Wednesday, August 08, 2012

What does it take?

"What do I need to learn to be able to play banjo like...?"

"I want to be as good as... What should I be practicing?"

The questions go on and on.  They're all about the same too.  I see them posted online.  I hear them from students.  Truthfully, they're fair questions.  I mean really, just how does one get to a level where others hear you play and stand in amazement?  What is it that sets apart our heroes?

I was talking to a young banjo player this past weekend and it came to me in a way that I could explain it - I think.

I just don't think it's a matter of acquiring knowledge.  Just simply knowing things isn't going to turn you into an artist.  I'd even go as far as saying that even being able to play scales, understanding modes, learning tons of tunes, getting the fingerboard under control, and more won't get you very far toward becoming a musician/artist of the caliber you're looking for.

I'm not saying that it'll hurt to know all of those things, but I've come to realize that those are not the main things that you'll need to know.

I also don't think it's just a matter of practicing the fundamentals, or even having a good understanding of even what those might be.

What is it then?  Good question.  While enough practice to get a solid grasp of how to actually "work" the instrument is incredibly important, there's still something else you'll need to get to the next level.

For me it's been the pursuit of creating things, and honing the craft of creativity.

I'm convinced that even moderate technical ability such as I have combined with the craft of creativity is key to attaining some high level of artistry.

Think of it like this.  Let's say I learn how to make a step stool in wood shop.  I could take those plans and build more, and each one would progressively get better.  I'd get quicker, and the step stools would look nicer.  Yet, they'd still just be normal step stools.  Getting beyond the norm would require a bit of creativity.  I'm sure those first "creative step stools" might not be so great, but the more I create the better I'll get.


TL;dr -- Practice creativity.  :)

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Did I Tell You About Ireland?

Back in February I got a phone call from an old friend that had a simple question.  "Can you go to Ireland in June?"  Well, I figured sure, why not?  Okay, so I can go.  Why am I going?  Chuck explained that the band he was playing with had a tour booked in Ireland, but their regular banjo player couldn't make it.

I was suitably impressed that I was asked to go.  I wasn't even sure I would be able to learn the material or get a feel for the band, but why not?

It was also a great opportunity to play with a bona fide the bluegrass legend: Curtis Blackwell.  I learned a lot.  It was also a great opportunity to re-explore the music I was listening to when I first began learning to play the banjo.  It was an experience I won't soon forget.  Curtis knows hundreds of songs that he can call at a moment's notice.  I was also blown away by the power of his rhythm playing.  It should go without saying that his vocals were no less than astonishing.

So, how about the trip?  Okay, I'll get on with it.

We arrived in Ireland on June 12th.  It was chilly, and nothing at all like late Spring in Georgia.  We landed in Dublin and then made our way, via bus, to Belfast where we would play the first of twelve jobs.  We were greeted in Belfast by my friend Mark McCluney and then later by our agent Nigel Martyn.  Mark took us to supper then we went back to the hotel and rested up.

Our show in Belfast was exciting.  The crowd loved the music maybe as much as I loved playing it.  It was, of course, my first time to play in another country.

We did get to do a bit of sight seeing.  Since all of our shows were in the evening we usually had a bit of daytime that we could use to get out and see Ireland.  I tried to take a bunch of photos.

I hope to go back to Ireland again.

We saw Blackwater Castle, Inis Oirr, Mullaghmore, a lot of narrow roads, sheep, cattle, and more things that I could list without being a complete bore.  

I learned about Gaelic Football and Hurling.  I even purchased a Hurley & Sliotar and Gaelic Football for Samuel.  I couldn't think of anything more Irish that he would enjoy.  He looks so excited, no?  If you've not been exposed to Hurling or Gaelic Football you should look them up -- very exciting!

I enjoyed the sports, the scenery and the buildings.  Yet, with all of the beautiful country the most beautiful part of Ireland is the people.  I found everyone to be absolutely wonderful!  I made new friends, and that's why I want to go back.  There are people there I need to see again.