So I bought a banjo

Mostly, I bought the thing to remind myself I have zero — zilch, nada, none — musical talent. This has long been a source of angst for me, because my brother Tom appears to have sucked up all the musical talent in  our family, and I thought I might wrestle some back.

Of course, saying he has musical talent in no way acknowledges the hours he’s spent strumming his guitar and plucking his banjo. I’d prefer not to focus on that, because that would mean if I applied myself fully, I might be half as good as he is by the time I’m 113.

I know. I did the math.

Originally, I was offered piano lessons as a girl, but I declined because it seemed too girly a thing to do, at which point Girly Tom, Football Star, stepped up and said, “I’ll take those lessons,” and he did. Meanwhile, I perfected my curve ball and my diving catch, and I ran really fast in track.

I sure showed them. You can take those piano (pronounced, in the vernacular, “pianer”) lessons and stuff ’em. Tomboys don’t play pianer.

That was short-sighted of me. Turns out, you don’t often have opportunity at my age (closing in on 113) to show off your curve ball (mine has deteriorated immeasurably, anyway), or take off at a sprint for a medal (at which point my right knee would completely leave my body, it’s attached that shoddily).

Years ago, I was driving around Vermont with my son and I popped in a tape and the song above played and I was struck. I listened to it over and over again, the interplay between the banjo and the violin and though I was miles from home, it felt like home.

(It must be said that I have absolutely no belief that I’ll ever be anywhere near Bela Fleck, either. He’s a banjo god who actually creates instruments to match the music in his head. I have no such music in my head. Mine’s far more pedestrian, the hillbilly music we made fun of as kids.)

And here I am, cradling a banjo (banjer) in my lap. I can’t read music. I can sing harmony. This hasn’t helped me much. I have played the DVD that came with the thing (Learn to Play Banjo! In 47 Easy Years!) — pause, replay, watch, try, fail, pause, replay ad infinitum. Mike, the affable guy on the DVD with just the right amount of twang who is talking me through the basics seems to believe in me, and so I’m trying to believe in myself. I’ve teased a niece that I’ll be happy to play at her July wedding, and she’s game enough to pretend that would be OK. At the rate I’m going, I should be ready by the time she’s 78.

At least I’ve got math skillz.

Published by datingjesus

Just another one of God's children.

Join the Conversation


  1. What kind of banjo? (How many strings…how many frets…is the back covered or is it open?)

    The hardest thing I dealt with trying to learn banjo was the fingerpicks. And I could never get the flailing style down…not even close.

    1. You’ve tried? I’m pretty bad right now. Five string, open back, no idea on the frets. I don’t even look at the neck of the thing. I’m still trying to learn the rolls. I don’t even know if they’re called “rolls.”

      1. I tried for about a year. Five and four string. The picking…i think they’re called rolls, is the most important part. I was corrupted by a self-taught fingerpicking style I used on guitar and I just couldn’t get past it. Or wearing those blasted metal picks. I did a little better with the flailing on the four-string, but not enough for me to sustain my interest. Also. you have to hold your forearm and wrist just right or they get tired really quick. And if you’ve never played a stringed instrument like that before you’re fret side fingertips are in for a Big Surprise.

        In the end, I traded ’em in for a roundneck National Steel Guitar and never looked back.

        1. I’m going to stick with this five-string, but I’m at the point of my learning where I’m wondering wtf is the point of all this. So I soldier on.

          1. A Soldier’s Joy featuring Earl Scruggs on the traditional modern banjo and John McEuen on the “Dave Macon” banjo which I believe is a longneck four string Appalachian (no resonator) model.

      1. It might actually have been clawhammer I was trying to do. I’m still not sure of the difference. But…regardless… I couldn’t get the whole backwards motion thing down to my fangers.

        Leftover’s not always right. He just sounds that way.

  2. Whoa! That is the most awesome banjo playing I’ve ever heard. No wonder it was an inspiration. (Sounds almost Celtic.) Growing up, I heard a lot of bluegrass music – something my dad favored. And then my brother took banjo lessons, as well as pianer lessons (as did I and his superior musical talents only made me, his older sister, look worse at music). He played more bluegrass – cripple creek comes to mind. I was pretty good at striking out opponents since I had mastered the “change up” pitch. (No wonder you and I get along! And I could not understand why I couldn’t play football beyond my own front yard. This may explain why years later I ended up with a broken shoulder after fighting for a catch with a real 200+ lb male football player in college.) After all that banjo exposure, I didn’t know it could sound this good. Thanks for sharing Bigfoot (live). Good luck with the lessons. Cool that you are learning! You know we will be begging for a DJ banjo concert in a few months!

      1. Bela Fleck is indeed the Banjo God.
        HERE he is performing with jazz pianist McCoy Tyner.

        He’s really liberated the banjo.

        1. Nice! I had no idea the banjo could be anything other than bluegrass or Hee Haw pickin’ & a grinnin’ sounding!

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: