I spent part of yesterday giving a banjo lesson to Mark, a fairly new student who has been with me since the end of May. Mark is about my age (the best age!) which is to say the kids are grown, leaving time for things like banjo lessons.
Mark is into his second week of working on “Cumberland Gap,” so we spent the entire lesson trading banjo breaks and vamps to CG so Mark could learn to move from the vamp to the lead. As we are playing, I am blogging in my head because many things are becoming apparent to me as Mark plays. The main one, as the title here indicates, is that learning the tunes is the easy part!
First of all, it struck me once again how hard it is to learn to play through your mistakes. Particularly in a song like CG which is not a familiar tune to most people and doesn’t have much of a melody to boot! And the thing I realized, from watching Mark’s reaction, is that mistakes are just so startling! I mean, he’d been playing the tune hundreds of times at home, and I am convinced that he was playing it correctly, so he was used to hearing the same string of notes over and over ad nauseum. So when he hits a wrong note, it’s just flat out weird. His ears aren’t used to hearing that note. So he reacts with surprise and that causes a tiny hesitation which causes him to lose not only his place in the song but his concentration. And all the other notes go flying out of his head and the song abruptly ends.
As I told Mark, this is one of the reasons our playing the tune together is so important. He needs to make every mistake possible so he can learn to recover from them. He needs to hear all the wrong notes he can hit so they won’t surprise him.
So that was the first thing that was going on: learning to play through the mistakes.