5 Balances in Your Music

All of life is a series of balances. At least, that’s what I think. I often say that in response to discussions of complex topics, as though it is the be-all and end-all of the subject. In reality, I do know that simply saying that ignores much of whatever is specific to that issue. In general, though, it is a good maxim to follow. Here’s a few specific issues that we banjo players need to keep in balance.

1 – Being accurate and clean vs pushing yourself to play faster
When we are first learning to play, speed is that illusive quality that we strive for, yet it can slip away if we try for it to the exclusion of playing cleanly and accurately.

2 – Playing ‘straight’ vs playing bluesy
Playing bluesy licks can be addictive. They really sound cool and most of them are physically fun to play as well once you master them. But just like ice cream in your diet, it shouldn’t be a large part of your repertoire (unless you are playing jazz, of course).

3 – Watching the right hand vs watching the left hand
Unless you teach beginning banjo lessons or else are around beginners, you may have forgotten this one. But it is a real problem for players just starting out. I’ve even had some students remark that they can get dizzy trying to go back and forth watching both hands.

4 – Comfort vs functionality
This would be something like rigid hand posture, where you can adopt either a relaxed form or the classical chord form commonly seen in classical guitar performance, for instance. I would guess that about 10% of my students naturally have adopted a more classical fretting hand position. More power to them, as they now have the advantages of a classical, hand-away-from-the neck position yet without having to go through the adjustments from a more comfortable close-to-the-neck position.

5 – Fingers down: restriction vs control
Banjo players are all over the map on this one. Some gain control of both ring and little fingers, placing them firmly on the drum head right from the start. At the other extreme, I had one student long ago who deliberately did not put any fingers down when playing Scruggs style. I’ve long forgotten his explanation of why he did that, but he was firmly opposed to any fingers down.

Bottom line: you know how far you can push yourself before you start getting sloppy.

About Phill Gibson

I'm from Huntsville, Alabama where I work as a Software Engineer and part-time banjo instructor. My wife Miiko and I worship at Rivertree Downtown. I've been playing various instruments since my teen years. I started mandolin and dulcimer at about age 17 and banjo at 20. I love just about all kinds of music. In terms of banjo styles, I play and teach Scruggs, melodic, clawhammer, and 2-finger styles. I'm also very keen on theology, being a Trail Care Partner with the Land Trust of North Alabama, photography, urban planning, architecture, astronomy, ATM (amateur telescope making), birding, martial arts, and about 30 other distracting hobbies to a (mercifully) lesser extent.
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