Life’s a banjo!

One of the main things I strive for in blogging is to complement what students learn in actual lessons. Sources for banjo lessons are plentiful these days, so I try to present a different perspective. One that you don’t get in a typical “How to Play the Banjo” lesson book. It’s more about how to “think like a banjo” (a phrase I have been using frequently these days). Because for many folks, discussing not only what to learn and how to do a technique, but also how to learn and how to think in a new way becomes a catalyst for more efficient and more enjoyable learning.

Because people learn in so many different ways. Some are visual learners, who like to see a diagram of what is being discussed in order to get it. Others like to get a book on the subject and go read it, taking time to reflect on all the nuances they find. Still others, being mainly auditory, like to discuss it with the teacher and other students in a very active way. It’s best to combine as many of these various ways as possible.

And one of the grandest things about approaching learning from different perspectives: success applies to just about everything! Not only banjos; not only stringed instruments; not even only musical learning, but life in general.

For instance, take the topic of how difficult it is to learn the banjo. Why is it difficult? Or more precisely, why is it perceived as being difficult? If it were easy, then everyone would be playing the banjo, just as almost everyone can read, or walk. Easy skills are taken for granted and thus not valued as much on a daily basis. But banjo playing is no more difficult than any other task that isn’t dead-easy. It takes the same gumption to play a banjo as it does to finish college, or learn the guitar, or whatever else you are thinking of at the moment. Some do take longer than others, but it is still the same mental process we must go through regardless.

So, to find success in playing the banjo means you also have the keys to finding success in whatever else you find difficult in life. The only challenge left is reasoning from the specific (banjos) to the general (life) to find the life application.

Life’s a banjo!

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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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2 Responses to Life’s a banjo!

  1. Derek Robertson says:

    I have only been playing the banjo for a few months. For the longest time I felt like I have not learned that much. Not learned that much in terms of knowing several songs and having the ability to play them well. Phil told me several times, “keep practicing and the light bulb will suddenly come on one day.” As I continued to practice like Phil suggested, I believed that Thomas Edison was many years away from being born. On an evening I was about to travel to my banjo lesson my truck tire was flat. That meant I was going to miss my lesson. As terrible as I thought I was at learning the banjo, I did not need to miss another lesson. Soon after that my garage door broke and I had also learned that my hot water heater busted. Could anything else go wrong I thought? Frustrated, I went to my office in my home looked at my banjo cradled in the stand in the corner of the room and half heartedly decided to pick it up. Part of me wanted to throw it across my back yard. On top of my recent house and auto mechanical failures, I still have not come close to learning a song I chose to challenge myself. I was in a pretty foul mood with all that had recently happened. I decided to sit down and at least practice a little since I couldn’t do anything at the moment about the repairs I needed to make. I picked up the old Gibson, gripped it in my novice hands and began picking. I used the Tab Edit program to help me learn the song I was trying to pick. Without paying too much attention I realized that I had just played a few lines and it actually sounded like the song I was trying to learn. I got it!! The light came on just like Phil said it would. I played it again quickly becuase I was afraid I would lose it. A few days later I can tell much improvement and I look forward to continuing my improvement in learning the song well. I guess since I could not control the things that were broken at the moment and get them all repaired in a timely manner, I looked at my banjo as the one thing I can control and I was going to be in charge of it and not it in charge of me. I know that there is still a long winding road up ahead of trials and challenges of learning the banjo. But this latest experience gave me tools to overcome those future frustrating times and keep practcing “until the light bulb comes on.”

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