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Let Your "Elephant" Play Your Banjo

Posted by yellowdog on Friday, November 7, 2008

In trying to teach a number of people how to play the tenor banjo over the years I've noticed that they all had (and some still have) the same problem, which, as far as I know, doesn't even have a name. So I've taken the liberty of naming it. I named it "Engineers Disease". (- Mainly because I had the same problem for decades and suspect that I caught it from too many engineering classes.) "Engineers disease" is what a person has if he or she thinks that they can learn to play a banjo, or any musical instrument, using logic. (Which is the way engineers solve engineering problems.) No! Logic is simply too slow to enable anybody to play like a pro. It's only useful in planning what is to be learned and designing an approach to the task, but not much else. Ask any skilled musician for advice and you will get the same answer..."practice, practice, practice" - which doesn't help all that much. Fortunately, the noted political columnist, David Brooks (of the "Shields and Brooks" segment on Jim Lehrer's News Hour, PBS) wrote a column some time back which seemed to suggest a cure for "engineers disease". In his column David quoted from a book, "The Happiness Hypothesis" by Jonathan Haidt, in which Dr. Haidt distinguished between the conscious and subconscious parts of the brain in a very meaningful way. He compared the conscious mind (our logic) to a boy and our subconscious mind (what we do automatically) to an elephant. In the analogy the boy is always on the back of the elephant and can only tell the elephant where to go. It is the elephant who accomplishes the task, instinctively and automatically doing what needs to be done. The boy can only train the elephant and beyond that needs to get out of the way. David Brooks' column grabbed me totally and I bought the book so I wouldn't miss a thing. They had nailed it! - The cure for engineers disease all over the world! The only thing missing was any reference to learning to play a banjo so I added that and wrote a single page article which "The Resonator" was kind to publish. You can download it (37 KB PDF file) from the "Links" page of my website. (It is the last link on the page. A link to "The Resonator" is also on the "Links" page.) If you are struggling to play the banjo it's possible that you have engineers disease. No problem! The remedy is here thanks to David Brooks and Dr. Jonathan Haidt. They would tell you that you should let your elephant play your banjo, and tell the boy to get out of the way.

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