. But you may not substitute a major for a minor.

I’m also somewhat frustrated when I play some good background rolls, and the guitar picker leans over and says, “not really a banjo song, is it!” (we were playing Proud Mary).

Proud Mary has been done bluegrass style with the banjo rolling pretty fast. It does work, though it’s not in “typical bluegrass rhythm”.

A lot of people don’t understand banjo playing. Scruggs style is a pretty unique thing, so the guitar player probably is not too hip to it. Just make sure it sounds good, and maybe someone else will be more positive.

I am using Bluegrass Banjo as well as Ron Greene’s accompaniment dial for 5 string.

Not familiar with Ron G.’s method. Bluegrass Banjo should give you a good foundation, but it’s up to you to figure out the specifics of the songs you encounter. If you come to banjo camp, that’s the kind of thing we can work on.

Good luck with your picking, and fitting in with these folks!

Pete Wernick