Speed Bumps (Flying and Picking #11)

Red Henry

Red Henry

As you may recall if you've been a MM blog reader for some time, I'm taking flying lessons. Over and over, I find parallels between learning to fly and our students learning to play music.

In the last several weeks I've made a lot of progress in flying. I've flown solo to some airports over a hundred miles away and returned home easily. Flying solo, I've made some difficult landings in crosswinds and tailwinds, and had gotten pretty confident of my ability to get the plane on the ground safely in nearly any situation. But recently, the quality of my landings deteriorated for no reason that I could see. All of a sudden, just getting on the ground solo was a problem. Safety was not an issue-- it's very easy and safe to keep trying landings over and over until one is right and you land-- but the landings were much more difficult. Practice didn't help, as my landings got more and more awkward. So in search of some insight I took a flight with the chief instructor, and he gave me some new angles, exercises, and tips on landing the plane, and now my landings are back to normal.

Is this connected to learning to play? You bet. Whether you're learning your first tune or your hundredth, you'll have ups and downs in your learning. You'll play a tune well one day, and suddenly be unable to get through it the next. You play in groups and jams with no problem, and then one day you find that your fingers don't work right in front of other people. This is normal!

This happens to professional players too, but you usually can't tell when they're on stage. Some days (or weeks) we just can't play as well as other times. Practice helps, but sometimes, like golfers and baseball pitchers, we can get into a slump, though the audience won't usually notice it. Professionals just let it go, perhaps giving themselves a break by taking a few days off, because they know that the music will come back.

When you're in a slump, try something new. If practice isn't helping, you might even take a few days off from playing. If playing in your usual jam group doesn't help, try taking a week off from the jam, or playing with some other folks for an evening instead. Listen to some banjo music that's different from your usual fare. Relax and play along with our Slow Jam or Picking Up the Pace DVDs. Ask your instructor to just spend a lesson playing, trading breaks on your familiar tunes, instead of trying to learn any new tunes for a while. Everybody needs a break!


4 thoughts on “Speed Bumps (Flying and Picking #11)

  1. Robert in the hills of Tennessee

    Howdy. You are so right about taking a break. I’ve learned to not feel guilty about going several days w/o practicing my banjo. When I come back to it, it seems to flow better. Now I wouldn’t recommend going too long between practice/play sessions, but several days won’t hurt & can sometime help.
    BTW, I’m a bit jealous of you and your flying lessons. That’s something I’d truly enjoy doing, but I also know how expensive it would be…… especially considering that I’d inevitably want to buy an airplane.


  2. Red Henry

    Post author

    You’re right that flying is expensive. And for me, buying an airplane is out of the question. But I have an opportunity to do this now, and it’s a great thing.


  3. Augie

    Hi Red, Congratulations on your flying progress. The name of the game is setting your priorities. When I was learning to fly, that was my top priority, I lived it. Now that I’m learning to play Banjo, that is my top priority. People say I want to do this or that, but don’t because other things take higher priority. It’s really that simple. “The instructor will arrive when the student is ready”.

    Thanks to all the Henrys for sharing and helping.


  4. Red Henry

    Post author

    You’re right! And flying has been my top priority for the last five months. I’m not one of the rare people with a special talent for it, but I can usually get there with study, practice, and persistence. So far so good!


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