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The Doc Stock Banjo Method in Ten Easy Lessons
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The Doc Stock Banjo Method in Ten Easy Lessons

(or, "Any jerk can play the banjo, so why not you too?")

by Jim Rosenstock

Preface by Julie Mangin (2008)

The Doc Stock Banjo Method was a handmade booklet that Jim Rosenstock gave to me in 1986 when I told him I wanted to learn to play the banjo. The sage advice contained in this booklet has influenced my banjo playing from the beginning. It was published in The Daily Clog in 1987 and 1990.

In the early days of the Internet, I innocently posted this banjo manual by Jim Rosenstock to a bluegrass listserv. In retrospect, I should have known it would travel the world over via the Canonical List of Banjo Jokes. My main regret is that the version that has been propagated was bowdlerized by someone uncomfortable with the drug references (see Chapter 5). In my opinion, the drug references were part of its charm.

There's no way I can call back the text I submitted, but at least now I can prove that I am in possession of the original artifact, and can show the author's intent.

Lesson 1: Beat It!

The most common mistake of the beginning banjo player is to play too gently. True, musical instruments require great care and special handling, but banjos should not be confused with these.

There are three basic licks that are used in playing the banjo:

  1. the hit (abbreviated h in tablature),
  2. the harder hit (H),
  3. and the BEAT (B).

Learn these three licks, and soon you'll be able to play anything!

REMEMBER -- Hit 'em again, hit 'em again, HARDER, HARDER!

Lesson 2: Stage Presence

A dignified stage presence will do more than anything else to create the impression that you are a serious, professional musician. This is to be avoided at all costs--you have a reputation to maintain, after all! While playing on stage, you should:

  1. slouch,
  2. drool,
  3. pick nose,
  4. bump fiddler,
  5. cross eyes,
  6. pour beer on self, and/or
  7. stare off into space.

The more you can do at once, the better.

Lesson 3: Tuning your banjo

Musicians make a very big deal about "getting in tune." Fortunately, you're a banjo player, and therefore need not be so hung up. There are three basic ways to tune a banjo:

  1. With a tuning fork: Tap the fork on a hard surface. Listen to the clear bell-like tone. Make sure none of your strings duplicate this tone.
  2. With an electric tuner: Tap the tuner on a hard surface. Continue as with method (1).
  3. With a fiddle: Tap the fiddle on a hard surface. Continue as above.

Lesson 4: Tunes and Tablature

It's a well-kept secret that there are really only four tunes in old-time music: the G Tune, the A Tune, the D Tune, and the C Tune. It's an even better-kept secret that these four tunes sound exactly the same.

Tablature is a simplified form of musical notation used by musicians to preserve music on paper. AVOID ALL TABLATURE--you will get nowhere as a banjo player by imitating musicians.

Lesson 5: Drugs and Banjo Playing

Just say, "Why not?"

Lesson 6: Playing with Musicians

Playing with musicians is always scary for the beginning banjo player. You should not be intimidated, though, because musicians like to have a banjo player or two around. Even the most mediocre group of musicians will sound great by contrast when a banjo player is added. So get in there and start jamming!

Lesson 7: Banjo Paraphernalia

A capo allows the banjo player, once out of tune in one key, to quickly be out of tune in any other key.

A case protects your banjo from abuse, except when it is being played. This is really unimportant, but where else can you put all your cool bumper stickers?

A dog will follow a banjo player around and keep everyone uncertain as to which is responsible for the odor.

Beer is the experienced banjo player's favorite liquid to spill on the dance floor, dancers, and/or musicians. Sometimes it is filtered through the kidneys first.

Lesson 8: Name That Tune

As mentioned previously, there are only four tunes, and they all sound the same. It is definitely uncool, however, to let on in public that you know this, so here's a list of titles for The Tune:

  • Turkey in the Straw,
  • Bug in the Taters,
  • Paddy on the Turnpike,
  • Fire on the Mountain,
  • Billy in the Lowground,
  • Drugs in the Urine Sample,
  • Christ on a Crutch,
  • Monkey in the Dog Cart,
  • Logs in the Bedpan,
  • Ducks in the Millpond,
  • Pigeon on a Gate Post,
  • Water on the Knee.

Lesson 9: Three Myths Dispelled

Myth Number 1: It takes hard work and talent to play the banjo.
Fact: The only talent most banjo players have is a talent for avoiding hard work.

Myth Number 2: You can make good money playing the banjo.
Fact: People will frequently pay you much better money to stop.

Myth Number 3: Your banjo will make you friends wherever you go.
Fact: This is only true if you never go anywhere.

Lesson 10: The Universal Banjo Tune


h=hit it! H=hit it harder! B=beat it!

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