The Good Idea Fairy


Playing the mandolin, or banjo, as we have it in our modern society, is a fairly complex process. As such, it, like all complex systems, is susceptible to visits from the Good Idea Fairy. You may well have seen this yourself. Mid way through an effort, you realize “Hey! it would be a good idea to use process X, or tool Y, or adhere to standard Z!”, little realizing that, in reality, this is changing horses in the middle of the stream.

Another name for it is simply distraction.

Keeping your eyes on the goal is fundamental to everything you do; simple or complex. It just shows up more, and displays its symptoms more, and is harder to recover from, with more complex tasks.

Now days, we also have all the various avenues afforded to us through the Internet. Although almost all are great resources, you simply cannot do them all at once – that leads to a watered-down approach to whatever you are trying to accomplish

I’ll admit that learning to play the modern bluegrass banjo is a complex process, but it is made noticeably easier when we keep our focus. Here are some things to watch out for when the Good Idea Fairy comes to visit you.

“Let’s learn a new song!” Are you already working on a new song? I must say I am very susceptible to this one. I must be working on 4 or 5 new songs. But each new item you add to that list waters down the whole process.

“Don’t isolate that trouble lick – just play the whole song.” But aren’t you working on perfecting that difficult lick? Practice isn’t supposed to be easy.

“I’ll use my picks later.” This one is specific to the banjo. There is no little red light that goes off when at last your fingers have gotten too used to playing bare. It will then take a few days to get back in shape.

“Let’s just play for fun right now.” Noble thought, but just like playing without picks, do it too much and it becomes your standard before you know it.

Don’t overthink things. Relax, have a plan and simply stick to it!

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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