Today comes the tale of two students who are going the extra mile with their playing. No, they are not playing faster, practicing longer, or moving rapidly through new tunes. As the title of the blog clearly states, they are backtracking. And what do I mean by this? They are putting in the time to fix some things about their playing that, as we say here in the Valley, “need fixed.” Things that I’ve turned a more-or-less-but-not-quite blind eye to in the past. Partly I thought these things would fix themselves (it does happen) and partly I thought the things we were working on were more important.
One of the things Judy is working on is trying not to watch her right hand when she is picking. (She’s been taking about 15 months now.) This is one of the things that usually fades away on its own as students feel more comfortable with playing. After all, there is no need to watch your right hand. The strings don’t move and the spacing stays the same. The thumb always picks the fifth and the middle always picks the first. After a few months, your hand actually does know where it is going. Muscle memory and all. But it can be a hard habit to break. [Note to Total Beginners: It’s OKAY to watch your right hand when you’re starting out. In fact, it’s essential. You’ve got to become accustomed to the spacing before you can look away. Don’t be putting the cart before the horse!]
Judy can play "Banjo in the Hollow" without looking at her right hand (I do encourage her to look at her left hand), but the others...well.....not so much. So we’ve decided to take it one tune at a time, backing off on speed and playing really slowly until she can focus instead on her left hand. (I look at my left hand all the time.)
The other thing she is working on is the C lick in "I Saw The Light." (I wouldn’t let my dear Savior...) She calls it the “pretzel” lick. It never has been quite a clean as she or I would like, but again, I thought it would clear up in time. After all, her Cumberland Gap up-the-neck G chord fixed itself eventually. So we are, again, s-l-o-w-i-n-g the lick down and basically re-learning it. Cleanly and clearly this time. I told her just to work on it two notes at time if necessary. Then add two more notes. Then play those four notes. And so on down the line.
This actually echoes an article in this month’s Banjo Newsletter with the Brobdinagian title “Lessons in Neuroplasticity.” I probably would have skipped it but my eye landed on the phrase “The Sad Tale of Hasty Hank” which was much more interesting to me. (I am so Reader’s Digest! And saying that so dates me!) Anyhow, short version, Hank never slows anything down to practice problems in his playing, while “Prodigious and Patient Pete” (that Good Boy!) “decides he must get those two measures right, whatever it takes.” And “each time he does so, he plays them slow enough to play them mistake free.” The point is, he is retraining his brain. And the article provides scientific evidence—with monkeys, even—to back it up. (They were not, however, playing banjo!)
So I showed the article to Judy. Hey, if it’s in print, written by an M.D., it has to be true, right? Mainly, I agreed with it, with or without monkey evidence.
So now I’m out of space to tell you about Bob. Lucky you, Bob. Don’t worry. I’ll spill the beans next week. Keep practicing "Old Joe Clark." Stay tuned, folks.