Flying and Picking (6)

Into the Wild Blue Yonder

Into the Wild Blue Yonder

Folks, a few days ago I mentioned that my flight instructor and I had gone on a cross-country flight to another airport here in the Shenandoah Valley. Well, yesterday we went on another longer cross-country, and a parallel really struck me between flying and playing music.

The first time, we flew to an airport near Harrisonburg, Va. I had my hands full trying to identify my checkpoints, keep my log of the time at each one, and dial in my radio navaids to confirm my navigation. We got there right on time and course, but I had my hands full just taking care of those "mechanical" things.

Then yesterday, we flew down to Charlottesville. I was able to do all those things, plus keep checking on the chart to make sure that we were in exactly the right place every minute, and looking ahead to what came next. This time the forecast winds were not as perfect as last time, so we might get a little off course, but this time I could detect it soon and correct for it. I was able to make everything go more smoothly. I think I kept us within a half-mile of our planned course the whole way, and when we were about 15 miles from the Charlottesville airport I spotted our destination runway straight ahead (and we were, almost eerily, nearly lined up with it again). Not only had we arrived on target and on time, but I'd been able to look ahead and think of the flight as a whole, instead of as a series of individual steps.

How does this connect with playing music? Well, you start out learning the notes to a tune, and you play them as well as you can. You eventually get to where you can play all the way through the tune without (hopefully) losing your place, or, at least, if you miss a lick you can recover and keep playing in time. This means that you have the "mechanical" part of the tune under control. But as you keep listening to the DVD over and over (for example, Cripple Creek on our Beginning Banjo Vol.1 or Earl Scruggs playing his original version on the Foggy Mountain Banjo CD), the more you hear. You may automatically pick up the subtle way Murphy and other players syncopate the notes to make the tune more listenable. You start hearing notes that are more accentuated than the others, which define (or at least imply) the melody. You start hearing the overall tune, which is more than just the notes.

You come back to the DVD lesson or Earl's CD a few weeks or months later, and you can hear more than you did the first time. You start hearing more than the notes. In other words, you start hearing the tune as a piece of music. So keep listening to Murphy, keep listening to Earl, and keep picking!


One thought on “Flying and Picking (6)

  1. Arden Peters

    I have noticed that the improvements in handling the mechanical parts of picking and making a song sound listenable do not come as quickly as the gains you made between those two cross-country flights!

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