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Banjo playing woes

Posted by raharris on Monday, June 21, 2010

Lesson w/ Dan Levenson over the weekend. I practiced a number of tunes to impress him with then ended up playing none of them! He asked what I wanted to do so I mentioned a tune I'd tried to learn without success.  Then I completely blanked on the tune. Anyway, I learned some about picking out a tune by ear on the banjo. When I picked up the mandolin I was picking out tunes by ear just about immediately.  The mandolin just makes so much damn sense -- it's an *organized* instrument. 

But desipite the fact that I am learning the mandolin more quickly and the fact that I can actually play the guitar, I still consider the banjo to be *my instrument.*  That I really suck at it makes no matter. Irrational?  Yeah, welcome to MY life!  Dan corrected one element of how I hold the instrument, the element I realize now that made me put down the instrument and pick up the mando.  Holding the banjo the way Dan suggests just hurts by shoulder too much.

So now I'm at an impasse -- between now any my shoulder replacement surgery I can:

1. Practice tunes holding the banjo the way Dan discourages, then when I've recovered move it into the correct position.

2. Practice tunes holding the banjo the right way but in very short spurts and with an increasing amount of pain

3. Put the banjos away -- losing a lot of what I've gained recently -- until I've recovered.  Mid-September?  I don't know - the surgeon doesn't play any instruments and has been very non-committal when I've asked him about it.

None of those options sound very encouraging. Still, I should be thankful that I can play at all, and that things will be much better in just a few months. Never get down! Always remember that it could be a lot worse, and will be a lot better.


8 comments on “Banjo playing woes”

Viper Says:
Monday, June 21, 2010 @12:18:09 PM

I hope the pain goes away soon. If I were you, I'd go for the more comfortable choice No. 1. I've been e-mailing Dan about a possible lesson next month.

raharris Says:
Tuesday, June 22, 2010 @5:46:49 AM

Hi Viper -- FWIW I agree about #1. I don't want to put them away and don't need more pain. I know what Dan suggests and can switch when it is feasible.
About Dan, I caught him when he was pretty much out the door for two months of traveling. He has Clawcamp in late July and my impression was that he was going to be on the road between now and then. But write him -- he's very amenable and you might be able to work something out.

Viper Says:
Tuesday, June 22, 2010 @6:08:55 AM

Thanks for the suggestion. I've already been in contact with him by e-mail. Since I'm in Ohio, his coming for Clawcamp works out for me. He said he might have some time in the weeks before.

Hope the playing is pain-free.


banjosis Says:
Tuesday, June 22, 2010 @9:33:33 AM

Hi Robert,

I had shoulder surgery in May and am just now able to start picking again, almost pain free. You will not forget all that you have learned. I believe it will come back to you. Take care and take care of that shoulder!

Bill Rogers Says:
Sunday, July 4, 2010 @10:19:00 PM

There's shoulder surgery and there's shoulder surgery. I had my left one scoped and was playing almost immediately. Walt Koken told me he had his right one scoped and played that night(!). Said it hurt, but he could play. Replacement surgery will be a whole 'nother deal. I'd go with comfort when you play though. Dan's position doesn't work for all.

raharris Says:
Monday, July 5, 2010 @7:56:37 AM

Thanks Banjosis -- you're right, of course. When I picked the banjos up after laying them down for a while I had half an hour of aligning right and left hands, but once I overcame that I was back in the saddle!

raharris Says:
Monday, July 5, 2010 @8:05:28 AM

Hi Bill -- yeah, shoulder replacement is a whole 'nother thing. When I told my rheumatologist that I'd agreed to replacement I told her with some bravado that I wasn't worried because I'd come through the hip replacement so well. She shook her head and told me to buckle my belt - It'd be a bumpy ride! Since I originally wrote that I've circulated a week with each instrument. The triple ought guitar is much easier on the shoulder than my beloved dreadnought. As for the banjo, I have a new friend around these parts who holds the banjo in the Levenson style, so I think I'll try to stick with that. I'm putting a pillow on my thigh to hike the pot up to a position that is easier on the shoulder. And the surgeon? He thinks I'm nuts. "Why play anything?", he asks "read a book!"

paverity Says:
Saturday, October 31, 2020 @3:11:37 AM

I bought a rather nice Ozark tenor banjo, with resonator and tone ring ... and it weighs a ton... The answer for me was a "Planet Waves" strap which is a "Y" shape - as well as the usual "over the shoulder" strap, there is a second section which goes round back & under the left shoulder, to reconnect with the top of the "normal" strap. This spreads the load...
Pav Verity, (Edinburgh)

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