Offline Thursday

Wednesday afternoon I was at the grocery store with Dear Old Dad and I got hit with a bad migraine. It hit so hard and so fast I just about fell over.

It’s so late Wednesday night right now that its Thursday morning, and I still feel like hammered #$%&. I am going to give my brain a slight break and turn off the computers for the day. Stay offline and focus on writing. 

If my brain pain and the weather allows, Dear Old Dad and I are planning to visit special place for me, and it’s jut down the road from Crisfield, but I never get to visit now that I can’t drive.

I have other news to share, but it’s late enough to be early and my head hurts really bad. I’m going to watch a bad horror movie. Nights like this call for the big guns, so it’s either The Abominable Dr. Phibes or The Green Slime.That will work as well as meditation to get me rested so that I can write tomorrow.

Thanks to all of you for the kind comments on my recent videos. You are all such amazing people. I will have to work harder to measure up to your kind words.

God bless,

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!

Mature Content With Banjos

We got word from Patreon yesterday that, due to some of the language in my book-in-progress, our Patreon page has been marked as mature content. I am willing to bet that the Irish banjo molester did not help the situation.

When we started this book Dear Old Dad and I talked at great length about modifying the language and possibly editing out some of the, shall we say, impolite things that happened. It is not our intention to upset or offend anyone, but the guys who taught me had a way of saying things. Being from Philadelphia, so do we. The goal of the book is to tell what really happened, so we decided against modifying the language.

None of this changes anything. The book is still rolling out one handwritten chapter at a time, and working so closely with my dad once again is turning out to be an entire new adventure. How cool is that?

Basket Case

When I had surgery the other day I loaded up Dear old Dad’s Kindle with movies to keep him entertained while the doctors were working me over.

I am always loading up the Kindle with movies for dad. Films like The Four Feathers, The Man Who Would Be King, Zulu, Aliens – stuff like that.

Well, this time I included a sordid little bit of cinematic effluvium called Basket Case.

Dad is still mad at me.

Thoughts From Dear Old Dad: Do You Know How Lucky You Are?

More wisdom from my dad

“Do you know how lucky you are?”

I’ve heard that phrase many times over the past thirty-five years. Once a man walked up to my truck and said it while I was playing my banjo. Another time a very well known banjo player told Patrick the same thing about his ability to sing while playing. We hear a version of it almost every time we are doing something musical together. Sort of like we were a couple of hobo’s who stumbled onto a bag of baloney sandwiches.

Well folks, that ain’t the way it works. The ability to play, sing or work together with your son, daughter or spouse has absolutely nothing to do with luck. What seems like simple good fortune is actually the end result of a lot of work. Nothing worthwhile happens by luck. The guy at my truck window only had to accept my offer to teach him how to play. The famous banjo player simply never bothered to fully develop as a musician. The people who look at us and comment on our good fortune could easily change their luck if they wanted to.

The first thing you must do is practice with a purpose. Get grounded in the basics of rhythm, timing and singing. Take whatever skill you have right now and start developing some chops. Get out and play anywhere and with anyone you can. Learn from these experiences. Stop whining that you are not good enough because that cop-out guarantees that you never will be. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by chat-room cowboys who are all hat and no cattle. These losers hide behind words like “traditional” or “acceptable” in order to intimidate you. Remember, music is a language. Once you master the core concepts you can play anything, anywhere with any other musician.

Frustrated beginners often ask us for advice about how to deal with family members who don’t appreciate their music. Think about that for a minute. Music is not for appreciation or preservation (if it must be preserved it is already dead). Music has but one purpose, to entertain. Very few listeners give a damn about a note for note rendition of some obscure fiddle tune played on a banjo with no rhythm, timing or skill. Most people, however, will respond to the simplest folk or blues song played and sung well. Listen to your friends and family. They are trying to tell you something. What sounds to you like some sort of an Appalachian masterpiece may come across to them as pointless noise.

The best way to change your luck is to take control of your situation. Practice the basics until you think know them. Then go play with some real musicians. You’ll come home eager to practice more basics. Get out of the one-trick pony mindset that is turning folks away from your musical efforts. Play songs that everyone recognizes. Get your friends and family to sing along. Odds are that you will soon have to invest in another instrument or two.

When you pull out an instrument you are making a statement. The folks who are watching expect you to deliver the goods. They want to be entertained. By presenting yourself as a musician you have an obligation to do just that. An audience will not respond because you feel the pain of a misrepresented regional banjo style. They will not embrace you for boring them with historical trivia. They could care less how many different tunings you know. They do not see you as a cultural conduit. To them you are an entertainer.

You can change your luck today by behaving like one.

More Later. Till then, don’t step in anything soft.
Pat (Dear Old Dad) Costello

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: Why Do People Quit?

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

There is one inescapable fact about learning to play a fretted instrument. It’s not easy. Over the years I have met a lot of people who started to play and gave up. They came to believe that learning the banjo, guitar or mandolin requires some special talent or gift that they lack. Patrick and I have managed to help a lot of these folks but far too many walked away without ever giving music a chance.

The one trait that most of the quitters have in common is a lack of patience. They see a journeyman musician perform and they want to do the same. They buy a banjo, guitar or mandolin along with a book and maybe a video. Some even sign up for lessons at the local music store. A few find their way to the local expert who gives lessons in his or her home. After all this they still quit. The instrument is sold on an Internet auction or dumped in a closet never to be touched again. What happened?

Basically they put the cart before the horse. These folks wanted to be something without becoming something. They see the end result of countless practice hours and years of musical interaction and they want that right now. Guys, it just don’t work that way. Remember, music is made by applying and combining many techniques and skills. You have to consider timing, rhythm, tempo and melody. You must understand and apply the basics of music theory. Your left and right hands have to work independently of each other. In short, you must be able to communicate within the language of music. If you think that this happens quickly or easily you are just kidding yourself.

Take your time. What’s the rush? Master the core skills. Enjoy the learning process. It is very important to be patient while you pursue the dream of becoming a musician. Don’t compare your progress or skill level with another individual or group. Don’t worry if you find yourself on a learning plateau. You just have to work through it. Don’t think that you can master this craft by talking about it or by watching someone play. You must practice and apply the core skills by interacting with other musicians. Every time you sit on your front porch and play for your family you get better. Every time you sit in on a jam session you get stronger. Whenever you share your knowledge about music, however limited, you gain confidence.

The trick here is to enjoy where you are while keeping your goal in perspective. The progress may be so slow that you feel like you’re standing still but that’s the game. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to imitate someone based on magazine articles or Internet chat rooms. If you do this without mastering the core musical skills you will become frustrated and most likely will quit. Just play whenever and wherever you can. Beware of easy solutions and foolproof quick learning methods. Take your time. Practice, play, share and experiment. Apply the basic skills along with some time and perseverance. Before you know it someone will look at you and say, “I wish I could play like that”.