Book Review - Hal Leonard Banjo Method, Books 1 and 2
I use the Hal Leonard Banjo Method when teaching my own beginner students. I find the
books to be very well paced, with new concepts and technical maneuvers introduced at a
gentle pace, with lots of practical examples in the tunes.
The books assume that the reader has no previous experience playing an instrument. So
it methodically takes the reader through the steps of becoming acquainted with the
instrument, tuning, playing chords, playing individual notes on single strings and across
strings in first position, then building right-hand and left-hand bluegrass technique.
Book 1 covers tuning, basic chords in the keys of G and C, how to read tablature
(explains tablature notation and enough basic music theory to enable the reader to read
tabs), basic right-hand technique (rolls and variations), basic left-hand techniques
(hammer-on, pull-off, slides).
Book 2 adds more complicated right hand rolls (combination rolls, backward rolls), more
on left-hand technique (hammers and pull-offs to closed strings, push-offs, and
harmonics), basic back-up playing, an introduction to melodic style banjo, and more
basic music theory (to enable the reader to understand how to use a capo to transpose
songs into different keys).
Both books provide an ample number of tunes of increasing difficulty to allow the reader
to practice the technical material as it is presented. They offer over 70 tunes between the
two books and Hal Leonard also offers two cross-referenced supplement books, with
The thing I like most about this method is the logical organization of the material. Each
lesson introduces a single new concept, so there's no information overload. Each lesson
also includes at least one practice tune that incorporates the technique that was just
introduced, and which builds on and reviews the material learned previously. I find Book 2
is a bit more freely organized than Book 1, however it is still reasonable in its introduction
of new concepts and it offers lots of practice opportunities.
Most exercises show the basic melody and the banjo arrangement on separate lines -
very helpful both to introduce unfamiliar tunes, and to allow beginners see how the melody
is woven into the banjo arrangement.
I've found the books work very well as a guide for adult beginners. Book 1 starts the
reader off by learning a few chords, to allow them to be able to play (strum) some tunes
right away. It allows for a rewarding experience early on - good for keeping students
I confess that I don't own the accompanying CD's. I have had some beginner students tell
me that they found the pace of the CD's too fast play along with, however they did find the
CD's useful for familiarizing themselves with the tunes.
In sum, I like these books. I like the logic, the method and the pacing and I think they're a
great introduction to 3-finger style banjo. A person that completes both books will have a
good basic understanding of 3-finger technique, with good right-hand and left-hand
facility, that will serve as a basis for further exploration of subjects like working out
arrangements, jamming, and playing up the neck.
The term "book review" may be a bit too
formal for my purpose. This is simply where I'll
be posting my thoughts and impressions about
products that I've used.
I've probably bought more than my share of
books and DVD's over the years. It's been my
experience that all books have useful
information, however different books are
written for different purposes and audiences.
If I can help an aspiring banjoist with my
thoughts on a particular book or other product,
I'm happy to do so.