Book Breakdown: The Banjo

Title: The Banjo: America’s African Instrument
Author: Laurent Dubois
Genre: Non-fiction/History
Grade: B

The title of this book jumped out at me when I was searching for books on the banjo. It has great reviews on Goodreads so I thought I would give it a shot.

I didn’t realize there was enough material to write a biography on a musical instrument, but the banjo’s history is extensive. Dubois explores the earliest writings and images of the banjo to piece together how it traveled from Africa to America and the different groups that embraced and changed it. Strife shaped banjo music and some parts of this book were horrifying. I reconciled my continued interest in classic banjo songs and the twang of the instrument by realizing it’s always better to know the truth no matter how brutal.

An added bonus, Dubois introduced me to a number of different banjoists (and the word banjoist). I am now obsessed with the Carolina Chocolate Drops, even though they seem to have all moved on to solo careers. I started a Banjo playlist on Spotify so that I don’t lose track of these great artists.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone with a passing interest in the banjo. You’ll get a lot more than you bargained for. But keep in mind it’s an academic work. I’m glad I read it on our Surface so I could easily look up all the words I was sure Dubois was making up.

Follow me on Goodreads to keep up with my Planned Preoccupation reading list.

Strummin’ Saturday – The Middle

This habit has been very challenging for me, so it’s a good time to stop and reflect.

Action Plan Progress:

  • DONE – 3/3 TED Talks watched
  • DONE – Created a Pinterest inspiration board
  • DONE – 6/5 banjo lessons
  • 36/66 days of playing the banjo
  • 3/11 weekly Saturday posts
  • Started a running list of pro-tips for practicing

Grade: C

Lessons Learned: The biggest challenge so far has been figuring out how to practice daily when I am traveling almost every week for work. This problem presented immediately, and I decided to modify my goal to 66 days of practice rather than 66 consecutive days of practice.

I’ve been struggling with the issues of traveling with my banjo.

  • The cost of a hard case
  • Checking the bag or carrying it around with multiple layovers
  • Where to practice when I’m in a hotel
  • The amount of time I will have to practice when onsite with a client

After weighing my options the choice came down to traveling with my banjo or stopping my banjo lessons. I enjoy playing way too much to give up now, so I decided to buy a hard case. I will be traveling every week for the next 2 months and I will use the rest of my time building this habit to find out if traveling with my banjo is sustainable.

I LOVE playing the banjo, and I’m glad to be taking steps to play more!

Take a look at the below video the see my progress!

Inspiration & Implementation: Strummin’ Saturday

I’ve been working on my banjo board for a while, so I’ve had time to pull in a lot of great resources. Listed below are my Top 3 Banjo Resources.

How to Play Music Faster: Ideal Practice Methods for Adult Musicians

Hensold’s keys to an ideal practice are:

Perfect Technique
Accuracy
Consistency

The article provides a lot of detail behind that short list. There are some concepts I don’t completely understand, but I am sure that will come with time. He provides practical steps for getting the most out of my limited practice time.

Free 5-String Banjo Lessons

These lessons are similar to my banjo teacher’s lessons. I appreciate learning everything from a teacher who provides instant feedback, but can’t always remember everything he tells me once I get home. This index is perfect for reinforcing the lessons I learned and making sure that I am practicing properly.

99 Essential Bluegrass Banjo Solos

This isn’t relevant for me now, but my teacher mentioned banjo tabs are kind of hard to find. I struck gold with a list that includes Foggy Mountain, Shady Grove, and Wreck of the Old 97. I can’t wait to level up to actual songs!

I had a lot of fun finding banjo quotes and videos to pin to my board as well. This banjo habit has been one of my favorites so far. I’m sure I’ll have plenty more to add to my board by the end of my 66 days.

Take a trip over to Pinterest and start following my Strummin’ Saturday board!

TED Talks With Banjos!

TED has great musicians on their stage, and these are my favorite talks the feature the banjo.

“…we’re three brothers from New Jersey — you know, the bluegrass capital of the world.”

Bluegrass Virtuosity from New JerseySleepy Man Banjo Boys

These kids are awesome, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched this video. Their name inspired me to try Jonny’s method of banjo practicing. I’ve learned that when playing the banjo you’re supposed to look at your left hand on the neck not your right had picking at the strings. It’s been hard for me to look away from my right hand when practicing my rolls, but laying down and closing my eyes totally helped!

