I Ditched my Xbox for a Banjo

Hello, My name is Loring (that’s a weird name) and let me ask you;

Have you ever gone onto a social media site or a dating site and looked at all the hobbies to select from and since half of them sound like something you would do, you click them as if having done them or actively do on a regular basis?

“yes I love to hike!”

“oh boy, is fishing just grand!”

“yeah I dabble with the guitar”

When in reality you get home from working all day and plop in front of the TV and forget about the world while you binge watch your favorite shows?

Well that was me. But I refuse to let myself continue this. So as this is my first post, some of my back story;

Growing up I was a gamer through and through. I had an xbox, and playstation, nintendo ,(then a 360,ps3, Xbone,ps4,Wii) all of it. I don’t even know how many games. Actually I still own the games and they are all in one large cardboard box in a room full of junk. I would guess the box weighs around 150 lbs. So I had such a lifeless…life..that have so many video games that they now need to be counted by weight like potatoes at the supermarket.

“Hey man how many xbox 360 games are in that box”?

“oh.. I would say about 40-50lbs”

I had interest besides games of course. I was never academically successful despite enjoying writing, and math, and drawing. I thought hot rods where cool, I was good at wood working in school, and music and I desperately wanted to serve in the U.S. Military

Music was the first hobby I ever tried. When I was very young (around 10) I attempted to learn the Cello through the elementary school, but I mean that went over like a lead balloon as soon as I found out I had to read sheet music and sit up straight.

By my high school years, all of my friends (yes I actually had friends) played instruments and most were very good. I was silently jealous of their skill. I say skill because they worked for it. In high school I dropped German class year 3 for guitar class. I just couldn’t seem to pick it up though. It never entranced me like it did my friends. By the time I started they were already very skilled and very advanced players. We were all into heavy metal music and Grunge music. My closest friend at that the time convinced me to try the Bass Guitar, which he let me borrow and I would go over to his house and play that every day after school.

I learned a few songs on the Bass playing as backup for him while he played the guitar. After a few months I heard my friend play this song on his acoustic guitar. It was Kurt Cobain’s cover of the Huddie Ledbetter’s tune “In the Pines” (where did you sleep last night) and wow. I was drawn to it like a moth to a flame. I needed to learn this on my acoustic guitar. It took time but my buddy was patient and I learned it after a few days and it remains the only tune I can play on guitar.

Growing up my..and I will dub it “artistic-developmental-expectation” (for lack of Googling a better term) was to be successful with the guitar in the same fashion as my friends are. The heavy metal style and the grunge style and all that. But “In the Pines” was different. I was drawn to that “atmospheric”, old time, bluegrassy, mountain bluesy, almost mysterious type of sound. It was not till I was 24 that I tapped into it again.

Heck, I started to listen to old recordings of old time mountain music on youtube long before that and still I was oblivious to my true artistic desire. when I was 24, I rented a Cello! And while learning it I came across a short script that was dubbed “Old English Round” which was a repetitive tune that was very similar sounding to many of the old folk tunes of Appalachia. Again I was entranced and only played that one tune. Of course I got tired of having to sit on a specific chair for practicing and decided I would return it.

About six months later I thought maybe I should try playing bluegrass music on my guitar. But shortly after I thought to myself..”what about a Banjo?” I mulled it over for a few weeks. I decided I would go check out some banjos at the music store. I did have some reward points after all and just received my tax return. I was looking for a open back banjo like the really old style ones. I looked at them for a while. They were reasonably priced. I didn’t really want a cheapo and definitely didn’t want a super expensive one so I settled on an intermediate Gretsch open back. It was around $400 at that time. I knew of Gretsch Guitars and figured well it must a dang good banjer. I was serious about learning this instrument so I bought it. I did notice only after I paid for it that it stated on the instrument “Hand crafted in China”. it took away some the aesthetic value for me but none the less its a good banjo and now I like to poke fun at people on forums who bash Chinese made banjos by claiming how great my Chinese banjo sounds.

I plucked the strings in the store and I have to say I lack the artistic literary expression to describe how it felt. All I can say is that it was just “correct”. It was the right thing. Like if your car’s engine was running roughly and you don’t know a lot about vehicle maintenance so you try this and that but nothing works so you give up for a while until maybe you try swapping out the spark plugs and now its running smooth like when it was brand new and you have that feeling of triumph because you did it yourself. What I am saying is, I found what was missing, and I discovered finally that the Banjo was my instrument.

Progress was slow at first. I wanted to be a successful player but most of all I did not want to get bored and give up because I was not meeting my own expectations. I knew from experience with the Cello, Trombone, Guitar, Bass, Guitar (again), and Cello (again), that rushing will lead to bad technique and unrealistic expectations.

I started to learn the Skruggs technique, which is a three finger alternating pattern of picking called “rolls” using the thumb, index, and middle fingers. I learned one song that I still know how to play now which is a version of the old gospel “Ill fly away”. Skruggs is typical for playing the fast paced, fast tempo Bluegrass genre of mountain music. My interest however always shifted towards the old timey bluesy style of music, the ballads, and Baptist gospel with its eeriness that survived hundreds of years and was sung by settlers in Appalachia that were brought over from the old country (England, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland typically)

those types of tunes are normally played, at least by the old timers in the recordings from the 1920s and 1960s, in techniques called Claw hammer or in Thumb-lead (two-finger)

It is a misconception that Claw Hammer is a difficult technique to learn or even the banjo for that matter. After a couple weeks of slowly practicing the basic strum; that “dum-diddy-dum”, it can all of a sudden just click in you and you can apply melody notes and boy when that happens there’s no stopping you.

So now I have a solid hobby that doesn’t include sitting and wasting away. Now what? Do I stop at one? What else can I do with my time? I work 40-50 hours a week and I am an average joe who pays taxes and works for a living. I have since decided that pursuing my passion for music by actually following through and learning to play was the push I needed to get rid of my games and anything that holds me back from a fulfilling life. I am compiling a list of things I want to experience; of things I want to learn, places I want to see, and things I want to do.

I have old Pickup I want to restore but never get around to working on. I have an antique banjo now that I bought on Ebay, I wanted to restore it so I had that kind of authentic old time sound I guess. I am getting interested in wet plate and dry plate photography. Will I ever pick up wood working again? I hope so. I could use a few laps around a track if you know what I mean. What about drawing because I had some talent in school? I should try to train it. If I achieve some small goals what else could I accomplish? Perhaps travel to South Africa one day or open a business

As I am new to Blogging and am still learning how to set up the pages. At the time I post this my blog will still be In-work, so I will clarify the objectives of this blog:

1: to entertain internet wayfarers.

2: to document my progress in the hobbies I pick up.

3: to encourage others to pursue goals or hobbies that they have or always wanted to try, and encourage them to document it.

4: to connect with others of similar interests.

5: to discover and grow as human beings.

I hope this blog becomes successful and is entertaining. Until then I hope whoever reads has a wonderful day 🙂

-Loring

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