notes by Rick Shubb
Pete Wernick has been using Shubb fifth string capos on his banjos for years, and he is an enthusiastic and articulate spokesman for their advantages. I’ve presented my thoughts on the pros and cons of the 5th string capo vs. spikes here on our site, and while 5th string capo users are in the minority, it’s nice to have Dr. Banjo himself in our camp.
Besides being among the top players (Hot Rize, Flexigrass, Pete & Joan Wernick, etc.), and a leader in the music community (president of IBMA) Pete has got to be regarded as the foremost teacher of the 5-string banjo. I’ve been excited to see the direction his teaching method has taken, and the incredible energy he’s applying to it. He is a man on a mission.
As a banjo teacher myself for many years I emphasized playing by ear and improvising, and tried to create the least daunting path to where the music really lives. Results showed me that this works. That’s why I got so excited about what Pete is doing. He embraces these same principles, but has developed them into an amazingly direct and effective system, creating a solid infrastructure in which beginning and intermediate players can find their own path of least resistance. And while most banjo teachers influence a few dozen students, Pete is reaching thousands at his jam camps and banjo camps, and hundreds of thousands with his instruction books and videos.
I’m sure that Pete Wernick’s curriculum for banjo and bluegrass is the most effective, in that it results in the lowest drop-out rate for beginners. Less obviously, but maybe more importantly, I also feel that it is producing not just more players, but better players: musicians who don’t play by rote memory, with better timing, who are sensitive, creative, and mutually supportive.
When I rediscovered his website la couple of years ago I sent him an email, in which I said “…when I read your responses in Ask Dr. Banjo, I’m tempted to stand up and shout Hooray!” I sensed a bit of a blush in his response, but my praise was understated. The future of the banjo and bluegrass couldn’t be in better hands.