Honestly, answering a question like ‘how long does it take to learn the banjo?’, is the equivalent to asking ‘how long is a piece of string?’. There is no definitive answer.
In fact, one could argue that you would never ‘fully’ learn the banjo. There is always something new to discover on this wonderful instrument.
Of course, it is unlikely to be experts who are asking how long it takes to learn the instrument. It is going to be those who have picked up a banjo for the first time.
Our answer? Well, it is going to be dependent on a lot of factors.
It will take longer than you think
Right off the bat, we want to point out that it is going to take far longer to learn the banjo than you may think.
Many people will struggle to have even the slightest tune that they feel happy sharing with others within a few weeks.
You can’t just dive into the instrument and expect to be rattling off tunes within a matter of days. Things don’t work like that.
Expect months and months before you can do something to a fairly decent standard. This is even if you fall into one of the groups below.
That being said, if you put your mind to it (and you played really slowly), you may be able to get a fairly simple tune down in a few days.
By this, a tune that is just a few notes and barely any chords (and if it does use chords, it will be simple ones).
Some would argue that this isn’t really ‘learning’, but we say it is.
After all, even if you are learning simple songs, you are learning techniques that you can use later on when using your banjo.
You have probably heard this before, but there is a ‘theory’ that anybody could learn any skill they want with 10,000 hours of practice.
This is mastering a skill. This is 416-days of work. It would take a long time to reach this point.
Of course, do bear in mind that this is for the ‘mastering’ of a skill.
Some banjo instructors claim that it should take about 2,000-hours of work to get to the point of playing banjo where you can reasonably be expected to do pretty much anything on it.
We tend to agree with this. A good solid 2,000-hours of work should allow you to play the banjo with incredible ease.
At this point, you would probably be at a ‘performance’ level. Not professional performance (unless you are superbly talented), but enough to show off a few songs.
That being said, to be able to play some simple pieces with ease, and maybe start to put together a few of your own tunes, it is probably only going to take a few hundred hours of dedicated practice.
This is (basically) nothing in the grand scheme of things.
Have you played a stringed instrument before?
If you have played a stringed instrument before (e.g. guitar or bass) and have it down to a component level, then you will probably be learning banjo faster than somebody who is just getting started.
This is because you will have several of the more complicated techniques down e.g. fretting (a lot of beginners get stuck with this), strumming, and general chord work.
Obviously, you are still going to be working out how to move your hands around the banjo, but things are going to feel a bit more familiar for you.
While other people are grappling with certain techniques, you may be more ahead of them in progress. In fact, you could be weeks ahead of them.
Although, do bear in mind that there will eventually be a crossover. You will hit a ‘stalling point’.
Some parts of banjo have absolutely no crossover with other stringed instruments.
How often do you play?
You are probably going to learn banjo faster if you play every single day.
Even if you are just playing for 5-minutes per day, this is far, far more effective than somebody who is picking the banjo up for an hour once per month.
As with any skill, if you want to get good, you are going to need to practice it regularly.
Remember; when you are practicing, if you want to learn faster, you will need to do the following:
- Focus on developing techniques you have learned in the past
- Introduce new techniques
The latter is insanely important. If you are constantly hammering over the same techniques, then you are not going to make any progression.
You will stall and you simply can’t learn the banjo, although you will have managed to nail the simple techniques.
Are you familiar with banjo music?
We assume that you are if you are picking up a banjo. It really does help to listen to banjo music regularly. Watch videos on YouTube. Boot up Spotify. Just do something so that you can get familiar with the sounds of the banjo.
If you can do that, then you will start to get a feel for how certain sounds start to work together. This will make it easier to learn the instrument.
After all, a lot of the ‘guesswork’ is going to be taken out of the equation. You will just know if something sounds right.
How musically talented are you?
If you are musically gifted, then you will find that it is a lot easier to learn the banjo than somebody who struggles to hold a rhythm.
That isn’t to say that the latter person couldn’t learn an instrument, it is just going to take them longer. This is because they will need to spend a LOT more time going over the core concepts.
So, there you have it. When it comes to how long it takes to learn to play the banjo, there isn’t a fixed number we can give. But you should know it will be harder to learn than you think.
You may be able to play a few songs in a few weeks of practice. You may take months to play those same songs.
It all depends on your skills, goals, and how much time you are dedicating to the instrument.
Just do not expect to be amazing at this instrument right away. That is demotivating. Just remember that when you play the banjo, there is always something new to discover.
Even when you feel like you have ‘mastered’ the instrument, you probably haven’t.
Image from flickr creative commons Lindz Graham