Next Week

The Daily Frail is making a comeback as a daily workshop series! We will be adding a twist for our Patreon sponsors,

Our other new project is a return to basics.

Right now we have 743 videos on YouTube. While there are a couple of  basic frailing lessons, it can be almost impossible for beginners to navigate our massive collection.

With that in mind we are launching Frailing Banjo 101. The series will take you from setting up your banjo all the way to advanced jamming techniques.

Keep an eye on and/or for more information.

Old Time Banjo With Patrick and Dear Old Dad

I found a packaging sample from one of our most successful instructional video projects, Old Time Banjo With Patrick and Dear Old Dad.

We produced a lot of instructional videos between 2000 and 2003 with some of the best teachers in the business. I had no intention of ever teaching in front of a camera, so when we could not find a suitable frailing banjo teacher it was up to Dear Old Dad to do the job.

We were shocked at how popular this CD ROM workshop became. We tried to generate interest in our other titles, but people did not want fiddle or various guitar styles. They wanted old-time banjo. They wanted us playing and singing and having fun.

After this project we stopped publishing anything but our own videos. In 2003 I accidentally wrote The How and the Tao of Old Time Banjo and we never looked back.

Real Player is old and buggy technology, so we uploaded the video to YouTube. The tab is no longer available, but you can find all of the songs in my books and essays.

After all these years, not many teachers can come close to Dear Old Dad, and our little jam session at the end of part 8 still remains unique. It’s cool to have your work reach so many people for such a long time. I can’t wait to see what happens down the road when all of you start teaching!


I couldn’t sleep last night, so I sat down and finished the eleventh chapter of my book-in-progress.

Dear Old Dad will read it today or tomorrow. Then I will scan the handwritten pages and post them for our Patreon sponsors.

I have to admit, it feels good to continue making progress in spite of my recent health issues.

Chapter 10!

Chapter 10 of my book in progress is available for our sponsors to download!

As you probably know by now, I am writing this book entirely by hand.

I am writing in pencil on legal pads because a neurological problem has made it difficult for me to type.

This download is a first draft with a quick edit. Dear Old Dad will edit it two more times before transcribing it all into Word.

We are numbering the chapters as they are written. They will probably appear in a different order in the finished book.

Once the book is finished we will make the ebook edition available to all our Patreon sponsors.

In chapter 10 several stories from my past come together to illustrate the importance of core skills. 

Before anybody asks, Ed Parker was awesome.

Thoughts From Dear Old Dad: Magnum Fever

More wisdom from the best man I know.

I used to shoot a lot. My two favorite guns were a custom Pennsylvania flintlock rifle and a Colt .45 auto Combat Commander that I carried cocked and locked. I chose the rifle because flintlocks are difficult critters to master. I chose the Colt because it is the best handgun in terms of power, reliability and accuracy. I got real good with both of these firearms because I practiced a lot and I enjoyed shooting. The rifle was used for hunting and target shooting. The Colt was strictly for business. I was licensed to carry and I took that responsibility very seriously. The basic skills needed to master each of these weapons were completely interchangeable. Once you got past the two hundred year technology gap it all came down to sight alignment, sight picture, trigger squeeze and follow through.

I belonged to a gun club in rural Chester County, Pennsylvania. We had regular events that featured various tests of marksmanship. The club had a lot of members so it was inevitable that some of the competitions got really interesting. Like the day the guys with the scoped magnum rifles looked at our flintlocks and just had to mouth off about how we should get some real guns. The same sort of things happened on the pistol range. There was always a Dirty Harry clone toting a fire-belching magnum chiding me about my obsolete .45 Colt.

We let them talk their way into challenging us to a shooting match. Since they made the challenge we got to set the rules. Rifles were at one hundred yards offhand with no slings. Pistols were at twenty five yards standing only.

Guess what?

We never lost. Not once, not ever. The guys with the magnums could not even come close to equaling our marksmanship. The reason is very simple. We could shoot and they could not. They really believed that their choice of ordinance gave them an edge. It was a pleasure to take them to school. Their super powerful firearms were of no use to them in these matches because they could only shoot accurately from a sandbagged shooting bench. Real life seldom furnishes such comforts. They bought those expensive and overpowered guns because the “experts” writing for shooting magazines promised them that the magnum of the month would solve all their problems and make them the envy of the scene. All the focus was on muzzle velocity, trajectory and comparisons to “pre-64” or “pre-war” models of various makers. No one bothered to tell them that none of this matters if you cannot hit what you aim at.

