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
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!
Title: Earl Scruggs: Banjo Icon (Roots of American Music: Folk, Americana, Blues, and Country)
Author: Gordon Castelnero & David L. Russell
Genre: Non-fiction/ Biography
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!
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.
- 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…
- 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!
Title: The Banjo: America’s African Instrument
Author: Laurent Dubois
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.
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
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!
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:
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 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 Jersey – Sleepy 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 Music – David 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 Banjo – Abagail 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.
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
- 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!