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!