by Yennie Dee Brecheisen
For my very first banjo lesson, about 4 years ago, I was lucky enough to have found Bill Evans. I didn't know much about bluegrass, knew even fewer people who played traditional bluegrass, but I was told that the best bluegrass banjo teacher lived in the East Bay when I went looking for a Scruggs style teacher.
Part of my homework was to write out three lists; things I know, things I'm currently working on, and, finally, my goals. (I sure thought I knew a lot more than I did). I often look back at these list, to remember how far I've come, to make myself feel better when I think I haven't progressed at all lately, and to remind myself of the journey as a whole - all the time, people, places, and teachers.
By far, the best of the lists is #3:
- Understand the theory of the instrument
( still working on this, probably will be forever)
Play with friends/jam
(I've made so many friends through bluegrass, my bluegrass family)
I want to have a great hobby
I want to be able to play without a TAB book & improvise in 6 months
(this took a lot longer, by the way)
It would be fun to eventually play with people at open mic nights like at bluegrass Mondays at Amnesia
(BINGO! I didn't know that I'd be part of a non-profit, leading a women's only jam at Amnesia, or perform on bluegrass Monday, either!)
I think it's cool to be a banjo player
I'd say that I've hit almost all of my goals, making new goals along the way.
Bill always said that the best way to learn is to get out there and play with people. I'm sure the mechanics of any instrument are one of the most difficult hurdles in learning, but as soon as you can throw yourself out there, get out and play with people. This Bill Evans guy sure has got it right.
I've had a few teachers that are professional musicians, and without their guidance and expertise, my technique, timing, and desire to not sound sloppy would not be what it is today, but I've also learned so much from friends, just playing with people and putting it all into practice. We don't learn music by sitting at home alone, playing to the walls.
Playing with people and creating a space for beginners to feel comfortable testing out their wobbly legs is what I really enjoy about what we are doing here at the Handsome Ladies. Without the women that I've met and started jamming with not so long ago, I wouldn't have gained the confidence to go out and play with other new people, who are now my friends, and more importantly - new teachers.
I can't teach anyone to play banjo, but I can share my time and energy in creating music with beginner musicians and professional musicians, here in the great community of bluegrass. We all teach each other, like they did in the old days, sitting around pickin'.
So, what are your goals, and what is your biggest accomplishment so far? That tricky lick? a new bow pattern? a super cool G-run? Write out your lists: Things you know, things you are currently working on, and your goals. Save it, look back at it, but more importantly get out there and pick with your friends, be a student, be a teacher.
I sure had one thing right all along - it is cool to be a banjo player.