Can I teach myself to play banjo?

Dec 26, 2023

If you've ever found yourself tapping your foot to the sound of a banjo and wondered, "Can I teach myself to learn banjo?" you're not alone. Lucky enough, you most definitely can. With the rise of online resources and dedicated learners around the world, self-teaching has become a viable option for many aspiring musicians.

1. The Feasibility of Self-Teaching

a. Basic Understanding:

Yes, you can teach yourself to play the banjo! Like any instrument, it requires dedication, patience, and practice. With the right resources and a structured approach, you can make significant progress. I generally taught myself how to play the banjo back before there were all of the available internet rescources that there are today (back in the late 1980s). Luckily there were a lot of books and some VHS videos available to learn from. I did take a few lessons with a local teacher when I first started, but for the most part I learned from books. 

Mel Bay and Hal Leanord were some great publishers of banjo books. There were also companies like Homespun Tapes and Acutab Publishing that published both banjo books, audio tapes, and video tapes. One of the main books that I learned from was the Rise Up Singing book which is published by Pete Seeger and contained probably a couple thousand folk, blues, and r&b tunes via their lyrics and the chords. I would go through that book and just play the chords for those tunes. 

These days the problem is that there is too much information available and you don't know where to start or what is good. YouTube has thousands of free banjo tutorial videos available. There are online learning platforms such as ArtistWorks, Peghead Nation, Daily Banjo Licks, and more. All of these platforms are very good and I would recommend all of them. 

b. Access to Resources:

The digital age has democratized access to learning materials. From YouTube tutorials to specialized banjo courses online, there's no shortage of resources to guide you.

2. Challenges You Might Encounter

a. Lack of Feedback:

One of the primary challenges of self-teaching is the absence of immediate feedback. A teacher can correct your mistakes in real-time, ensuring you develop proper techniques. 

b. Motivation and Discipline:

Without a structured lesson plan or regular classes, staying motivated can be challenging. Setting achievable goals and maintaining consistency is crucial.

c. Developing Bad Habits:

Without guidance, you might inadvertently develop poor playing habits that could hinder your progress. 

3. Steps to Self-Teach Banjo Effectively

a. Start with the Basics:

Begin by familiarizing yourself with the instrument. Understand its parts, tuning methods, and basic chords. Online tutorials can be instrumental during this phase.

b. Invest in Quality Learning Materials:

Purchase or access reputable banjo books, online courses, or apps tailored for beginners. These resources provide structured lessons and exercises to build your skills progressively. We highly recommend the Tony Trischka online course by ArtistWorks if you are looking to learn how to play bluegrass banjo. 

If you have already started learning bluegrass banjo and want to 

c. Set Clear Goals:

Whether it's mastering a specific song, understanding a particular technique, or performing in front of friends, set achievable milestones. Tracking your progress will keep you motivated.

d. Seek Community and Feedback:

Join online forums, local jam sessions, or banjo clubs. Hang out with other people who play the banjo or any instrument in the style you like.  Feed off the energy of others for motivation and get valuable feedback and advice.

e. Consider Periodic Professional Guidance:

Self teaching is great, but a lesson now and then or a week at a banjo camp can really fill in some holes in your playing and help you to advance to the next level. 

4. Embrace the Journey

Learning the banjo, like any skill, is a journey filled with highs and lows. Embrace the learning process, celebrate small victories, and remain patient with yourself. Remember, every accomplished banjo player started as a beginner with a passion for music. It takes time to get better, but you must consistently practice to get there. Make recordings of your playing that you can use to look back on 6 months later to see how much your playing has improved.


So, can you teach yourself to learn the banjo? Absolutely! With dedication, the right resources, and a structured approach, you can develop your skills and immerse yourself in the captivating world of banjo music. While challenges exist, they're surmountable with persistence and a love for the instrument. So, pick up that banjo, tune it, and embark on your musical adventure. Who knows? You might just serenade listeners with your soulful tunes sooner than you think!

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