Instructors: Bill Evans

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Hi everybody! Peghead Nation has lift off! Thanks for joining me for what’s going to be a fantastic musical journey.

by Bill Evans
August 26, 2014

Hi everybody! Peghead Nation has lift off! Thanks for joining me for what’s going to be a fantastic musical journey. Take some time to explore the banjo offerings and let me know what you think - I’d love to create lessons around your specific requests, whether it’s a tune, technique, lick or concept. Let's make Peghead Nation your destination for all things bluegrass banjo!


Tags: Banjo
Category: Course Discussions

Comments and Discussion

Posted by Tommy Judson on
Anyone have a good pre-playing finger/hand warm up/flexabiliting/strengthening exercise they would like to pass along?
Posted by davekochis@gmail.com on
Bill, I an not very good at finding melody notes quickly and that hinders my ability to improvise on the fly. Do you have any specific practice exercises you could recommend to improve my ability to quickly pick up on melody notes?
Posted by Bill Evans on
Hi Dave,

We've just gone live with a lesson on finding the melody notes and adding roll patterns to "Blue Ridge Cabin Home," so be sure to check that lesson out when you get the chance. Ear-training is a lifelong process. After you learn the scales and modes you need (in the keys that you're wanting to play tunes), the best practice is to *just do it*. Hunt the notes out and don't be afraid to learn from "mistakes." Try finding the melody (without rolls or any specific bluegrass techniques) to songs you know - whether it be something like "Happy Birthday" or a bluegrass standard or a Christmas song. You're stretching your brain-ear-finger connection in this way. Then after you find the melody, you can think about how to add rolls and licks to make it sound like great bluegrass banjo. We all want to improvise well on the fly and I still have a lot of work to do in this department after playing for over forty years. Just keep at it!

All the best,

Bill
Posted by Bill Evans on
Hi Tommy,

I don't do any kind of pre-playing stretching but I do begin practice sessions by making sure I'm using the best hand technique possible (maintaining good hand positions, etc.) and I start off by playing things slowly, with a metronome. And I try to be relaxed. I put the emphasis on playing with good tone and staying in rhythm. When things then start to flow and I'm feeling more warmed up, I'll increase the tempo.

I hope this helps!

All the best,

Bill Evans
Posted by bubbacollins@comcast.net on
Bill,
You're explanation regarding finding a melody first then adding rolls that fit was reassuring to me, I've been using that approach for some time. How do you approach working a tune up in a melodic style? A lesson on this subject would be truly helpful to me.

Bob C.
Posted by Bill Evans on
Hi Bob,

Thanks for your question! Are you checking out the beginning banjo or the bluegrass banjo lesson track? There are two lessons already up on the bluegrass track that show you how to play the G major scale and teach "Devil's Dream," which is one of the first tunes that bluegrass banjo players often attempt in melodic style (thanks to Bill Keith, who recorded it with Bill Monroe back in the 1960's).

Once you have the mechanics of the scale down, you have to have the melody in your head. If you're not working from someone else's arrangement via tab, it can be a painstaking process.

For bluegrass vocal tunes, melodic style isn't needed very often to capture the song's melody as these melodies don't move fast enough - Scruggs style tends to be just fine. But there are melodic licks that you can insert in any song if you're improvising. Melodic is great for fiddle tunes and even Bach, if you're adventurous.

Is there a specific song you're interested in working up, Bob?
Posted by davekochis@gmail.com on
Hi Bill: would you please give us a lesson for Deep Elem Blues in the Blue Grass Banjo track.

Thanks
Dave
Posted by bubbacollins@comcast.net on
I really don't have any particular song in mind that I'm interested in working up with the melodic style. I guess from your response, that it isn't likely that one would try improvising using exclusively the melodic style. I think I'll continue improvising using the Scruggs style and try to work up some melodic licks to stick in here and there. If you're familiar with G major scale and some melodic licks, it seems that you can't always use those licks when a song that's in the Key of G when a C maj or D maj chords comes into play. Sometimes it sound OK and sometimes not. Am I wrong?
Bob C.
Posted by Bill Evans on
Hi Bob,

Yes, you are right on track. First off, you can improvise using the melodic style but sooner or later, I know that I would want to head back to something that's roll-based, if for no other reason that to catch my breath. At some point, I'll definitely create a lesson that discusses how to create long flowing melodic-style licks. For now, here's a huge hint - in the key of G, when you head to a C chord, try to include an F instead of an F# in whatever you're playing. Then when the progression heads to a D or D7, go back to the F#. This will work for most major key bluegrass songs (but not for bluesy oriented things!). Try this and see if it works! All the best, Bill
Posted by Bill Evans on
Hi Dave,

What key for Deep Elem Blues? :)

All the best,

Bill
Posted by davekochis@gmail.com on
Hi Bill: Re Deep Elem Blues, the key of C. 9lyAe9

Thanks

Dave
Posted by bubbacollins@comcast.net on
Bill,
I look forward to a lesson that discusses how to create long flowing melodic-style licks. In the meantime, when you're playing a tune in the Key of G and the tune changes to a C major chord, can you continue to play in or around the melody using notes in the G major scale or should you switch to notes in the C major scale?