“Be good to your friends. Why, without them, you’d be a total stranger.”

The Joyful Tradition of Mountain MusicDavid Holt

Holt’s TED Talk showcases the music and songs that I associate with the banjo. It’s twangy and fun and you can’t help but join in. I’m learning bluegrass banjo so it was interesting to see the clawhammer style. Maybe I’ll try that next!

“The light that shown off of her eyes was a place I could have stayed forever.”

Building US-China Relations… by BanjoAbagail Washburn

Washburn’s earnest talk about finding and sharing her musical talent made me tear up a little bit. Music is a fantastic way to connect with our fellow humans. She will be on tour this fall and I would love to see her Chinese banjo music in person!

There seems to be a TED Talk on just about any topic, and it is a great way to get a new perspective on your interests. They have other banjo videos, but I liked these 3 the best.

Are you a fan of TED’s music? Please share your favorite video in the comments.

Strummin’ Saturday – The Start

I posted a teaser picture about this habit in January, and I’m finally ready to start building my BANJO! habit. I’ve wanted to learn to play the banjo for.ev.er and was ecstatic when Clayton bought me one for Christmas.

Habit: Practice my banjo for at least 15 minutes every day for 66 days

Start Date: Saturday, 08/05/2017

Projected End Date: Tuesday, 10/10/2017

Action Plan:

  • Take 5 banjo lessons
  • Watch 3 TED Talks about learning a musical instrument
  • Learn pro-tips for practicing
  • Create a Pinterest inspiration board
  • Post weekly on Saturdays about my progress

Incentive: 10 additional banjo lessons

Lofty Goal: Finding my passion!

I’ve hardly touched a musical instrument so I knew I would need help getting started. I found a teacher on TakeLessons, and had a great first lesson. I thought it would be good to set a baseline so here is a short video of how little experience I have.

It’s going to take a lot of practice, but I can’t wait to go fast!

If you have any helpful tips about learning and instrument please share them in the comments!

Friday Finances – The End

Well that was a quick jump from the “middle” to the end…

Action Plan Progress:

  • DONE – 66/66 days of tracking our daily spending
  • DONE – 3/3 TED Talks about personal finance watched
  • DONE – Created a Pinterest inspiration board
  • DONE – 2/2 books read on personal finance
  • DONE – Determined best investment tool to save money (Vanguard)
  • DONE – Analyzed online budgeting tools (we plan on using a spending plan)
  • 5/10 weekly posts on Fridays about my progress

Grade: B

Incentive: We have a meeting scheduled with a financial planner next week. Even though The Little Book of Common Sense Investing has convinced me we don’t need a financial planner for investing we still have some tax related questions that I am excited to get answered!

Lessons Learned: I missed a lot of posts, but I was still able to meet the other items on my action plan. You’ve got to focus on the wins. This habit has given us the wonderful opportunity of getting feedback from friends and family about the tools they use to keep their family budget. We’ve had some fantastic conversations about what works and what doesn’t.

Clayton and I are going to keep up with the tracking until we are settled after our move. Once we get into a new routine we’ll set up our new spending plan.

Our sabbatical year will be here before you know it. If you have any inspiring memes/pictures/charts that keep you motivated to make good financial decisions please share them in the comments!

Book Breakdowns: A Twofer

The title of Bogle’s book struck me as I was reviewing The Essential Warren Buffet Reading List. Judging this book by its cover worked out really well!

The Little Book of Common Sense Investing opens with Buffet’s “Gotrocks Family” parable which sets the tone for the entire book. Investing carries inherent risk, but the average investor exacerbates the problem by trying to beat the market. Bogle asserts that index funds let the market work for you.

The facts, figures, and math are easy to follow and lend credibility to the argument rather than bogging it down. I especially like the “Don’t Take My Word For It” sections that show how other top financial minds are interpreting the data and investing.

I’ve always been intimidated by the stock market, and even though I have investments I haven’t felt comfortable with my portfolio decisions. I am not sure if this is my confirmation bias, but I love that this book made me feel comfortable with a set it and forget it strategy.

It’s a fantastic book that will make you feel empowered to start investing. I would highly recommend it to anyone!

Judging this book by it’s cover did not work out so well…

This book reads like a blog, because Brooke is a blogger. Each chapter is a day in the month and has a series of challenges at the end. I read it straight through even though it is intended to be read one day/chapter at a time. Each section isn’t applicable to everyone so you can certainly skip around and focus on the parts that will help you the most.

