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First Performance

Posted by JohnWaters on Sunday, May 25, 2014

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Today my wife and performed together at our church - two services and about 700 people. My wife played guitar, I played banjo, and a friend sang. No banjo has ever been used in my church's 80 year history; this was the first time that I have ever performed with the banjo for an audience; it was my wife's first break, and our friend had never even heard of the song we chose. It was an incredible success, so I thought I would document the experience for others who may consider "coming out".

I bought my first banjo 13 months ago. I have practiced about 3 hours a day since then. This felt too early to perform for others, but I was asked to do a special for the morning services, and I did not want to lose the opportunity. (They expected us to play guitar and bass as we have done in the past.) We had a month's notice.

I chose a slow song with a simple melody - The Great Speckled Bird. I listened to Roy Acuff's version until I knew it well and could hum/sing every note. Then,
1. I tried to pick out the melody on the banjo. That did not take too long.
2. For the break, I added Scruggs licks only where they seemed appropriate - chokes, slides, hammer-ons/pull-offs and a very common ending lick.
3. For the backup, I mainly used a different inversion for each verse. On one verse, I played two inversions for each measure. I filled in gaps with 2nd & 6th notes and short slides. I played a basic forward roll except for occasional backwards rolls on chord changes.

I practiced the song about 200 times (estimated). Then my singer told me 2 days ago that he could not sing it in G - it had to be C. LOL. So, I re-tuned my banjo to G# and put a capo on the fourth fret. Then I practiced it another 50 times.

I emphasized to my wife (mostly out of my own need to hear it), that we were each going to make at least one mistake. So, remember to breathe; don't pause; and DON'T give any indication that you made a mistake. We did make a few minor mistakes, but I honestly don't think anyone noticed. Probably the worst was my wife skipping over a half measure of her break. :-) I was listened and just shortened the measure to fit.

Guys -- we got a thunderous applause at both services. Everyone LOVED it.

My takeaways.
- expect to be nervous and make mistakes, but practice enough that you can recover and keep going
- keep your first song simple and a little on the slow side
- focus on the song and nothing else

My sincere thanks to John Boulding (banjophobic) for being a great teacher and to to my friends here at the hangout who helped prepare me.

We had a great time, and if you are considering your first time, I know that you will too! 


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