Thanks,
Bob
Posted by davekochis@gmail.com on
Bill, Please put on your "to do list", Foggy Mountain Special.

thanks

Dave
Posted by comlink8@gmail.com on
Bill,
Thanks for your cheerful enthusiasm! It does pump up us students and gives us a little more confidence tacking things. Really appreciate you sharing your knowledge!
Posted by Lmasters1980@gmail.com on
Bill,
I like how you teach us to learn the melody and then add rolls to it. I have been looking for this kind of instruction for a long time. Do you think that it is possible you could teach us country roads by John Denver in the future? Also , can you have a discussion on how to have a very productive and structured practice time. Thank you so much !

Luke Masters
Posted by tim@thurgoland.net on
Hi Bill,

I know it's a cliché but a lesson on Duelling Banjos would be great (with a play-along with Scott N). Particularly how to break-down the second part into manageable learning chunks.

Tim
Posted by banjobll@pacbell.net on
Hi Bill - when I first signed on to Peghead Nation lessons with you (a lot easier than driving 90 miles to see you!), I made nit-pickin' complaints about the appearance of your banjo tablatures. I just downloaded the tabs for your up-the-neck lessons. They are now beautiful! nice job, and thanks!

Bill Avellino
Posted by Kjewell21@optonline.net on
Hey Bill, Just out of interest sake what is the Tab Program you guys are using? Thanks!..Ken
Posted by Scottnyg on
Ken, I use Finale for all the notation and tab on Peghead Nation. I think Bill uses Sibelius for his own personal tab.
Scott Nygaard
Editor and Co-Founder
Peghead Nation
Posted by banjoz8@charter.net on
Hello Bill - I enjoyed your workshop and concert with Alan Munde here in Kennewich, WA. I bought your "Bill Evans PLays Banjo" album and enjoy it a lot. One tune is sticking in my head theses days: "New Black Eyed Susie" I was wondering if tab is available? Also it would make a nice addition to the bluegrass instructions on the site.

In the meantime I am working on "Foggy Mountain Special" Thanks.
Jim Zimmerschied
Posted by rashunda@gmail.com on
Hi all. I've had a Deering Good Time banjo sitting around for about six years now and have finally decided to learn how to play it. Really glad to have discovered this site and Bill's lessons!
Posted by rashunda@gmail.com on
Can I rant and whine just a tad? I'm still stuck on "Easy chords and chording." They're not easy.:-) I'm playing the banjo with the strap, but I have to keep turning the banjo slightly upwards to see where I'm placing my fingers on the fret board. I guess being able to do it by touch will come...one day...right?
Posted by Bill Evans on
Hi Rashunda,

Thanks for practicing using a strap! It makes sense to do this whether you're sitting or standing as it helps to balance the instrument. You don't want to be using your fretting hand to also be supporting the weight of the neck.

You might want to try adjusting the strap upwards a bit (in other words, make it shorter). This might position the banjo so that it's naturally tilting upwards just enough for you to see the chords. This comes easy for those of us with "Dunlop's Disease," like me (what's Dunlop's Disease you ask? That's where your belly done laps over your belt!!).

But...seriously! My advice is not to tilt the banjo too much to see the fretboard. Many players actually play by not looking at the fretboard in this way but they keep track of where they are on the banjo neck using the position dots that are on the top of the neck. For those first down the neck chords you learn, this isn't needed, of course.

Try getting used to the feel of each chord and the movement of fingers and it's always fine to look at your fretting hand while you're playing, but don't tilt too much. With practice, your fingers will automatically go to where they need to go without you having to look directly down upon the fretboard.

Keep practicing and it'll happen!
Posted by rcreech747@aol.com on
Bill,
I continue to enjoy these lessons and as a native from NC of course you can never go wrong with Earl Scruggs. I hope everything is going great for you and your family. See you at banjo camp!! I really love when you are showing how to find the melodies for I am definitely ear challenged:)
Posted by tw_harvey@icloud.com on
Happy New Year Bill,
Thanks for providing these banjo lessons. I have learned a lot in a short amount of time due to your attention to detail by going over each tune note by note and measure by measure. I've been playing mandolin over 15 years and have made the 5 string banjo my new brain game. It's helps that I know most of the songs you teach so I have them in my DNA, now it's getting the finger rolls to brain communication wired in.
I am so happy to have found your teaching style so accessible and can put it to application in our jam group "The Cedar Street Boys" here in Auburn, CA.
We have been looking for a banjo sound for sometime, so I figured what the hell just do it. It adds a whole new element to our sound, now I just have to manage my practice time so I don't lose my mandolin skills along the way.
Thank You and keep the lessons coming. Do you ever play around the Auburn/Grass Valley/Nevada city area?
Posted by Roger Vertrees on
Hi Bill,

Just spent the week with you at Camp Bluegrass and am very interested in this course. What is your recommendation about how to get started in the course, are there different levels? really enjoyed your playing at the camp, what a great experience for me.

