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My Banjo Story

Posted by Paula_DHJ on Friday, February 29, 2008

When I was a kid we would go and visit my Aunt and Uncle.  Whenever we went to their house, we would sit in this room they called the den even though it was more like a family room.  In the corner of the room leaned a banjo and there was a set of finger picks sitting on the chair rail above it.  Apparently it was my Uncle's and he had bought it on a whim, and planned on learning to play, but I don't think he ever did.  Anyway, when we went there I would sometimes pick the thing up and play with it.  I didn't know if it was in tune, or how to play anything on it, but when I plucked those strings I thought it was the neatest sounding thing I had ever heard.  As I got into my teenage years, I went there less and less, and more or less forgot about the banjo.

One day just over a year ago, I was with a friend who plays guitar, and he wanted to go into this music store so I went in with him.  Out of about a hundred guitars, there was one 5-string banjo hanging on the wall, and the memory of my Uncle's came back to me.  Again, I took the thing down and plucked the strings abit.  That was it... I had to have one.  I didn't buy that one, but within a couple of months I had bought a cheap entry level banjo and a bluegrass banjo book.  I bought the bluegrass book, because I think it was the only banjo book the store had, and I really didn't even know there were different styles of playing. 

About 5 months after I started playing bluegrass, my wife had to go to a convention in Ottawa for a week, so I took a week off work and went with her.  During one of my days of roaming around Ottawa, I discovered this little store called the Ottawa Folklore Center.  I wandered in there and was having a look around at all the neat things they had.  They had different types of drums, wooden flutes and panpipes along with a good selection of acoustic guitars.  They also had a rack with about 6 or 6 banjos and a couple of gourd banjos (which I had never seen or heard of at that time).  I started talking to this guy that worked there and told him I was learning the banjo.  He said to me "you probably are playing Scruggs Style eh?", which of course I was.  He told me that he was a banjo player as well, but he played clawhammer style which was an older style of playing.  Then he went and picked up one of the banjos and demonstrated a couple of songs for me.   Wow! it was like an epiphany for me, where I realized I hadn't been playing the banjo at all like it was supposed to be played. 

From that day forth, I decided that clawhammer was going to be the playing style for me, and I haven't had my fingerpicks on since.  I love playing the banjo.  Of all the hobbies I've had over the years, there has been none more satisfiying and enjoyable than this 5-string journey.  I only wish it could have started earlier.

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