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About This Course

Learn the style of contemporary three-finger banjo used by Béla Fleck, Noam Pikelny, Ron Block, and others. With lessons on single-string and melodic style, fingerboard theory, improvisation, and more. For intermediate to advanced players.


A banjo player of uncommon grace and facility, Wesley Corbett began classical piano at the age of two. He began playing banjo in high school and has spent the last 17 years studying, touring, and teaching.

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Wesley has recorded and performed with numerous musicians, including Joy Kills Sorrow, the Bee Eaters, the Biscuit Burners, the David Grisman Quintet, Molly Tuttle, Sierra Hull, Sarah Jarosz, Yonder Mountain Stringband, Chris Eldridge, Mike Marshall, Darol Anger, Robert Earl Keen, Crooked Still, Bruce Molsky, Tony Trischka, Alan Munde, and many others. Wesley was professor and grant manager in the banjo program at Berklee College of Music between 2011 and 2015, and he toured internationally with the critically acclaimed acoustic string band Joy Kills Sorrow, which was featured on NPR's A Prairie Home Companion and Mountain Stage. After a few years with the Molly Tuttle Band, he now makes his home in Nashville, Tennessee, where he is working on his first solo album and performing in a duo with hammer dulcimer virtuoso Simon Chrisman.


Watch the video above for a taste of what you’ll learn in Wes Corbett’s Contemporary Bluegrass Banjo course.

Contemporary Bluegrass Banjo Sample Lesson

Variations on “Cripple Creek” Part 2

Wes shows you some ways to vary the melody of “Cripple Creek” and introduces the concept of “melodic style” banjo. With Notation/Tab

Contemporary Bluegrass Banjo Lessons

A subscription to Contemporary Bluegrass Banjo includes:

  • Extensive lessons in the three-finger style used by Béla Fleck, Noam Pikelny, Ron Block, and others
  • Essential right- and left-hand technique lessons
  • New lessons and tunes added every month
  • Detailed tablature for every lesson
  • High-quality video with multiple camera angles so you can see closeups of both hands in action
  • Play-Along Tracks so you can practice what you’ve learned

Get started now! Use promo code WesLand at checkout and get your first month free or $20 off an annual subscription. Subscribe to the Contemporary Bluegrass Banjo course today for access to all of these banjo lessons and new material every month!

Wes Corbett’s Hawthorn Top-Tension Banjo and Gear Wes talks about his banjo, a Hawthorn top-tension. He explains what top-tension banjos are, how they’re different, and why he likes them. He also talks about a few of the features of his banjo, including the radius fingerboard, Price tailpiece, Snuffy Smith bridge, and fifth-string “spikes.” He talks about tuning the head, which he tunes to F#, the same note Béla Fleck tunes his banjo to and a bit lower than some people tune the banjo to. He also talks about the picks and string gauges he uses.


  • Roll Patterns, Part 1: Basic Rolls If you’re taking this intermediate to advanced level banjo course, we assume you know some basic roll patterns, but to make sure you know the most important roll patterns, and the ones you’ll use most in this course, Wes shows you three basic patterns, starting with the forward roll. He shows you the forward roll starting with the thumb as well as on the index and middle fingers. He follows that with the backward roll (starting on all three fingers), the thumb alternating roll, and the “zigzag” roll. 
  • Roll Patterns, Part 2: Picking-Hand Technique Wes talks about his right-hand technique and the importance of keeping your hand loose and expending as little energy as possible. 
  • Roll Patterns, Part 3: Practicing with a Metronome Wes gives you advice on practicing your roll patterns with a metronome. 


  • Chords, Part 1: Major Chords To become fluent in finding and creating chord shapes, it’s important to understand how chords are created, so Wes starts this lesson by talking about how basic major chords are built. Then he shows you three major chord shapes, giving you advice on fingering each of the shapes. He also gives you an accompaniment pattern to play with the picking hand, often known as vamping, and shows you how to move the shapes to different places around the neck.
  • Chords, Part 2: Seventh and Minor Chords Wes introduces you to the seventh chord, which has four notes—adding a seventh to the root, third, and fifth of the major chord—and the minor chord, in which the third of the major chord is flatted.  


  • Variations on “Cripple Creek,” Part 1: Basic Version In this lesson, Wes give you lots of ideas on creating variations to standard arrangements of a tune, using the banjo classic “Cripple Creek,” which many banjo players learn as their first banjo tune. For those who may have never learned “Cripple Creek,” Wes starts by giving you a basic Scruggs-style version of the tune that includes the essential techniques slides, pull-offs, and hammer-ons.
  • Variations on “Cripple Creek,” Part 2: Variation #1 Wes shows you some ways to vary the melody of “Cripple Creek” and introduces the concept of “melodic style” banjo. Melodic-style was invented by banjoist Bill Keith, who devised a way to play linear note-for-note melodies where you never play the same string consecutively. Wes walks you through the variations phrase by phrase, pointing out how each variation relates to the original melody.
  • Variations on “Cripple Creek,” Part 3: Variation #2 Wes’s second variation on “Cripple Creek,” incorporates some melodic style phrases, Scruggs-style licks, a variation on the zigzag roll, and a few different rhythmic approaches. After walking you through his second set of variations, Wes shows you how to mix and match them to come up with your own variations. 
  • Variations on “Cripple Creek,” Part 4: Play-Along Track for Variation #1 Use this video to play Wes’s first variation of “Cripple Creek” with him at a slow tempo. 
  • Variations on “Cripple Creek,” Part 5: Play-Along Track for Variation #2 Use this video to play Wes’s first variation of “Cripple Creek” with him at a slow tempo.


