Saturday, June 27, 2015

Getting Musical Fulfillment From An Acoustic Instrument

The tenor banjo was my first instrument and after 9 years of playing I keep sticking with it.  I've messed around with mandolin, electric mandolin, guitar, electric guitar, tenor guitar, mandola and baritone ukulele.  None of them feel as "right" to me as the tenor banjo does.  (Although, as I write this I'm wondering if I would like an electric tenor guitar or an electric baritone ukuele? )

I don't really understand why tenor banjo is the instrument for me.  None of my all-time favorite musicians are banjo players.  Example:

Favorite Guitarists:  Jerry Garcia and Bill Frisell.
Favorite Bass Players:  Phil Lesh and Chris Wood.
Favorite Piano Players: Page McConnell and Brent Mydland.
Favorite Drummers: Billy Martin and Jon Fishman.
Favorite Singers: Jerry Garcia and Gillian Welch.

The musicians that I most admire don't conform to categories, traditions or styles, as far as I can tell.  In other words, they aren't constrained by a box.  The banjo player who best espouses this musical philosophy is probably Béla Fleck, but he plays a five-string banjo.  My banjo has 4-strings and I play it with a guitar pick!

At this point in my musical development, my focus is on getting my ear and understanding to the point where I can actually learn things just by listening to my musical heroes, such as hearing the way Jerry Garcia or Bill Frisell improvises.  I don't know that it matters that they are playing a different instrument than me; theirs are six-string electric guitars and mine is an acoustic 4-string banjo.  The feeling is there regardless of instrument.

When I have played a plugged-in instrument through an amp something about it didn't seem right.  There were too many sonic options, perhaps.  This doesn't mean that the music I want to play on my tenor banjo can't be inspired by the music I have heard coming from players of electric instruments.  It just means that my interpretation is going to have to be a little different.


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