Strummin’ Saturday – The End

Thanks to some renewed inspiration I’m finally wrapping up this banjo series. I hit my 66-day goal back in November, but since this action plan deviated from the template I decided to keep going with my posts. On to the stats!

Action Plan Progress:

  • DONE – 3/3 TED Talks watched
  • DONE – Created a Pinterest inspiration board
  • DONE – Posted list of pro-tips for practicing
  • DONE – 15/5 banjo lessons
  • 8/11 weekly Saturday posts

Grade: B

Incentive: I already cashed in my incentive for this habit. I didn’t want to lose momentum by suspending my lessons until I hit the 66-day mark. I did scale back my lessons to biweekly but went well past the initial 5 lessons I purchased.

Lessons Learned: Getting a teacher was the best thing I did in building this habit. Ken has been very encouraging and the pacing of my lessons was great. He deserves every star on his Take Lessons profile.

I travel a lot for work, so I purchased a hard case and started taking my banjo with me on business trips. Traveling with an instrument is difficult, but I found I made a lot more time for practicing when I was on the road. There isn’t much for me to do in the Midwest in winter, so I was glad to have my banjo when I was stuck in a hotel room. These challenges taught me to add some flexibility to my process because not everything I want to accomplish is going to fit easily into my daily routine.

Putting on my own holiday recitals and making my family listen to all the songs I learned this year was also a lot of fun. I’m on my way to pleasing myself with my banjo skills! For your viewing pleasure here is my last progress video:

Stay tuned for my next habit kicking off this week!

Book Breakdown: Earl Scruggs

Title: Earl Scruggs: Banjo Icon (Roots of American Music: Folk, Americana, Blues, and Country)
Author: Gordon Castelnero & David L. Russell
Genre: Non-fiction/ Biography
Grade: B

I’m learning the bluegrass style of banjo playing which is often called Scruggs style. I wanted to read more about the man who has influenced so many artists.

It’s refreshing to read about such a talented man who also seemed like a genuinely nice person. Many of the people who knew Earl Scruggs commented on his generosity as much as his skill with the banjo. And Scruggs path to icon status shows the impact he had on the world of bluegrass.

The book certainly has a bias in favor of Scruggs. They don’t go into a lot of details around the negative aspects of his life like band break ups or some of the personal issues he faced. However, it is more of a memoir about his banjo playing rather than a full biography so that makes sense.

The last chapter called The Influence of Earl Scruggs was dry and formulaic just listing quotes from people who were directly or indirectly influenced by Scruggs. Since most of the people were mentioned throughout the book it seemed repetitive. A sad last note for an otherwise fantastic book.

This is a great read I would highly recommend to anyone with an interest in the banjo. I’m glad I read it after I started learning the banjo because there are a number of passages where they discuss Scruggs specific technique that would have gone over my head without some knowledge of the instrument. Another tip to enhance your enjoyment of the book is to listen to one of Scruggs instrumental albums while reading. It really brings it to life!

Bonus Material: Check out this fun video mentioned in the book of Flatt & Scruggs on the Beverly Hillbillies!

Practice Pro-tips

My banjo teacher has been very patient with me and guided my learning. I’ve also gotten tips from people I know who play other instruments. As it turns out, you can get plenty of advice when you talk to people about your goals. Below are the most useful tips I’ve been given so far.

General Tips

  • Buy a stand so your instrument is easy to get to and pick up when you have free time.
  • Learning to read music is important.
  • When learning a new song, break it up into small chunks and play that perfectly before moving onto the next part.
  • A drum beat is a lot more fun for staying in rhythm than a metronome.
  • Practice, practice, practice…

Banjo Tips

  • Buy a strap so you can walk around and practice your rolls while doing other things.
  • You can slide your polishing rag under the strings to muffle the sound to be less annoying to the family.
  • Remove the resonator to be quieter when practicing.
  • It’s easier to learn songs you’re familiar with so I started a Banjo playlist on Spotify.
  • Playing the banjo is fun! Try not to take it so seriously or get nervous when people ask you to play for them.

These tips have helped me a lot through this process. It takes a lot of patience to learn an instrument, but there are few things as satisfying as playing a new song all the way through for the first time.

Please share any tips you think should be added to the list in the comments below!

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.!