Anatomy of Learning a Banjo Tune

It’s certain that everyone’s process of learning a new tune on the banjo is different, and it’s also true that mine’s probably not as efficient as it could be.

Having said that, however, I took a look–and I mean an initial look–at Murphy Henry’s version of ‘Fireball Mail’ as presented in her Beginning Banjo 2 video, and in only a matter of an hour or so, I feel like I’ll be able to play this impressive-sounding bit without too much trouble.

It’s also true that how impressive a tune sounds when you first hear it played on the banjo isn’t as impressive when you work on it and get it to playable condition–at least not to you, the player. To listeners, it’s still impressive, though.

The first step is to get the tune into a form that I can work with. For me, that’s FTab–here’s the first half or so of ‘Fireball Mail’ in FTab, transcribed from Murphy Henry’s Beginning Banjo 2 DVD:


This won’t make much sense, but you can find out how to read it by clicking the ‘FTab’ tab above.

The next step is to start practicing the phrases that make up the song. Below is 47 minutes of me doing exactly that.

The last step is to continue practicing to get the tune in the fingers. You’ll see in the next few days that I’ll start metronoming it too.

That’s all there is to it! Stay tuned for developments.


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