Customer Reviews: Bluegrass Banjo for the Complete Ignoramus (Book & CD set)
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on March 29, 2005
This book is just plain excellent. Do not let the title throw ya. it really is a good book. The problem I have found with many beginners books is that they just kinda throw tab at ya and expect you to play it like they do-with no rhyme or reason given. Not Wayne. He gives you the basic melody notes (and the words to the songs!-who knew they had words) then teaches you how and where to insert the other technics that you will use the rest of your playing life to make the tunes interesting. I have learned so much thru this book. The book is short as compared to many of the others out there, but that is because Wayne has compacted soooo much info into this book. It really is that good. Highly recommended and it is helping me to understand why I do what I do and how and where to change things so that I can truly make the tunes my own. He also give s the history and background to each tune he uses. Very interesting and well done Wayne!
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on September 27, 2006
Most people take up the banjo to play music. In contrast to other banjo training books, this book will get you playing a lot of different songs with a minimum amount of effort. The book then allows you to enhance on these same songs with other roll variations as you improve. In short order, this book will give you a sense of accomplishment and an interest in learning more. Wayne truely understands how to make learning the banjo enjoyable. I am now over half way thru his book "Starting Bluegrass Banjo". I highly recommend this second book after you have some level of competence in the Ignoramus book.
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on November 24, 2007
I finally caved into my insane desire to learn how to play the banjo a couple months ago. With my banjo came a how-to DVD, and I bought three books in addition: "The How and Tao of the Old-Time Banjo," "Earl Scruggs and the 5-String Banjo" and of course "Bluegrass Banjo for the Complete Ignoramus."

I managed through the first 10 minutes of the DVD before it became too advanced for me. And the other two books I bought were pretty much immediately too advanced. But Wayne Erbsen's book is not only accessable for an absolute beginner with no previous experience with a musical instrument, it's quite a bit of fun too.

The writing is simple, light-hearted, and whole-heartedly enjoyable. It actually sometimes feels as if Wayne is right there with you teaching you how to play.

In addition, each song is displayed in "tablature," which tells you which strings to flick and which strings to fret at the same time. In the long run it's definitely a good idea to learn how to play through standard music sheets, but for a true beginner like me, tablature is the only way to go.

In addition to tablature, what really helped me is how Wayne describes the music. You begin with the "skeleton" of the song, which is always a short, basic melody. But each song has extra "licks" that you can play to "dress the skeleton." In other words, you begin with the basics of the song and after practicing until you're good, you can try the "warmer" licks by adding things like roll patterns to make the song sound more impressive and more distinctly bluegrass. And the best part is, the book comes with a CD so you can hear if you're playing correctly.

I learned much more, and had much more fun with Wayne Erbsen's "Bluegrass Banjo for the Complete Ignoramus" than anything else I've tried so far. It won't make you a bluegrass master, but it's a great place to start.
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on July 2, 2007
If you have ever thought that learning to play the five string banjo was impossible then this is the book for you! When I first picked up the banjo several seasoned guitarists told me and my husband that it would be extremely difficult or almost impossible to learn; that they tried it themselves and failed!

Well, I guess they failed only because they didn't have Wayne Erbsen's book! You can come in knowing absolutely NOTHING and come out on the other end a pickin' and a grinin'.

With a folksy vocabulary and a casual approach to theory, Mark Erbsen takes all the intimidation out of learning to play the banjo. You don't have to know how to read notes or tabs to get use out of this book. Everything is well charted, well explained and perfect for well... the ignoramus.

Each song is given as a bare-to-the-bones melody. The pages opposite provides licks and rolls that range from (in his terms) ice cold to red hot. He points out which fingers are supposed to do what, when you're supposed to tap your foot and gives suggestions on how to make the song your own.

This book is a MUST HAVE for anyone trying to learn to play the banjo or are too intimidated to start.

In a short time you're sure to be surprised how far you can get with your banjo and Wayne Erbsen's book at your side.
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on December 9, 2004
Written by contest-winning banjo player Wayne Erbsen, Bluegrass Banjo For The Complete Ignoramus! is a straightforward how-to instructional that uses simple instructions, drills, basic songs, and an accompanying music CD to teach the lay reader the basics of how to hold, use, and create music with the banjo. Direct, simple guidelines form the hallmark of this easy-to-follow guide, that makes learning to play the banjo fun. Bluegrass Banjo For The Complete Ignoramus! is strongly recommended for beginning to intermediate banjo players; especially those who are interested in learning from a professional and will benefit from the tips, tricks, techniques, and drills so deftly presented.
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on January 11, 2010
I'm 46 years old and have wanted to play the banjo all my life since I was a skinny little kid with braids mesmerized by my parents' old Dillards and Kingston Trio LPs.

My parents never took me seriously about the banjo - what little girls played the banjo? - but they did arrange for me to take guitar lessons.

