Banjo tuition: Dick Smith, London's No.1 point of call

This is first in a series of articles where I hope to point you in the direction of that illusive group of people who teach Banjo in the UK. And I am setting the standard high with my first addition - Dick Smith.

I first saw Dick play Bluegrass Banjo about 18 months ago, during his stint in the Coal Porters, and was really blown away by his speed and technique. At the time it hadn’t occurred to me that anything happened above the 5th fret of a Banjo without the intervention of a capo, but that night Dick demonstrated a variety of sounds and rhthems, with his hands flying around the fretboard like a hillbilly Van Halen! I have since been in touch with Dick and told him about my blog and asked him if I could write an article on him and add him to my up coming list of Banjo tutors in the UK, and here we are.

Bluegrass: Resources for beginners to intermediate players

Learning to play Guitar is easy here in the UK, there are 1000s of books, websites people willing to teach or show you some cool new trick. Now as the internet reaches maturity we can easily find many resources for Banjo including books, youtube videos, message boards and several good tab sites, which were impossible to find 10 years ago. Frustratingly, Banjo teachers are few and far between, and as part of this project I intend to create a list of as many I can find (any Banjo teachers reading this article, who lives in the UK and wants to be listed please comment on this post or send me a email). I have sadly not been able to find a local teacher in Oxfordshire, where I live, so my journey started on youtube, where there are loads of Bluegrass lesson, varying in quality. Many of the lessons are basic, and you tend to have to go to another website and pay for intermediate or advanced lessons, but they are good to get you started. There are also many youtube videos where people just demonstrate that they can play a certain tune, but they offer no explanation as to how, other than what you can see.

Clawhammer: Patrick Costello is cool

When I brought my first Banjo I hadn't actually given any thought about what style I wanted to play. I knew about Bluegrass, but I was looking for something different, so looked around the internet for inspiration. The first style that I came across that really appealed to me was Clawhammer (sometimes known as Frailing), a rhythmic and at times repetitive style of playing popular long before Bluegrass. Many of the tunes I came across used modal tunings like (GDGCD), which give the Banjo a much darker sound, the archetypal example of this would be The Coo Coo Bird by Clarence "Tom" Ashley. Over the next few weeks I watched loads of lessons and examples on youtube, and I have to admit I was really struggling with the style until I came across a guy called Patrick Costello, who has posted loads of free content online for several years now.

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About Me

I have been playing guitar for over 20 years, at first playing in indie bands, followed by a long stint playing rockabilly on the streets of Oxford, a short excursion into dance music, followed by looking at early blues styles. Now after a few years of listening to Dylan, Guthrie, and early Americana I find myself in possession of a banjo, and I'm addicted! Currently I play Banjo and Guitar in an Oxford based group called Swindlestock, you can hear our music our myspace page.

Listen to my favorite Banjo songs on