Sunday, February 23, 2014

Dueling with my Banjo

Allow me to introduce a very good enemy of mine.
Currently, its name is Ahem.
As in the answer to the question "have you practiced your banjo lately?"


Every day, my banjo lies in its case in a corner, languishing. After work hours are over, I glance from it to my instructional books and before the thought "I should practice now" fully forms, I instead think "I should edit that last chapter," or "I really ought to review that story a friend sent me," or even "I should organize my closet again. It's been a whole week since I did that."
And poor Ahem is left in its corner another night.
During the day, it sees the light while I lay it on the floor for the baby to bang on. He loves the shine of the brassy clasps on case, the twang of the strings under his little fingers, and he adores the horrendous, scratching din his nails make as he scrapes them across the banjo's rough head.
Other than that, Ahem is all but abandoned.

So why don't I play with it more often?
It's not that I'm trying to punish Ahem. It's done nothing wrong. In fact, it's a very good banjo; sturdy, holds its pitch, and it makes a nice sound.

Ahem isn't the problem. I am.

I started teaching myself on a very simple book and learned a few cords and enjoyed playing very much. Then I reached a new technique and realized I didn't have enough understanding of theory to learn the new skill. So I pulled out a different book, one with much more focus on music theory and banjo technique, and I was quickly overwhelmed. There was an abundance of information that I didn't yet know how to apply. The cords were much more difficult, and trying to contort my fingers into the tricky positions made me aware of just how clumsy and stiff my hands really were.
In the face of such a challenge, I was daunted and frustrated. So I panicked and fled, abandoning Ahem to its corner where it waits for me to regain my courage and attempt one more charge.

Enter YouTube, my newest side kick. Or, perhaps, my aged mystic master. Take your pick. Either way, YouTube's wealth of video lessons are a great help. Of course, the 'wealth' part can be a bit daunting. Just look up 'beginner banjo lesson' and see how many results you get.
Go ahead. I'll wait.
See? It's tough to know where to start.
I'm starting here.

Four chords and hardly any music theory. Basically, I'm going back to the beginning. And that's just the way it is.
I'll still be struggling through my theory heavy book- but as a supplement. Otherwise, I'll become swamped by the text and the real-life banjo will continue to gather dust alone in the corner. I need the theory if I'm going to be any good, but I need to put fingers to string if I'm going to bad. And, when becoming good at something, being bad at it first is an even more essential step than reading about it.


  1. Guess what? I just found my Great Grandmother's banjo. It needs new strings, but otherwise looks good. What do you think about folk songs? ;-)

  2. I love them! I've been trying to collect some from around pinterest and youtube. Now, don't you think we ought to learn some together? :)