Bluegrass Bajo for Beginners
Bluegrass Bajo Jam Survival Guide
30 Bluegrass Banjo Licks You Must Know
Bluegrass Banjo Backup
Taken as a whole, Ned Luberecki’s four True Fire video courses cover the bread and butter of beginning and intermediate bluegrass banjo playing in a way that’s fun, engaging and approachable. What makes these Scruggsy offerings stand out is Luberecki’s engaging teaching style, the rich learning-support tools built into the courseware, and the thoughtful, graduated organization of the material. Video courses can be streamed directly from the True Fire website, and/or you can download the True Fire app and video courses to your Mac, Windows or Linux machine for local viewing.
The building blocks of these courses are relatively short videos – typically from one to five minutes in length – arranged into a series of overviews, demonstrations, song demos, play alongs at various speeds, and wrap ups. The videos are clear and crisp, and the user interface offers lots of choices for video sizing and placement on the screen. Most of the videos focus on practical, hands on playing, and when Luberecki is demonstrating a technique or passage the video is helpfully split into three panes. These windows provide a close-up, detailed, eye-level view of his picking and fretting hands and an integrated view of him playing.
Watching these videos was fun and interesting. Luberecki, the banjo player for the Becky Buller Band and 2018 IBMA Banjo “Player of the Year,” is an easygoing presence. He occasionally cracks wise and has a knack for clear, sensible presentation. The courses are organized into small, learner-friendly segments that – for me anyway – created challenges that felt manageable and that paid off as the learned segments were then incorporated into playing an entire song or passages using a variety of techniques.
For intermediate players the Bluegrass Banjo Backup and Bluegrass Banjo Jam Session Survival Guide include practical, helpful segments on chord inversions, double stops, ear training, and backup techniques for songs at different tempos. Luberecki shares lots of different ideas, and explains and demonstrates his “Ultimate Forward Roll” and how it can be applied to backup. Thirty Bluegrass Banjo Licks You MUST Know (in the spirit of the movie “Deliverance” shouldn’t the title end with a vaguely threatening OR ELSE) is pure fun, a numbered romp through a grab bag of standard bluegrass licks and quite a few phrases that were new to me. I particularly liked the sound of the lick Luberecki aptly calls “A Bunch of Pull Offs in C.”
Bluegrass Banjo For Beginners starts out with naming parts of the banjo and by the end has built up to playing “Cripple Creek” in three finger style. Even for non-beginners, there are sections of Beginning Bluegrass Banjo that might be worth a look. The videos that cover “Playing Melodies & Fill In” take an interesting walk through arranging a melody for three finger style.
Where these video courses really add value above and beyond the material covered is in their practice and learning-support tools. True Fire’s platform includes many well-considered features: video speed can be customized; a metronome can be activated; during the play-along sections of the courses tab is synced with the video, so you can enter split screen mode and play along either with Luberecki or a MIDI version of the material while the tab is in front of you. The playalongs can be transposed to any key, the views and size of the tab are customizable; jam tracks are available at multiple speeds.
For practice, the looping feature in these True Fire courses is particularly noteworthy. No less a luminary than Dr. Banjo himself, Pete Wernick, recommends the so-called loop exercise method as a technique for working through musical challenges. In the courseware it is quite easy to select particular passages in the tab, activate looping mode, and play through the sections repeatedly at various speeds.
All these videos share many worthwhile ideas, approaches and techniques for players who are getting started or who are looking to expand their picking skills, repertoire and musical knowledge. If you want to learn more about Ned Luberecki’s bluegrass banjo courses, including reviewing the table of contents, the list of features, and the materials included, go to truefire.com.