Spanish banjo maestro Lluís Gomez has released a new instructional manual for banjoists looking to build their skill and understanding of their instrument using a more classical approach to practice.
Based in Barcelona, Lluis is recognized worldwide for his mastery of bluegrass, new acoustic, and Basque folk and classical music, and as perhaps the most experienced and successful banjo instructor in Europe.
His new book, Five Etudes for 5-String Banjo includes a series of studies for the instrument, meant to challenge both your ears and your fingers. Anyone who took lessons for any time on a string, brass, reed, or keyboard instrument will be familiar with etudes, or studies, written less as a piece of music for listening, than as something meant to increase dexterity and understanding of a particular instrument.
Gomez describes how he came to put this book together, failing to find anything like this for his banjo students.
“My musical journey started when I was 15 years old and although none of my family played an instrument, music was always around to give me inspiration. I decided to start learning acoustic guitar and electric bass, which | played for three years in a hardcore band – it was the music of my teenage years! But as I developed as a musician I very quickly discovered folk, blues, and jazz music.
I was learning by ear, but soon realized that I need to do more in order to develop my musical knowledge. I joined the conservatory in my town, beginning by studying the flute and then moving on to classical guitar.
As well as learning the techniques of how to play classical guitar, I combined it with jazz guitar studies and modern harmony, and later on I studied classical violin. All of this classical training gave me a solid foundation for my musical life. I learned the importance of Etudes, so I incorporate that into my own teaching.
In terms of bluegrass, learning an Earl Scruggs tune note for note is just like learning an Etude. It is a starting point to develop and adapt your musical skills and your own interpretations.
After taking lessons and being in touch with musicians like Béla Fleck, Jake Schepps, Adam Larrabee, Jayme Stone, Hank Smith, and John Bullard, I really understood the importance of trying to play Etudes on the banjo. But, because classical Etudes are often difficult for the banjo, I started to write my own Etudes and exercises for the bluegrass musician.”
He has put together these Five Etudes to help develop your playing of chords, single string, and roll-based technique. One he has recorded previously, on his Dotze Temps album, and several have a flamenco feel. All are presented in the familiar tablature format.
Five Etudes for 5-String banjo is offered for €10, roughly $10.75 in US dollars, and includes audio files of Lluís playing through each of them. In fact, to order, you simply go to his bandcamp site and purchase the audio, and he will email you the PDF of the book right away. Those in a position to offer more for the book/audio can do so using bandcamp.
This is a serious contribution to the library of instructional banjo offerings, and well worth the time for anyone with a genuine desire to improve their playing and hear new sounds on your five string.