Review of “The Banjo Techniques of Jens Kruger” DVD

Review of Homespun Video’s “The Banjo Techniques of Jens Kruger: Developing Skills, Creativity, and Musicianship.” By Jake Schepps

Published in Banjo Newsletter , February 2007

As a long time fan of Jens Kruger, I was thrilled to learn he had recorded a new instructional DVD. The material covered Jens’s Homespun lesson is truly outstanding. It ranges from intermediate to quite difficult, yet there are important and inspiring aspects to Jens’ lesson for musicians of all levels. Jens’ relaxed demeanor and skilled ability to describe concepts makes this a tremendously useful lesson. And while the music is brilliant, what I found most meaningful and valuable in the video is a detailed view of Jens’ impressive musicality.

The video offers many insights into technique, composing, and practice that go far beyond the included tablature. In addition, there are some very memorable quotes from Jens. For example, when discussing composing, he states he did not initially like his own music that much. He likens it to looking in the mirror — “the longer you look in the mirror the more likely it is that you find things that you don’t like. And music is the same way.” I find it refreshing to hear other musicians share their inner critic and recognize that many artists and virtuosic musicians go through creative challenges. He also emphasizes that playing more complicated music does not necessarily make it any better. He concentrates more on making simpler things sound good versus just concentrating on executing a particularly challenging passage.

Jens spends time breaking down some of his beautiful compositions and the video offers a detailed view into his impressive technical skill. From the beginning, he delves into his tune “Wind in the Wheat,” which in both form and harmony falls far outside the general definition of bluegrass. Yet the techniques and melodic content of the tune are readily applicable to playing traditional bluegrass music. Other tunes like “Shower” and “Waterfall” are chock-full of bluegrass ideas. Also included is an in depth look at single string technique, scales, arpeggios, and ideas to gain speed.

Jens’ brother Uwe Kruger (guitar) and Joel Landsberg (bass) assist him with rhythm and harmony, which helps elaborate some of the ideas Jens discusses. This also is the context where Jens can really shine. He ingeniously wrote some etudes to help explain certain ideas, and had previously orchestrated these with his band. So as he is teaching and beginning to illustrate an idea, the band jumps right in and plays along with Jens, though it appears off the cuff. It is a great effect! And this offers much more of a musical sentiment versus an exercise-type feeling. This brings up another point Jens emphasizes, that even playing just one note is musical. One should savor all and be musical with everything.

Disappointingly, Homespun chose to not tab out two amazing tunes that Jens plays towards the end of the DVD (the tune “The Builder” from Jens’ solo release “The Bridge,” and another beautiful tune with some interesting up the neck melodic ideas), which could have easily been included in the booklet. Conversely, there are certain concepts and scalar patterns that are not broken down in detail and not tabbed out, which I personally feel offers a more long-term relationship to the video. Some videos have tab, and then the instructor teaches the tab. For myself, I find this a short-term commitment to the video, as I can often gain most (though not all) of the musical information I need from the tab alone.

Overall, this DVD is an exceptional product that will offer musicians of all levels musical growth and fresh ideas. For the price of one private lesson (or a week of double-shot lattes), any banjo student can have Jens Kruger patiently teaching in their living room. Highly recommended.

Homespun is on the web at:

Jens Kruger is on the web at:

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