Archive for ‘learning a new instrument’

December 5, 2013

So Many Instruments

I have always been amazed by the amount of music out there (who hasn’t, I guess?) There is no way that I will ever hear it all, ever be able to find all the bands and artists that I enjoy, so I do the best that I can.  There are also so many instruments in the world, and I have a tendency to want to learn to play all of them, unrealistically.  The only instrument that I have actually kept up with is the guitar, even my bass playing which used to be my main instrument and which I loved has fallen by the wayside while I’m at college.

The banjo was my latest attempted conquest, my first in a while.

Instruments That I Have Tried to Learn (and pretty much haven’t)

-Harmonica

-Ukulele

-Piano

harmonica

I have some basic knowledge of these (I own a harmonica, a ukulele, and a keyboard- which kind of count, maybe)

All of these fell through because I didn’t practice, or I didn’t have time to.  I always want instant instrument gratification, and I need to realize that this is the farthest thing from reality.  I haven’t given up hope on all of them yet however.

I still want to learn:

-Sitar

Ravi Shankar

-Drums

-Fiddle

-Tuba (kind of)

 

Rick Danko with Fiddle

And, I mean, I’m pretty much open to other instruments as well.

The sitar is my dream, I’m pretty sure it takes like a lifetime to be really good- but who know… maybe someday!

While on this quest to learn banjo I realized that it will be difficult for me to ever learn any of these instruments without extensive practice.  I, of course practiced guitar and bass- but somehow it was different.  I move fast, I am always in a hurry, which sometimes makes it difficult for me to learn new things that take a long time to pick up on.

My mom has begun learning ukulele in my absence from home, and I can see so much how practicing every day has helped her improve tremendously.  Although she still feels as though she can’t play very well- I think she has a remarkable grasp on the instrument for only playing for about two months.

So- you’re like- this is NOT about banjos, where are the banjos?!

I’m kind of getting there, maybe.  Basically what I have realized through this blog, through this semester is that owning the instrument doesn’t mean you know how to play it.  Of course, I always knew this but it seems to have really hit me with this latest venture.  When I headed to college in the summer I was sure that I would come home for winter break pickin’ like a pro.  But, as break rapidly approaches I realize that this is not the case.

And that’s okay.

I’ve learned so much about the instrument, have a newfound appreciation for all of those that play it, and I haven’t given up hope that someday I will live up to my name of “Banjo Lil” and when people ask me to play them a song on the banjo I will quickly pull out my banjo and play a rollicking rendition of “This Land is Your Land” OF COURSE.

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November 26, 2013

Banjo Thoughts

I’ve been immersed in the world of banjos for almost the past three months, and I’ve certainly learned a lot.  Although I will definitely be banjo blogging until December, I feel like I need to look back at my banjo experience so far to remember some of the reasons that I have been blogging and social networking for this one instrument.  Since I’ve started this blog I’ve been able to attend the NY Banjo Tour (and meet a lot of the current banjo talents of the day).  I’ve also been slowly learning some of the instrument that I have been talking about.  I started this blog hoping that it would encourage me not to give up on my goal to learn the instrument- and I’m not entirely sure that it worked as well as I hoped that it would.  Although I know a lot about banjos, and I pay more attention to anyone that plays the banjo- I am nowhere close to being a real banjo player.  I am still a novice.  Despite the fact that the name “Banjo Lil” has stuck with me, and I feel like on some level I am spreading the banjo to my friends, family, and maybe to some people that I’ve never even met- I think it is about time I really settled in and learned a few more songs.  A lot of the fun for me in learning a new instrument, is just playing around on it- figuring out a familiar tune or creating your own tune that has never been played before.

NY Banjo Tour

There is something special about being known for something- but it is something that I am not even close to being an expert on.  I came in at time that the banjo was chugging and almost rocketing to stardom- some kind of folk relic that has been reincarnated.  Once an instrument for playing the music of everyday people, to an integral part of the protest and folk revival of the 1940s/50s/60s (with Pete Seeger carrying it into popularity), and now it has become either a quirky thing to pick up (maybe that’s part of the reason why I decided that it would be my latest musical venture…), and also a part of the rollicking folk-rock of the present day (not particularly my favorite genre).  I sought to connect to this instrument and I think that for the most part I have, I feel as though the banjo is such a big part of my life- despite the fact that I play the guitar more often.

