Can there be too much banjo
February 15, 2016
This is the biting question for people who aren't professional musicians or don't have 2 or 3 hours each evening to spend sitting on a porch in South Carolina. Among those who know me, it's no secret that I've taken up the banjo. It's been about 20 months now since my family bought me my first one and I've recently taken the leap and bought a somewhat better one. The banjo is probably one of the easiest major instruments to get a pleasing sound from. But, like the other "major" instruments, it takes a lot of work to master.
One of the conditions of learning something like this is that you really need to steep yourself in the music that you want to learn. Constantly. The sounds, the rhythms, the tunes and the act of playing should be stuck in your head like an inoperable tumour. It really (really really) helps to have a wife/husband/partner who likes the music without any prompting. This way, not only is practising possible, but listening to all that music you're interested in is not like punishment. I am blessed in this regard.
Another aspect is the amount and kind of practice. They say that 10,000 hours of doing anything will result in mastery. If you spend 2 hours a day, every single day without fail, that's almost 14 years. So, unless there's an alternative to stacking the hours so prodigiously, there's no hope of me getting anywhere near that lofty peak of skill and experience. Fortunately, there is another approach.
I refer you to guy named Josh Turknett, who teaches banjo (albeit clawhammer style) using a technique that leverages brain plasticity to heighten the learning experience, thereby shorting that 10,000 hours down to as little as 2,000. He's been running a series of articles through a site named Banjo Hangout and he maintains his own instruction site at clawhammerbanjo.net. I'm very attuned to the power of brain plasticity and self-conscious reflexivity (see http://www.timpenner.ca/pmw/The_Toolshop_Story), so I've adopted his various pieces of advice for enhancing my banjo learning experience. I do believe the approach has improved my learning experience.
I also refer you to a recent article by Barry Hunn (worldwide sales manager for Deering Banjos) titled "Practicing to Practice". Barry explains that you should not let the demand and pressure of expectations (about learning and skill) get to you, but that you should find pleasure in just playing not matter your skill level or what others think about your playing. (Of course, you should perhaps consider the fact that the banjo is quite a loud instrument and that it can be quite annoying in large doses, not matter who's playing it.)
So, to the question, "Can there be too much banjo?", the answer is "It depends. It depends on you, how you learn, your circumstances, and, most of all, your attitude towards learning and playing." Keywords: banjo, learning