The people who know me and suffer my company/conversations will know, very vividly, that I have started to learn the banjo. Actually, it’s just about the only thing I think or talk about at the moment. I have played a variety of instruments in my life including clarinet, saxophone, flute, guitar and voice. Of all of them, I have only ever truly loved singing.
It’s really difficult to explain how singing makes me feel. I don’t love singing because it sounds in tune when I do it or because people are complementary about my voice. I sing because it terrifies me. I reckon that’s why I have never been satisfied singing in the shower or at karaoke nights, it just wasn’t scary enough. There is no logic behind this. I’m scared out of my wits before any performance but the second I get in front of a crowd, I’m a different person and I like that person a lot better than I like the person who sits back down after 2 songs. It’s the same reason people jump out of aeroplanes with a bit of silk strapped to their backs I suppose. Anyway, I’ve waffled on about that because playing the banjo makes me feel exactly the same as singing does. It’s a pretty effing special feeling. It’s also odd as I haven’t composed the parts I am playing so it’s not as if I am opening my musical talents to soul level scrutiny. I’m playing off parrot style what someone else wrote. I haven’t quite worked out why it feels this brilliant yet, but I will.
In order to learn the banjo, I signed up to the English Folk Dance and Song Society’s (EFDSS) Saturday Folk Music Workshops for Banjo beginners. The terms are very reasonably priced and you can even hire instruments from the EFDSS. I hired my banjo for the princely sum of £20 per term and put down a refundable deposit of £50. It’s an open backed ‘Old Time’ style 5 sting banjo. Here it is. I have named her Delilah.
The strum style we are learning is called Claw Hammer or Frailing. I expect most people think you would strum a banjo or pick its strings individually with your fingers right? Those people would be wrong. When you play claw hammer/frailing style, you use 1 finger and your thumb. It’s totally unlike any other stringed instrument I can think of. I expected the movement to feel very awkward and alien but it actually made sense to just use 1 finger. I confuse easy so only having to think about where I’m putting 1 finger is brilliant. I still have issues with my fret hand as it doesn’t seem to do as it’s told. I’m hoping fret hand dexterity will come with time.
There isn’t just Banjo at the EFDSS workshops though, no no, they have a range of traditional instruments included in the Saturday workshops. There’s Accordion, Fiddle, Banjo and Song. There’s also a Folk Ensemble every term where the classes come together for a performance. We’ve only had one session so far. As I’ve dropped in in term 2 of the year, most of the class play much better than me already so I am definitely playing catch up. I’m putting the work in though and hope it will pay off. It does seem to be already. I’m sure I’ll keep posting about the banjo and how my playing is going because, well, it’s all I think about.