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Are We Entrappeded Like a Siberian Mammoth in a Materialistic Morass?

Posted by Richard Dress on Wednesday, September 10, 2014

There is even more to the story of the fast moving banjo student.  Suppose this new banjo student who passed the entrance exam begins to study the banjo.  He knows/plays bluegrass.  He wants to play scruggs style banjo.  You know, the stuff that Earl, Ralph, Reno and them played.  Bluegrass banjo, you understand.


Does that mean he should buy the Scruggs Book and start there?  That is the folk wisdom because so many of us did it that way.  Is it a good idea?  No.


It makes no more sense than a banjo picker with a brand new guitar walking in and asking for Django lessons.  No.  Learn to play the guitar first before trying to copy Django.


Here is a plan that touches all bases and brings the fast track student to performance level in short order:


     a. memorize pinch, square roll, and forward roll — i.e. practice until fingering any note is easy and smooth


     b. learn to place melody notes in their proper place by practice with familiar bluegrass tunes (played, of course, in the BG style).


Will other paths work?  Yes.  The question is how much time are we talking about?  That varies from student to student.  Something that should take a couple of years at most can often take decades or generations.  


The wrong path leads to unnecessary frustration and self-doubt.  This makes the learning process unpleasant to some and causes students to drop by the wayside.


Here is an example of a path that can take generations:


Student can’t dance, little genre familiarity, no musical background or natural understanding, clumsy fingers, no fire in belly, jumps into learning Pikenly’s style with tabs.  Ouch.


Or here is a path that gives quick results but the results are questionable.  Tony Rice has spawned a numerous tribe of lead guitar pickers who never really stopped to learn to play the guitar.  We have all seen them (they can’t actually be heard without a mic).  They memorized a bunch of tonytabs and often they can even play in time, but that is usually their limit.  It never seems to come to life musically.  They never seem to have turned their guitar into a musical instrument.  Tony Rice is a great musician but his greatness doesn’t lurk in the tonytabs.  Blah.


We don’t see much of the fast moving banjo players: they are too busy picking.  We see a lot of students mired in the materialism rather than the music.  ‘They are more to be pitied than scolded.  They need to be loved not despised.’   Students bogged down in a materialistic morass need a helping hand, not a new thumb pick.  (Someone stole my last Kel Kroydon thumb pick at the Station Inn.)  However, that can’t be helped, given the power of advertising.  We all gotta buy new stuff.  There is always the off chance that this new capo or cool eight bar descending lick will prove to be the missing element.


It all comes down to this: if you are having trouble making what you are learning sound like it is supposed to, then look within rather than without.

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