The itch was never scratched. So when I was 30 I finally bought a beginner banjo and took a few months of very very hard lessons that discouraged me and I gave it up in utter defeat, my confidence completely shot.

The banjo sat in my closet in its case collecting dust for 15 years. Twice I almost sold it. I basically gave up my guitar as well during those years of concentrating on raising my family. Then suddenly I began playing my guitar again in a newly-formed bluegrass jam last year and it renewed my interest in the banjo because although I enjoy my guitar, I found myself sitting there listening and looking on with envy at our banjo player. Then I found out he has been playing for only 2 years!!!!!! Right then and there I thought if HE can do it, I can do it.
So I dug my banjo out from under a mighty mountain of clothes, dusted it off, changed the strings, and went online to see a whole array of tempting beginners books and CDs. I picked this Ignoramus book because it was the one that best described me, and began to use the book and the CD.

To my shock and surprise, I made immediate progress and within a short amount of time was able to play what the author calls a "cool" version of each tune and now am at the point where I am playing "hot" versions. This all simply means the amount of rolls and fancier stuff added to the basic tune. I'm not red hot or white hot yet but I am finally fulfilling my dream, at long last. The feeling of accomplishment and pride is amazing when I truly thought I would never be able to do this. I think the key to the success of this book, other than the fun vibe of it, is the fact that you make progress right away and that inspires you to keep working at it.

So the bottom line is, IF I CAN DO IT, ABSOLUTELY ANYONE CAN.

And it's a blast.

P.S. The only tiny thing I would suggest - and this is very minor - is that the author tells beginners to not even bother with finger picks at this point. I say, start right off the bat with those babies!! Yes, they feel awkward and disembodied from your fingers at first. Get used to them (it only takes about a week) and you will never be sorry! They made the sound of the instrument infinitely better!!!!
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on August 25, 2007
I've tried to teach myself to play the banjo for about 10 years off and on. I'd give up each time. I was using the Earl Scruggs book. I just needed a better teacher. I get it now! I'm not an expert player yet, but I now understand enough to make practicing worthwhile. Slowly picking out tablature does not make sense to a non-player. Understanding the melody first and then exactly how increasingly more difficult picks and rolls fit in totally does!

Oh, and Wayne Erbsen is funny. It's a hoot to read.
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on February 2, 2014
I am 60 years old and never held a banjo, much less play one, until my wife gave me one for Christmas 2013 . For that matter, I've never played any sort of instrument, other than plunk around with my brother's ancient guitar as a kid, which frustrated me and I quit. I can't read a single note of music. This book is amazing and was apparently written specifically for me. The book (and it seems the banjo world as a whole) uses "tablature" diagrams to show you where to hold each string for a note or chord, and does not use music notation. And, fantastic as it is....about 80% of bluegrass uses only three chords, one of which is "G", which is the "open" (unfretted) key that the banjo is tuned to , so that leaves two chords to learn. The book starts off with very simple tunes, the banjo equivalent of "chop sticks" and then adds "rolls", "pinches", "reverse rolls", "slides" and other tricks to add spice to the tune. The book comes with a CD that plays out each lesson and all the variations so you can get instant response....basically it tells you "this is what this lesson should sound like".....note by a pace you can you will know whether or not you are doing things right. Bottom line is I was able to play at the pace of the book within a day or two of tune at a time mind you. I'm on my sixth song....after one month....practicing about 30 minutes a day. I'm far from being any sort of musician, but this book has allowed me to realize the sort of satisfaction that always eluded me as a kid....I can't wait to pick up the banjo each day and push my abilities to the next level. I am really satisfied with this book and the gift that it has brought me.....I guess I'm becoming a musician of sorts....even my wife is excited about the results. I bought several "how to play" books after the banjo arrived, but all the others were too complicated for me....this one really "strikes a chord" in me....and I'll use this one until I've mastered all the tunes. If you're a complete ignoramus like me, you'll really like this book.
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on December 5, 2007
THIS MUST BE YOUR FIRST BANJO BOOK. It's a short on technique but long on something priceless -- motivation. You see, Erbsen teaches banjo by teaching you how to fake familiar songs. Instead of playing "Cripple Creek" over and over, or practicing rolls 'til your fingers bleed, you learn very short versions of some folk standards while learing how you can play simple but recognizable versions of your favorite songs -- bluegrass or otherwise.

It works! I'd been playing for about a month when one day, just noodling around, I came up with a crude version of "Route 66." Now THAT was gratifying.

I've since played "Cripple Creek" a few thousand times and practiced rolls until my fingertips were (almost) bleeding. I'm fairly sure I wouldn't have bothered if it hadn't been for Erbsen.
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on November 4, 2008
i learned very quickly (bout 3 weeks) to play the banjo pretty decently using this book. I has multiple levels of difficulty for each tune so you start it simpleand then build on it as you get better. you can do the simple version of all the songs in the book if you want before you go back and do the harder versions (with added note doodads)
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