It is nice to have a lot of helpful advice all in one book with logical categorization. If nothing else I was turned on to Amazon’s Subscribe & Save so that’s a plus. The fact that she gives advice in areas that she admits to not being an expert in (like recommending homeopathy in the name of saving money) made me to give this book a lower grade.

It’s good for anyone just starting their financial journey. However, a lot of the information can be found on her Creative Savings blog.

If you’re still interested after my lukewarm review, the first person to request it in the comments will get my copy of 31 Days to Radically Reduce Your Expenses: Less Stress. More Savings.!

Friday Finances – The Middle(ish)

One way to improve your financial outlook is to find a new job that offers a higher salary. That has been my primary focus, and I started my new job this week. Things have finally started to settle down, but I am woefully behind on my weekly posts. The good news is even though I haven’t been posting we have been sticking to the plan, so lets look at the stats.

Action Plan Progress:

  • DONE – 3/3 TED Talks about personal finance watched
  • DONE – Created a Pinterest inspiration board
  • 51/66 days of tracking our daily spending
  • 1/2 books read on personal finance
  • 3/10 weekly posts on Fridays about my progress
  • Analyze online budgeting tools
  • Determine best investment tools to save money with

Grade: C

Lessons Learned: Not great, but we have stuck with the daily habit and that is the ultimate goal. It has been enlightening to see where we are spending all of our money. After the first month Clayton thought it was important to add a Travel category to our tracking sheet.

We have yet to analyze our spending, but at the end of the 66 days we will have two months of data to review. From there we will decide between a monthly budget or a spending plan.

Do you have any experience with a spending plan? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

TED Talks on Finances

I find most TED Talks inspiring, and after perusing their catalog I found these gems.

“Student debt is profitable”

How college loans exploit students for profit – Sajay Samuel

Last month I was in a training class and my table mate was encouraging me to go back to school to get an MBA. After watching this video I totally agree that higher education is a consumer product and status symbol.

Student loans from our undergrad degrees have been the largest portion of our debt over the last seven years. If this is our new reality, we need to become better consumers. Clayton and I have tried to help our nieces and nephews make smart choices about higher education so they don’t end up in the same position we have been in. This talk is a little disheartening, but knowing is half the battle!

“You are connected to … this future self. Your decisions today will determine its well being.” 

The battle between your present and future self – Daniel Goldstein

This talk has a fun twist in that Goldstein is trying to use simulations to overcome our present bias by simulating your future self and your future income. It’s not the best talk of the group, but he does a great job of showing how we can better motivate ourselves to save without relying on commitment devices.

“Why did you take my apple?!”

Saving for tomorrow, tomorrow – Shlomo Benartzi

It is encouraging to hear that we are already following a lot of the steps Benartzi laid out in this talk. My mom made sure I knew how important retirement saving was by constantly reminding me that her 401K was going to fund her Cocoon retirement plan. Clayton and I have been increasing our retirement savings every year and will continue to do so until we reach our 14% savings goal.

I would highly recommend any of these videos if you’re looking for a little financial motivation.

If you have a favorite finance video please share it in the comments!

Friday Finances – The Start

3 years ago Clayton and I formulated a 10 year plan. Our ultimate goal is to save enough money to take a year sabbatical and travel the world.

The first phase of our plan was to pay off all of our unsecured debt. It seemed easier to manage our finances when we had clear goals of what debt we wanted to pay off, when. I’d like to validate our current budget to maximize our savings.

Habit: Track spending every day for 66 days

Start Date: Wednesday, 03/01/2017

Projected End Date: Saturday, 05/06/2017

Action Plan:

  • Read 2 books on personal finance
  • Watch 3 TED Talks about personal finance
  • Analyze online budgeting tools
  • Determine best investment tools to save money with
  • Create a Pinterest inspiration board
  • Post weekly on Fridays about my progress

Incentive: Meet with a financial planner. I know it doesn’t sound fun, but it really excites me!

Lofty Goal: Being healthy (financial health is a type of health!)

After we have built this habit we will know where we are spending our money. We have a budget but have never validated that we are adhering to our spending limits. I want to make sure we are saving as much as we can to reach our goal!

What tools do you use to stay on budget? Please share your tips and tricks in the comments!