banjo, bluegrass, musician

I’m Having a Foggy Mountain Breakdown: A Banjo Player’s Lament

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:

 

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musician, Uncategorized

The Art of Learning Music

Hello. I am back after a break where I assisted in running a fabulous writing conference and completed two major work projects. During these events in my life, one thing remained consistent: my effort to learn music.

Through my full immersion into learning bluegrass banjo over the past year, followed by starting down the path to electric and classical guitar, I have learned more about myself as a person than ever before, including the following:

  1. I have a remarkable work ethic and a dogged desire to keep at something until I get it right, and
  2. I have a knack for finding the right people to be partners in my learning.

I am sure some people are born with a natural fluency for music, and they quickly find the right strings, keys, percussion points, and breaths of air to produce beautiful noise. I, on the other hand, liken my fingers finding the right strings and frets on my banjo and guitars to drunk giraffes (nice, longish fingers with decent nails) wandering the Serengeti aimlessly, eventually becoming entangled in the chaos. So, I have to work really hard at learning, and I rely heavily on daily practice and various resources to learn. There is an art to learning the art of music, and here are the mediums I use to learn.

I practice, on average, one hour a day. As often as I can, I try to increase this by a half hour to one hour or find moments in the day where I can pick up an instrument and perform one piece of music or an exercise (even scales) quickly between life’s activities. I use a metronome for a portion of all practices, and I touch all three instruments daily. It is my labor of love, and one I have been engaging in for nearly 365 days straight since 2/7/2015. Doing the math now, and I’m going to guess I have practiced between 450 and 500 hours. This would equate to me practicing for nearly 21 days straight at the high end if somebody locked me up and threw away the key, and I did not sleep or eat or etc. I am not planning on this by the way! Music is life, and you must live life to make music.

I also find time to read music theory books and relevant magazines and newsletters as well as watch YouTube performances or lessons to learn from those much more talented than me. I am never without tunes in my ear whether at work or play, and I study and listen to the greats for each instrument.

All of this is wonderful, filling my soul cup daily with bourbon, and I am making significant progress as a result of the effort and focus. There is something much more important than this though. I could not do this without the help and guidance of two talented, interesting, and dedicated instructors for helping me along the path to playing music beautifully.

Recently, I was given the gift of an interview with my classical guitar teacher, Roger Humphrey. I will be sharing his story, wit, and wisdom in a two part blog special starting tomorrow. I hope you will stay with me on this journey.

In the meantime, please check out Roger online:

http://www.rogerhumphrey.com/

https://www.facebook.com/RogerHumphreyClassicalGuitar/

http://rhumphrey223.blogspot.com/

 

 

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