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: 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”.

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

Turning Point

To follow up on yesterday’s demise of my favorite pencil sharpener, I took action and ordered a few supplies.

On Dear Old Dad’s advice I bought a good electric pencil sharpener to keep my wooden pencils nice and pointy. He pointed out that of sharpening 40 to 50 pencils twice a day was too much wear and tear on a simple hand-cranked sharpener

Dad is usually right about this stuff, so I took his advice.

Then I realized how many pencils I burn through while I am writing. I decided to look around to see if there was an alternative that would last longer. I never have had much luck with mechanical pencils, but the Kuru Toga caught my attention. The point turns to stay sharp! For $5.57 (I love!) it’s worth a try.

Chapters 9 and 10 are almost ready to hand over to Dear Old Dad, and then scan for posting on Patreon

It has taken me forever to type this. I wish I could write on the computer as easily as I do with paper and pencil, but I am thankful that I can still express myself with words and music in my own fashion. Working with my dad on this project has been an amazing adventure.

Chapter 8!

Chapter 8 of my book in progress is ready for patrons 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.

Chapter 8 tells of my early attempts to learn guitar and how I got my Dobro 33-H

Pooka Break

I woke up at 4:00 AM to put the finishing touches on the eighth chapter of my new book. I was intensely writing, thinking of nothing but my work and the dance between the words in my head and the point of my pencil scratching across the paper.

Then Pooka decided I needed a break. She wouldn’t take no for an answer!

Bad Bonsai

The little bonsai tree I salvaged half-dead from the Salisbury Walmart has made an almost miraculous comeback. Like the Charlie Brown Christmas tree, it just needed a little love.

To be a proper Bonsai tree I would have to prune this plant and twist it and basically force it to grow into whatever vision of a tree I have in my head.

I just can’t bring myself to do that to this little tree.

So, I’ll stop calling it a Bonsai, plant it in a big pot and call it what it is: a tree.

Patrick's desk bonsai