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One Month In....

Posted by AndyC100 on Sunday, May 11, 2014

Where has this time gone! whole month since I was presented with my banjo as a birthday present, something that I have for quite a few years wanted to learn to play but never really got around to it probably because I have never really been musically aware, (the family occasionally refer to me as being tone deaf if I ever break out in song - I often wonder why hehe).

The short break to Newcastle was a real memorable occasion meeting up with my son who's flat houses about 5 guitars a ukulele and a mandolin, he is the musically gifted one in the family and probably pinched my share as well....

I did really miss playing the banjo whilst away and on arriving home around 8pm on the Monday evening I actually went straight to it just to strum a few rolls for 30 minutes or so.  This last week has proved difficult to spend any great amount of time with the instrument although I do try to keep the fingers moving with a few rolls and playing the tunes that I have learnt so far, these being "Boil them Cabbages Down" using the forward roll although I have also been experimenting using the backward and forward-reverse rolls just to see the difference in tone and it adds that little bit of variation, and also progressing with "Cripple Creek" which I really like the sound off.

On Friday last, I didn't feel as though I was getting anywhere fast so I did move on to another tune to add a little bit more to my repertoire of tunes and started to learn the infamous "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" which may have been a little bit too much to start with and being a little tired I did struggle a bit with it and decided to call it a night. So, on the Saturday (yesterday) I was so determined to progress and spent several hours though out the day on a catchup type of day as I had missed quite a bit of practice time during the past week, I also decided to learn "Cumberland Gap" which does have very similar rolls, hammer-ons and slides as "Cripple Creek" and I thought this would be an easier move than trying to learn Foggy Mountain.  Saturday proved to be a very good day in regards to banjo playing and really got to grips with Cumberland Gap, although the up-the-neck section is proving a little difficult as I just cant stretch the little pinky far enough to get that 11th fret whilst still holding the 8th & 9th frets with the ring middle and index fingers, I will persevere and hopeful that this will happen sometime.......

There seems to be some logic to my practice sessions now, I keep the banjo near my computer in the study (converted garage) which is away from the family so that I don't annoy them too much playing the same tunes over and over, although occasionally I hear a shout from the front room saying "ooh! that sounds nice" which is quite inspiring.  I generally start off with the basic roll patterns using open strings just to get the fingers moving and also to develop muscle memory in them and can quite happily do this whilst browsing through facebook and twitter on the PC listening to all the rants of others, which I do find on occasion quite hilarious, but then that's just my sense of humour... I find it best if I am slightly distracted whilst playing the rolls because if I start to think about what I am doing it seems to create more bum notes so I just let the fingers do their stuff as the brain cant keep up with them now.

I generally spend several minutes just playing through each roll with the occasional look down just to make sure they are still working hard :), I then move on to chording with the left hand, firstly to add a little variation to the tune of each roll but also to get the left hand working just as hard, I also need to concentrate a little more at this point although I do find it difficult to look at the left hand, again, this makes me loose a little concentration and tend to look forward glaring into nothingness rather than at the hands.

Following the rolls, I move on to the tunes that I now know ie Cripple Creek and Boil them Cabbages Down, and play these through a few of times each which does seem to put me in the place that I want to be to continue with learning this fantastic instrument, I then move on to leaning new techniques and/or tunes using the internet, youtube, looking at various beginner lessons offered graciously free by many tutors, it is all well and good reading from a book but I also need to listen and hear how each tune, lick or technique is played which I find really helps the learning process and there are many many good players out their willing to offer their assistance by posting videos/clips to break down each tune, however, there also seems to be many many variations of each tune which I do find quite confusing at the minute but have found Chris Talley-Armstrong very inspirational in learning Cumberland Gap and also Blackberry Blossom using her youtube postings.  After the learning section I play through the tunes I know and also the rolls in an attempt to end on a little high and play something that I know.....

Saturday proved to be very productive although I did spend around 6 hours though out the day as I was determined to learn Cumberland Gap, the easy part anyway.  One thing I did notice as I was winding down from the last session was how noticeably quicker I was at playing rolls, particularly so the forward-reverse roll which just seem to rattle off the fingers, its was just one of those moments when I actually thought wow, this practice is actually paying off and earned myself a little bit of extra self-esteem...  :)

Started today's session quite early, it is very wet and windy outside and didn't fancy going out anywhere although my other passion of photography is taking a bit of a hit at the minute but the weather really isn't playing ball to be out landscaping for sunrises and sunsets at the minute, so banjo practice it is having included Cumberland Gap in my staring tunes I will endeavour to learn the up-the-neck section and also started with Blackberry Blossom which seems to be a relatively easy tune to learn and memorise.

I seem to have rattled on for quite a bit on this blog but do hope that I will in time be able to look back and see how my progress has developed and what I have learnt through this process, I did as Debs suggested started to record  myself playing the tunes although this is probably something that I will need to get use to as the playing just seems to go to pot as I probably feel a little under pressure to perform and at the minute this seems to hinder me and never really produce a reasonably performance whilst recording but that is not to say that I may well indeed upload something in the next month or so.

Thank to those that read and follow this blog and again please do feel free to offer any advise you may think that will help and I am still on the lookout for any like minded players in my area of similar standards that we may be able to meet every so often.

Best wishes to all....until next time :)


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