Thursday, August 11, 2005


The key to teaching banjo—or any instrument, for that matter—is to always stay one lesson ahead of the student. I will soon learn this all too well, as I now have a couple of students expecting to learn how to play some genuine bluegrass banjo from Rex. The overall lesson to be taken from this is that one should always be careful of the liberties they take with their musical resume. Then again, I can think of no better way of forcing myself to learn how to play some genuine bluegrass banjo. For example: I have spent the past day or so walking around with the instrument strapped on and trying to get the subtle timing of “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” because that is what everyone wants to hear from a banjoist.

Scruggs, you are a genius, but you will someday pay for this.

I loved the actual “teaching” part of being middle school teacher and needed an outlet for sitting down with a kid or adult and passing on my meager knowledge when that was over with. Teaching music has been a little more difficult than I expected, but still rewarding. I am self-taught on most of the instruments I claim, and I suppose I could be doing it all wrong, but if I can help someone achieve the happiness of being able to recreate one of their favorite songs I have then done something.

I had a couple of guitar teachers back in middle school. There was the hillbilly farmer guy who only came into town once a week to teach lessons. He was my first and almost my last, as he insisted that I begin with the fundamentals of bluegrass, even though my sole purpose in picking up the guitar at that time was to learn “Back in Black” or anything by Zeppelin. I became disinterested and never practiced. I began using my guitar as a bow to shoot plastic tipped arrows at my sister and was about to completely give up on playing the damn thing when the hillbilly farmer guy got a job playing fiddle in a Dollywood show. I decided to give the next guy a chance. He had long hair, a handlebar moustache, and really bad posture. He always wore a denim jacket with an odd smell that I later recognized as pot, and he constantly looked and seemed a half step away from comatose. He spoke slowly and quietly, and I always expected from his expression that he could begin drooling all over his Les Paul goldtop at any given moment, though his hands were lightening fast. Surely he could mold me into the next Jimmy Page.

He at least renewed my interest in playing music. Though I only took from him for about half a year, I was eventually able to sit in my room and play “Stairway to Heaven” over and over again. I quit football, started smoking and got a garage band together. I would like to still think that we were as great as I remembered, but our assortment of Jane’s Addiction and REM covers were probably insulting to the original artists (though probably not nearly as insulting as those artists have now become to their respective legacies).

But even if we indeed sounded as horribly as the facts indicate I wouldn’t change anything. The weekend parties when a friend’s parents were out of town, the birthday parties at the rented out recreation center, and practicing in a hot basement with the mice and spiders was all worth it—even if none of it happened as I remember.

I don’t know if the younger me would be impressed at seeing the thirty year old me walking around the house strapped to a banjo. I doubt it, but I could be misjudging the kid. Would he be embarrassed by Gillian’s “Wayside/Back In Time” appropriately drifting out of the speakers as I write or by the stack of Randy Newman, Ventures, Hank Williams, and Louis Armstrong CDs sitting on the desk? Maybe. I don’t think he would mind much that I eventually switched over to bass for the availability of gigs and less stage fright.

And I’m pretty sure he would be happy that I can crank out (or at least stumble through) “Back in Black” whenever the beer is flowing and an electric guitar is handy.

I wonder if that would transfer well to bluegrass.
Wait. Yes. Yes, it would.


Blogger Ryan said...

I doubt seriously "the younger you" would be embarrassed by Gillian, Randy, or Hank. I bet he would think aloud, "Man...look at all the wonderful shit I have to look forward to."

A very enjoyable post.

(The Hayseed Dixie CD is in my collection. I love turning people on to that).


5:42 PM  

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