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Lesson with Dan Levenson

Posted by dbrooks on Wednesday, July 11, 2007

I traveled to southeast Ohio last weekend for a lesson with Dan Levenson. For the last two years, I have attended Dan's Weekend Workshop at the end of July, but I thought I'd go for a one-on-one session this year.

The first year I went to the workshop, Dan made suggestions about my right-hand position and I left playing worse than I arrived. He was correct, however, in that my hand position was limiting how fast I could play as well the consistency of my stroke.  I worked for 6 weeks in front of a mirror to make the changes I wanted.

Last year, I was able to measure my progress and Dan seemed to see it too.  My post-lesson goals last year were to improve how I held the banjo and to begin to learn more variations, including up-the-neck variations. I also got an early look at Dan's Festival Tunes book and the opportunity to offer a little feedback.  Six months after that lesson, my speed had picked up to the point that I could play more comfortably with the contra dance band and had worked up some variations for several tunes.

This year, I took in a list of goals for the lessons. (Dan usually asks for these as a way to target what he will work on.) In his playing, Dan frequently uses slides to begin a section or a phrase. While I could play these, my timing was often inconsistent and uneven, so learning how he played his bursh-slides was at the top of my list. I also wanted more work up the neck and general advice on making my playing more musical. Finally, I wanted to film Dan playing a few tunes as I have found it very instructive to see Danb play with so little effort.

Well, I took away advice on all of these topics, but the help with the slides was the most dramatic. It took me 10 minutes to describe to Dan what I wanted to know and about 15 minutes for him to get me to see and understand what he was saying. Since I couldn't hear what he was doing, I couldn't reproduce it.

Finally, I saw that his slide (for example, to the D note on the 2nd string in G tuning) was played as an eighth note followed by an eighth note with  thumb on the 5th string. Dan recommended that I try sounding the 5th string on hammer-ons and pull-offs as well. I had never heard this before. Adding this 5th string note tightened up my timing on these slides, and it looks like it will also help me eliminate my floating thumb.  I tend to let my thumb float if I'm not going to play a note rather than landing it on the 5th string (or somewhere else).

In short, this small change has had a big impact on my playing already. I am practicing it everyday - slowly on some pieces and more quickly on others.  I take credit for asking Dan for help on a technique that I knew was holding me back. I certainly give Dan credit for providing me with an answer and some tabbed exercises to make this change in my playing.

Each trip to Dan's has given me plenty of good practice goals and my playiing has improved in the months following each lesson.

3 comments on “Lesson with Dan Levenson”

banjofrailer Says:
Wednesday, July 11, 2007 @3:36:29 PM

Dan is the Man!

frailin Says:
Wednesday, July 11, 2007 @4:35:11 PM

Ahhh,  I LOVE a happy ending!

Stev187 Says:
Wednesday, July 11, 2007 @11:43:53 PM

I love to read "learning logs" especially about lessons.  I hope to see Dan next week at the festival in Evart, MI.  I am going to try to head over there for at least a day to camp with my fiddler buddy.

Great blog entry!

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