I think that my opportunity to actually learn how to play is over my winter break, when I might have more free time than I do now to learn new songs, and reinforce the few that I already know, and also to perhaps collaborate with musical members of my family.  Then, hopefully when I return to school I will be able to play along with my talented & musical school friends and- who knows- perhaps I’ll be in the next famous folk band.

November 16, 2013

In Which My Banjo Becomes Famous…

Today when I arrived for my shift monitoring the radio station, not only was I greeted by the amazing sounds of (check it out by clicking there –>) yyu, an artist that we were filming, and streaming live on the radio, but also the sight of my banjo lying on the floor.  yyu  was covered in a lacy sheet and singing and producing sounds from a small machine that was shrouded under his lace. It was really interesting to hear his music.  At first, I felt a slight panic rise in me.  I had left my banjo in the station, trusting that everyone would respect it- and that nothing bad would happen to it. I quickly quelled my fears as I lost myself in the mind stretching and amazing music that I was experiencing live with just about four other people.  I hope that people listened in on the radio, and we should have the recording up soon (which I will try to post if I can).  After he was done performing, I found out that he had been using my banjo for some of his music. Instead of being annoyed that someone had been using  Susannah without my permission- I was flattered, and curious.  I was happy that my banjo was actually GETTING PLAYED.  I feel as though I haven’t been playing it quite enough, and I want to get some use out of it.  It is great that both my friends at the radio station, and musicians that have been hosted at the station have been able to get some use out of it.

I really regret that I was unable to motivate myself to stop writing my newsletter for my fundraising class, leave my dorm and get to the radio station a little sooner to hear the banjo music.  I need to get a banjo alert system that goes off anytime someone is playing a banjo around my campus so I can immediately show up, listen & learn.

My banjo in my messy closet from last year...

November 11, 2013

Banjo in the Station

Yesterday, my banjo took its first journey out of my dorm room for the entire semester, and landed at the radio station (after a quick pit stop at Starbucks).  One of my friends wanted to try his hand at banjo picking, and of course, as “Banjo Lil” I was happy to oblige.  I hadn’t really carried my banjo around very much but I felt a certain sense of accomplishment as I lugged it in its ill-fitting case across the campus and into the underground radio station that is practically by second home.  When we arrived there were two other conflicted music sources, of course, the person who was currently on the radio was playing, and someone was practicing guitar in an abandoned room upstairs.  This made for a difficult practice/ jam session (I had my guitar as well- I know, a real multi-instrumentalist!) but we managed, at least for a few minutes.  Watching someone else play was a cool experience, although I am still not very proficient at playing anything other than a few random chords, and some improvisational finger picking, I felt as though I was sharing something.  We played quietly in the station, and then moved into the hallway determined to overpower the people playing upstairs.  Of course, our two acoustic instruments were hardly a match for a loud electric guitar, but this also made a strong musical impression on me.  Needless to say, the banjo will be residing in the radio station for a while longer, perhaps spreading the influence to even more people that have always wanted the chance to try their hand at the banjo.

Susannah at the Station!

Susannah at the Station!

October 16, 2013

“Banjo Lil”

So, word has gotten out.

Despite the fact that no one really reads this blog that knows about it (out of my friends at least) people now know that I am “BANJO LIL.”  People have begun to refer to me as such.  Although my playing is still elementary and I certainly have not been playing in front of a great many people I still have somehow managed to become a small personality within my circle of friends.  Perhaps it’s because I’m constantly babbling about the banjo, and the banjo tour.

As I mentioned in my last post, the banjo tour made me feel a little bit as though I should give up (they even mentioned this within the show, something about inspiring a lot of people, but convincing a lot more to quit).  I played a tiny bit today.  One of my friends wanted to try out the banjo (it really inspires a lot of excitement from people, they can’t quite believe that you actually own a banjo).  So she got to try Susannah, and quickly figured out some chords (she’s also a guitar player).  Seeing someone else play made me realize that I really need to pick up my rate of learning.  Although, I don’t really have much time- I really think that winter break will be my chance.  Hopefully, I’ll take it.  I’m not planning on being the next banjo prodigy (it’s already too late for that anyway), but if I could get down some picking patterns that’d be great.

Learning a new instrument is almost more difficult when you already play other ones, you’re more inclined to keep accelerating on the instrument that you’re already proficient at…

I also learned today that Sufjan Stevens used the banjo a lot in his latest album.  I gotta give it a listen, and then maybe I’ll recommend a song or two.