I grew up around golf, not music. Nobody in my family played music. I was in my early 30's when I first started trying to learn an instrument, which just so happened to be tenor banjo. At first I thought I would want to play songs by the bands/artists I was used to listening to: the Grateful Dead, Phish, Neil Young, Ween, Uncle Tupelo. However, I soon realized that fiddle tunes from Ireland and Appalachia were what I wanted to play, even though I hadn’t listened to much old-time or trad at that point and didn't know anything about it.
Now, six years after starting from scratch, I still enjoy playing traditional music. Being that my chosen instrument is tenor banjo, I don't think my motivation stems from any sort of revivalist, preservationist or purist ideology. I just really like playing these kinds of tunes. Here's why:
- The circular nature - they go round and round in a continuous curve that never ends.
- The symmetry – AA/BB. It’s a lot of patterns and pattern recognition.
- It’s not a modern music. It’s timeless. The ultimate indie music; not trendy or popular. There’s no marketing behind it. It’s not a product of mass media.
- The tunes are purely musical, not verbal, so there's no lyrics to scoff at.
- Tabbing out an arrangement from the “dots” on a page stimulates my brain like a book or crossword puzzle.
- It’s not a performance. I’m playing for myself; not for others. I don’t have to impress other people.
- With a little bit of practice you can quickly become a participant and contributor to your local scene, while at the same time you can always learn more.
- You get several opportunities to play this music with different people from all backgrounds and age groups. It’s an interesting and enjoyable scene to be part of.
- You learn a common repertoire that allows you to go anywhere in the world and sit in on a jam or session.
- The inclusiveness of the traditional music community - ordinary folks, not just the gifted and flashy, can make music together.
- The communal approach to creating sound. Everyone plays in unison.
- Personality, friendliness and etiquette are just as important as musical competence.
- Beginners and mentors/experts often play side by side.
- You don’t have to sound like anyone else or compare your playing with professionals or any other player. You can do it your own way.
- The goal of most players is to simply be a competent amateur and not a professional paid musician or entertainer.
- You also learn about musicology, history and folklore through your association with traditional music.
- It increases you understanding and appreciation of music in general, even music you don’t play.
- It can be as non-intellectual or as intellectual as you want it to be.
- You can learn it simply through the medium of the tune rather than through scales and exercises (although scales and exercises don't hurt!).
- You experience the music organically via real life music making and not just through formal theory and practice.
- It’s a type of music you can play your whole life.
- It’s acoustic – no power needed when the coming apocalypse happens.
- It’s built-in entertainment and a creative outlet.
- The abundance of audio and transcriptions available online makes it easier than ever to get tunes and learn at your own pace.
Those are my main reasons for playing this music. What are yours?