Why Play the Banjo?

Why indeed! I can think of several reasons…

You get to meet some of the craz… er, nicest people around!
OK, if crazy is what you’re looking for then, yes you can find that, too! As with anything in life, communication is the key. Find a new friend or two and start making music.

It’s just plain fun!
And what justification do we need for good clean fun? None, I hope. Dale Carnegie once said: “People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing” which leads us into reason number 3…

The sense of satisfaction you get from having succeeded with your musical goals
The satisfaction of a job well-done. Regardless of the task before you, if you’ve lived very long, you know the rewards that await you when, as the saying goes ‘practice makes perfect’! Imagine yourself playing that perfect banjo break – it’s quite possible, you know.

It’s relaxing
If you’ve ever thought of sitting on a front porch in a rocking chair and picking a banjo, then you’ll understand what I mean.

“Music has charms to soothe the savage beast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak. ”
William Congreve

It puts you in touch with your creative processes
And we all know what side benefits the creative process bestows upon whatever else we are doing (work, for instance).

“Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way. ”
Edward De Bono

“The essential part of creativity is not being afraid to fail.”
Edwin H. Land

“True creativity often starts where language ends.”
Arthur Koestler

It’s America’s Instrument!
Even though we have good evidence of banjos with drone strings being brought over or created by slaves from Africa in the 1700s and 1800s, the 5-string banjo as we know it today is vastly different from it’s African ancestor. With it’s tone ring, resonator, drum head, metal strings, frets, etc., truly, it is an American invention!

It’s the hot-rod of musical instruments
By that I mean that it is the most easily modified of musical instruments. Did you know you can take a banjo apart; take the neck off; replace the drum head and tone ring; adjust the neck to set the string action, and so much more. You can really tweak it to get just the sound you like, from a deep mellow voice, to a bright, clear ringing! That’s a lot of the reason why an experienced player can hear a recording and make an excellent guess as to who (among famous players, at least) is playing!

It’s the most genuine, folksy and content musical instrument I know of
That’s about as good a compliment as I can give to a piece of wood and metal. Perhaps that’s why Charles Schultz portrayed the banjo in just such a light on several occasions in his Peanuts comic strip.

You can develop your own style
Be as individualistic as you please; banjos go so far beyond their stereotype. There are lots of folks out there picking, frailing and clawhammering on banjos. They’re making Irish folk melodies, Bach (Bach is a natural for the banjo, by the way), old-time, 1960’s protest songs, Jazz (Dixieland as well as more avant-garde)… Even within Bluegrass, you have Scruggs style, Melodic, Reno… so many styles, so little time.

You can connect to your roots
Bluegrass is especially an authentic, back-home way of thinking. It places high value on grass-roots things that are real, honest and clean.

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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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One Response to Why Play the Banjo?

  1. Jim Tietjen says:

    I’m also in Huntsville, also a systems engineer. I’m 67 and want to play music. Played trumpet in high school 50 years ago and nothing since. Always been intrigued with banjo. Just need a gentle shove. Care to help me?

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