The English Folk Dance and Song Society websites use cookies.
You can read more about cookies and how we use them here.
Continued use of this site implies that you agree to our use of cookies.  
At the heart of English folk

Banjo (clawhammer)

Although the 5-string banjo is often associated with American music, it is now widely regarded as an instrument of West African origin. It is thought to have evolved from fretless lutes made with gourds that travelled to the Americas during the slave trade. During its heyday in the 19th century, the banjo was very popular internationally and huge numbers were made and played in the UK in classical banjo bands and even banjo orchestras. It is played in many different styles, which reflects its complex international history, but has been associated with folk music on both sides of the Atlantic for a long time. It is fun, accessible and a great instrument to start learning music on.

Banjo classes

Banjo Level 1-2 (Beginners - progressive)
Autumn term: Level 1-2
Spring term: Level 2

The course starts with the basics of the right hand technique, introduces the three most important chords in G-tuning (G, C and D7), looks at left hand techniques (such as hammer-ons and pull offs) and towards the end of the year, introduces harder left hand chords (such as F and D major) and more complicated left-hand techniques. The year will start by assuming all students are level 1, but towards the end of the year it'll be expected that students will be at level 2 or above.

Banjo Level 3-4 (Improvers / Intermediate)
This course will assume students are familiar with the techniques covered in the levels 1 and 2 course. Learning will be done by ear but tunes will be taught faster. We will play in different keys and talk about transposition and practical music theory. Playing with others and session etiquette will be discussed more explicitly. We'll play in many different tunings (G, A, A modal, D tuning, double C, double D, F tuning etc) and cover more obscure left and right hand techniques where applicable. We'll talk about style and phrasing, accompanying and leading tunes. We'll also discuss what folk music is and where it is played. The course will respond to the needs of the people in the class and students will be encouraged to bring their own questions and ideas of things they would like to cover in the sessions.


Pre-entry level requirements

Level 1
Complete beginners are welcome!  The banjo is a great and accessible instrument to learn and over the course of this year we’ll aim to take you from completely new to playing music to being able to enjoy playing lots of folk tunes by ear!

Level 2
Students should be familiar with the basic right hand clawhammer technique and know G, C, D7 in G-tuning.  Alternatively a student who is completely new to the banjo but has experience playing a fretted stringed instrument (such as the guitar) might fit into this group.

Level 3-4
Students are familiar with clawhammer style in G tuning, have a repertoire of tunes they know by heart and some experience of learning by ear.  They may or may not have started to experiment with other techniques and tunings (drop thumbing, galax lick, double C, modal tuning, D tuning) although these techniques will be covered in the course.


Who leads the course?

The banjo classes are led by Ed Hicks.

Ed Hicks is one of the leading banjo players in the UK and a passionate advocate for people learning folk and traditional music.  In a career spanning over ten years Ed Hicks has played banjo on a Gold Record, on a Mercury Award nominated album, on Love Cats with Rob Smith of the Cure, on the Voice UK, the Voice Germany and the Voice Kids, with award wining theatre companies (Cirque de Legume, Ramshacklicious, The Honk Project, Cockney Awkestra), on a full UK tour with electro pop pioneer Thomas Dolby and on 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life' with Python Eric Idle. 

Ed has played all over the UK and Europe at many prestigious venues including Glastonbury Festival, Shakespeare’s Globe, the National Theatre, Rock am Ring (Germany), The Victoria and Albert Museum and Shepherd Bush Empire.  Ed Hicks was even booked to play the banjo at Marcus Mumford’s (Mumford and Sons) Wedding to Carey Mulligan and was the banjo player the BBC phoned to interview when Earl Scruggs died. Ed Hicks is a prolific and passionate teacher of the banjo.


How can I take part?

Bookings are now closed

For any queries, please contact:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | 020 7241 8953


Terms and Conditions

Click here to read the terms and conditions for classes and courses run by the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS).



More Information

Click here for more information on individual class times, dates and further info.



The Adventures of Andy Kershaw at Cecil Sharp House - 26 January 2017

A fascinating and often hilarious two hour audio-visual presentation from ‘the finest British broadcaster bar none… an amazing man’ (Stephen Fry).


Catrin Finch & Seckou Keita at Cecil Sharp House - 14 February 2017

The sky is the limit for this fearless pair of multi-award-winning virtuoso musicians.