Binaries and Triads

We’ve all seen some common binary concepts in life from time to time. Things like digital vs. analog, good vs. bad and even something so commonplace as night vs. day.

But do you know any concepts that involve triads? How about this one:

Good – Cheap – Quick

This is the same concept that is taught in courses in PMP (Program Management Professional – the job of running any complex construction project, be it physical, such as a building, or virtual, such as a large computer application). The idea goes like this. We can often find one or even two of these qualities in something, but it is next to impossible to find all three at the same time. Think about it. If you built a widget for a living, how could you excel at making it better, cheaper and quicker than your competitors, and keep on doing it long-term? You might do it for a brief period, but to sustainably do all three is a tall order, indeed!

So, Phill – how can you possibly relate this to picking a banjo?

Well, I’ll tell you.

On the surface, it easily applies to the banjo you have (or the one you want to have). You can obtain great quality in it, but never expect the process of getting a great banjo to be either cheap or quick. Although I do have a nice older mid-range Epiphone MB-250 banjo that I found for $40, so deals do happen. Just be surprised when they happen.

But on a deeper level, how does it apply to banjoists? How about with your learning and goals?

You can get good at playing the banjo (the ‘good’ part), and you can do it with a minimum of expense, both time-wise and money-wise (i.e., you can learn efficiently; the ‘cheap’ part) and you can also be good on the uptake (i.e., you are talented; the ‘quick’ part). But realistically, you know these things take considerable time and effort, so to expect to excel at the banjo (or anything else, for that matter), it is basically increasing one of these three things (the ‘good’  part) at the expense of the other two (the ‘cheap’ and ‘quick’ parts).

For example, do you want to be able to play in a week or two? Then expect to decrease the ‘good’ part of the equation. Interestingly, throwing lots more money and cramming of time will not have much effect on your real progress.


And here’s another triad:

Simple – Efficient – Versatile

I forget where I learned this one – maybe I thought it up. Anyway, it goes much like the good-cheap-quick idea; increase any one of these at the expense of the other two.

Now apply it to us ‘banjer-pickers’. First off, you see it does sort of fit in when it comes to the banjo itself. We can make the instrument itself simpler; maybe for old-time playing. Lose the tone ring and resonator. No truss rod. It is now simpler, but is now very efficient at being, say, a minstrel banjo or a more historically accurate instrument. But it has also lost its versatility.
Now, let’s do the opposite. Let’s make the banjo more efficient, which is exactly what happened during the industrial revolution. Physical improvements were invented and applied, changing a simple instrument into a more complicated one. Once again, one or two attributes of the banjo were sacrificed in order to elevate the other.

Or, let’s make the banjo more versatile. Maybe make it for both clawhammer and Scruggs style playing. My Stelling Red Fox excels at both these disparate styles, but that’s usually not the case in a banjo. I wouldn’t consider a Stelling a simple banjo, but here is a good optimization; efficient and versatile!


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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