  • Harmonized Scales, Part 1 Wes introduces the concept of harmonized scales and explains how they are essential to learning to play melodies on the banjo, or any instrument. He shows you to play a major scale starting on the root and starting on the third and combine them to create a major scale harmonized in thirds. He walks you through the thirds on the second and third strings, pointing out how the shapes of the thirds change as they move up the neck, and how to play them within a roll pattern. 
  • Harmonized Scales, Part 2 In this video, Wes shows you the harmonized scale in thirds on the top two strings. You’ll also learn a version of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” using these shapes with the melody on the top string. 


  • Harmonized Scales in C and D Continuing with the lessons on harmonized scales, Wes shows you how to take the patterns you learned in the last lessons and move them to different keys, specifically the keys of C and D. He starts by showing you the harmonized thirds patterns in the keys of C and D, and then how to play “The Banks of the Ohio” using harmonized thirds in C.


  • Intro to Single String, Part 1: Single-String Technique Single-string style on the banjo is a way of emulating flatpicking or single-line melody playing, using your thumb for downstrokes and index finger for upstrokes. The style was pioneered in bluegrass by Don Reno in the 1950s and developed by Béla Fleck and other contemporary banjo players. In this lesson, Wes shows you the basics of the technique and explains the mechanics of his picking hand when playing single string. He gives you a series of exercises with various string crossings and groups of four, three, and two eighth notes.
  • Intro to Single String, Part 2: “Leather Britches” In this lesson, Wes talks about the importance of connecting you ears to your hands. You’ll learn the fiddle tune “Leather Britches” first by singing it and then by playing it on the banjo. The first part is played single-string style, and the second part is melodic style
  • Intro to Single String, Part 3: “Leather Britches” Play-Along Track Use this video to play “Leather Britches”  with Wes at a medium tempo.


  • Guide-Tone Shapes, Part 1 In this lesson, Wes shows you how he uses guide tones in his chord voicings. Guide tones are the most important notes in a chord, the notes that really define the chord and create a sense of movement from chord to chord. He shows you how to construct two voicings of seventh chords using the third, seventh, and fifth of the chord.
  • Guide-Tone Shapes, Part 2 Wes shows you how to use the guide-tone shapes to play a circle-of-fifths progression like the one in “Salty Dog Blues.”
  • Guide Tone Shapes, Part 3: “Foggy Mountain Special” Practice using guide-tone shapes by backing up Wes and guitarist Scott Nygaard as they play Earl Scruggs’s “Foggy Mountain Special.”


  • Forward-Roll Style, Part 1: Exercises In the forward-roll style of banjo playing melodies are played primarily by the index finger on the inside strings—second, third, or fourth strings—using forward and backward rolls. It’s a style you can hear in the playing of contemporary banjo players like Ron Block, who plays with Alison Krauss and Union Station, and Harley Bray. Wes gets you started in the style with an exercise that combines the G major scale played entirely on the third string with forward rolls, followed by similar exercises using the G major scale on the second and fourth strings.
  • Forward-Roll Style, Part 2: “You Are My Sunshine” Now that you understand forward-roll style playing with a G major scale, Wes shows you how to play the folk standard “You Are My Sunshine” using the forward-roll style.
  • Forward-Roll Style, Part 3: Forward-Roll Style in Other Keys The forward-roll style can be used in other keys. The key of D, with the fifth-string capo at A, is particularly nice, and Ron Block often plays out of D in this tuning. In this video, Wes demonstrates how he plays “You Are My Sunshine” forward-roll style in the keys of D and C, and talks about playing in other keys, like E and F. He also shows you how to add other chord tones to the melody when using forward-roll style, and play the melody in different octaves.
  • Forward-Roll Style, Part 4: “You Are My Sunshine” Play-Along Track Use this video to play “You Are My Sunshine” in the key of G with Wes and guitarist Scott Nygaard at a medium tempo.


  • “Arkansas Traveler” Melodic Style, Part 1 In this lesson, you’ll learn a melodic-style arrangement of the classic fiddle tune “Arkansas Traveler” in the key of D. “Arkansas Traveler,” like many fiddle tunes, is very notey, but it’s also quite melodic. Wes walks you through the A part of “Arkansas Traveler” in this video, showing you his rolls and positions on the neck.
  • “Arkansas Traveler” Melodic Style, Part 2 Wes walks you through the B part of “Arkansas Traveler” pointing out some phrases that can be used in other tunes or played in other keys.
  • “Arkansas Traveler” Melodic Style, Part 3: Play-Along Track Use this video to play “Arkansas Traveler” with Wes and guitarist Scott Nygaard at a medium tempo.


  • Mapping the Fingerboard for Single String, Part 1 Wes shows you his concept of mapping the fingerboard for single-string playing, which involves wide scale positions that include three notes on the fourth string, three notes on the third string, two notes on the second string, and three notes on the first string (3–3–2–3). Wes shows you how to play a G major scale with this concept running from the fourth string to the first and using three positions: the first starts on the root of the scale, the second position starts on the third of the scale, the third position starts on the fifth of the scale. He also gives you advice on playing scales smoothly, so that each note sustains into the following note.
  • Mapping the Fingerboard for Single String, Part 2 Learning positions that start on the root, third, and fifth of a key will give you a good start on mapping the fingerboard in this way. But, of course, there are four more notes in a major scale, so Wes shows you positions starting on the second, fourth, sixth, and seventh notes of the G major scale. He also gives you advice on practicing the positions and ends by showing you the chord shapes that the scale positions are based on. 


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