Would You Become a Banjoist ?
Written for The Cadenza.
By Frank B. Converse, New York City.
Then you must work. The person who imagines that a teacher is the only requisite, and who is not self-determined to work earnestly and diligently for the accomplishment, will soon discover his mistake. It has been truthfully said that much of the pleasure is in working hard for a result. You may not succeed in becoming a great artist, but you may reach a satisfactory degree of excellence.
The art of playing the banjo is based upon but a few fundamental principals, or rules which, though broad and far-reaching, are very simple and, when mastered, the aspirant will be surprised at discovering how far he has advanced toward the attainment of his desire.
This may seem an incredible statement to one unskilled when observing with what facility and ease the accomplished executant manipulates the strings. Watching his fingers gliding, shifting, moving with inconceivable celerity up and down the fingerboard, yet stopping the strings with unerring precision, cannot but bewilder him until, lost in amazement at the seemingly illimitable variety of movements, his courage fails in the belief that none but those especially endowed can ever hope to achieve like results. But he may derive consolation from the reflection that "all things have had a beginning;" that the very player to whom he has listened, and whose marvelous manipulations have so astonished--perhaps discougaged him, made a "beginning" at one time; that his remarkable proficiency is not a "gift from the gods"--a divine inspiration, or that he found a "royal road' to its attainment. No, he began just where all beginners must,--with the first and simplest exercise, and advancing with some systematic order of progression, up-building, mastering the difficulties as they arose, thereby "enlarging the storage facilities" of his fingers as he steadily passed to higher and higher planes when lo,--he astonishes you with the brilliancy of his execution!
So, take courage. The same road lies open before you. To follow it requires only patience and application, with the attention concentrated upon the one thing. Practice vigorously; execution is purely gymnastic, as much so as swinging clubs or dumb-bells, and proficiency in either is to be acquired only by persistent, systematic and vigorous exercise.
"The Gymnast," says Prof. Rector V. Smith, president of the Royal Gymnasium, "exercises his limbs through preparatory exercises. How, therefore, is it possible for the player of the piano, or violin," (he could have included the banjo) "to dispense with this gymnastic preparation of the joints and fingers?"
Generally speaking, too little importance is attached to the subject of practice, and consequently much time is wasted. Practice, to be efficient, must combine method with diligence, otherwise bad habits will be acquired, errors become confirmed and more difficult to overcome. It is therefore essential that the learner should recieve proper instruction from the very commencement. Practice slowly at first, and when a passage is learned, increase the rapidity to the required tempo. Never pass a mistake in either fingering or reading, but at once recommence the movement or passage and play it over and over again until it is mastered. Much time will be saved by selecting and practicing the difficult parts of a piece in small portions, joining the portions as fast as mastered. Avoid superfluous efforts, and unnecessary movements of either the arms, hands, or fingers, as they tend to complicate and retard execution. Aim to acquire a graceful action when playing. Banjo playing, to be good, must become a habit--like any other--and habit is acquired through many repetitions. And finally, it should be understood that all good players are not good teachers--that is, are not endowed with the happy faculty of being able to impart intelligibly the knowledge they may have acquired. A good teacher may be known by his pupils.
From The Cadenza, Feb. 1898.