The thing I constantly struggle with as someone who is avid about music but for whom music is not my main job is figuring out what the hell I'm trying to accomplish; a lot of the time learning little tunes well enough to record a video clip and then move on is enough, but a long-running underlying tension for me is "dabble incessantly and be mediocre at a bunch of stuff" versus "buckle down and focus on something enough to get proficient."
The latter is a tough sell to oneself when there's no external pressure or reward for it, which is why I usually let myself skate (and keep accumulating different instruments that I play intermittently but never really go anywhere with.)
But the last fewyears I've had a pretty persistent daydream of putting together a low-stakes early jazz/country blues/hokum/turn-of-the-20th-century sort of outfit, without really taking any meaningful action to at least establish some conditions that might make that possible. Part of it is ADHD (I'm still very much interested in 5-string classic style banjo, and there are only so many spare hours in a day), part of it is impostor syndrome (feeling like I'm hopelessly behind learning repertoire/playing with jazz musicians who know what they're doing.)
Mostly it's laziness/avoidance. But, this weekend I had one of those periodic moments where I took stock of my experience & resources decided it's time to shit or get off the pot:
* I've got a good instrument
* I've got lead sheets (Get you a copy of the Firehouse fake book, it's on archive.org)
* I've got a helpful list of "60 songs every jazz banjo player should know" (Get you some lessons with Steve Caddick, he's great)
* I've got some sight reading chops in CGBD tuning thanks to years of early banjo stuff
* I'm getting a pretty good foothold with plectrum chord shapes
* There are thousands of old standards kicking around youtube
So I'm going to try and commit myself to a plectrum banjo "Song per week" personal challenge and just work down Steve Caddick's list of tunes, with the minimal goal of memorizing chords (for the week anyway), stretch goal of working out the melody. I don't really know what I'm doing in terms of idiomatic chord melody, but that's sort of the overarching goal as I work through the list; I just ordered the Mel Bay book and I'm going to see if I can't get my hands on Dave Frey's fanatically beloved but out-of-print "Ultimate Plectrum Banjo Player's Guide" via interstate interlibrary loan. Meanwhile, basic flatpicking will still be a good exercise.
And who knows, if I manage to stick with it, by the end of 60 weeks maybe it will be safe to attend jam sessions, and maybe I'll feel more confident about doing so.
Week one is "After You've Gone." #fediversemusic
Goals/Intentionality (long, rambling)
My gen-x guitar rock brain seems to have woken up more forcefully than it has in years, and as always I'm struggling with the dueling impulses to
1) Lean into it
2) Try to smother it and stick to 5-string classic banjo and/or 4-string CGBD stuff
...looming over everything is this midlife sense of urgency, which also leads to conflicting perspectives:
1) Life is short, are you going to just keep faffing about and jumping between instruments and genres and never get good at any of them?
2) Life is short, why in the world would you *not* switch to something that moves you in the moment?
…all of this is in the vacuum of my long-running musical isolation, where I have no collaborators or external pressure or stimulus as incentive to focus on *anything*, and my long-running self-doubt and insecurity as a musician in general; even as a pre-internet kid I felt like was absent the day they handed out the “how to find and be in a band” manual; I lucked into a band in college and have played a couple of gigs with other musicians since then but I tend to feel like I'm just along for the ride.
But, I didn’t really set any goals for myself last time I got the guitar itch; I learned a few old favorites and played along with them and that was about as far as it went; I eventually sold/traded my amp and pedals and went back to “plug a guitar into GarageBand and noodle wistfully a couple times a year” mode.
I’ve absorbed a lot more theory since that last go-around, learned a whole lot more about recording/mixing, and in general right now I’m feeling like the “You can only focus on one instrument and you’ve cast your lot with obscure banjo styles, deal with it” argument I keep having with myself is some calvinist sunk cost fallacy bullshit for something that is supposed to bring me joy.
Anyway, I’m not dumping banjo by any means; what kicked all of this off was the impulse purchase a 4-string guitar so I could keep working on mastering the CGBD fingerboard even outside of a banjo context, and I'm having fun with that. But ultimately there’s no substitute for a chunky power chord on that low E-string, and I’m a big boy capable to mastering chord and scale shapes on two different fingerboards if I set my mind to it; I already have a fair amount of dormant guitar muscle memory.
I do think mindfulness is still the watchword; the last time I tried to do the guitar thing I was gear-chasing instead of goal-setting, and so of course that went exactly nowhere after a couple months.
Goals/Intentionality (long, rambling)
So, yeah, I've been guitarposting over on my @thermous alt lately out of some lingering sense of needing to live up to the "but I'm an obscure banjo guy" online identity I've established over the last 10 years (such as it is. It's a drop in the bucket as far as online presences go) but it feels a bit silly, *especially* on the fediverse where I am (as far as I know) the only early banjo enthusiast.
I've set plectrum banjo aside for the moment because I'm rediscovering guitar. Like, regular old rock guitar, which was my first musical love. The cheap Kmise tenor that I bought last month kicked something loose in my middle-aged brain and I decided I'm tired of the "musically lonely and frustrated because I can't find anyone to play with because I'm out here in the woods stubbornly playing shit nobody plays" hamster wheel.
Cashed in some rewards points for a no-frills little practice amp (I can't overstate how nice it is to have an analog amp that is just overdrive, gain, and tone and not a million amp models and effects built-in,) and splurged a bit on a new-to-me guitar. (I was going to wait until I got vaccinated and spend a day guitar shopping, but when I found a local-ish listing for a used Epiphone Dot in the rare color I'd gotten a bit obsessed with, I decided to jump on it.)
Spending some time getting back in the saddle before taking some lessons to recalibrate and pick up where I left off ~25 years ago.
Fingers hurt from those steel strings, but in a good kind of way. Feels like waking up.
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