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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Reading Jeff Tweedy's "How to Write One Song" and I like where he's coming from so far.

I have a tendency to be overly skeptical of "how to do [ultimately intangible creative thing]" guides because I've reached a point in my life where I recognize that, on an overly simplistic level, you can learn how to do anything and even become pretty good at it *if you actually do the thing*, and do it regularly enough and long enough to get past the "I suck and I'll never get the hang of this" Don Music stage of learning.

...and he spends the first part of the book hammering on a couple of key conditions along these lines; giving yourself *permission* to do the thing, and then setting aside the time to actually do the thing (instead of saying "you know, I'd really like to do the thing someday" but then watching youtube videos for two hours instead of doing the thing.)

So much of it really is about giving yourself permission and silencing your 'who do you think you are' voice.

It also came with some snazzy picks. I've been using tortex picks for a while and I had forgotten how much I love the smell of celluloid

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! I bought this new "Kmise" brand tenor guitar from ebay for an absurdly low price.

at 30" long with a 21.25" scale length it's a little closer to an over-sized baritone ukulele, but it is indeed slightly larger than Kmise's bari uke model, and it's got a pin bridge with steel strings vs the usual ukulele nylon.

I'm pretty sure the body is all mahogany laminate.

It's a really well-made little instrument, absurdly well-made for about $70 shipped with a very nice gig bag. I haven't checked with a tuner but the intonation is spot-on and the action is nice and low all the way up the neck.

It sounds like you would expect a small-bodied laminate guitar to sound; not very loud and not a lot of low-end, but that's fine. I'll record something with a good mic once I've gotten to know it a little better.

I tuned it to CGBD and it will be a lot of fun to noodle around with. Since the scale is something like 5" shorter than a typical plectrum, the strings feel very taut; plus they're steel, which my fingers are not used to. I'll have to research lighter strings.

Me, goofing around with an arrangement of Howard Blake's "Music Box" theme from The Changeling (1980)

I spent the first half of the day wrangling the piano accompaniment for Brooks & Denton's 'Tyro Mazurka' (1890) into ABC format, and the second half of the day playing along to it. Still rough around the edges but the piano part makes it more fun to practice.

TFW you're looking for an extremely out-of-print piece of sheet music and you find a single original copy for sale online for $37...

...and the seller's images are high-res enough to be perfectly readable 😈

I mean, It would be neat to have the original artifact but what I'm really after is the data that's printed on it


That humdinger of a photo of Mel Bay :mb: reminded me of this amazing photo of my granduncle (left) who I only met a handful of times, seen here with a bandmate. I never heard him play; I'm not sure I even knew he played banjo until after he died.

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It's banjoist (and multi-instrumentalist,) music instruction publishing giant, and dashing young man Mel Bay :mb:

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when you try to determine why your music software doesn't work anymore

shuffling random piles of printed music around my office for the millionth time and thinking about sheet music cabinets 👀

Weekend was derailed a bit, so this is a day late, but:

The for 2021-01-24, chosen at random, is "In a Shanty in Old Shanty Town"

...and now I am led to wonder if transposing on the fly is a thing non-horn players are expected to do. (Eb concert pitch = F) It wouldn't be too hard to get used to with chords, melody would take a bit more work.


Definitely a lot faster for the initial basic input (not having to keep track of key-native accidentals is life-changing) and if I can fine-tune conversion settings and come up with tooling to tweak and optimize some banjo-specific stuff I feel like it will cut cumulative hours from the process of transcribing stuff from the old tutor books. :fbc:

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Still trying to whip my brain into mindful practice mode vs “eh, guess I’ll play through this a few times.” I need to find some warmup exercises and make a ritual without going overboard

I'm glad I saved a copy of this Shakey's Pizza ad a while back, because it has disappeared from YouTube and seems to exist nowhere else on the internet.

One of the reasons it's taken me so long to make a serious attempt at four-string banjo is the weird filtration that happened to early jazz music (what everyone thinks of as "dixieland" now) starting in the 1950s, where it went through a rose-colored distorting lens and came out the other side as what you see in this ad, the "bunch of dudes wearing good old days boater hats and stripey blazers playing the same dozen songs that everyone likes but is also kind of sick of" vibe. Four-string banjo players in particular seems to have willingly pigeonholed their instrument as suitable only for playing this specific kind of music, and suitable only for playing in this specific hyper-frenetic strumming style.

And I get it! My grandparents took my family to a Shakey's Pizza in Bethesda, Maryland in the late 1970s, and they still had a house band playing dixieland. I would have been about 5 years old, and it's the first time I can remember seeing or hearing a banjo.

It is not an exaggeration to describe it as electrifying. I never forgot the sound of that banjo (probably a tenor, might have been a plectrum, it was loud and bright whatever it was.)

But because we did not have Shakey's near us, and because my parents weren't into old jazz music, and because as a five year old kid it hadn't really yet occurred to me that you can learn about new things that you think are interesting (and I wouldn't have known where to even begin) banjo was just one of those things that I grew up accepting as a thing that existed, but not in my universe. The dixieland nostalgia phenomenon pretty well died out by the 1980s so you just didn't encounter them in rural whitebread Massachusetts.

It kills me now to realize that I had *two* childhood near-misses that could have set me on a path decades sooner; there was a guy at our church who was a trumpet player in a dixieland band. I think maybe they played a summer concert on the town common one time? He always seemed really nice, and we even had an LP of their music that I don't remember ever hearing.

Also, my grand-uncle was a plectrum banjoist during prohibition. He lived a few hours away and I only met him a few times, and that was always in the context of family gatherings which he mostly spent catching up with my grandfather, so I never really got to know him. I didn't learn he played banjo until years later.

Years later, when I realized that I, a grown-ass adult, could simply buy a banjo and learn how to play it, most banjo-related content and information on the internet (there wasn't much in the early aughts) was about 5-string banjo, and I rode the 'O Brother, Where Art Thou' wave into old-time music, which begat the 19th century stuff, which begat classic fingerstyle.

And then I went to a dear friend's wedding in New York City in 2016. It was an intimate ceremony, and an intimate reception with music provided by a pickup band comprised of half of the wedding guests.

I had no idea until I got home and looked them up that I'd spent the day hobnobbing with some of the finest young trad jazz musicians in New York. Like, no joke, those guys will inherit Vince Giordano's throne. There was no banjo that night, but the music got under my skin in a big way and it's been itching ever since.

...but jazz banjo remains an incredibly niche thing and most of the learning materials out there are firmly planted in that 1960s second-wave sensibility, and it's taken me a while to figure out if that's what I even want to learn.

When I got my first plectrum about 3 years ago I took a suuuuuper helpful lesson with Cynthia Sayer, but I couldn't make a regular thing of that because her rates are commensurate with her expertise and status as one of the only high-profile pro plectrum players around. But I should take another one once I get a bit further with chord melody, because I like her hybrid single-string/chord approach to solos.

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Follow-up: I did actually write a trio section for this with the intention of recording and releasing it yesterday (mostly as a nod to myself for putting the first version out 4 years ago) but I decided I didn't feel like

1. doing the fussy last-pass details on the sheet music (it's pretty close but not 100% yet) and

2. putting in the time in to learn my own composition

...not for yesterday, anyway. This should be released as a footnote.

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The Hon. Mayor of Banjotown's choices:


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