a place for those new to the irish tenor banjo to share the learning experience and hear from those who are further along.

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Discussion Forum


Started by Alan Jones. Last reply by Guido Aug 15. 17 Replies

I  just thought it would be interesting to hear how often/long beginners practice, I try to get in at least two hours everyday and feel a bit peeved if I am two busy to do it. Being retired time is…Continue

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Comment by Mark Carlson on December 2, 2013 at 4:51pm

Hi, Frank! This is Mark in Athens, East Texas, still a beginner after almost six years (slow but steady). The ITB instructors at the annual O'Flaherty Irish Music Retreat have used chords in moderation in their playing, usually second string added from time to time, sometimes a three-note chord. I have not heard a full four-note chord yet. Best wishes!

Comment by Peter Fenzel on December 2, 2013 at 3:46pm

Hello Frank! Peter in New Jersey here. I am hardly qualified to comment on the acceptability of chords in all Trad sessions, but that hasn't stopped me yet, so here goes. You will probably raise a few eyebrows and disconcert a few fiddlers who believe that that the most sublime musical state is the sounding of individual strings in so rapid a sequence as to generate enough heat to toast bread. To myself, that is manic, not music. But we must, as good and kind people, respect and accommodate the contentment those musicians gain from constancy and familiarity of play.

What we call traditional music on the tenor banjo, however, is more accurately an adaptation of a jazz instrument conceived for the strumming of chords, as Michael has done. Why should we inflict limits on so versatile an instrument and keep its wings folded?

The tenor banjo's voice does not carry a whole note, or a half note. Some folks employ triplets to fill the silence. Why not play 2 string or 3 string or 4 string chords, or arpeggios, as well?

As beginners we must first learn how to play well. A certain degree of orthodoxy is needed to learn the instrument and the idiom. Variations may follow in due course. So, I would say first learn how to play the music, and you can add the ornamentation later when your skill matches your ear.

Comment by Michael O'Leary on December 2, 2013 at 3:47am

Hi Frank,

I'm new to Irish banjo, having played essentially the same instrument as the "tenor banjo" which involves almost exclusively chords and a heavy strumming style. So, melody and single notes are new to me...especially triplets. Nevertheless, I would vote to add chords to your skill set. It will allow some diversity when performing with others and of course an essential when accompanying a voice.


Comment by Frank Riley on December 2, 2013 at 2:53am

OK,  I meant to say melody instrument, but the question is the same: Is there a place for choids intradtional Irish music played on the tenor banjo?

Comment by Frank Riley on December 2, 2013 at 2:12am

 I know the Irish Tenor Banjo is primarily a melody instrument,but see there are

chords for the GDAE tuning and was wondering if it is worth learning any for Irish Music?





Comment by Mark Carlson on August 20, 2013 at 6:23pm

Way to go, Peter! 

Comment by Peter Fenzel on August 20, 2013 at 3:46pm

I had my first public performance on the banjo this Friday past at IrishFest in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. IrishFest is the biggest annual celebration of Irish music and culture in America. No, I was not a scheduled performer, with only 7 months of lessons under my belt.

I walked among the vendor tents in the "Irish Cultural Village" and came across a fellow selling linens. He was sitting quietly and patiently for to approach his stall. On a table behind him lay a new Emerald tenor banjo. I chatted him up about the banjo, which animated him instantly. Before long he offered me the chance to take his banjo for a spin. He didn't need to ask twice. His banjo had a high bridge, strings of a heavier gauge strung tauter than those on my own old Vega, and its tone was sharp, bold, twangy, and metalic, unlike the rounder tone of my Vega.

In any event, I started with the lighthearted reel "Whiskey Before Breakfast", which I played imperfectly but passably well for my maiden voyage. Then I moved on to "The Red Haired Boy" as my confidence grew. The music (not the virtuosity) brought a small crowd, and the vendor started selling his linens. I finished with "The Irish Washerwoman" and decided not to press my luck further. I returned the banjo gently to its table, thanked the vendor for his kindness, himself with an ear to ear grin, and we parted as mates. I had survived a public performance with neither an egg nor tomato thrown at me! So I moved on to the harpist tent  to see how other musicians were doing.

Comment by robertmacneil on June 30, 2013 at 9:49pm

I love Peter's Yoda quote from Star Wars: "There is no try.  There is do or not do". Great words of wisdom when it comes to practicing!

Comment by Ger on June 27, 2013 at 5:09pm

hello .I am offering skype lessons at the minute to beginners to even the advanced. I have competed in the all ireland fleadh.Have very good understanding of the importance of technique and music theory.I also play electric and acoustic guitar which i play many styles on.Here is a channel to see some of my music.

The fee is very reasonable and have taught banjo to three people this way already and they are advancing well .

My email is if you wish to know more

Comment by IanR on June 22, 2013 at 11:46pm

Thanks Peter,

I appreciate your advice, I'll go in search of some poor soul who'll teach me the basics and soldier on from there.

My wife, who gave me a present of the Banjo is convinced I'll never make a go of it so, needless to say, I am pretty motivated!

I'm in the east Cork area in case anyone knows someone giving lessons.



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Discussion Forum


Started by Alan Jones. Last reply by Guido Aug 15. 17 Replies

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