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Never Shake A Banjo

Posted by brae on Saturday, March 12, 2016

like this

Her face was a study in sadness and torment.

“I didn’t practice at all this week” she whispered, hanging her head.

Her name was Charlotte and she had signed up two months ago for banjo lessons, but and was having difficulties.

I put on my best happy face and patted her shoulder.

“Oh that’s Ok,” I assured her. “We all have a hard time scheduling practice. The trick is to keep trying!”

She looked up at me with sad Bassett hound eyes and shook her head.

“I don’t know. I think maybe I just don’t have the talent. Maybe it’s best I just quit.”

She was truly reveling in self pity, and it took every ounce of my will to keep smiling.

Charlotte was a single mom and school teacher in her fifties, one of my many students who decided to learn music later in life.

And although I loved these “adult” students because they gave me a break from the feral youngsters I taught, they were challenging in their own way.

Mostly just because they were so hard on themselves!

“You’re doing great.” I enthused. “I promise!”

Charlotte winced. “No I’m not. I haven’t practiced at all…”

“Well, the secret is to let go of our expectations and allow ourselves to experience failure…”  I said, feeling suddenly like Dr Phil.

She stared into space, unconvinced.

I charged on. “Did you know that Thomas Edison said our greatest failure is just giving up…? We just have to keep trying and eventually we’ll get better!’

Suddenly, Charlotte looked panicked and put her banjo down. “I’m sorry…” She croaked. “I think I’m having a hot flash!”

She began trying to fan herself, flapping her arms like a large flightless bird.

“Um…..urgh…” I offered, scooting back to give her room.

“It usually passes in a few minutes…” she panted, continuing to flap and turning beet red.

“OK, oh my..” I said, feeling completely out of my area of expertise.

“I’m sorry, I just get….I just….” Her voice cracked and she sunk her head into her hands. “I just get emotional when these hot flashes happen…”

“Is OK, don’t worry!” I said, but I wasn’t helping.

She began to sob. “I just don’t think I can do this! Every time I’ve tried to learn music I’ve failed!”

Then it hit me. Oh my God, I thought. Maybe I helped caused her hot flash! What should I do?

Like an ER doctor reacting to the sight of blood, I sprang into action.

“Here, I’ll make it cooler in here..” I barked, turning the AC down. “And don’t be embarrassed, I teach bluegrass, so I see this a lot!”

But she was oblivious to me, rocking back and forth and mumbling.

It took another 20 minutes to talk her down, but eventually, she regained her senses and we resumed our lesson.

We had been working on the fiddle tune Blackberry Blossom, and she had gotten to the point where she could wobble through the song at half speed.

The problem was, whenever I looked at her, she would fall apart.

And it wasn’t pretty. See, she also had a bit of an anger issue.

I’ll never forget the first time I heard her swear when she made a mistake. I’ve heard my share of colorful language, but Charlotte was in a whole different league.

For her cursing wasn’t just an expression of frustration. It was a primal phenomenon, erupting like a volcano and destroying everything in its path.

She was in her third attempt at Blackberry Blossom when I made the mistake of glancing her way, and she lost it.


“Uuuuuuuggghhhhhhh..” She gurgled. “I just caaaaaaaan’t get it!”

I opened my mouth to offer support, but never had a chance. The torrent of curses slammed into me like a category 12 hurricane.

“God***-piece-of-sh**-mother-f*****-son-of-a-b****-sh**-sh**-SH**!!” She roared, clenching her fists and turning beet red again.

I inched away slowly on my roller chair. She let out a huge breath, flapping her lips like a balloon.

“Ok, ok, I got this.” She rasped. “I know this song. I GOT THIS!.”

I nodded rapidly, and she began the song again, a look of terrible concentration on her face.

Plunk, plunkity plunk, plunk, plunk-plunk-plunk….

And then…”Aaaaaaawwwwrrrrrrraaaaagh!!!” She screamed, sending me cowering into the corner. She was crumpling her hair in her fists, making noises like a mortally wounded animal.

“Charlotte, um, Charlotte…it’s Ok, ok?” I whispered.


I peered out from behind my chair. I didn’t want her to know, but I was thoroughly traumatized by now, and wanted  only to survive the rest of the lesson.

She blew out another long breath and began again.

Plunk, plunkity plunk, plunk, plink-plunk-plink….

I cracked a cautious smile. She was going to make it this time!

No such luck.


“F***********CK!!!” She bellowed, jumping up struggling to tear the banjo off of her body.

I watched in horror and she wrestled out of the strap, and then proceeded to hold the banjo at arm’s length and shake it violently. Oh my god, I whispered, she’s shaking it like a baby!

“Charlotte, Charlotte, please calm down, you’re hurting your  banjo..!” I pleaded, but she was oblivious.

The banjo was a blur as she continued to shake it violently. Her clip-on tuner flew off, followed by a capo. I took cover behind a drum kit.

Suddenly she came to her senses and sank into her chair, her face white as a sheet.

“I’m sorry Sid, I didn’t mean that….I’m just having trouble with that song…” she whimpered, caressing her banjo remorsefully.

“Hey no problem, we all have trouble with that song!” I lied.

“Can we go through it one more time?” She asked sweetly.

“Sure! He we go…one, two, three, four…”

As we struggled through the song again and my adrenaline faded, I tried to erase the image of her shaking the banjo. Yes, I thought, this is where I’m going to have to draw the line.

Never, ever, shake a banjo…

1 comment on “Never Shake A Banjo”

brae Says:
Saturday, March 12, 2016 @5:13:42 PM

This comes from actual teaching experience :-)
For more on our music philosophy please visit our Facebook page, thanks!

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