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Beginner Mind, or the Joy of Being a Novice

Posted by GreasyCreek on Friday, April 10, 2009

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It's almost exactly one year since I first bought a banjo. I walked into Zepp's store that day in April 2008 intending to just pick up a Deering Goodtime--pick it up and fantasize, then put it back down and leave. As I entered the store a couple was depositing a Ramsey student model with 12" pot on the counter, on consignment. I had already heard of Mike Ramsey and his banjos, but assumed they were either too hard to get, too expensive, or otherwise out of even my fantasy league. But something seemed right about the moment, the store and that banjo, so I walked out of Zepp's that day with more than just a fantasy. I owned a banjo and a nice one, at that.

A year and a few more banjos later, I am really enjoying being a banjo beginner. I'm feeling especially blessed being in the heart of a really rich banjo region. Last summer, Bob Carlin helped me get my right hand moving from book-learned flailing to something more like frailing, and told me wonderful stories of Piedmont oldtime musicians over a bbq sandwich at Lexington #1, my stomach's spiritual center. Dave Bing got me thinking right about the whole learning process at Augusta last fall. He said: "Don't sit there as a beginner thinking how much fun it would be some  day to sound like so and so or be able to play such and such. 'Cause that day will come and it'll feel like no big deal. Instead, enjoy every step of the way as much as you possibly can." Diane Jones really got me going on rhythm and going back to the roots of the music for a couple days this winter, right before the Obama inauguration, and Diane and Obama are now melded in my mind. And I've found a teacher locally, Alan Julich, who's awesome in his attitude and playing, and who keeps me focused week-to-week.

And with the help of all these teachers, and Debby Freed of Blacksburg, I've come to appreciate the joy of being a novice. There are no expectations, and every tune is a new thrill. So is every new player I meet. I can see now what a blessing it is to be a beginner. In my work life I'm expected to know all the answers, to teach others and make no mistakes. In my banjo life I can enjoy knowing almost nothing, laughing at all the mistakes, and the sheer pleasure of a new lick. So I plan to remain a novice as long as possible, or at least to keep the mindset.

I'm excited about heading off to John C. Campbell folk school this weekend so Mary Cox can teach me some more, on my one year banjo anniversary. And I feel very grateful to the BHO world for providing such a good online community. Oldtime new motto for life.

Richard, Chapel Hill

7 comments on “Beginner Mind, or the Joy of Being a Novice”

ElGringorio Says:
Friday, April 10, 2009 @9:45:00 AM

Glad you are enjoying your life with banjos. Just remember that old-time music is better than it sounds. (Bumper sticker.)

u k sandra Says:
Friday, April 10, 2009 @1:52:58 PM

Richard, you are so lucky. All of those fantastic banjo players around. You can`t fail and if Mary is as nice as she looks you`re in for a great time.

GreasyCreek Says:
Saturday, April 11, 2009 @6:17:23 PM

Sandra and Dean,
thanks for those's true I'm lucky being here amongst so many good oldtime players. But I think I never would have recognized just how lucky if it weren't for all the folks on BHO from all over the world who appreciate the music. Of course Dean hails from Alabama so he's probably been indoctrinated since birth--but Sandra, and all those people in the UK and on the continent playing oldtime! that really inspires me to look around and soak up what's left and what's new in oldtime culture here in its heartland....

RWJonesy Says:
Saturday, April 18, 2009 @5:00:15 PM

*** I always consider myself a beginner cause there is an endless amount of material to learn and wonderful people to meet along the way. I take each moment one second at a time enjoying the good moments and my mistakes. If I think I know it all well then, there is nothing more to learn. The whole journey makes all the difference....not just the good times. Most of the things that happen in life you can't control BUT you can control the way you look and approach life's challenges. Sounds like you know this so your off to a great start ! Peace be with you and please.....get some soundfiles and pictures posted of your awesome Chanterelle banjo.

Alan Hill Says:
Saturday, June 20, 2009 @11:04:24 PM

Hi Richard you have made me rather jeolous meeting Bob Carlin i have a few of his videos ,banjo players are a bit few and far between over here so reading your blog was a treat and i look forward to your next one

Sultans of Claw Says:
Friday, July 17, 2009 @5:15:18 AM

See the banjo.  Be the banjo.  ;-)

Dock Jekel Says:
Tuesday, February 23, 2010 @9:29:06 AM

A) Your area is crawling with awesome instructors
B) The hills there are alive with the sound of banjo
C) "The journey never ends, so enjoy the ride" Chip Arnold
D) All of the above

The correct answer is .... Hey, refreshing words to just enjoy without expectation. Sincerely, Dock

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