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Banjo Picking as Therapy and Tracking My Progress.

Posted by loukiii on Monday, August 29, 2011

There is an old saying, "Music tames the savage beast". I guess it even holds true for banjo music. Maybe not for the listener so much as for the maker of the music though. I don't know exactly why, or how it works for others, but for me, after a stressful day 30 minutes or an hour  picking my banjo really helps me unwind.

I have also noticed that when I am really pissed off and want to rip somebody's head off, I actually play seem to play better. Maybe its the emotion, I don't know for sure I just know  that is what it feels and sounds like to me.

Unfortunately I probably can't say the same for those within hearing distance.


As mentioned in my last blog post. I have been playing for just over a year. I was looking through my lesson binder and decided I would post my "play list" of songs in the order I have learned them.

1. Boil Them Cabbage Down - Probably the first song for a lot of banjo pickers. I cant think of anything more basic

2. Cripple Creek - Another popular beginner tune. So fun to play though. I thought I was really something when I could actually make this one sound like a real song.

3. Bury Me Beneath the Willow - So sad... but fun to play with a cheerful lilt to it just to confuse people.

4. Salty Dog Blues - Another fun song with more than three chords even. Im still working on some fancy backup for this one.

5. Foggy Mountain Breakdown - I can play it ok. I'm still working on the up the neck break. I just need to play it about 8 zillion more times and I think I'll have it.

6. Little Maggie - That F chord gave me fits but I got it eventually.

7. John Hardy - was a desperate little man and his song can be a real pain in the fingers too.

8. Tom Dooley - Probably should have learned this one before Cabbage.

9. Dixie Breakdown - Awesome tune. Unfortunately nobody else knows it so I never get to play it. But I still practice it because one day someone will say "anybody know Dixie Breakdown?" I and can say "Yup"

10. Blackberry Blossom - As melodic as I get. Backup on this one can tangle you up like a blackberry briar patch

11. Dueling Banjos - Is a work in progress. But you have to be able to at least fake it because everyone says "can you play Dueling Banjos?" And I say "You sure have a purty mouth" G G G C G......

12. Cumberland Gap - This one made me really get my forward roll down. It used to tie my fingers in knots now I can play it pretty fast and clean. The jump to the upper part gets me every now and then so I practice that a lot.

13. Lonesome Road Blues - Love this song. I learned some good backup for this one.

14. Cluck Old Hen - I got this one after Cumberland Gap but got it down before. 

15. Down the Road - Loved this song the first time I heard it and requested my teacher to help me with it. I sing it so often that my little girl requested it from a bluegrass band in Gatlinburg when we were on vacation this summer.

16. Mountain Dew - Got a version by the Stanley Brothers that was all Guitar and vocals. I decided to figure it out on the Banjo. First I figured out the chord progression, then I figured out the melody and then I tried to combine the two. I think I did pretty good for a rookie.

17. Worried Man Blues - Figured this one out because it is very similar to Mountain Dew.

18. Long Journey Home (2 Dollar Bill) - Same thing with this one, very similar to Mountain Dew and Worried Man Blues.

19. Sitting On Top of the World - We use this as a jam exercise for improvisation

20. Nine Pound Hammer - Another one we use as an improvisation exercise.

21. Old Joe Clark - I have been working on this one for a month, can you believe it. It gave me fits. Then all of a sudden, yesterday, it just clicked on like a light bulb. It was all about the rhythm and timing in the first 2 measures.

I can play all of these songs fast enough to play at an average jam. Not fast enough to play with Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder, but who can in 1 year? 

The other thing is I learn and practice backup to all of the songs as I learn them. To me that is actually more important than lead breaks. My goal is to be able to play Heavy Traffic Ahead because I like all the little backup licks in that song. I already know the first lick. I'm just practicing it until I can do it effortlessly.

My teacher says my next song will be Fireball Mail. Little does she know, I can almost play it already. Muahahahaha! <-- (evil laugh)

That's all for this installment.

Paddle faster, I'll pick louder.


2 comments on “Banjo Picking as Therapy and Tracking My Progress.”

lbartosh Says:
Tuesday, August 30, 2011 @8:25:12 AM

I know exactly what you mean. I call my banjo my "decompression tool". Sometimes it only takes a short while for it to make me forget a bad day.

dthomas Says:
Tuesday, August 30, 2011 @9:48:08 AM

I know what you mean, my father has been very sick and when I get home late at nite i get out on the porch and wail, only i don't know how to play any songs yet just trying to get those rolls down, but toghter they sound great some of the my wifes cuz n thought i could play by the way it sounded coming threw the woods, been pluncking about 6months now

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