Archive for September, 2013

September 29, 2013

4-Strings?

I was reading the newspaper yesterday & saw an article about the four-string banjo.  I knew that they existed, but I wasn’t totally familiar with them.  It was interesting to see a banjo other than the five string infiltrating the media.  The four string is apparently used more in jazz than in folk etc.

The banjo is invading mainstream culture it seems, every time I turn around I am hit with another article, another player, another band, or another song that features the banjo. The banjo seems to have had some sort of popularity for a while, but recently it has had a resurgence. I’m not quite sure why there has been this newfound banjo love, but whatever the reason, it’s nice that the banjo has been able to continue on.

Here’s an article with some insight to the banjo popularity.

It kind of seems like every year there is a new instrument that emerges as the newest “it” instrument.  The ukulele had its heyday, and it seems like the banjo may be taking over.  It’s kind of a cool trend, it creates new opportunities for people to learn new instruments, which is better than something detrimental being popular.

Some of the new bands that I saw this summer used the banjo, and although a lot of them were playing more “traditional” music with the banjo, they were still younger players.

Here’s a band I saw this summer that uses the banjo!

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September 26, 2013

Throw Down Your Heart

Since I just started my banjo journey, I haven’t seen very many movies about banjos.  I have though, seen one that was pretty fantastic.  It’s called “Throw Down Your Heart.”  It follows Bela Fleck (an amazing banjo player!!) Check him out here.

Bela journeys to Africa (where the banjo is originally from) to play with a lot of really amazing African musicians, and hear some of their stories.  It’s a really cool movie, and it’s filled with great music & some pretty touching stories. Watch a  preview here.

Throw Down Your Heart

Another interesting thing about Bela Fleck is that he collaborates with musicians from around the world, one of my personal fave collaborators are the Tuvan Throat Singers.  These guys are AMAZZZZZINGG. They can sing more than one note simultaneously… like WHAT??!!! Listening to them is kind of mind blowing, you’re not quite sure how they’re doing it.  Read all about what they do…

Throat Singers

Basically, the moral of this post is that the banjo is a gateway to so many different cultures & a lot more music than you might have bargained for.. it’s not just some 99 year old on a porch in a rocking chair picking a tune, or a new modern day folk band. As with any instrument you can kind of take it in the direction that you want- but the banjos seems to have a unique versatility. I’m looking forward to reaching the point at which I can explore even more genres, although as you know- I love my original folk tunes…

September 24, 2013

A Little Practice…

Today I got a chance to practice!  I reviewed the songs that I already knew, and started to look up chords to some other songs that I like.  Playing the actual chords is pretty easy (considering that I already play guitar) but I think I need work on the strumming pattern.  I think I might need to locate someone that already knows the banjo to give me a few lessons so I actually know what I’m doing.  I also think I might need to start working on reading “actual” music (I can read bass clef, but not treble).  A lot of the songs in the Pete Seeger book are written out like that, so to learn them I’m going to have to start remembering how to read music, we’ll see if that happens!

I recorded myself playing “This Land is Your Land” (my greatest hit!!) but I’m not quite tech savvy enough to actually be able to put in in this post right now… maybe I’ll figure it out soon.

What I have found to be the most fun on the banjo is just improvising and playing whatever comes to mind.Image

Here’s the book I’m using.

Here are the chords to “This Land is Your Land” in case you want to try and play it on YOUR banjo!

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The “Crawdad” song is also a good one.  I went to summer camp at a farm with I was nine, and we used to sing that song all the time…all these songs seem to keep bringing back memories, maybe playing the banjo is making me feel old…

September 20, 2013

This Land is Your Land

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I started learning a few basic songs on the banjo a week or after I got it.  I was learning from the Pete Seeger’s Book “How to Play the 5-String Banjo.” I was pretty excited to be learning from someone that I thought was a pretty amazing player (with an interesting life too!)  I had been to his 90th birthday concert when I was a freshman in high school, but had not fully appreciated the impact that he had made both politically and musically.

Skip to My Lou

Here he is playing Skip to My Lou.

The first song that I learned to play was “This Land is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie.  Woody Guthrie is another one of those musicians that I have a certain reverence for.  Although the song is pretty basic, I was pretty happy that I was able to play the recognizable tune, and it also gave me something to practice my picking on.  Playing “This Land is Your Land” also makes me slightly nostalgic, when I was younger my dad and I used to bike by the railroad tracks near my house, and I was always worried we would get caught and get in trouble, but my dad assured me that is someone asked us to leave, we would simply sing “This Land is Your Land” and all would be well.

When playing the banjo (the 5-string) you have to hit the fifth string at a certain point in your picking pattern.  I am still working on this, and can only hope that by the end of the semester I am able to play in a more cohesive way.

While I am trying to learn some more songs on the banjo (I pretty much have down “The Crawdad Song” as well as “Skip To My Lou,” it is almost time for the banjo tour again. You should check it out!

Banjo Tour

I wasn’t able to make it to a show last year, and I’m not sure if this week will work for me either, however, it is certain to be a good time.

I’m hoping that this week I will be able to advance my playing skills… I haven’t been able to practice a lot since I got back to school, but I think I should be able to find more time soon!

September 12, 2013

Me and the banjo

So, perhaps I should kind of introduce myself to start off. I’m Lilly- but for this blog, I’m “Lil.”  I love learning new instruments, and there are so many that I would love to learn.  My newest venture is the BANJO. These days, it seems like the banjo is everywhere, it seems to be having a resurgence of popularity and it seems that musicians are incorporating it into a lot of the music they play.  I started thinking about the banjo more & more when my dad started planning a banjo tour for the performing arts center that he works for.  Last fall, even though I was at college, the banjo consumed my mind & my family’s minds.  Then, I began to get more and more interested in the banjo when I started listening & learning about Bob Dylan. This might sound weird, considering that Dylan doesn’t use banjos in the majority (or all?) of his work, but listening to Bob led me to Pete Seeger.  Growing up in a VERY music oriented family means that I already knew who he was, but my interest began growing.  Over the summer I read a biography of Seeger called “How Can I Keep from Singing?”: The Ballad of Pete Seeger by David King Dunaway. I decided it was time to learn this instrument. So, with a stroke of luck I received one on “indefinite” loan, and I started in.

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Here she is… “Susannah.”

ANYWAY. In my blog I plan to outline my journey in learning the banjo, learning about those that play the banjo, and pretty much anything I absorb that catches my interest about the banjo.  So, let’s see how it goes!