When New Skills are Like a Magnet

Ever see that old Bugs Bunny cartoon where he and Yosemite Sam are trying to get rid of a lit stick of dynamite? They keep passing it back and forth; shoving it into each others hands, until that crafty fur-bearing varmint starts taking the dynamite. Yosemite Sam finally settles the argument once and for all by insisting on keeping the now-short fuse, with the usual comic disaster that follows.

“Ahhh hates rabbits!” mutters Yosemite Sam.

That’s human nature, which is also what makes it so funny. We’re all like that from time to time especially with things, like with Bugs and Sam, that are repetitious in nature.

When you learn repetitious musical techniques, it can also be human nature to resist things that are very close to what you already know.

Learning to pick with three fingers when you are already comfortable with picking two-finger style is a good example. So is going from 3 to 4 finger picking. Also, I’m comfortable playing a flatpick on the mandolin, but it is more difficult to keep with it with a guitar.

When the new thing you are learning is very close to what you already know, then the temptation to revert back to the old way is very great; it’s like a magnet. The closer you are, the more it draws you back. Back into playing in the old comfortable way. Your fingers want to take charge here and let your mind rest from this new stuff; after all, they know just about how it goes. You have to let your fingers know who is boss; we’re doing this with a different twist.

It’s certainly satisfying and fun to play in whatever style you know, but if it’s your goal to learn some new technique, then you’ll have to face the fact that developing new techniques that are very close to what you already know will require a bit more determination and perseverance.

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About Phill Gibson

I'm from Huntsville, Alabama where I work as a Systems Engineer and part-time banjo and mandolin instructor. I've been playing various instruments since my teen years. I started mandolin at about age 17 and banjo at 20. I love just about all kinds of music. In terms of banjo styles, I play Scruggs and melodic and am working on becoming more advanced with single string. I'm also working on 4-finger banjo, which is way off the beaten path. I would like to see more jazz techniques integrated into bluegrass situations; counterpoint, especially. So long-term, that's what I'm doing. I'm also very keen on astronomy, ATM (amateur telescope making), birding, christian homeschooling, martial arts, organic gardening and about 30 other distracting hobbies to a (mercifully) lesser extent.
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