Thanks
Roger
Posted by bill_evans on
Hi Roger,

It was great seeing you at Camp Bluegrass this year and thanks for this great question. I'd begin on the Bluegrass Track by making sure you're familiar with the material presented in the roll patterns and the Essential Earl down-the-neck licks sections. You could then try and tackle Earl's version of "Fireball Mail," which puts many basic techniques to good use and then move on to "Dixie Breakdown" for a bit of up-the-neck passing chord work. The forward-roll backup lessons are also going to be really useful for playing in jam sessions.

Try this sequence and let me know how it's going - and thanks for being a part of the PN banjo community!

Sincerely,

Bill Evans
Posted by Dennis Clark on
I am 70 years old and love banjo music. I am on the fast track to learn the banjo and your lessons are great! Please keep up the great work!

Dennis Clark
Posted by mike.m.moffitt@gmail.com on
Hello Bill,

I finally got signed up. It was a genuine honor to meet you the past couple of years at the Midwest Banjo Camp. My very best to you and your family. I really hope our paths cross again.

All the best,
Mike Moffitt
Posted by judeca2001@yahoo.com on
Hi Bill,
I am enjoying the lessons! I like your cheery encouraging style! Thinking of a song I would like to learn. I'll come up with one. :)
Thanks so much.
Judy
Posted by bradfieldjohng@gmail.com on
Bill,
These lessons are fun. Is your ending lick on Turkey in the Straw play along on a tab you have handed out in a class? I could not find it. If not it would be nice here. Ever consider doing an intro lick/ending lick class? There are a lot scattered through these lessons but it might be interesting to see what a bunch of them all together with examples of how to use them.
Posted by bradfieldjohng@gmail.com on
Bill - Never mind suggestion about an intros/endings class. Saw the class when I went back and scanned through the list again; missed it the first time. I'll look for the one you use on Turkey but if it is not there, it would be a nice tab to add.
John
Posted by chrisarns@gmail.com on
Hi Bill,

Love your teaching style and the course is very easy to follow. I just got finished learning the module on "Cripple Creek" and am wondering how I can learn to play that song (and I guess, any song) a bit faster. Your "up to tempo" version at the end of the fourth video is great; does playing like that just take time or is there anything I can do to learn to play faster?

Best,
Christopher Arns
Posted by bill_evans on
That's a great question, Christopher as everyone has to figure this one out! A great way to gradually work up speed is to start playing with a metronome. Getting started can be the most challenging aspect of this. Most banjo players will get started by letting one click on the metronome equal two roll notes, or a quarter note (like you use with a pinch pattern). Set the metronome number at a low enough speed where you can comfortably play along. I use a metronome app on my desktop computer so that I can get adequate volume through my computer's speakers.

I wouldn't start using a metronome to increase speed on a song until you can already play the song smoothly, at a slow speed, without interruption. However, most all of us can hit the ground running now with the metronome by using it in warm ups with roll patterns.

Another option is to seek out the play along tracks on the Peghead Nation website, where guitarist Scott Nygaard provides rhythmic accompaniment. Several individuals are now also offering online backing tracks at various speeds. Google "bluegrass backing tracks" and see what comes up.

I hope these recommendations help! Remember to practice at a speed where it's sounding good and as you try to increase tempo, work on those specific small parts of the tune that are giving you trouble.

All the best,

Bill Evans
Posted by chrisarns@gmail.com on
Bill, thank you for the great (and speedy) response! I'll start using the metronome and will check out the backup tracks. That's definitely very helpful! Thanks again! I'm really enjoying this course.

Happy holidays,
Christopher
Posted by judeca2001@yahoo.com on
Hi Bill,

Yesterday I heard Loretta Lynn's song Blue Kentucky Girl and noticed it was all banjo background to her singing. This would be a nice slower song to learn to play. Still having fun playing.

Judy
Posted by poneleit-nina@gmx.de on
Hi Bill,

finally signed up for your Bluegrass Banjo course and am very happy with it. I am currently working on Big Sciota. I love that tune. There is one part of the tune I always get stuck. And that is the part where the role pattern is turning from forward to backward roll. Do you have any ideas how to practice that, maybe in combination with scale workouts?
Love your teaching method very much!
Many greetings from Heidelberg, Germany (and from Alex, too!)
Nina
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