The point of undertaking this challenge is first to improve my own banjo playing and second to come up with solutions to the resistance/difficulty of daily banjo practice and then share those solutions with you.
It’s day 66 of my 365 hours of banjo practice goal. I’m currently at 56 hours and 37 minutes of banjo practice which puts me behind by 9 hrs and 23 minutes. My practice hasn’t been perfect but I’m not in horrible shape AND I’ve put in 56+ hrs of practice this year. I can feel the difference in playing tremendously. I’m going to record some playing this weekend as a point of reference and post that next week.
In writing that last sentence I’m reminded of a book that had a huge impact on me when I was in my 30’s called The War of Art by Steven Pressfield (not to be confused with the Art of War). If you haven’t read it, consider doing so. It’s a fascinating call-to-action to do the thing you’ve always wanted to do: in our case, learn how to play the banjo well. As an aside: none of these amazon links are affiliate links. Just sharing useful tools.
Back to my sad face emoji. The truth is I’m not sad, I’m quite proud of myself. But I’m also not meeting my goal and it’s been difficult. Why?
In my Day 19 post, I touched on the idea of Planning The Day Before and Finding a Consistent Window. The first idea being that at the end of the day you look at your calendar and figure out when you are going to practice the next day. The latter idea being to look for a window of time that consistently works for you throughout the week and stick to that window of time for your banjo practice.
These techniques absolutely helped me. Yet there were still many days where my planned window of practice arrived and I just “didn’t want to.” I LOVE playing the banjo. In that window, there were no demands from my life. Why wouldn’t I pick up the banjo and start playing?
Boredom. Or looking at it inversely: the need for variety.
Learning to play banjo (or learning anything for that matter) is often uncomfortable. Have you experienced that? When we pick up the banjo we tend to want to play the songs we know or practice the rolls that have become easy for us to play. As soon as we look to learn a new song, practice a new roll, or in the clawhammer world, learn the drop thumb technique, our bodies are often flooded with cortisol and we feel uncomfortable.
I’ve changed careers three times in my life, learned two musical instruments in my 40s and as a result, I’m very familiar with this uncomfortable feeling.
Growth feels great. The process of growing is often painful or at the least, uncomfortable.
While that uncomfortable feeling can’t be avoided all of the time, here’s one trick that has helped me get longer sessions each day, become more consistent overall and truly look forward to practicing: switch to something fun, within you practice, as often as is needed.
I’ve been learning Earl’s Breakdown. It’s an intermediate to advanced bluegrass song and it’s HARD. For me. I work on it for 10 minutes and if it’s really painful on a given day. I switch to song review. It feels good to play songs I know well and it helps with memorization as well overall dexterity and strength.
If learning Earl’s Breakdown is going well and not painful, I keep going and that’s a win across the board.
If I’m learning a song and it’s painful and I switch to song review and THAT’S boring, I’ve gone from one kind of pain to another kind of pain so I stop playing (and also associate tomorrow’s practice with pain and not look forward to it). My next option to find the joy of playing banjo is to work on writing an original song (this is something I love doing).
But sometimes working on original music is also painful (will this song ever not suck??). So in that situation, I put on music I like, pull up the chords for that song, and play along. This is often pop/rock music which is a nice break from the bluegrass sound (sacrilegious, I know).
So what is the point? To avoid boredom and the pain from growing/learning, find practice alternatives that feel great. We’re still talking about practicing banjo here. I’m not saying go eat a pizza and watch Netflix if your practicing is painful or uncomfortable. The more options that you have within your banjo practice the better.
I can’t tell you what an incredible difference this has made for me. The majority of my banjo practice sessions feel joyous and fun (yes, friggin JOYOUS!) instead of a chore or task. I LOOK FORWARD to practicing as opposed to dreading it or it feeling like a weight.
I hope that helps you as much as it has helped me. If you want more banjo tips and inspiration from both me and John (our teacher) you can sign up just below.
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