We can all agree everyone needs a change of scenery from the monotony of our daily routines every now and then - a place to unwind, recharge and get a fresh perspective on things. I've found this especially true when learning an instrument - particularly one that's portable. So why not take advantage of what's left of summer for a banjo sojourn into the world beyond your front door? It might be just what you need to spice up your practice regimen. It's a strategy that has worked wonders for me, particularly when I'm in a banjo rut…
1. National Parks
For my money, the most pleasurable way of connecting with the wider world (and, in turn, your instrument) is a visit to a national park. You want to talk majestic tranquility, the kind of picture-postcard beauty that could inspire the crustiest curmudgeon? Yosemite's my personal fave. No matter how uninspired I might feel about my picking, playing amongst the Giant Sequoias always replenishes me and leaves me feeling rejuvenated with a new perspective on my music. It's the perfect antidote for a practice regimen that's in need of pizazz-ing.
Of course, not everyone has the means of escaping to some idyllic retreat far off in in the pristine forests of Mother Nature. For those to whom this applies, consider your neighborhood park.
2. City Parks
When I lived in New York City, for an occasional boost of inspiration I used to lug my banjo to Central Park, find a shady tree in a vast swath of green known as Sheep Meadow and play for hours. I didn't always find inspiration, but it sure made practice sessions more fun. No doubt if I'd stayed home that day I would never have touched my banjo. Not once.
3. A Foreign Country
Now, for those really adventurous souls out there, I can tell you from personal experience it doesn't get any more exhilarating than plopping down on a street corner in a foreign city, whipping out the ol' 5-string and running through some of your favorite tunes while taking in the local flavor. And before I hear your protestations about only being able to play one song, let me remind you that the vast majority of people outside the US have never even seen a banjo, let alone heard one live. For these people, you might as well be performing with a live cougar. It's exotic beyond belief to them (hell, it's exotic beyond belief to many Americans). And you have the benefit of playing an instrument that's tuned to an open chord. All you need to do is strum a G, C and D chord and you're golden. I guarantee it. More importantly, think of all the friends you'll make!
4. Road Trips
Got any road trips planned in the near future? Road trips are an excellent way of incorporating your banjo playing into a low-maintenance adventure into the wide blue yonder. The great thing about road trips is there are so many opportunities to pull over and take a banjo break for a few minutes, especially if you're traveling on a highway with rest areas. As with playing on city street corners, there's no need to feel self-conscious. Remember, most people on this planet don't play the banjo. To them, what you're doing is the equivalent of a magic trick. You'd be surprised at how happy you'll make the random passer-by with just the few tunes you can fumfer around with. Whether you realize it or not, you're making a difference in people's lives. Sounds corny, but it's true.
5. Bluegrass Festivals
Let's not forget bluegrass festivals. Bluegrass festivals are usually held in settings that take advantage of an area's natural environs and are dripping with inspiration for the burgeoning picker. Every year I go to a festival in the hills of Southern California on the site of a faux western town created in the 1920s by a Hollywood studio. You couldn't ask for a more inspiring place to play bluegrass. Another popular festival in Southern California is held on the ruins of an abandoned ghost town. Ever play banjo with a decaying, abandoned ghost town as your backdrop? It's pretty awesome.
Keep in mind we're talking about bluegrass - a style of music that traces its roots back to front porches, backyards and country roads. This is music that yearns to be played in the Great Outdoors. How's that for inspiration?
Whether it's Yosemite, a city street corner or your local park, incorporating a change of scenery into your playing regimen is a great way to recharge your banjo routine, avoid stagnation and get excited about practicing again. It's also a great way to decompress and, ultimately, inject some fun into your musical regimen.
So, if you're looking to up your banjo game while indulging your sense of adventure, grab that 5-string and discover the wide open spaces out there while summer's still here. It's an experience you won't regret!
Banjo Mountain is an online banjo school with an easy step-by-step method to learning banjo.