The same sort of mindset is prevalent today in music. Go to any Internet banjo forum and you will see weak musicians touting their latest acquisition. Some even use buying more and more instruments as part of their shtick. They hope to mask lack of ability by redirecting your attention to their buying power. Nonsense phrases such as “authentic old time sound”, “real pre-war tone” or “exotic woods” are often combined with subtle assurances that you can substitute hardware for hard work.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against high-end stuff. There are many fine examples of handcrafted, beautifully decorated instruments out there. I have always advised people to buy the very best they can reasonably afford.

The real problem is a lack of basic skills. The guys at the gun club wanted to be hip and look cool so they bought lots of firearms that they did not understand and could not control. The idea of applying basic shooting principals never entered their minds so they were made to look foolish by real marksmen. The folks who hope to impress us with their “banjo or guitar of the month” choice of instruments often make the same mistake. All we can do is look at them and shake our heads. They are completely lost around real musicians. These folks believe that their magnum instrument and the ability to stumble through a few tunes is all they need.

Remember, you cannot skip over the hard stuff. The basic skills must be mastered and applied. Thousands of silly posts on a forum will not make you a musician. You cannot buy your chops. You will not learn to play by trying to memorize fiddle tunes from tablature. Get grounded in rhythm and timing. Work on playing and singing. Know your chord inversions and the scales that are always within a finger’s reach. Make your favorite instrument your best friend and it will never let you down. Play everywhere and with everyone you can. Don’t become a victim of magnum fever. Pick up that expensive instrument and learn with it. Have fun, ask questions and make mistakes. Just don’t expect anyone who knows oatmeal from mashed potatoes to be impressed until you can do something other than pose with it.

Peace to all,
Pat Costello (Dear Old Dad)

Thoughts From Dear Old Dad: Life’s Hard Lessons

A long time ago, Dear Old Dad wrote many  posts to share his insights into the music making experience. I recently rediscovered a batch of these files. We will be sharing them from time to time

I learned to frail on an old Harmony banjo. You know, the one with a composite pot/resonator and a neck/dowel combo that looked like it was transplanted from a barn broom. Yeah, it was cheesy and crude but it was mine. I played it every chance I got while I was learning to play and sing. Like most novices I finally decided that I was ready to move up to a “real” banjo. I visited a local music store but they specialized in guitars and band instruments. These folks admitted that they could not be of any real help. I then asked my banjo friend if he could help me find and buy a really good banjo. He was more than happy to oblige.

He told me that he knew of a first rate banjo for sale by a dealer at the Gilbertsville Farmer’s Market. He was vague about the details but he assured me that this was “the banjo” for me and that he could personally vouch for the character of the dealer and the quality of the banjo. Well, what I knew about banjos at the time amounted to almost nothing. My friend had been playing for decades and he owned a lot of banjos so I put myself in his hands.

We arrived at the dealer’s stall on a Friday evening. The guy had lots of banjos, guitars and mandolins hanging from the ceiling and laying on tables. He saw my friend and reached for a banjo. He was expecting us. The dealer handed me a very old banjo. It had friction pegs and a spun-over rim. It was hard to tune and it did not have any real tone or volume. I didn’t think much of this banjo. My buddy got very uneasy. He told me that this was a great deal and that I would be sorry if I let it go. The dealer was just disgusted that I could not see the quality in this banjo. I walked right into the trap. I handed over $150.00 for a banjo based entirely on someone else’s endorsement. My $25.00 Harmony was a better instrument than this thing.

I now know that the endorsement was not real. My “friend” got a kickback from the dealer for delivering a pigeon. I later took the banjo to a shop that specialized in banjos to see if it could be made playable. The owner just laughed and said that there was nothing he could do. This banjo was junk when it was made and it was junk now. I asked to look at some real banjos. There was no pressure. The shopkeeper answered my questions and let the instruments do the talking. I bought a high quality modern instrument and I never regretted the investment.

There is a lesson here:

View all endorsements with some cynicism. Friends or acquaintances may mislead you by accident or by design. What is good for them may not be good for you. Be especially wary of anonymous endorsers on the Internet. One of the first tricks in guerrilla marketing is to create a flood of gushing reviews by unidentified “experts”. You have no way of knowing who they are or if they even exist. Remember that guerrilla marketers will do and say anything to get your money. Take your time. Think things over. Visit an acoustic music shop and look at several brands and models. Buy the best instrument that you can reasonably afford. Just be sure that when you open the case you feel the inner glow that emerges when you hug an old friend.

It’s a cold world. Bring a blanket.

More later. Till then, don’t step in anything soft.

Pat (Dear Old Dad) Costello