Tony Trischka

"John Dowling is one of my favorite banjo players and now he's written a wonderful new book, The Contemporary Banjo Player (Faber Music).  It has something for everyone. If you're just starting out, he tells you how to position your hands and shows you basic rolls (finger patterns) so you can be playing music almost immediately. For the intermediate players, he gives tips on improvising, as well as lessons in melodic and single string playing. The advanced picker can graze on fingerpicking guitar style, bass line with melody and Banjo Percussion.... plus much more.  These pages are a treasure trove of techniques tunes and tips, all delivered to you by one of the most creative banjoists to ever put picks to a string.  No home should be without this tremendous tome!" 

Joe Mac

"Hi John, just read a revue on your book and have bought it straight away. I have been playing for fourty years now and your book is like a breath of fresh air, I thank you for it." 

Dan Walsh

A banjo book that ticks all boxes is rare. They're full of tunes with no explanation or don't get past the basics. John Dowling sets his stall out early: 'this covers not only the basics but teaches you how to expand and diversify'. After an excellent section on choosing a banjo, looking after it and then the basic rolls (and even courteously acknowledging left handed players by referring to 'picking' and 'fretting' hands as opposed to right and left) he heads into tunes and brilliantly uses multiple versions of Worried Man to demonstrate how different rolls can make tunes more interesting. The CD is also a valuable tool at this point and throughout the book right up to a delicious final tune which should inspire any banjoist.
Dowling tackles areas often untapped in banjo books. Firstly, the section on backup means the player is better equipped for jamming but is positioned in the book so a couple of tunes are already learned. Likewise, the theory section is placed early enough to make advanced playing easier but not before the player has had the fun of starting to play.
Blackberry Blossom is then used to show the differing right hand (sorry picking hand!) styles and, of all tunes, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star shows the application of harmony. While this might not be the most obviously inspiring tune for the aspiring banjoist, it's an excellent tune to show some complicated theory and the player then has the excitement of applying it to a bluegrass classic in John Hardy.
More common weaknesses are tackled in sections on playing in different keys, variations, arrangement and improvisation. So are there any weaknesses to the book? One quibble – a misprint near the start on the fretting hand instructions where it says T for thumb instead of L for little but the pupil will probably clock it when the tabs come. The picky might also say tunes such as Twinkle Twinkle and Good King Wenceslas are not the most inspiring but as mentioned above they are effective tools in demonstrating complex techniques. But overall, this is an excellent guide to both the basics and advanced techniques to bring the banjo that variation that makes players like Dowling so exciting. As Dowling says on the last page – 'let's ensure the banjo has a diverse and prolific future'. If you're a finger picker, this book is the best place to start.