Do I Have Musical Talent?

by Barry Hunn

Yes. Everyone does.

There are many “myths” about learning to play the banjo and many are so common that it stops people from learning to play.  Here are a few examples:

Myth: The banjo is way too complicated to learn for most people. 

Not even remotely true.

The banjo is actually one of the easiest of string instruments to learn to play in a basic style.  Because it is tuned to an open “G” chord, it can be strummed immediately without training for a beautiful sound.  (see Deering’s two finger method DVD.)

Even professional banjo playing is not as complicated as it sounds.   Basic bluegrass or clawhammer or four string jazz can be learned as easy as any instrument and easier than many.

Myth: I have no musical talent and can’t learn the banjo. 

Not true.

You might not be able to learn to play like a professional in a week, but with slow diligent practice, you will learn to play.

Everyone has some natural degree of musical ability.  True, some might have more than others, but everyone can hum, tap their foot, strum a chord or two on the banjo and do it with ease.

Playing like a professional on any instrument, in any  sport or any activity takes lots of time and commitment.  Talent helps but the work MUST be done to train the hands, fingers, arms, etc. But we are not talking about playing like a professional, we’re talking about having some basic talent.

Myth: Only gifted people can play like a professional banjo player.

Not the whole story!

Gifted people are just people who are naturally adept at something.  We are all naturally adept at something; whether it’s banjo playing, basketball, golf, running, violin, singing, healing, archery, being a nice person, etc.

The problem is when “we compare what we do as hobbyists with what full time professionals do.”

Too often, we pick up a banjo, play a chord or two for ten minutes, listen to a professional who practices 5 to 8 hours every day, and give up thinking “ I can’t do what they are doing…”

Of course you can’t.  But if you’re a plumber, chances are the professional banjoist can’t fix his own pipes…. Does that make him less of a person than you?

Of course not.

If you spend 8 hours a day assembling electronics on an assembly line, it will be quite a task to put in 8 more hours practicing your banjo!  If you have a family, this will be an even greater challenge!

Your daily job might seem easy to you, but to a professional banjo player, it might seem just as impossible as you playing banjo like a professional.

The key here is “joyfully accepting what you can do and not feeling like a failure because you can’t do what someone else does!” 

There are many amateur banjo players who play like professionals, but just play for their own enjoyment.   There are plenty of professional banjo players who fix plumbing like an amateur, but that doesn’t mean they are not good banjo players!

Myth: The banjo is harder to play than the guitar.

Not true.

The banjo strings are lighter and easier to push down.  The neck of a banjo is narrower and easier to reach around.   The banjo is tuned to an open chord so playing simple chords is much easier. Fingerpicking a banjo is no more difficult than finger picking a guitar.  They are different, but the technique is no more difficult on either instrument.

It may be that banjo picking “sounds” more complicated than fingerpicked guitar, but the mechanics of playing are exactly the same.

Myth: I don’t have time to learn the banjo.

Not the whole story!

You may not have time to learn to play like a professional….especially if you are a professional in another field.

But EVERYONE can learn to do a simple strum on a banjo, enough to play and sing with friends, at church, at the YMCA or at block parties.   Most songs can be played with 3 to 5 chords. 10 minutes every few days will have you playing and singing songs on a banjo - even only one or two days a week!

Common Fear: I would feel embarrassed to try playing a banjo.

This isn’t a myth, but it’s a pretty common thought pattern among many of us.

I think the best solution here is to work at an understanding that it is ok to not play like a professional.  It is ok to play a simple song and enjoy it.

If everyone who played golf stopped playing  because they couldn’t play like Tiger Woods, what else would they be willing to “risk” doing?  People around the world love to golf even though they aren’t as good as the professionals.

That’s the approach we need to take in our banjo playing.  We’ll play for fun and leave the professionals to their profession.

We all have something to offer

Everyone has music in them to some degree.  Maybe you’ll play with friends; maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll perform at an open mic; maybe you won’t.

It’s not important to do something great! It’s good to do something you LOVE!

Enthusiasm is contagious.  I have seen amateur banjo players who inspired some of the greatest musicians because of a sincere, humble enthusiasm for playing the banjo.  You can’t help but be a blessing to the world if you do what you love doing.

So, if you have an idea to learn to play the banjo, disregard these myths and fears.   They are not real and will only hold you back from something that is important to you.

Play the banjo.  We all will benefit by it - as will you.


Kristin Scott Benson chooses the Deering Golden Series banjos
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