The Complete Tune Playing Toolkit For 5-String Banjo:  A Comprehensive Guide to Mastering Traditional Melodies

This new banjo instructional book by Jamie Francis could have easily been titled “Fiddle Tune Boot Camp for the 5-String Banjo.”  The 120-page book is an extremely comprehensive approach to learning how to play fiddle tune melodies—including old-time tunes, reels, jigs, hornpipes, polkas, slip jigs, and airs (41 tunes in all)—on the 5-string banjo.  

While the number and broad range of tunes presented in this book is enough to keep a motivated banjo player studying for years, I feel like the real benefit in this book is found within the 56 pages of the book’s first section called “Technical Studies.”  Here Francis provides a large number of well-designed warm-up exercises and scale exercises to help the 5-string banjo player develop a high degree of skill in the Scruggs, melodic, and single string approaches to playing the banjo.

In my experience, a lot of beginning banjo players will start by learning how to play solid Scruggs style banjo.  This approach necessarily provides a great foundation for bluegrass banjo.  However, it can be tough learning to play intricate fiddle tune melodies using the Scruggs approach.  This is where the melodic and single string styles excel.  However, I feel that a difficult part of the learning process for Scruggs style players is to move from straight Scruggs style roll patterns to playing melodic and single string styles and applying that to fiddle tune melodies—especially in keys other than G.  I think that any banjo player who may be struggling with that transition will greatly benefit from the warm-ups, exercises and song examples in this book.

I’m not a big fan of instructional books that only present arrangements of tunes.  I like when detailed instruction, exercises, and theory are presented in a structured way, so as to aid the student in the development of skills necessary to play the tunes prior to the tunes themselves being presented.  This is exactly what Francis does in this book and it is done very well.  I also like that both right and left hand fingerings are provided with each exercise and tune.  Also, a hundred downloadable audio tracks accompany the book.  This book is highly recommended for 5-string banjo players who might be struggling to play fiddle tune melodies on the instrument.

Jamie Francis is an extremely talented banjo player from the United Kingdom who is a graduate of the Brighton Institute of Modern Music.  He has two decades of gigging experience and countless recording and radio credits.

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