The weekly practice report
I did five hours of banjo this week, 2.5 hours of accordion, and one lonely hour of cello, for a total of 8.5 hours of practice time. Yes, I need to do more cello, but please consider that I was pretty off schedule this week. I had to drive back and forth to both LA and Vegas this week, so it was a tough week to get in lots of practice. In my world these days, “only” 8.5 hours of practice qualifies as a crappy week.
I am getting a book on vocal exercises. My banjo books all want me to sing along while I play, and I just hate how I sound. A bullfrog with a sore throat would be less annoying. The banjo “culture” is huge on singing along and improvisation. Like jazz, it largely gives just a general melody: the artist then just gives it whatever interpretation he or she feels is appropriate, from a plain “straight forward” rendition to the most ornamented departure. Also, there are numerous techniques for playing the banjo. Since the banjo was developed in isolated rural areas without any dominant playing style, many individuals developed totally distinctive methods of playing. To my mind, this is unique in music. There is only one way to play the cello, one way to play the steel string guitar. There are lots of different ways to play the banjo. Also, the banjo has lots of alternative tunings: again, isolated artists in mountain communities simply tuned the banjo to whatever tuning they found appropriate. This is unique to the banjo as well. A trumpet or double bass is simply in tune or out of tune: there are no alternatives.
Playing tunes by ear, singing along, improvisation: these are some of my weakest areas as a musician. I need to work on them and improve. The banjo community is very big on “What can you do?” as opposed to less practical measures of excellence such as time spent playing, number of lessons, etc. In music, like other performance arts, there is always a simple, bottom line test: Somebody hands you a banjo and says, “Play something.” I want to someday be on that level, where I can just wow people on command like that…