A banjo is an excellent story writer. It’s a 5-string choose your own adventure. It’s a thriller. It’s the romance writer of stringed instruments. Go down the neck, and you get some science fiction and fantasy sounds…the bard of a space court. It’s African poetry. It’s a medical drama about a woman needing a musical cure for a rough week. The banjo is a story, and it is the cure.
I am telling myself it is time. I have been playing banjo for a year as of 2/14/2016. Nothing says love like a banjo, right? I am ready to take the relationship with Earl, my Deering banjo, to the next level. I’m about to have a Foggy Mountain Breakdown.
For those of you who don’t know, Foggy Mountain Breakdown is the penultimate banjo song demonstrating the bluegrass speed and style of the late, great Earl Scruggs, banjo master. We will talk bluegrass technique and history another time. I am focused on the rite of passage this song is for a banjo player.
It is not clear to me what the rules are for when you learn different things on the banjo, so I am trusting my instinct. I have done this right so far. I have the Scruggs authored guide. I have weekly instruction. I have standard and forward backward rolls, fine tuned with daily metroGnome practice (it is a gnome indeed). I can even find my way around the banjo to create some of my own songs with rolls, slides, and pinches. I feel good about my progress in a year. So why Foggy Mountain now?
Foggy Mountain is a hard song to learn. It teaches you to use basic banjo techniques in a new and extremely challenging way. In my opinion, it breaks some of the rules I thought were hard and fast. I love breaking rules. This song is also a joyous, break out dancing, yeehaw hootenanny of a song. Quite simply, I am ready for the challenge.
If we never challenge ourselves as musicians, we can still be decent and create enjoyment for others. If we challenge ourselves, we can become great, not necessarily for others, but for ourselves.
Since I started looking at the tab and watching videos to help me learn this song, I have sworn profusely and told Earl I never want to see him again, only to come back to him requesting forgiveness 30 seconds later. I am in love, and I could not think of a better breakdown to have than this one.
If you need to see & hear the magic, check out Earl and Steve Martin (yes, the Steve Martin) do it justice: