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Practice, Perspective & Speed
Before we dive into the core techniques of old time banjo I think we should take a moment to talk about three very important issues that are front and center with new players.
The mistake people make when it comes to practice is that they either make it too much of an issue or treat it as work. When we sit down to practice and tell ourselves, "I must attain this" or, "I am doing something important" our heads get so full of judgments and opinions that there isn't any room for anything else. The will to achieve or prove something winds up working against us.
When you sit down to practice don't worry about playing this tune or that melody perfectly. As you will see later on in this book the melody of a song is actually the easiest and most flexible part of the equation. Once you "get" old time banjo the odds are pretty good that you will never play a song exactly the same way twice.
Instead, focus your attention on fundamentals such as the frailing strum, chord changes and other basic techniques. Work on these faithfully for a short period of time every day. Then stop worrying about practicing or gaining anything. Just play your banjo and sing some songs.
Don't treat this like work. Take joy in it.
I run into people all the time who make the mistake of deciding that they will never reach a certain level of skill before they ever strike a note. I don't think I have to explain how detrimental this kind of attitude can be to someone's progress.
The thing we sometimes forget is that the notion of success and failure really depends on your perspective. What might seem like a minimal achievement to one person could be a great success in the eyes of someone else.
Judging yourself against other people is always going to leave you feeling inadequate in some way or another. I'm a good banjo player and I love what I do, but if I compared my achievements and training to that of a concert violinist I could start to feel inadequate. What we forget is that the violinist in question may also be comparing himself or herself to somebody else. Don't be distracted from your own personal journey by falling into this trap. Allow the learning process to work.
It's the same kind of thing when a beginner compares himself or herself to an experienced banjo player. Seeing someone perform with what appears to be effortless skill when you are struggling with the basics can leave you feeling like you will never be able to get that far.
What we forget in that situation is that even the greatest banjo player in the world was at one time a beginner. What you are seeing is the end result of a lifetime spent making music. If you really think about