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Talking Banjo with Tony Trischka: Part 1

Tony Trischka at the Toulouse (France) Bluegrass Festival - 1984

Tony Trischka with Darol Anger at the Toulouse (France) Bluegrass Festival - 1984. Photo by Silvio Ferretti

AW:  Thanks for talking with us Tony, it's great to have you here. Everybody in the banjo world knows Tony Trischka, and they know you not just for your banjo music, but because you've also been teaching people how to play banjo for a really long time. So I'd love to start by asking you, how long have you been giving banjo lessons?

Tony:  I've been giving banjo lessons since 1970. That's when I first started give one-on-one lessons, and in time I began giving group lessons, workshops, that sort of thing. Sometimes 3 day banjo workshops giving lessons, sometimes 5 day workshops, that sort of thing. And now of course I'm with ArtistWorks, doing the Tony Trischka School of Banjo, which is all online banjo lessons - beginner through advanced.

AW:  Is there a difference between giving someone banjo lessons online versus banjo lessons at your house?

Tony:  Well, it's not as interactive of course. But people can just go online whenever they want, and they can take any of the banjo lessons that are there, from beginning to advanced. And then people can send in Video Exchanges, which is sort of like having a banjo lesson with somebody in person. They play something, then I critique it…nicely, and then make suggestions. So that's kind of like having in person banjo lessons, but it's not Skype, it's not in real time. But as it turns out, it's actually a more convenient way to learn banjo because you can fit it into your own schedule.

AW:  I know you teach a lot of beginner banjo players online.  So what are some of the first things you would teach someone who's just learning how to play the banjo?

Tony:  If someone wants to learn how to play the banjo, I would suggest that they just learn some basic chords first. In bluegrass you're playing out of a G tuning, so just strum an open chord in a G tuning… and then learn a C chord, and maybe a D7 chord.

AW:  So they should start learning banjo chords first before jumping into rolls?

Tony:  You can start with the rolls also, but I think it's a good idea to just get the sound of the strum. You don't need fingerpicks, just strum down with your thumb across the chords. And then once you're doing that you can learn some beginning rolls, some simple rolls, and just roll across those same chords. So if you want to learn how to play the banjo that's a good way to do it. 

AW:  What's a good beginner banjo for someone who's just starting out?

Tony:  For a beginner beginner banjo I always recommend the Deering Goodtime. Also, Goldtone banjo makes a good beginner starter banjo in the $300-400 range. So there are a number of beginner banjos that are really nice, there are others too, but those are the ones that I'm most conscious of.

AW: And speaking of banjos, I hear you have a new one you're playing today?

Tony:  I have a new banjo. I'm still playing my Deering Tenbrooks because I love it, but I'm also playing a new Czech banjo that I got while I was in the Czech Republic about 3 weeks ago.  I got it from a guy name Zdeneck Rohm, he's a wonderful banjo player and an amazing banjo maker. He's one of the 3 current banjo makers over there making really good banjos.

AW:  What's the banjo scene like over in the Czech Republic?

Tony: There's historically been a great banjo scene in the Czech Republic ever since Communist days. Pete Seeger I think was the first person to go over there in the 60s, but I went over in 88 and 89 when it was still Communist, and there were a lot of people into Bluegrass there. There was a group called Poutnici, they were very popular and had two banjo players in their band.

AW:  Was it like traditional Bluegrass?

Tony:  No, they were into progressive stuff. And they were into my music, so they were playing some of my tunes, and people became familiar with my music. So when I went over there, it was a big deal. It was really exciting, we were treated like rock stars because we were Americans and you weren't allowed to sing in English there and we were singing in English… Anyway, so there's always been a really good banjo scene there, and there's really good banjo players over there.

In fact on this last tour when I was over there about 3 weeks ago we pulled into this service station, I was traveling with the banjo player of this group, Druhá Tráva (his name is Lubos Malina, great banjo player). As we were pulling up to this service station these three guys on motorcycles pull up at exactly the same time, full leathers, tattoos… and Lubos says to me, "That guy right there is one of the best banjo players in the Czech Republic." So we walk over there, I'd just gotten my new banjo from Zdeneck Rohm, and so he says "I hear you've got a new banjo, can I see it?" So we go off to the side, we open up the case, and he starts playing my banjo. He plays like some great bluegrass banjo, I mean what are the chances that at this service station in the Czech Republic, there's this great banjo player?

AW: That's wild, so was he a recording artist over there?

Tony:  That gentleman wasn't, but the guy who I was with, Lubos Malina, does record with the band Druhá Tráva. 


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