I played when I was young for three or four years maybe; and then stopped. I haven’t played for 30+ years. When I went to the store to get a banjo and I put one on my knee, I got nothing. I couldn’t even get started on any song I used to play. So I’m basically starting over.
Some of the old songs came back but in bits and pieces, I had to re-learn them really. I’ve learned several songs here and a couple other resources and recently, I’ve noticed that learning a new song is getting easier. Now, licks and beats and weird timings are becoming more familiar. When I encounter a new one, many times it’s similar to one I already know so that helps. And fret hand positions are getting much easier. It’s sort of an economy of scale thing, once you get enough resources and experience in place, the cost of doing new business, or in our case, learning a new song, goes way down.
When I got here to Banjo Ben, I started with the beginner stuff and also music theory which is something I never did before. One song that really caught my ear when I got here was Ben’s Wayfaring Stranger but it is an advanced piece. But I started it anyway knowing that it was a lofty goal. So so frustrating learning that one. I struggled with even the first part of it and the worst was yet to come. If you haven’t seen or heard it, go check it out. The bluesy solo kicked my but for months. Granted, this was not the only song I was working on, I knew it was gonna take a long time. But as I learned other stuff, I notice that when I came back to Wayfaring Stranger, I was better equipped to tackle those tougher parts. Man, it was a quest I tell ya, it’s just chocked full of smokin licks and I love the bluesy style.
I finally nailed the last part of the of the bluesy solo just a couple weeks ago, that last line being the toughest, but man oh man what a feeling of accomplishment. I can play 100% speed up to that last part which is still at 50% but I’m working on it. Things I learned while learning this song have helped me learn others more easily as well.
I’ve had Angeline The Baker on my list for some time. Such a pretty song, but it’s another Advanced one. I took a shot at it two days ago and nailed the whole first part in about 30 minutes, I was shocked. I took a close look at the rest and it seems easy. I can’t believe it’s in the advanced section. Anyway… I guess my message is: It’ll happen, just keep at it.
I saw a sign as my callouses developed. It meant I could play longer and more aggressively.
I see a sign every time I finally figure out that troublesome timing in a particular measure after listening to it a couple hundred times and trying to repeat it.
It’s another sign when I realize that same measure with the troublesome timing now seems easy peasy.
Backing tracks seem to interfere or distract me and I’m totally lost just a few measures in. So, it’s a sign when I can get through most or all of song with the backing track, even at the slowest speed.
I see a sign that I’m making progress when I can finally make that three or four fret long chord shape that my hand just wouldn’t do a few months or a year ago.
It’s a sign when I realize I’ve picked up the pace on a song, even just a little.
It’s a sign when my left hand doesn’t hurt so much any more.
Signs, signs, everywhere a sign. Just be open to them; look for them.
I do have a huge problem memorizing the songs though. I still struggle with that. I learn songs from the tab (the .tef files are awesome), so I’m used to looking at the tab while playing… without looking at my either of my hands. The problem now is, when I do feel comfortable enough to look away from the tab and at my fret hand for even just a couple measures, it totally freaks me out. My brain cannot process rapidly moving fingers and strings and frets and reconcile it with the sounds and what I’m trying to play and everything comes to a screaching halt. So, I’m trying to take small sections of songs that I can memorize and force myself to look at my fret hand; I’m trying to retrain my brain a little bit.
And then, I see players on stage and it just urks me to no end when I see a guy just smokin on his solo, not losing a beat, and he leans over to the player next to him and starts talking with him and they both have a good laugh at whatever. What the heck?
Sorry this is so long, not my intention, it just spewed out. Here’s my summary.
If one song is tripping you up, try another song for a while.
I’ve learned that success breeds motivation. Nail that one lick or pick up the pace in a song and let that motivate you to keep going.
If you’re not seeing the signs, you’re not looking hard enough.
Realize that there is ALWAYS progress to be made. You’ll never be done man, there is no end for us in this endeavor. We’re all doomed.