Thursday, January 3, 2008

Banjo Lessons, Learning and the Web

I'm a banjo player. Not a great banjo player. A fair to middlin' kind of picker. Many years ago after seeing a performance by Ken Perlman in a little town in Maryland, I wanted to learn his clawhammer style of picking and I bought a few instructional books. I studied the diagrams and photographs. I practiced what I thought was the correct style. I never really developed a sound I liked and eventually gave up.

A few weeks ago, one of the guys I jam with regularly, asked me if I knew anything about old style banjo. I shared what little I knew. I left his house that day thinking about maybe trying to figure it all out again. I came home and did a search on the web. I quickly came up with a down loadable book on old style banjo called The Tao of the Banjo written by a guy who lives about 20 miles from where I lived in Maryland at the time when I first got interested in old style banjo. He also had some video files available through his site and through the National Archives. I watched a couple the lessons and saw immediately what I was doing wrong. Hearing and seeing him explain it at the same time made it all click. I've also picked up helpful information that I've able to apply to other areas of my playing.

In the past year I have sought out and found instructional information on soldering a copper pipe, troubleshooting a wireless connection, numerous recipes for dishes I wanted to cook, how to do circular breathing (when playing the digeridoo), and a primer on f-stops once when I was trying to help a friend with his new camera.

A student, of any age, with an internet connection, can find instruction on a huge number of topics. As an educator, I've always been a gatekeeper in regards to instruction. I fed it out to my students at the pace and in the sequence I (and the state) thought most appropriate. Sure, kids could always go to the library and get ahead of me, and a few have done just that. But, what are the implications of any student quickly being able to move beyond his or her teacher? Why listen to me lecture about the Bill of Rights when a student can find a smarter guy giving a lecture on the same subject or maybe a more clever person giving the shortened "Cliff Note" version?

No answers. Just some thoughts I'm having about education and my teaching while I practice my banjo. If you are curious about frailing the banjo, I highly recommend Patrick's site, Tangier Sound.

[Image: Original captured from; Final image created in Photoshop by Al Gunn]

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