Saturday, February 27, 2010

"I have no musical talent at all."

Whenever I mention to some stranger that I play a musical instrument, half the time I get the same response- they say "You're so lucky, I have absolutely no musical talent at all." If I protest, they insist "No, you don't understand- believe me, I have NO talent at all!"
I believe that anyone who enjoys hearing music has some musical ability hidden dormant somewhere deep within them.

My banjo student was 8 years old when he first came to me for lessons. He had a lot of enthusiasm, but he could not sing in tune AT ALL, and at first he couldn't even tell me which note was higher or lower if I played him for example a C note and a C# sharp note. He had a very hard time time tuning his banjo on his own without an electronic tuner, and if I sang a note to him, he could not sing the same note along with me. I figured he'd never be a 'natural' musician, but I loved his energy and eagerness to learn, and I figured he'd get some fun out of it anyway...

And my, how he LOVED to play banjo! He practiced at home more than any other student I ever had except maybe one. By regularly practicing at home and listening to music more, he has actually developed and trained his ear over the past two years, with only minimal suggestions from me.

Now he is 10, and not only can he tune his whole banjo completely, by ear alone, but he can hear even the tiniest differences in pitch when a string is ever so slightly off pitch. He can sing in tune. When I sing several notes randomly, he can sing them accurately after me. He hears right away when a note is not right and he corrects it. He can tune his banjo perfectly between six different tunings and not even need to use a tuner at all, all he needs is one starting note.

All this really surprised me, because I used to use a little test with any students' first lesson- I'd sing a note and they'd try to match it. And I'd sing two notes that were close to each other and they'd tell me which was higher. At first, my little banjo student couldn't pass those tests. Now I know that that will really not tell me whether someone will become a natural musician. Yes, I said become a natural musician ...because I now believe that we can train and develop modest abilities and skills that are lying asleep within us. We can become better at hearing tones and notes.

I no longer accept it when anyone tells me "I have absolutely no musical ability." Most people are not born musical geniuses, and most people will not become professional musicians, but I now believe that everyone has some amount of natural musical ability deep within them, waiting to be brought to life. And that this little ability, if nurtured, is enough to enable those who claim to have 'no musical talent at all' to experience great joy in making simple everyday music for themselves and their loved ones.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Video: Muted strumming rhythm practice

Many new players understandably concentrate so hard on not making wrong notes that they tend to overlook trying to improve their strumming rhythms.
I remember well when I was just starting out playing banjo- West Virginia clawhammer banjo player Dwight Diller first taught me in his workshop, and he said "The right hand is the meat and potatoes, the left hand is just the gravy."- I always loved that!

So here is a way to really IMPROVE your strumming rhythm without driving others crazy! Try muted rhythm strums, it's actually fun! Includes some varied strum rhythms to practice.

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